Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100 - 102)



  Q100  Ms Stuart: I want to move on and look at the political process, but before I do, I am slightly puzzled because, if I understand you right, they want security first of all, and then they want to rebuild, and they do not want to turn Afghanistan into a permanent job creation scheme for NGOs. Assuming all these things are put in place, where, in ten years' time, would the wealth creation of Afghanistan come from?

  Ms Clark: The Afghan Government is very clear that they do not have very large resources. The Finance Minister, Ashraf Ghani, who is ex-World Bank, is very clear that they cannot promise everything to their people because they just do not have the resources. For the moment, the Government is relying a lot on aid. It probably does not have as much of the taxation coming in as it ought to because a lot of the customs dues, which are the main source of income, are being kept locally rather than coming to Kabul and then being redistributed. But I think they have a realistic idea of where Afghanistan is in the world. At the moment it is 170 out of 174 in the UNDP's[10] development index. It is at the bottom, and that is for everything, particularly things like maternal mortality rate, where it is at the bottom; child mortality rate, near the bottom; life expectancy, not very high. This is a large country, most people live in villages, most people have subsistence agriculture, most people are getting on with their lives, most people would like education, but schools are still not available for all Afghan children, and in some of the provinces, for instance, Zabol, one of the southern provinces that is being very affected by the insurrection by the Taliban, one in 100 girls are getting primary school education. It is a difficult country to imagine being in any way prosperous in the western terms. At the same time, if there is stability, the fact that people mainly feed themselves, if there is enough rain—the end of the drought has done more for Afghanistan than any amount of aid, much more in terms of helping people in their everyday lives.

  Q101  Ms Stuart: Is one in 100 girls actually an improvement for women?

  Ms Clark: In Zabol, yes, it probably is. One of the funny things was that you actually found there was a lot of girls' education going on under the Taliban. A lot of the Pashtun tribes, if they wanted their girls educated, they would educate them, and it did not matter if there were some mullahs from Kandahar saying "You shouldn't be doing that." If that is what they wanted, that is what they would do, because they were powerful enough to deal with the Kandahari mullahs.

  Mr Marsden: I think one of the ironies of the Soviet invasion has been that because it sent 6 million refugees into exile, those refugees had access to health care they did not previously have access to, so the population has increased, and so from many studies I have done in the villages of Afghanistan, it is clear that those villages cannot support their populations. A typical family will have some people working on the land, one or two sons working in Iran or Pakistan, one or two sons working in Kabul or Herat or one of the other towns, and people are constantly revising their economic opportunities depending on how the economy moves. But as Ms Clark said, it is basically a large mountainous desert, with the odd valley that can be cultivated, with the odd oasis like Mazar or Kandahar. What one has seen as a result of the return of 2 million refugees—I should stress, under huge pressure from Iran and Pakistan, in spite of what the British Government is saying about people voting with their feet—since the beginning of 2001 has put a huge strain on the infrastructure. The population of Kabul, which was less than 1 million in October 2001, is now 2.8 million. There is not the water supply system to cope, there are no jobs, there is not the housing, and people are having to squat in the suburbs in the ruins of southern Kabul, which still looks like the aftermath of Hiroshima. Having said that, as Ms   Clark said, Afghans are very powerful entrepreneurs. If there is a way of making money, they will find it, but it is very small-scale. There is not much scope for large-scale investment or manufacturing. There is very little on the manufacturing front so far. There is some potential for a pipeline across Afghanistan to transport gas from Turkmenistan to Pakistan, some potential in relation to minerals, some potential in relation to carpet manufacturing, lapis lazuli manufacturing. It is always going to be a very poor country, but in 10 years' time it may have got to the point it was at in 1978, where the population was just about feeding itself and people were surviving through trade.

  Q102  Ms Stuart: On the elections, first of all, the assumption is that they are supposed to happen in June. Do you think that is realistic? Do you think it matters whether the parliamentary and presidential elections are done together? Finally, do you actually think we have a system which, even if the elections go ahead, will result in a legitimate political process?

  Ms Clark: The elections are going ahead. That is what I hear. Hamed Karzai wants it, partly because previous presidents have lingered without a mandate, and he does not want to be in that situation. More importantly, the Americans want it. They want good news before the November elections in America, as I understand it. A lot of people were very worried, partly because of all the logistical problems of registering voters, of actually organising it, actually getting donors to cough up the money to fund it, but also because around the world it has been clear that elections are good if they lead to representative government. People feel that at the end of the day, the government is the one that most people want. I think there were worries that elections in Afghanistan might mean having to vote for all the people who have caused so much misery over the last 20 years. People who have clout, who have money, who have access to opium, slush funds, those are the people who some analysts have been worried might be able to benefit. In terms of parliamentary and presidential elections, I think they are going to be split. I think the aim is to have presidential elections in the summer, because they are much easier to organise, and parliamentary elections later on, which are much more difficult, because there is no history of having political parties. One thing I should say: I was in Afghanistan for the Loya Jirga, which involved every district in Kabul having representatives, also the representatives from the refugee community and from the wider diaspora. It was not democracy because it was not one person, one vote. It was a sort of caucus style. Incredibly difficult to do for all the reasons I have talked about, not only logistics but the fact that candidates were being kidnapped, bribed, even murdered in some cases. There was a lot of pressure. I met one man who had been a clandestine democratic activist under the Taliban who was then in hiding because he had been told he would be killed if he stood. With UN help, he did manage to stand and he won against a very powerful commander in Kabul. Having said all that, despite all this pressure, most people managed to elect genuine community representatives. The UN thought probably 60-70 per cent of people were genuine, and when I went and travelled throughout Afghanistan afterwards, what was astonishing was this is a country that has not known elections, yet people knew who their representative was. If you went to the most remote village, people knew. It showed what Afghans are capable of, what the UN is capable of, as well as leadership. The problem was, when the Loya Jirga convened in Kabul, that democratic mandate was not taken advantage of. The people making the decisions were Karzai and various other civilian leaders, the big commanders, Lakhdar Brahimi and Zalman Halazad, Bush's envoy and now the US ambassador. It was like a cabal that met outside the main town to make the decisions. At the last minute, a lot of the big commanders were allowed in, intelligence was allowed in, so there was not even an open debate. The last Loya Jirga did seem to be a great improvement on that. The delegates had serious debate, there was real politics, there were real decisions being made, and the new constitution that Afghanistan has is pretty progressive for a very conservative country, not only in terms of gender issues, but also in terms of minority issues. I think Afghans were pretty pleased with what was achieved there. There is a lot of potential in the country for democracy. There are a lot of traditional, social institutions to do with reaching consensus, to do with getting representatives, that have managed to survive the war. At the same time, you do have these problems in terms of men with guns and with money who want political power for their own ends.

  Mr Marsden: I totally agree with what Ms Clark has said. One minor point, to say that if the parliamentary elections are held later, that will be of concern, in particular to those who engaged in the jihad against the Soviet invasion, particularly Shura-e Nazar and so on, who feel considerable ambivalence towards Karzai and are scared that he will have too much power if it is not checked by a parliamentary system.

  Chairman: That will be helpful to us when we visit Afghanistan. Thank you both very much indeed for your help.

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