Select Committee on International Development First Report


5. Looking forward to longer term reconstruction needs

85. The rebuilding and reconstruction of Afghanistan is about more than rebuilding houses, roads and bridges. It is about rebuilding many if not all of the institutions of a modern state from almost nothing[128]. The Committee intends to return to the issue of the longer-term reconstruction needs of Afghanistan at a later date, when a transitional government is firmly established and the process has begun. However, in conducting this inquiry into the humanitarian crisis we have becoming increasingly aware of the immense importance of reconstruction not only for the future of Afghanistan but for the stability of the region as a whole. In the paragraphs that follow we point to some of the key issues that will have to be considered in developing the plans for the rebuilding of Afghanistan. Two points stand out above all:

  • the need for the reconstruction to be Afghan-led; and
  • the need for stability, peace and safe homes where the people of Afghanistan can rebuild their livelihoods and their country.

86. In its paper on the reconstruction of Afghanistan the World Bank[129] identified a number of short term and longer term actions, including in the short term:

  • Agricultural recovery and food security;
  • Generating livelihoods for returning refugees and displaced people;
  • Supporting existing communities through provision of basic services and small­scale development and empowerment programmes;
  • Rapid rehabilitation of Afghanistan's main road network;
  • Expansion of the de­mining programme;
  • Massive short­run employment generation through public works programmes;
  • Re­starting and expanding key social services like education and health, with a focus on reaching girls and women; and
  • Human capacity mobilization for social services, infrastructure, and public administration.

87. Actions in the longer term include:

  • Establishment of sound economic management institutions (Central Bank, Ministry of Finance, Treasury, Statistical System);
  • Developing education and health systems that reach the bulk of the population (something which has never been achieved in Afghanistan);
  • Developing a lean, effective, and honest civil service and institutions of public accountability;
  • Urban management, and in particular avoiding permanent large 'refugee cities';
  • Enabling environment for private sector development - particularly to attract and productively utilize Afghans from Pakistan, Iran, and the Middle East;
  • Export development, focusing on agricultural and livestock products and minerals;
  • Energy development and management; and
  • Environment and natural resource management (especially forestry).

Involving the Afghan people

88. Despite all the problems that Afghanistan has faced, its people are resilient and willing to be involved in the rebuilding their country. If the process of reconstruction is to take root the Afghan people, and particularly the Afghan women, will have to be intimately involved with it. Sakandar Ali said "¼[the longer-term reconstruction] has to be a programme conceived with the people, representing the needs of the people so that they have a sense of ownership and it ensures continuity and it ensures success"[130].

89. Sections of the Afghan diaspora are willing to return provided stability and security can be preserved. Many Afghan expatriates are highly educated and will bring back essential skills. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has begun a project to build a database of skills among the refugees and in the diaspora and is assessing people's willingness to return so that the needs of the country can be matched against the skills of its people.

Security and stability

90. Security has been discussed earlier in this report in the context of maintaining the delivery of humanitarian relief. Steps will have to be taken to ensure security and stability, which are vital to any plans for longer term reconstruction. The provision of security and stability is likely to entail the disarmament and demobilisation of the warring factions and the creation of acceptable policing arrangements. We would be interested to know what plans DFID and the Government have for using, in Afghanistan, the pooled resource on conflict prevention and the lessons learned in rebuilding Sierra Leone.

The role of the UN and the international community in tackling poverty

91. In general, the international community has shown a lack of interest in Afghanistan and there has been insufficient work on development activities. Although the terrorists involved in September 11 appear to have come from prosperous arab states, the beliefs and values which led to their actions have their roots in the bitterness and hatred born out of poverty and injustice. The war on terrorism is unlikely ultimately to be won without defeating terrorism's seed bed of poverty and injustice. In particular the United States must be bound into the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan and not turn its back on the region once Osama Bin Laden has been dealt with. Her Majesty's Government must ensure that the United States understands the importance of the contribution they have to make and work to keep them engaged in the region.

The shape of a future government

92. In Afghanistan, the key institutions of state, such as a central bank, tax collection system, customs and excise, national statics, an impartial civil service, institutions of law and order, and a functioning judicial system are either missing or perilously weak[131]. CARE International said that a political process was needed in Afghanistan that ensured plurality, safeguarded the vulnerable and established the foundations of prosperity. They called for the international community to back a longer-term programme of rehabilitation and development[132]. This is not the first time that Afghanistan has faced a new dawn and the prospect of reconstruction - there were the Geneva Accords of 1988 and the 1993 peace process. Many of those whom we met on our visit could recall previous attempts at reconstruction and were a little cynical about the chances. However, there are reasons to believe that things can be different this time. Previously, there have been few attempts at reconciliation and little attempt to provide security (one of the reasons the Taliban were accepted initially was because of the order they brought). Now there is international attention on the need to preserve stability and to work towards reconciliation. It is vital that this time the international community - as a whole - makes a long-term commitment to solving the problems in Afghanistan and the surrounding region and holds to the policy.

93. Whatever form of transitional government emerges and whatever the shape of government in the future it is important that the external powers working for a settlement respect the history and traditions of the area and do not try to impose a settlement at odds with Afghanistan's culture. Central to this must be the role of the elder councils or Loya Jirga. However, while respecting traditions it will be essential to build in democracy and accountability at local, regional and national levels of government. Women are key to the rebuilding and future stability of Afghanistan not least because, unlike men, few were involved in fighting: they must play their full part at all levels of government. In order to ensure that women's needs are properly reflected in the long­term reconstruction and development of Afghanistan, it will be necessary to ensure that women, as well as men, control budgets for development programmes.

94. The UN and the international NGOs will be the largest employers in any post-conflict reconstruction. If the food in food-for-work projects is counted as wages, then before September 11, the WFP was the largest employer in Afghanistan[133]. DFID's 100-day plan acknowledges the danger that the wages offered by the UN and international NGOs could potentially undermine attempts to establish local institutions and government[134].

95. Women, like men, need education in order to play an effective role in public affairs. UNHCR told us that it is their policy to provide primary education for boys and girls in the refugee camps, but not secondary education. The international development target of ensuring that all children have access to primary education by 2015 may be having the unintended consequence of reducing the emphasis on secondary education. Very few girls, compared even with boys, in the refugee camps or in Afghanistan attend secondary classes. DFID should address the lack of secondary education for Afghan girls in order to create a larger cadre of women who are equipped to play a leading role in the local, regional and national government and in the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

The need for a regional aid strategy

96. Thought must be given to the impact the reconstruction of Afghanistan will have on its neighbours. Nigel Fisher of UNICEF recognised this when he said "I think one thing that is very new is the consistent international recognition that the whole crisis now is a result of [a] lack of peace and security in Afghanistan and that the long-term resolution of those problems is part of a long-term resolution of the international crisis. It is very important, I think, that the international community follows [its] rhetoric with investment, long­term investment and not only in Afghanistan, it is required in Tajikistan, it is required even in Balochistan and North West Frontier Province. The crisis is sub-regional, not only in Afghanistan"[135]. There is currently an emergency feeding programme in Tajikistan as a result of the regional drought. Some of Afghanistan's neighbours are themselves recovering from civil war and instability. Donors will need to take a regional perspective if there is to be any hope of a longer term settlement that does not simply displace the problem into a neighbouring country or attract instability in the form of economic migrants.

From food-for-work to institution building - bridging the gap

97. It will be essential to bridge the transition from, in the short-term, the provision of humanitarian relief to, in the longer term, more development-based activity. Humanitarian relief will be needed for some time to come. There will be no definitive end to this and the transition to development activity will take place at a different pace in different areas. In the interim, there will be a role for programmes such as WFP food-for-work and food-for-education programmes. Eventually these programmes can be reduced once the economy begins to function and people are able to build their own livelihoods.


98. Prior to the September 11 attacks, the UNHCR had estimated that 200,000 Afghan refugees would be repatriated from Iran and Pakistan (100,000 from each country) in 2001. By January 2001, 1,455,000 refugees had been repatriated from Iran and 2,368,000 from Pakistan. But prospects for returnees are dismal. There is widespread poverty, limited food security, drought, failure of crops, loss of livestock, no significant rehabilitation or development projects, no private sector investment, unreliable and non-existent infrastructure and widespread problems with landmines and unexploded ordinance. The Taliban oversaw a reorganisation of the public sector that has exacerbated urban poverty (downsizing of several ministries, banning women from teaching and withdrawing their salaries)[136].

99. Spontaneous repatriation has been going on as long as the refugee crisis (see Table 8) and has continued throughout the crisis. This indicates that many refugees still have a strong desire to return home. Any plans for the longer-term reconstruction of Afghanistan must address the issue of repatriation. Refugees in Iran and Pakistan are well integrated into local communities and in some cases appear to have settled. They have access to education (albeit limited) and some health provision. Many refugees from rural backgrounds have become urbanised in the cramped conditions of the refugee camps[137], which no longer represent tented camps but sprawling towns indistinguishable from their Pakistani neighbours. If these refugees are ever to return home they will want conditions to be as good as or better than those in which they have been living. Security is the trigger that will cause them to return home but it is only the creation of viable livelihoods that will keep them in Afghanistan and prevent them from becoming displaced. This will require the development of agriculture, the repair of irrigation systems, demining, the provision of infrastructure, measures to tackle poverty and above all adequate food security. Longer-term reconstruction will have to deliver both security and economic prosperity while safeguarding human rights and ensuring access to health and education.

Pakistan (assisted)
Pakistan (spontaneous)
Pakistan Subtotal
Iran (assisted)
Iran (spontaneous)
Iran Subtotal
Grand Total

Table 8: Afghan Repatriation Statistics. Note: Some totals may not add up due to rounding

100. During our visit to Pakistan the UNHCR told us that if a transitional government were formed, up to three and a half million refugees from Iran, Pakistan and other countries could decide to return home. Of these between 800,000 and one million would be likely to return after the winter. This would present a significant challenge to the UNHCR and potentially could put an additional strain on Afghanistan as well as increasing tension within the country. The issues of repatriation and returnees must be included in any discussion on the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

101. UNHCR also told us that they were able to provide a repatriation grant worth US$120 for each family returning home. The grant consisted of 5000 Rupees in cash (worth US$90), 100 kg wheat and a piece of plastic sheeting. The cash is intended to enable the family to pay for transport but it is only enough to get a family from North West Frontier Province to Kabul. Families from further away in Afghanistan need a larger grant.

The outlook for food security

102. The immediate prospects for food security look bleak. Much of the agricultural land is damaged and displaced people have been unable to plant crops this year. Some of the agricultural land is unusable because of landmines, cluster bombs and other unexploded ordnance.

Opium production

103. Nearly ninety per cent of the heroin in the UK has its origins in Afghanistan. Afghan farmers turned to poppy farming because of the premium the crop attracted while the agricultural sector in Afghanistan was reeling from the drought. DFID had begun to put money into tackling opium production in the wake of a Taliban ban on poppy cultivation. It is unclear what will happen, especially as many of the poppy fields are now in the hands of tribal factions, but a solution to the problem is needed. Farmers will have to be encouraged to make a livelihood not from opium but either by a return to subsistence or alternative cash crop farming. Support for the development of sustainable livelihoods, which in the past has been weak, is essential.

Basic services

104. Any response by donors to plans for reconstruction must ensure that healthcare, nutrition, water supplies, sanitation and education are properly considered and adequately resourced. Afghanistan has poor facilities and lacks trained staff in its hospitals[138].

105. Access to health services in Afghanistan is almost non-existent for the most vulnerable people - often women and children. Afghanistan has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world. Diarrhoea, acute respiratory infections and vaccine preventable diseases account for sixty per cent of all child deaths in Afghanistan. Twenty five per cent of children die before their fifth birthday and overall life expectancy is forty-four years. Half of Afghanistan's children already suffer malnutrition. The maternal mortality rate is the second highest in the world[139]. UNICEF predicted that as many as 128,000 children will die in the next six months - almost three times as many as would die in 'normal' circumstances[140]. Carol Bellamy told us that of the twenty countries in the world with the worst under five mortality rate nineteen were in sub-Saharan Africa and the other was Afghanistan[141].

106. Afghanistan has one of the lowest literacy rates in the world and only thirty-nine per cent of boys and three per cent of girls have access to education[142]. Many of the poorest families are unwilling to send their children, especially the girls, to school as the children are needed to help maintain the families' livelihood. Dedicated teachers working in very difficult circumstances providing education to girls in secret informal schools have achieved a great deal. The international community must focus on education, developing flexible approaches and using informal teaching arrangements where necessary. There has been some success with food-for-education schemes and there is certainly a continuing role for them in the medium term. However, a more permanent solution to improving school attendance must be developed in the longer term.

Demobilisation, disarmament and child soldiers

107. Procedures must be developed for the safe surrender, disarming and detention of captured fighters in Afghanistan. Judicial procedures will need to be set up to try those in custody accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other serious violations of international law. The coalition in Afghanistan will also need to provide logistical support to ensure the humane treatment of prisoners in their custody. While it can be helpful to the national psyche to have some form of tribunal where justice can be seen to be done and reconciliation for the past made, such mechanisms are fraught with difficulty and, as the Cambodian example shows, can take a long time to come to fruition.

108. Future stability is likely be dependant on the extent to which demobilisation and disarmament of the rival factions, including the victorious groups, within Afghanistan is successful. There may be a need for an international process to oversee and verify disarmament to ensure that all parties engage in the process. Demobilisation of the informal militias will be difficult; many have fought for years and they have an uncertain economic future. They face the same problems that repatriated refugees face returning to their homes with widespread poverty, limited food security, little economic opportunity and widespread problems agricultural land degradation due to drought, conflict and landmines or unexploded ordinance.

109. There are a significant number of child combatants in Afghanistan. Children have been exposed to a culture of violence ever since the Soviet invasion. We were told during our recent visit that school text books would often depict violence in the examples used for the most basic numeracy teaching. As a consequence, violence is ingrained into the modern culture of Afghanistan and new teaching materials will be needed if violence is to be removed. Both Save the Children and UNICEF called for a halt in the recruitment of child soldiers and the demobilisation of existing child soldiers. This may require the creation of specialist centres[143].


110. DFID has recently decided to channel its funding for demining activity through the UN Mine Action Service rather than support demining activities directly. One of the criticisms of this approach is that the UN administrative overhead means less money will be spent on demining. On the other hand the UN has a global reach in ways that bilateral donors do not.

111. Afghanistan is the second most heavily mined country in the world. Around three hundred Afghans are killed or maimed by land mines each month[144]. Children are often the victims of landmines or unexploded ordnance and cluster bombs can only have added to the total. One in three of Afghanistan's mine victims is a child[145]. The UN Mine Action Programme in Afghanistan is one of the most successful but in 2000 funding was cut by half as donors only provided fifty per cent of the amount requested in the 2000 Consolidated Appeal. The shortfall in funding meant that only sixty-four per cent of its clearance target and sixty-eight per cent of its mine awareness targets were met[146]. The shortfall in funding was so severe that from September to December 2000 implementing staff in NGOs were sent on two months unpaid leave with a freeze on salaries for all other staff. There is an urgent need to increase the resources available for the removal and disposal of mines and unexploded ordnance. UNOCHA co-ordinates mine action in Afghanistan. In the donor alert it requested US$17.1 million for mine action but by November 14 had only received US$3.2 million[147]. UNICEF called for extra resources to be channelled into mine awareness education and for the support of mine victims[148]. In their memoranda, both Save the Children and UNICEF called for a halt in the use of cluster bombs[149].

The role of women

112. Women will be a powerful force for change in Afghanistan. It was female WFP staff members who convinced the Taliban to allow bakeries to be established in Kabul run by women for women because the Taliban's ban on women working would have had a devastating impact on widows and female-headed households[150].

113. There are an estimated 700,000 war widows in Afghanistan. In a country where women have few rights, female-headed households and child-headed households often have to eke out extremely fragile livelihoods[151]. Whatever form of government emerges, we must ensure that those in power will have respect for women's rights and will lead by example. No side in the current conflict has demonstrated sufficient understanding of this issue and it will require significant political pressure from the international community to end decades of oppression. But change it must, women have a vital role to play in the rebuilding and reconstruction of a peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan. We expect that donors including DFID will be working to raise awareness of the important part that women have to play in the rebuilding of Afghanistan and to ensure that they are properly represented in any transitional government.

Risk of Talibanisation of Pakistan

114. There is already evidence of an increasing 'Talibanisation' of Pakistan and a rise of an increasingly singular approach to Islam being taught in the madrassas. Clare Short said "Of course the nightmare of anything going wrong in Afghanistan would be Pakistan being destabilised and being Talibanised and then you would have a Taliban government with a nuclear weapon"[152]. The madrassas were able to attract the poor by providing food, shelter, an education and ultimately a cause. The relationship between the state and religion is crucial. The Government of Pakistan needs to be able to check what is being taught to its young people and monitor the quality of the curriculum. The growth of the madrassas was symptomatic of a failure to tackle poverty and provide basic education in Pakistan. Abbas Sarfaz Khan, Minister for Kashmir Affairs, Northern Areas, SAFRON and Housing Works with responsibility for Afghan refugees, conceded that, in the 1980s refugee camps had been the recruiting ground for mujaheedin fighters and that previous governments had colluded in this. He noted that since that time, the situation had changed radically and the Government of Pakistan would now not allow camps to be used as a base for fermenting extremism. DFID should comment on its plans for supporting education in Pakistan in its response to this report.

128  Q214 Back

129  Afghanistan - World Bank Approach Paper, November 2001 Back

130  Q87 Back

131  Afghanistan - World Bank Approach Paper, November 2001 Back

132  Ev 4 Back

133  Q161 Back

134  Ev 126, [Annex G, Para 6] Back

135  Q180 Back

136  UN Consolidated Appeal 2001, Back

137  Q170 Back

138  Ev 42, [Para 6] Back

139  Ev 78,[Para 2] Back

140  Ev 78,[Para 5] Back

141  Q132 Back

142  Ev 42,[Para 7] Back

143  Ev 81,[Paras 37-38], Ev 43, [Para 10] Back

144  Atmar, The Politicisation of humanitarian aid and its consequences for Afghans, Humanitarian Exchange, ODI, September 2001 Back

145  Ev 42,[Para 8] Back

146  UN Consolidated Appeal 2001 Back

147  UNOCHA, Financial tracking data from ReliefWeb, Table III Listing of Project Activities - By Sector Back

148  Ev 82, [Para 42] Back

149  Ev 41; Ev 82, Para 41] Back

150  Q151 Back

151  Ev 44, [Para 20] Back

152  Q213 Back

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