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The failed state we’re in

The international community has spent billions on reconstructing Afghanistan—yet the country has made dismayingly little progress. It's time for a radical new approach to state-building

By Clare Lockhart   June 2008

We would like to tell you the story of $150m going up in smoke,” said the young villager. “We heard on the radio that there was going to be a reconstruction programme in our region to help us rebuild our houses after coming back from exile, and we were very pleased.”

This was the summer of 2002. The village was in a remote part of Bamiyan province, in Afghanistan’s central highlands, and several hours’ drive from the provincial capital—utterly cut off from the world. UN agencies and NGOs were rushing to provide “quick impact” projects to help Afghan citizens in…

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