Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80
TUESDAY 16 MARCH 2004
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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 trainingmaybe the Italiansand 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
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.
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 foreigners3,000 alone in Kabuland 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
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
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
International Security Assistance Force Back
International Monetary Fund Back