Shortly after the Soviet invasion in 1979, the World Bank suspended its operations in Afghanistan. Work resumed in May 2002 to help meet the immediate needs of the poorest people and assist the government in building strong and accountable institutions to deliver services to its citizens.
As we mark the reopening of the World Bank office in Kabul 15 years ago, here are 15 highlights of our engagement in the country:
In a previous blog we related how South Asia as a whole had improved the performance of its container ports since 2000 but had still struggled to catch up with other developed and developing regions. But within that picture, some ports did better than others.
For example, Colombo in Sri Lanka, the fast-expanding Mundra and Jawaharlal Nehru Port in India and Port Qasim in Pakistan all improved the use of their facilities in the first decade of this century. India’s Mumbai and Tuticorin were among those that fell behind. Colombo also improved its operational performance by almost halving the share of idle time at berth, while Chittagong (Bangladesh) and Kolkata (India) had the longest vessel turnaround times in the region.
Knowing how specific ports perform and the characteristics of ports that perform well and those of ports that perform poorly helps policymakers design interventions to support underperforming ports.
In the report “Competitiveness of South Asia’s Container Ports” we identified three interrelated policies to improve the performance of the container ports, a key element in one of the world’s fast-growing regions: increasing private participation in ports, strengthening governance of port authorities and fostering competition between and within ports:
The first day of the Digital Youth Summit in Peshawar saw corridors and rooms crowded with entrepreneurs and digital gurus from across the world looking to map out Pakistan’s digital future.
These young and enthusiastic innovators are helping to redefine the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) as an emerging technology hub, and providing substantive skills and resources for Pakistan’s youth to take advantage of digital opportunities. At the summit – sponsored by the World Bank with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa IT Board and many other partners -- these students, entrepreneurs, enthusiastic young women and men are accessing trainings, announcements, and various forms of support to unlock new possibilities to realizing their potential.
The market for digital entrepreneurship is a multi-billion-dollar industry, growing at a rapid rate and is thirsty for young talent. These opportunities represent a shift in how we think of development—bringing the creativity and passion of tech-savvy young innovators to the forefront of social and economic change. The youth of Pakistani are well placed to be in the driver’s seat of this vibrant future.
This year, perhaps even more than in previous years, I am very excited to come to DYS for two main reasons.
First, since its inception in 2014, the Digital Youth Summit has become one of the premier technology conferences in Pakistan. Back in 2014, we got some skeptical responses to the idea of holding a tech conference in Peshawar. National speakers were hesitant to make the trip to Peshawar. Security restriction on international travel were in place for KP up to a week before the event. Several international speakers dropped out because of difficulties getting visas.
But in 2014, the first Digital Youth Summit came on the tech scene, redefining Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as an emerging digital economy. The event brought together local and international participants (some attending their sessions by videoconference) to deliberate on supporting the growth of nascent ecosystems. Local youth showed up, curious about how the internet is shaping jobs of the future. I met one young woman who had traveled on an overnight bus with her child and sister just to learn more about what it means to work online. She told me excitedly that she could not wait to begin her new internet based career. And for the international speakers who made it, the hospitality and warmth of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa reshaped their views of Pakistan.
Fast forward three years to DYS 2017. DYS has become an established event in Pakistan’s tech community. It has provided an international platform to showcase the vibrancy and enthusiasm of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as it embraces the digital economy. And while it continues to identify with its core objective—to raise awareness among youth—it has also become a platform for Pakistan’s tech community to deliberate the growth of tech entrepreneurship, the future of digital payments, and how to promote Pakistan’s digital transformation. The commitment and presence of the Government, as well as participation of a wide range of international experts, complements each panel discussion. But it is the enthusiasm and excitement of the youth that gives the event its signature energy and vibrancy.
Afghanistan grapples with a range of challenges from growing insecurity to stagnating growth and rising levels of poverty. It is no surprise that the impact of the violent conflict on the country’s economic prospects and the welfare of its people is profound. Yet, Afghanistan carries ambitious development goals including achieving gender parity in primary schooling by 2030 among others. To ensure Afghanistan meets its goals, it is important to know how the country has progressed on socio-economic outcomes.
In collaboration with the Ministry of Economy of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and based on data provided by the Central Statistics Organization, the World Bank recently published the third edition of the Provincial Briefs (also available in Dari and Pashto), which provides a comprehensive profile of the most recent progress on a set of socio-economic indicators including education both at the national and at the provincial levels.
What do they reveal? We can see Afghanistan has achieved impressive improvements in human development outcomes—in areas such as education, health, and access to basic services. But this overall progress has not benefitted everyone equally and gaps in access between Afghans living in different provinces persist. In fact, where Afghan families live matters greatly for their socio-economic outcomes. And when it comes to schooling, this is no different. Location determines whether children will go to school or not.
Will rural communities in Afghanistan be deprived of development services upon the completion of the National Solidarity Programme (NSP) in the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (MRRD)?
What will happen to the Community Development Councils (CDCs) established in rural communities to execute people’s development decisions and priorities?
Will our country continue to witness reconstruction of civic infrastructure?
These were some of the questions that troubled thousands of villagers as the NSP neared its formal closure date - NSP had delivered development services in every province of Afghanistan for 14 years.
To address these questions and allay their concerns, the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan formally launched the Citizens’ Charter Program on September 25, 2016 to sustain the uninterrupted development and reconstruction in Afghanistan.
Fatima brimmed with optimism. The 19-year-old recently established a poultry enterprise with the support of a micro-grant, and was thrilled at the prospect of financial independence.
“After my family moved from Pakistan, I had few options for work,” she said from her home in the Paghman district in the outskirts of Kabul. “The grant not only allowed me to start my own poultry business, but let me work from my own home.”
With over half the population under the age of 15, Afghanistan stands on the cusp of a demographic dividend. To reach their full potential, Afghanistan’s youth need to be engaged in meaningful work – enabling young people to support themselves, but also contribute to the prosperity of their families and communities.
My visit to Pakistan began last week at the enormous Tarbela dam. Straddling the Indus River, this earth- and rock-filled structure is almost 500 feet high and 9,000 feet wide. It is a monument to Pakistan's scientific and engineering ability. It also illustrates the opportunities and challenges facing Pakistan.
I was last in Pakistan in 2011 and I can see that big changes have happened since then.
The country has worked through three tough years that brought improvements in security and a more stable economy. Much of the economic growth has benefited poor people and Pakistan's levels of inequality compare favourably to many middle-income countries.
Speaking to leaders in government, political parties, civil society, the private sector and various thought leaders, I sensed an optimism that the country had found its footing and is moving up the ladder of development.
This optimism is good news. But optimism needs to be supported by actions. Pakistan can move to a higher level of economic growth that reaches all parts of society, including the most marginalised, and thus fulfilling the dreams of a better life for all.
Three opportunities and challenges for Pakistan
In my discussions with the government in Pakistan we focused on three areas of opportunity and challenge: the first is higher growth and jobs. The government wants annual economic growth of 6 to 7 per cent compared to 4.7 per cent achieved in fiscal year 2016. But this will only happen if investment doubles to 30 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Investments in energy, such as Tarbela, to end constant power cuts, as well as improvements in the business environment, so that companies hire more people, will be critical to success. A more favorable environment for private investment would open up opportunities for women, youth, and the underserved.
Armed with only a high school certificate, Daoud Shah Noor, 42, started working at the Ministry of Finance in 2012. The sole supporter of his family, he was unable to attend university because of prohibitively high tuition prices. Just four years on, Daoud is studying for his Master’s degree at the Dunya University, where he had graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration.
“Before university I was not professional in my work. Now I am doing the job more professionally and in a better way,” says Daoud, who comes from Parwan Province. Daoud is a beneficiary of the Public Financial Management Reform (PFMR), a project that aims to strengthen public financial management through effective procurement, treasury and audit structures, and high standards of financial monitoring, reporting, and control.