The Transformation of “Capacity” in the Field of International Development: USAID in Afghanistan and Pakistan, 1977-2017

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 00:00
Oral Presentation
Avideh MAYVILLE, George Mason University, USA
This study exposes the transformation of “capacity” within the development discourse through a discursive analysis of USAID projects in Afghanistan and Pakistan between 1977 - 2017. Capacity development has emerged as a pervasive component and objective of aid in the discourse, in spite of being ill-defined by donors. The question of what capacity is, how to build it, and to what end begs deeper theoretical questions on Western notions of global progress and order, state and market, and the applicability of these models to post-colonial states. USAID is a significant actor in the industry of aid with an unrivaled role in the production of projects, providing a unique institutional vantage point from which to realize relationships and networks of aid production. USAID explicitly states that “AfPak” is vital to US national security, citing security and governance challenges in both countries as reasons for sustained efforts in development. This raises important questions about the nature of projects to build ‘capacity’ and how they are linked to foreign policy interests.

The fates of Afghanistan and Pakistan are intertwined. The colonial demarcation of their shared border exacerbated ethnic and tribal tensions adapting to a state system. Each state’s internal dynamics are complex. The porous nature of the border enables insurgencies, some of which intermingle with state actors and carry out covert state agendas locally, regionally, and globally. The questions of governance and legitimacy have remained in dispute since the inception of both states, underscoring the importance of how capacity and legitimacy are related in governance. This study demonstrates that Western notions of progress are masked by the concept of capacity in the development discourse and translated into projects constructed by institutions, government officials, academics, and private sector actors, perpetuating historical relationships of global inequality that corrupt and compete with indigenous models of governance.