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Politics at the Heart: The Architecture of Humanitarian Assistance to Afghanistan

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Both the landscape and the architecture of humanitarian assistance to refugees have changed dramatically in the last two decades. The proxy wars that flourished within the global struggle of the cold war have given way to internecine, factional fighting within countries. The destruction of civilian lives and livelihoods continues and, with it, large populations of refugees, internally displaced people, and recent returnees who are still dependent on external assistance provided by a bewildering array of public and private international organizations.

Afghanistan has been and continues to be a laboratory for these changes. One of the major theaters of cold war confrontation, it then became the archetypal failed state and still has no functioning central government. It does, however, have the attention of United Nations agencies, bilateral donors, and a plethora of nongovernmental relief and development agencies. Paula Newberg's paper analyzes in thoughtful detail the action and impact of international assistance to Afghanistan. She writes from the perspective of a long-time student of the region and a sometime practitioner of UN reform. Few people know the aid community, or the political context in which it operates, as well.

Dr. Newberg's paper was written as the centerpiece for one of a series of roundtables on the evolution of humanitarian response in the 1990s, convened by the International Migration Policy Program of the Carnegie Endowment. The series was generously supported by a grant from the MacArthur Foundation, and by the program support of the Ford Foundation. We are grateful to them, and to our colleagues who participated in the roundtable discussion and enriched the final paper with their insights.