The Transformation of “Capacity” in International Development: USAID, Statecraft, and the Rise of Global Terror and Transnational Militancy in Afghanistan and Pakistan, 1977-2017

Avideh Mayville

Advisor: John G. Dale, PhD, Department of Sociology and Anthropology

Committee Members: Lester Kurtz, Agnieska Paczynska

The Hub, #VIP III
June 29, 2018, 09:00 AM to 11:00 AM


Capacity development has captured the attention of the donor community as an all-encompassing strategy and objective of international development. Nowhere is capacity development more challenging than in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The impact of global conflict, waves of refugee and militant migrations, as well as covert relationships among donors, states, and revolutionaries surrounding aid and weapons has legitimized and facilitated the rise of transnational militancy. The cultivation of this transnational infrastructure for militancy has paralleled transformations in the rise of a development-security nexus, inhibiting donor efforts to build state capacity. In tracing the discursive phases of capacity from global agenda setting processes to donor methodologies and finally to project implementation, I highlight spaces of donor collaboration as well as tensions

among actors and institutions surrounding claims of expertise and in processes of knowledge production. As a development agency with a deep historical engagement with both Afghanistan and Pakistan, USAID provides a wide-angled empirical wellspring from which to examine the donor community’s efforts to build capacity. Consistent with other donor frameworks, USAID’s methodologies on capacity development reveal a theoretically shallow transformation in donor methodologies over the past several decades, applying private sector models of performance and growth to public sector institutions in fragile states. Through the application of USAID development projects in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the donor scheme of statecraft to build and expand the capacity of states contending with transnational militancy demonstrates a limited understanding and reduction of the role of social power in the enabling environment context, particularly at subnational and transnational scales of operation. Furthermore, the donor challenge of developing the capacity of states combating transnational militancy ultimately represents a confrontation with the colonial heritage of donor states and a struggle over the ownership of development.