Select Committee on International Development Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Jaya Graves

  The humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan is enormous and well recorded. Many organisations have given evidence of its scope and urgency and many more are going to continue to do so.

  What we are concerned with in this short testament is the effect of policy and politics on many international situations and, in this case, in Afghanistan.

  Many people have argued that humanitarian aid is too politicised to be effective where it is most needed. There is a persuasive article on this subject in the current edition of the newsletter of BOND (Networker).

  It is not our aim to present further evidence of this obvious need. The politicisation of debt and aid is self evident in Pakistan in the current conflict.

  Our analysis of the situation, as well as our reading, has made it clear that,while some humanitarian crises may appear entirely free of any political influences; this is not generally the case. Most `humanitarian' crises have political causes or are exacerbated by politics. Many of these have an international dimension. This has been the case in Afghanistan for the last several hundred years. In the current situation we need to look back just 20 years to see how the `humanitarian' crisis has been created by a range of external countries using the region to play out cold war politics in the 60s and 70s. After an initial withdrawal, a subtle power struggle for control has resumed, mainly due to the need to transport oil through the country. The Taliban, though publicly excluded, have had talks at high level with the US in relation to building pipelines through its territory. Meanwhile the region was awash with a new generation of high-tech weapons through which the casualty level of internecine conflict rose enormously. (The range and damage that can be inflicted by a jezail, the traditional Afghani rifle is limited compared to the damage a Kalasnikov and other beasts can do). The meddling by the one time super rivals left a legacy of bitter hatreds where there once there were rival skirmishes. This has been the legacy of many proxy wars and they have created, not only a breakdown of state structures but also massive humanitarian crises. (A similar argument can be made for Angola and Mozambique, identified as `failed states' by the Foreign Secretary.) It has also meant that no Western country has diplomatic relations with Afghanistan. There is little FDI and little `aid'.(Having fought a proxy war in the country, one could make a sound case for reparation rather than `aid').

  What we are arguing is that `humanitarian crises' have political and historical causes. This being the case, it is essential that organisations that are active in a region and in this case, Afghanistan, are permitted and encouraged to present a historical and political analysis of the situation. To do these NGOs, who have been the main operational organisations within Afghanistan, must feel free from the threat of having their funds curtailed and their status withdrawn. (In tandem Development agencies must be willing to take some risks with these.) For this they need some assurances from the Departments concerned. Is this something that the IDC could recommend and encourage? It is also important to maintain and exchange information with regional countries rather than depending entirely on Western alliances, none of who have any links with Afghanistan. It is necessary to take a real interest in a country rather than one determined by realpolitiks. And it is necessary to recognise and admit the failure on the part of the international community, because we have used and failed the Afghani people, rather than merely blaming.

  While some of these may become redundant in the aftermath of the current withdrawal of the Taleban, these are lessons here for engagements in other parts of the world.

  Enclosed is a letter we received recently from the US (not printed). For what is troubling for many of us is that this use and destruction of Southern countries are not stray examples but a matter of policy by Government of the North.

Jaya Graves, Southern Voices

(Written in a personal capacity)

14 November 2001

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