Examination of Witnesses (Questions 71
TUESDAY 16 MARCH 2004
Q71 Chairman: May I welcome on behalf
of the Committee our next two witnesses, who will focus mainly
on Afghanistan. First, Kate Clark of the BBC, who I am told has
visited Afghanistan on a number occasions.
Ms Clark: I was there for three
years, from 1999, so during the time of the Taliban. The Taliban
expelled me in March 2001, during the destruction of the Buddhas,
and I was based in Pakistan. Then I came back through northern
Afghanistan after September 11 and came to Kabul on the day that
it fell, and I was there until the summer of 2002.
Q72 Chairman: We also welcome Mr
Peter Marsden, of the Refugee Council and the British Agencies
Mr Marsden: That is right.
Chairman: The Committee will later be
visiting Pakistan and Afghanistan, and therefore it is particularly
valuable that we obtain the up-to-date information from the two
Q73 Mr Chidgey: I am very pleased
you were here for the earlier session, because you will have heard
my series of questions about security and the position regarding
the Taliban which I put to the previous witnesses. I would like
to carry on with that. You will be aware, I am sure, that in December
of last year, Kofi Annan expressed his concern about the security
situation in Afghanistan and said basically that it was a deteriorating
situation which was of major concern for the UN and for himself.
What I would like to ask you directly is what do you believe
is the current security situation in Afghanistan?
Mr Marsden: I think we can say
that the military intervention of October 2001 resulted in a reversion
to the power-holding arrangements that existed prior to the Taliban
taking over, and this fragmented power-holding situation has been
aggravated by an expansion of the opium trade, by efforts by the
Karzai Government to replace governors and chiefs of police, by
the US-led coalition paying various militia groups to assist them
in the war on terror, and by growing criminal activity, particularly
banditry. Government control is tenuous in all areas, including
Q74 Mr Chidgey: If you have a written
statement there, it would be helpful if you could submit it to
Mr Marsden: I chose my words carefully
in preparing for this hearing this morning because I need to get
through a lot of information in a short time. It is not a long
statement, but I would rather do bits of it at a time. It is just
that, having tried to cut it down this morning, I would rather
Chairman: It would be helpful if we had
that on record, if you could submit it, and perhaps you could
summarise in response to Mr Chidgey's question.
Q75 Mr Chidgey: I appreciate what
you are trying to achieve, but we have to be rather precise with
our questioning, if we can. For example, you are in a position
now to compare, which we are not. How strong are the Taliban now?
What level of support do they command in comparison to previous
years, when the military action was taking place?
Mr Marsden: I think a significant
development is that the Taliban have clearly radicalised, in the
sense that before they lost power they were not engaged in terrorist
activity, which clearly they are now. They have been engaged in
an orchestrated campaign to murder those associated with what
is seen as a US-led state building process. One sees a very similar
pattern in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Q76 Mr Chidgey: Would you call them
terrorists or would you call them guerrillas?
Mr Marsden: I would call them
radicals who are now engaged in terrorist activity.
Q77 Mr Chidgey: How do they see themselves?
Mr Marsden: They would see themselves
as radicals aimed at undermining the US.
Ms Clark: Just to back up what
Mr Marsden is saying, when the Taliban were in government, it
was pretty safe for foreigners to travel in Afghanistan. Now it
has become much less safe. There is about a third of the country
where aid workers find it too insecure to go. That is mainly in
the south and the east. The actual attacks on aid workers, on
clerics, on people associated with the coalition forces, have
gone up. Care, which is an aid organisation mainly from America,
have found some statistics. About a year ago we were talking about
one to two killings a month. In late 2002 there were one to three
murders a month. By late summer last year we were talking about
20 a month. In January alone there were 80 people killed. So the
numbers of attacks are increasing, and it is something which the
aid workers are very worried about. However, if you look at what
Afghans saythere was a very good questionnaire or survey
done at the end of last yearmost Afghans are quite optimistic.
They are quite happy with security. That is partly because there
is not much fighting, so in Afghan terms, the country is quite
secure at the moment.
Q78 Mr Chidgey: That is quite interesting,
if I may say so, because on the one hand you are saying that the
Afghans are optimistic, and on the other hand you are telling
us that the number of killings has been increasing. I am trying
to work out what level of support the Taliban command and from
Mr Marsden: A health warning on
that particular survey: it was conducted in areas that researchers
could access; in other words, it said people were optimistic in
areas that were safe, and they were not able to access large areas
of the south, where people continue to feel that security is a
serious problem. Going back to this question of how powerful the
Taliban are, one can say that the Taliban are seeking to undermine
the US-led or supported government in Afghanistan by seeking to
undermine the reconstruction process, and they are doing that
by killing aid workers, by killing people, for example, working
on the major highway between Kabul and Kandahar, by killing telecommunications
workers in Kabul and so on, and they have been very effective.
As Ms Clark has said, the south is now effectively out of bounds
for the aid community, and much of the aid is now concentrated
in Kabul and the north. So one can say the Taliban have been successful
in one objective. They have to a degree managed to build up a
power base in the south, to the extent that people are providing
them with protection against US forces; in other words, when the
US forces are going into villages and asking people whether Taliban
or al-Qaeda have passed through, people on the whole are not telling
them. Whether the population would be willing to accept a return
of the Taliban I very much doubt. The Taliban were becoming increasingly
unpopular prior to their overthrow, because they were becoming
increasingly radicalised in the wake of US air strikes in Afghanistan
of August 1998 and two lots of UN sanctions. So the Taliban were,
in a sense, on the way out before the US intervention, in my view,
and I very much doubt that the population would want the Taliban
to return. On the other hand, the US forces have behaved extremely
badly in the villages of southern Afghanistan in pursuit of the
war on terror. A recent Human Rights Watch report documented this
very well. So the potential is there for the Taliban to build
on antipathy to the US presence and the fact that the Pashtun
feel inadequately represented in the corridors of power in Kabul,
although that has somewhat modified since the constitution of
the Loya Jirga. So the potential is there for the Taliban to gain
a degree of popular support even if the population in the south
would not actually want them back.
Q79 Mr Chidgey: Where do the warlords
fit into all this?
Ms Clark: Could I just come in
on the Taliban? When the Taliban were popular, they were popular
with Pashtuns. It was generally a Pushtun movement. When the Shura-e
Nazar group took Kabul in 2001this is the part of the Northern
Alliance that mainly comes from the Panjshir Valleymany
Pushtuns felt very marginalised. They felt that they were no longer
represented in government. As Mr Marsden says, it is slightly
better now. When I was travelling in the south, though, people
were angry about what had happened, but they were angry because
they wanted to be included in the Kabul government. They did not
want to go back to the Taliban, and I think the Taliban have lost
all credibility. They were losing credibility when they were in
government, and the sort of attacks that they are carrying out
now are not popular.