Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80 - 99)



  Q80  Mr Chidgey: So they are controlling through fear, not support?

  Ms Clark: Yes. One thing I would add to that is on the other side of the border in Pakistan, in the tribal areas in particular, which I have visited, there is a lot more support for the Taliban, ironically. People there see Afghans and the Taliban as victims of American imperialism, and they see them as their Islamic brothers who are suffering under the yoke of an American occupation. So there is generally a much less nuanced view of the Taliban, because Pakistanis have not had to live with them, and I would say there is much more popular support for them.

  Q81  Mr Chidgey: Can I pick up on my other question, which is the warlords and the part they are playing in all this? Are they part of the destabilisation process, or what?

  Ms Clark: Yes.

  Mr Marsden: Just building on what Ms Clark was saying, I think also a factor on the Pakistan side is that the Pakistani Government has never had much control in the tribal areas, and is now engaged very actively in military activity in the tribal areas in pursuit of the war on terror. This is a further factor which will increase popular support on the Pakistan side for the Taliban. In terms of the so-called warlords, I prefer not to use that term and to say "power holders." One has in the north a limited number of major power holders: Ismail Khan in Herat, who runs a pretty effective fiefdom. The economy is doing well and everything is going fine. There are some concerns about his human rights record, but he runs an effective show. In the Mazar area you have two conflicting power holders: Dostum and Atta Mohammad. The tensions between the two have been around for at least a decade. But some progress has been made with the initiative of the Ministry of Interior, the British-led PRT[7], and what is called the Mazar Multi-Party Commission, which brings together the parties to reduce the tensions. That is working, I think. In the north-east you have pretty effective Jamiat-e Islami control under General Daoud and others. Then in the centre you have Hizb-e-Wahdat whose minister, Muhaqeq, has just been sacked or resigned.

  Q82  Mr Chidgey: How serious a threat are they to the stability of the country?

  Mr Marsden: I think the major threat to stability, which I do not think is necessarily that serious, arises from tensions within the government between those who stayed behind to fight in the jihad against the Soviet occupation and people who went into exile, mainly in the States, and have come back, having been professionals, into senior positions. The resentment between those is increasing, and it is quite possible that one may see strong contenders for the position of president from Muhaqeq and maybe others within Jamiat-e-Islami.

  Ms Clark: The warlords: I think many of them were surprised that they were allowed back into power following 2001, not only that they were allowed back into their own areas, but repeatedly they were allowed to stay there. So after 2001, after the fall of Kabul, after the Loya Jirga of 2002, each time they have been allowed to stay, and each time, of course, as they remain there, they become more powerful politically, in terms of business. I think one of the problems is that often their links are stronger with neighbouring countries than they are with Kabul. So, for example, who controls the customs dues? Ismail gets the money from Iran. He has just been persuaded to hand over 20 million, which was not very much, to Kabul, and actually in the last week or two one of the officials who went there to try and get some more money was allegedly beaten up by him. These are serious things. All the way round you get the big commanders, warlords, making money not only out of customs dues but out of opium smuggling, out of smuggling of other goods, directly getting money from other countries, and this is a destabilising force, because who are they answerable to, particularly when you have elections coming up? Also, they can afford their own soldiers. There are still 100,000-200,000 armed men in private armies. We saw at the Loya Jirga that the commanders are very happy to put their money into bribery, into trying to buy votes, and we have elections coming up this year. These are all problems of instability.

  Q83  Mr Chidgey: What should the international community and Afghanistan's neighbours be doing to try to restore stability and to tackle the threats that are posed by the Taliban and by the warlords?

  Ms Clark: I think it is very, very difficult, because these decisions were made in the heat of war. The Americans decided basically to reconstitute a lot of the factions, which the Taliban had managed to clear up. Some were still fighting the Taliban. They did exist. In other cases American funding has reconstituted these men. Many of them are in the government or they are provincial governors or they are in the army. As I said, they have major business portfolios, illicit and licit. What do you do now? I think America is still funding some of these commanders in the fight against al-Qaeda, so they are still getting support. What Karzai seems to be doing is taking a slowly-slowly approach, and you see this in terms of, for example, when the post-Taliban government was reconstituted, this one group, Shura-e Nazar, held the army, the interior and the intelligence. They now hold only the defence and intelligence. Interior has gone to a Pashtun technocrat. He is gradually sorting out his house. Disarmament has not started really, and it is difficult to see how you do that without a lot of pressure, particularly from the Americans.

  Mr Marsden: I think what one sees is a veneer of the World Bank etc. trying to create a perfect state on top of this under-belly that Ms Clark has just described of virtual chaos and many elements in the situation which are difficult to control. The US and the international community have come up with this concept of Provincial Reconstruction Teams to try and create some sense of order, but the experience so far with those, with the exception of the British-led PRT in Mazar, has been of very limited effectiveness. The British Government is taking the initiative to try and make the PRTs more effective by drawing on their experience in Mazar to encourage the others to follow suit, and that may or may not result in more serious attention being given to what the local dynamics are in a given area and how they might be improved by negotiation or whatever, but in some areas, particularly in the south, where you have so many fingers in the pie, it is very difficult to see the wood for the trees. I am not sure what PRTs or anyone can do to try and bring some sense of order.

  Q84  Chairman: Before I move on to PRTs, could you help us on this: how difficult is it to distinguish between the Taliban and al-Qaeda? I recall that during the war the point was made that they were in many ways intertwined by marriage, by contact. Is it possible now more easily to distinguish the two?

  Mr Marsden: I think it has always been relatively easy. The Taliban were people simply with a madrasa education, and were pretty unsophisticated on the whole. Many of the volunteers who come in to fight for al-Qaeda have come in from other parts of the Islamic world, a lot of them were intellectuals, and they were clearly distinguishable by virtue of their nationality. So I think, in terms of the approach to the world, there is a very clear difference between what one might term the folk religion approach of the Taliban and the very sophisticated pan-Islamic view of al-Qaeda. What one saw post the US air strikes of August 1998 was the Taliban being forced to take Osama bin Laden under their wing. Previously there had been almost no contact between the two. So one saw a growing attention to pan-Islamic objectives on the part of the Taliban from that date onwards, and that became particularly intense after the October intervention by the US.

  Q85  Chairman: Ms Clark, would you like to qualify that in any way?

  Ms Clark: Yes. I do not think there has ever been any difficulty in telling the difference between the Taliban and al-Qaeda people. The one big difference, of course, after the war against them was that the Taliban could go home on the whole. Taliban soldiers could go home to their villages. They were Afghans, they were welcomed back, no problem, and President Karzai said "Anyone who does not have blood on his hands is our compatriot." It was very clear even among the Taliban the speed with which they turned on non-Afghans.

  Q86  Chairman: That is said to be one of the features, that Afghans were reluctant to kill other Afghans, but were more ready to attack foreigners.

  Ms Clark: Yes, and for example, Pakistani volunteers who had come to fight with the Taliban, idealistic young men a lot of them, were just left high and dry, or the Afghans did deals amongst themselves. That was a very clear pattern. I just wanted to say one other thing which I should say, that Afghans of all stripes always ask for is more peace-keepers. That is the one thing at the moment they are only in Kabul. We do have these PRTs but, for example, the Mazar PRT is 72 men trying to look after an area the size of Scotland.

  Q87  Chairman: This is what I would really like to obtain your views on now, your assessment of the effectiveness of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams. Perhaps you would begin and Mr Marsden can continue.

  Ms Clark: They were ill-defined in their focus, and they emerged out of the fact that the Americans did not want to have more peace-keepers. They are happy to have ISAF[8] in Kabul but they did not want them elsewhere, despite virtually everyone asking for them, from Karzai to the UN. Whenever you ask ordinary Afghans what they want, in my experience, peace-keepers is very high on the list, if not the highest thing on the list. PRTs are somewhat less than peace-keepers. They have a triple mandate: to try and deal with security, to support the aid work, and to advance the reach of central government in the provinces. The best of them, like the British in Mazar, have actually done some negotiating between the conflicting parties, some sort of peace work, some sort of security work. The worst-built schools, the aid projects that military people can do but aid workers or Afghans can do at a much cheaper price. For the military, it is seen as an attempt to win hearts and minds, and in that way they see that if they are doing good work in the community, the community will accept them more readily. That was the feeling behind it. It is very difficult though.

  Q88  Chairman: Does it happen? Are they successful?

  Mr Marsden: I do not think they are successful, because at the same time the US forces are behaving in a very insensitive fashion, bursting into people's houses, searching women, insulting the elders of the village. The Human Rights Watch report I referred to earlier documents this very well. So I think the US forces are losing support more quickly than they are gaining it, and at the same time, by many of the PRTs digging wells and building schools, in pursuit of the war on terror, in order to get intelligence and so on, they have seriously undermined the humanitarian neutrality and impartiality the NGOs working in Afghanistan have taken 15 years to build up, and it is now highly dangerous for the aid community to work anywhere where PRTs exist. In other words, the PRT people say, "We are here to provide an environment in which NGOs can work" but the mere existence of the PRT digging wells and building schools blurs the boundary between themselves and NGOs, so that NGOs then become targets of the Taliban and others and are killed. So NGOs have withdrawn as a result of that. We, as British NGOs, engaged very actively with the British Government in the planning of the Mazar PRT and we are very pleased that it has taken on board the very strong focus on security and has done almost nothing on the reconstruction front. We are also pleased that the British Government looks as though it will be encouraging ISAF to take on board more PRTs on the Mazar model, with a strong focus on negotiating better security, but we are enormously concerned, for example, about a recent PRT which has been set up in Herat by the US Government, where the US has stated that they are there to improve security, and to that end are building schools and digging wells and so on, but they have started doing this in the suburbs of Herat, where security is 100 per cent fine, where NGOs have been working for 10-15 years, and it is now very difficult for NGOs to continue to operate, because they are increasingly perceived as being associated with the US coalition forces.

  Q89  Sir John Stanley: You have started to answer my question before I put it in reply to the Chairman's, but can I pick up what you said earlier? You made a contrast between the relative success of the British PRT and the others, which you said were ineffective. Could you just clarify further what you believe to be the key to the British success and why it has not been possible to replicate that with the other PRTs that are in operation?

  Mr Marsden: I think for the simple reason the British Government set out to improve the security environment, whereas the US PRTs stated that that was their objective, but there were probably other agendas, such as the desire to win hearts and minds in pursuit of the war on terror, which in fact dictated how they operated. So the fact that the British Government decided to operate in an area where there were clearly tensions between two major power holders and set out to resolve those tensions meant that they had been effective in doing what they set out to do, whereas the PRTs elsewhere have not been very clear about their mandate, and they have very much focused on the reconstruction side, at the expense of security. They have not seriously set out, in my view, to improve the security environment; they stated that that was their objective but that is not how they have behaved.

  Q90  Sir John Stanley: Do you see the PRT policy as one which, if sufficient resources were put into it, peace-keepers, financial resources and so on, would be an effective route forward in Afghanistan or not?

  Mr Marsden: I am not a military specialist. I am not sure what the alternatives are. So far our experience with PRTs has been quite negative. I am open as to whether the British Government can find a way forward based on the Mazar model which does result in improvement in security, but there may be options other than PRTs of a military nature which might be effective.

  Ms Clark: I think the British PRT has worked because it has been focusing on one issue, which is security, and security is the key to everything else in Afghanistan. It really does not matter how much aid you put into the country if the basic level of security is not there, and that is why peace-keeping, or the sort of peace-keeping that the British PRT is carrying out, is so essential. I should say as well that I think the British one is doing well because the British army does this sort of work very well, and certainly when they set up ISAF in Kabul Afghans were very surprised and very pleased with how they carried out their duties, being very direct, very clear with everyone, and Kabul was not easy when they came to take it over, and Mazar is probably one of the more difficult places in Afghanistan to work.

  Q91  Sir John Stanley: It seems that both of you are saying to us it is going to be essential to put in greater personnel, particularly on the security side.

  Mr Marsden: Yes.

  Ms Clark: Yes.

  Q92  Sir John Stanley: I do not think either of you are holding out much prospect of even being able to hold the line where we are in security terms without that.

  Mr Marsden: I think one of the big difficulties is actually understanding the local dynamics. Before the Taliban overthrow, most of us in the aid community understood who was who and where they were powerful, and that is no longer the case. There is an urgent need for a mechanism to really put a lot of resources into finding out what the local power dynamics are and how one might influence that. The UN has been trying to do that pretty effectively; they have some very good experts, but the turnover of those experts is quite high, and one really needs to have some dedicated people working long-term, building some local intelligence so that we can operate safely and so that the government can actually move forward in negotiating a more secure environment. The other big issue, of course, is the absence of rule of law. At this present moment, there is still no effective army, police force or judiciary, which clearly affects refugees being sent back from the UK. A lot of effort has been put into security sector reform by the British, Italian and German Governments, so that is another major area of focus that needs to be well resourced.

  Q93  Chairman: You have mentioned the army and the police force. How successful has the build-up of the indigenous police force and army been?

  Ms Clark: Very poor indeed. The national army has a very high drop-out rate.

  Q94  Chairman: Why?

  Ms Clark: Partly because people come to Kabul and they think they are going to be trained and they will be well paid, and the pay has not been very good. They are often sent from the provinces by the local commanders, and the local commanders like to keep their best men, so you get men who are not that good. Thirdly, the Ministry of Defence is still controlled by a warlord, General Fahim, who is the military commander from the group Shura-e Nazar, which took over from Massoud when Massoud was assassinated. There is still an uneasy dynamic about exactly where the national army fits in. The Ministry of Defence is just starting to be reformed, but very recently, probably about a year ago, 90 per cent of the generals still came from three districts in the Panjshir Valley, so it was a very narrow group of people forming the basis for the Ministry of Defence.

  Mr Marsden: I entirely agree with everything that Ms Clark is saying, but on the police side, just to add that there are some issues about training. There are two lots of training, one provided by the Germans, which is quite a long course of several months. I am not sure who else is providing the training—maybe the Italians—and those are very short courses. So there is no consistency across the board in terms of the training that is being provided. The other problem with the training is that it is focused on using police to provide a degree of security. Police are not being trained to provide protection for the individual, and so that is a key element, that the individual has no effective protection from the state at the moment.

  Q95  Mr Illsley: My questions were going to be on the level of international commitment to Afghanistan, but in view of what you said earlier, the questions should be about the quality of the direction of the international commitment. Do you both believe it needs more resources being brought into Afghanistan by the international community? We have seen evidence that perhaps ISAF has a limited reach and needs more resources. The IMF[9] has said that Afghanistan requires substantial donor assistance for some years to come. So it looks as though there is an obvious need for resources, but in view of what you said about the PRTs, does that need to be better targeted? Should where we are spending the money be better directed, especially as you suggested the British team as opposed to the other models? Do we need to have some sort of reorganisation of this conflict between those teams and the NGOs, where you say the NGOs are put at risk by the mere presence of the well diggers and the school builders?

  Ms Clark: Is there enough international commitment to Afghanistan? If you compare, say, aid alone compared with other countries like Rwanda or Kosovo or East Timor, it has been tiny. I think it is about $75 per Afghan whereas the Kosovans are getting $300 per person. There is quite a significant difference in the aid Afghans are getting. The other issue is how much aid actually goes there. I think about two-thirds of the money pledged after the Tokyo conference was on humanitarian aid. A lot of that was food aid, which has not proved particularly helpful for reconstruction. Food aid was very important when Afghanistan was suffering its bad drought, but since then the rains have been good, the harvests have been good; food aid is not a good way to help Afghanistan. It harms the local markets. It makes it much more likely, for example, that people are going to grow opium, because you can make more money out of it. Going to Afghanistan now, people are not very happy with how the aid has been spent. If you go to Kabul, you will find the streets are jam-packed with cars. A lot of them are taxis, a lot of them are Afghanistan cars, but a lot of them are white Toyota four-wheel drives belonging to the UN and NGOs, and people see this conspicuous spending of aid money. They see a lot of foreigners—3,000 alone in Kabul—and the number of NGOs has gone up from 48 in 1999 to 300 in September 2001, after the fall of Kabul, with 500 more just passing through. The number of aid agencies has been astonishing. Afghans see this, and they do not see where the money is going, with the one exception that if you are working for an aid agency you can make a lot of money. So even if you are a doctor or a judge or the other sorts of people who are needed by post-Taliban Afghanistan, you can make more money working as a driver for an NGO or a media organisation or the UN.

  Q96  Mr Illsley: So it is the NGOs who are mis-spending the money then, and not the national governments?

  Ms Clark: I think all of us have, and I include the media organisations in that. Things like house prices: the rents went up ten times, and that was a problem for everyone, including the returning refugees. So there is a bubble economy in Kabul, a lot of aid being spent, not much co-ordination, the Afghanistan Government is very unhappy that money has not been channelled through them, they feel the NGOs and the UN have political clout which should belong to the Government, and outside Kabul there is not much activity. There have been problems with the rush to spend aid money in Afghanistan. I have often spoken to aid workers, and they say "We've got to spend this money by the end of the financial year" or "We have been given this money and we need to find a project." I think aid is important but security is even more important, and even more than that, Afghans are very good entrepreneurs, they are very good merchants, they have survived the war incredibly well through very strong social structures and very strong institutions, Afghans living abroad funnelling money home. There is an incredible amount of institutional and social and economic capital there, if the country is secure.

  Mr Marsden: I take issue with the word "mis-spending."

  Q97  Mr Illsley: It is probably my inappropriate use of language. Money could be better spent, or spent in a different way.

  Mr Marsden: I would just stress that the aid community has been working in Afghanistan since 1989, providing much of the basic infrastructure of health care, water supply, sanitation and agricultural support. As Ms Clark said, it was relatively small for much of that period. When the US intervened in October 2001, one saw a repeat of what happens in so many situations like that: a large number of other aid agencies rushing in. In part that was because there had been a very serious drought for three years, so a lot of agencies came in to respond to the drought. There were massive appeals. I do not think it would have been as many if that had not happened. One is now seeing a whittling away of the aid community. It is getting more and more difficult for NGOs to get funding. We have just heard from the EU that they are going to cut back on major programmes that NGOs are currently working on for long-term development. So it is not good news for the NGO sector at the moment. As well as being affected by this blurring of boundaries with PRTs, they are also suffering serious falls in funding. We do not want to be staying in Afghanistan for ever and a day. Obviously, the objective is for the Government to build up its own capacity, but for as long as the Government is engaged in that process of building up its capacity by providing health care, education and so on, NGO programmes should be allowed to continue. There is a problem, as Ms Clark has alluded to, of Kabul being enormously expensive, and accommodation is massively more expensive than it was before the US intervention, because it is not only NGOs that have come in; it is the diplomatic community, huge numbers of soldiers, ISAF, the coalition, et cetera. The aid community is a small part of that process. The problem is that NGOs have set themselves up in Kabul with offices which are expensive. They are expensive because of the influx of the expatriate community. They are in a situation in which more and more parts of the country are being denied to them because of decreasing security. They still have to pay the rent on those offices. They have to put more money into employing security staff. So a higher proportion is going on overheads, at the expense of actual programming. So we have to be in a situation in which we will basically say we are going to reduce our overheads next time we renegotiate our leases, and also try and improve the security environment so that we can return to programming. But it is a very difficult situation where you have a large influx of the international community in a recovery situation.

  Ms Clark: You were talking about madrasas and Pakistan earlier. There are NGOs who at the moment are having difficulty getting funds for education projects among Afghan refugees in Pakistan, and these are exactly the community which in the 80s and 90s had difficulty getting funds, and Afghan families were sending their boys off to madrasas, some of whom went on to become Taliban. Even at the moment it is difficult to get funding for education for Afghan refugees in Pakistan, which, in terms of long-term stability, would seem to be a crucial factor.

  Mr Marsden: Most Afghans you talk to would say education is their number one priority. They do not want a continuation of the situation in which the vast majority of the population does not have access to wide-ranging education.

  Q98  Mr Illsley: I must admit, the figure you gave on aid and the fact that the aid compares less favourably to other areas is surprising given the commitment to rebuild Afghanistan. I wonder whether, because we have taken our eye off the ball on Afghanistan and are concentrating on other areas, such as Iraq, that is a consequence, whether people are simply concentrating on other things and there is not enough attention directed towards that country.

  Mr Marsden: I am not sure why that is. Certainly, the British Government has been very consistent and provided very steady in funding Afghanistan over many years, and the level of that funding has been relatively high. They have just increased it by a further £300 million over the first five years post Tokyo. The US has been quite erratic in its funding. You may have seen a report that the White House went to Congress for $85 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan, of which $1 billion was for Afghanistan. So clearly, the attention given or the priority given by the US Government to Afghanistan is substantially less than to Iraq or other conflict situations. I think one can say that by and large the British Government, the EU, the Scandinavian Governments, and one or two other governments in Europe have been pretty steady, but whether the scale of funding provided is adequate is a political decision.

  Q99  Mr Illsley: Bearing in mind what you have said already about the NGOs being in conflict with the PRTs, how is the international commitment viewed from within Afghanistan? How is it viewed by the Afghans? Do they welcome the international community being there? Do they want more? You mentioned more peace-keepers. Do they want a bigger international commitment in Afghanistan? Would they like us to leave and let them get on with it? You mentioned 80 killings a month. I was not clear. Are they killings of Afghans?

  Ms Clark: Afghans and international aid workers. That included civilians and soldiers. It is a global total.

  Mr Marsden: There have been on average around a dozen incidents a month.

  Ms Clark: Five Afghan workers killed. It is regular.

  Mr Marsden: Every month or so half a dozen people are killed in the aid community. How is the international community viewed? From my experience of working in Afghanistan for 15 years, I think one can say that there has always been a level of ambivalence, certainly in rural Afghanistan, towards the western presence. There is a fear, which the Taliban very much built on, that the West will somehow undermine Islam and Afghan values. What one has also seen as a result of the growth of the students of madrasas is a body of the population who have a political agenda vis-a"-vis the West in terms of seeing the West as engaged in a crusade against Islam, and this is particularly prevalent in the wake of what happened in Iraq. Just building on what Ms Clark said, the terrorist attacks against aid workers very much started in March last year. Before that they were relatively few. One saw a very significant increase coinciding with the Iraq intervention. So a particular problem that we all have to be aware of is that statements made in the West, particularly in the US, which are critical of Islam, by the evangelical organisations, are widely disseminated. Afghans are highly politicised. They are avid readers of websites. Every statement that appears in the Los Angeles Times or whatever is widely disseminated immediately across the world. All of us have to be particularly aware of what we might say to a domestic audience which might be read by audiences overseas.

  Ms Clark: Do Afghans welcome foreigners? I think one of the really quite upsetting things about events in 2001 is just how many Afghans wanted foreigners in their country, and this is a country that has never been colonised. The British have invaded it several times and been repulsed. It is quite a proud and slightly xenophobic country, and they all wanted foreign troops, foreign peace-keepers, rather than their own armed groups coming in. That was an indication to me as to how low the long, long war had brought ordinary Afghans. There have been opinion surveys, and if you look, peace-keepers are popular, but also they would like an Afghan army and they would like Afghan police. That would be the people's number one choice if that were available, and clearly, it is not available at the moment; even international peace-keepers are not available. But that would be how people would react, I think.

7   Provincial Reconstruction Team Back

8   International Security Assistance Force Back

9   International Monetary Fund Back

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