"We focus too much on conflict provinces and we spend enormous amounts of money there and it does not have much impact because of the conflict," said the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Afghanistan, Kai Eide, during a recent visit to Bamyan Province.
"The balance [of aid spending by donors] is wrong," he said, adding that development aid had little impact in the insecure provinces but significant effect in stable provinces like Bamyan.
"I am afraid that if we don't spend more money in stable provinces we will also see instabilities here. It should be a warning signal to us all [and] teach us a lesson [to] direct money to the stable provinces," Eide said.
More than 60 multilateral donors have spent about US$36 billion on development, reconstruction and humanitarian projects in Afghanistan since 2002, according to the Ministry of Finance (MoF).
While there is a lack of reliable statistics on aid expenditure, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) says there has been a major disparity in aid spending across the country.
Kabul, for instance, has received almost 20 percent of the development funding while the provinces of Daikundi, Faran and Sar-e-Pol have together received less than 1 percent, UNAMA officials told IRIN.
Kabul is not considered an insecure and poppy-producing province but the southern Helmand Province has been both insecure and the top opium poppy-producing province in the country.
The case of Bamyan and Helmand
The governor of Bamyan, Habiba Sarabi, echoed Eide's concerns.
There are 26 NATO-led Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) in Afghanistan and each one of them is headed by the largest troop-contributing nation in a province, according to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
Sarabi said better-funded PRTs - led by the US and the UK - spend more funds in the provinces apparently in a bid to win local support.
Her views were backed by a UNAMA spokesman.
"It is recognized that some donors do have a preference for supporting projects and programmes in areas where they may have military deployments," Eide's spokesman, Aleem Siddique, told IRIN.
Some independent aid agencies criticize the involvement of PRTs in development and humanitarian work, which sometimes blurs the identities of military actors and civilian aid workers.
The PRT in Bamyan is led by New Zealand, which, according to Sarabi, has a relatively smaller development budget than the British PRT in Helmand.
For an estimated population of 500,000, Bamyan received more than $47 million development assistance in 2008 (about $94 per person), according to Sarabi.
MoF records in Kabul show Bamyan received $63 million development funds in 2008 ($126 per person). However, Sarabi said $15 million was earmarked for a 123km highway which connects Bamyan, Wardak and Parwan provinces and therefore the amount must not be accounted for her province alone.
In Helmand, with an estimated population of one million, the UK's Department for International Development (DFID) spent about £20.6 million (about $35 million) on development projects in 2008 and the first six months of 2009 ($23.35 per person per annum).
Neither the MoF nor the provincial administration had figures for the total development budget for Helmand in 2008 but officials said the UK was the single largest donor to the province.
DFID - whose development projects are integrated with the British PRT in Helmand - earmarked £72 million (about $107.6 million) to the volatile province between 2009 and 2013.
"DFID programmes in Helmand are effective, despite the challenging security situation," Mike Hollis, DFID's programme and strategy coordinator, told IRIN, rejecting criticisms of aid ineffectiveness in the insecure areas.
|DFID says its development projects have been effective in Helmand Province despite security challenges|
The conflict is primarily focused on the south and east of the country.
However, there are strong reservations about the use of development aid in insecure areas.
"Don't reward insecure and poppy-producing provinces. reward the peaceful and poppy-free Bamyan," said Sarabi.
"In this region you can have tremendous impact with much less money than what is being spent with little impact in the conflict provinces," said Eide.
There are also those who say the conflict cannot and will not be curbed by military means alone and more development tools must be used to address the core sources of the conflict.
"A campaign against extremism will not succeed with bullets or bombs alone. So to advance security, opportunity and justice - not just in Kabul, but from the bottom up in the provinces - we need agricultural specialists and educators, engineers and lawyers," said US President Barrack Obama in his remarks on a new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Amid the controversy whether more development aid should be used as conflict management tool or more aid should be given to stable provinces for poverty alleviation, some experts advocate "a balanced" development approach which can address the most pressing needs of people in stable and insecure areas alike.