Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Donald Anderson (Swansea, East): The human infrastructure is vital. Can my right hon. Friend tell us a little more about the register of refugees?

Because of the disorder, instability and insecurity of the past 20 years, many professionals have fled Afghanistan—who can blame them?—and found more comfortable lives outside their country. What incentives can be given to such people, including those in the United Kingdom, to return to Afghanistan—if only for brief periods—and give of their talents?

Clare Short: This is a feature of failed states. Most educated Sierra Leoneans are not in Sierra Leone; many are in Britain, making important contributions. Because of Guyana's history from the 1950s on, many highly educated and indeed political Guyanese are in the UK rather than Guyana. They are welcome, and they make an important contribution in our country; but the presence here of an educated group who are the first people needed to restore a country are not in that country when reconstruction begins.

Afghans working in the World Bank have gone back, and are starting to help support the reconstruction effort. Afghans all over the world are being asked to register their skills on the register from the International Organisation for Migration. The aim is to provide a gateway to deliver information about all the projects and recruitment taking place in Afghanistan.

We will do our best to facilitate the recruitment of Afghans. Many who have been away for a long time and have children at school will find it impossible to uproot themselves and go home, but many will want to engage for a time in the reconstruction of their country, and the necessary arrangements are in place.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): I welcome the content of the right hon. Lady's statement and the great progress that seems to be being achieved. I have two brief questions. It is obvious that Afghanistan cannot wait to have an Administration who develop the capacity and competencies necessary to build the infrastructure that can reach down to local level. What steps are being taken to ensure that the aid moneys will reach community levels as well as the Interim Administration? Can she say anything about the role that Afghan civil groups, the ordinary people of Afghanistan, including women, will have in the way those moneys will be spent?

Clare Short: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. It is important for the authority of the Interim Administration and the success of the Bonn process—going from a transitional Government to elections, including all the people of Afghanistan and all the ethnicities so that there is a stable long-term future—that the Interim Administration deliver across the country to all localities. We are very aware of that but all the administrative structures have been broken. What is needed is easy to conceptualise but not so easy to achieve.

It will be possible—the United Nations system is lined up for this—to go into a humanitarian-plus phase. The World Food Programme, for example, will say to every

28 Jan 2002 : Column 30

community, "What do you want to rebuild?" It will look for groups, particularly women-led groups because they tend to be the most practical in local communities, and ask, "Is it the school or road you want to rebuild?" Then food for work could be introduced. People could start rebuilding across the country. Similarly, schools could be opened across the country, with food provided for children who go to school; that tends to incentivise girls to go to school.

Already there is an effort to pay civil servants across the country. The Interim Administration are paying, but I was insistent in Tokyo that we ensure that those civil servants are doing something real. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are aware of the point that he makes and determined to deliver to the localities so that money is properly spent.

Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North and Sefton, East): I welcome the positive and constructive role that my right hon. Friend and her Department are playing in reconstructing Afghanistan. I welcome too the fact that one of the objectives that came out of last week's conference in Tokyo was the elimination of poppy cultivation. Has she seen recent press reports that there has been a step increase in the planting of poppy fields in Afghanistan while attention is elsewhere, and apparently open trading of heroin in Kabul market? Will she impress on the Interim Administration the fact that that is wholly unacceptable?

Clare Short: I have already said that more poppy has been planted. If the House pauses and thinks for a minute, that is inevitable. These are people with nothing: no seed, no tools. They have been growing poppy to survive; they have not been using it. Without some external intervention, they have nothing else to plant and no other way to make a living.

There is no doubt about the commitment of the Interim Administration. They made that clear in Tokyo but they need the capacity. They have banned the cultivation of poppy but need the capacity to intervene. That crop needs to be rooted out. Local people must be offered an alternative. Have we not learned from Latin America that we cannot just destroy a crop and offer onions, or whatever it may be? We must offer people a legitimate life that will be better than the illegitimate life: the chance for their children to go to school, the chance to begin to get public services.

I agree with my hon. Friend that this matter is urgent. We are focused on the urgency but we must help the Interim Administration to do something about it, not just shout at them. They are determined to stop it, but capacity is their problem.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell): I too warmly welcome the Secretary of State's statement. Are there any early lessons to be learned yet from the delivery of aid, which seems to have been very varied across Afghanistan? For example, Herat seems to be the success story. Is that because the local governor is Ismail Khan? Is it because Iran is rather more logistically effective at getting aid through than what she called the various "Stans", which are less developed?

Clare Short: I follow these matters closely, but it is not my understanding that things are particularly better in

28 Jan 2002 : Column 31

Herat, which we know was a fine, ancient and civilised city that has now been destroyed. Communities everywhere are restoring themselves, but I am not aware that things are better in Herat. My own view is that no one can praise the UN system enough for the way in which it has coped through the crisis. Just think; some 6 million people daily are absolutely dependent on the food trucked in by the World Food Programme as the crisis, the fighting and the bombing have been going on. The system has held up and the food has been getting in. Afghan drivers have been taking food in and reporting on where it is safe to go and on whether the warehouses are working. When warehouses were looted, the World Food Programme took the food directly to local communities to distribute.

The system has held up; that is a phenomenal achievement, but we must all keep that going as we build the long-term reconstruction. In some areas there is still conflict, and there has been criminality, with food supplies being stolen. In some remote communities, there are some very hungry children. I am not saying that everything is perfect, but the catastrophe that, without the conflict, might well have occurred has been avoided. The UN is to be praised, but there is an awful lot to do to make sure that we build on what has been done.

Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate): May I add my congratulations to those of my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) on the remarkable part played by my right hon. Friend and her officials at the conference in Japan? I thank her for her warm commitment to women's rights and to ensuring that the women's Ministry has rather more facilities than clearly it has at the moment. Although, as she has made clear, a great number of Afghan experts have had to flee the country, will she confirm that there are still people in Afghanistan who can make a contribution, most particularly in health care and education? Is it part of the UN's programmes in these areas as far as possible to incorporate that home-grown ability, particularly in employing women in these areas?

Clare Short: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. It was not just me in Tokyo who was committed to women's rights, as one might have expected. That commitment was felt very strongly across the board at the conference by all sorts of Governments and by the Interim Administration. That does not mean that the work will be done without more pushing, but the commitment was very strong, which is a good thing.

Afghans have kept the whole humanitarian effort going in the most difficult situation. After 11 September, when all the international staff were withdrawn and the Taliban said that even using the telephone to keep in touch with the humanitarian agencies could result in a life sentence, Afghans kept things going. It would be intolerable—we have seen this in other states—for all the international staff to come in, with their Land Rovers, their UN equipment, their housing and their high salaries, while the locals are marginalised. We have seen that before, time and again. We must avoid that in Afghanistan and we

28 Jan 2002 : Column 32

must build on the local staff, who have performed heroically. They will reconstruct their country, and they must not be marginalised.

Next Section

IndexHome Page