Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Seventh Report

3  AFGHANISTAN (continued)

The political process

171.  Since the Petersberg (Bonn) Conference of December 2001 and the subsequent UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1386, Afghanistan has been governed by an Afghan Transitional Administration (ATA).[230] The ATA is headed by interim President Hamid Karzai, whose nomination was confirmed by a grand council, or loya jirga, in June 2002.

172.  The people of Afghanistan have traditionally taken important decisions on their country's future by holding a loya jirga, attended by tribal elders and provincial and religious leaders.[231] The loya jirgas held in Kabul in June 2002 and in December 2003/January 2004 established structures and timetables for the renewal of Afghanistan following the disastrous experiments with communism, warlordism and Muslim fundamentalism. By adopting the traditional council format, it was possible to involve all factions and to achieve a high degree of confidence in both the process itself and the outcomes.[232] We agree with the UN Secretary-General's assessment in his Report of March 2004, that "the positive outcome of the Constitutional Loya Jirga has affected the political dynamic of the nation".[233] However, as the Secretary-General recognises, "the difficult task of implementation now lies ahead".[234]


173.  Under the Bonn Agreement of December 2001, both presidential and parliamentary elections were due to be held within two years of the convening of the first loya jirga, that is not later than 11 June 2004. Delays in the registration process and the general lack of security meant that this target could not realistically be met. Because presidential elections are relatively straightforward, it might have been possible to proceed with them within the agreed timetable and to postpone only the parliamentary elections (which require complex voting for 32 provincial and more than 380 district councils, which then elect the upper house). However, the view taken by the UN and other interested parties in agreeing the Berlin Declaration of 1 April 2004 was that the elected president should be accountable to an elected parliament from the start of his presidency, and that view prevailed until recently.[235] Both elections were re-scheduled to take place in September, subject to availability of finance, satisfactory levels of voter registration and the maintenance of security.

174.  Under Afghanistan's electoral law, the date of an election has to be announced not fewer than 90 days in advance. However, before elections can take place, voters must be registered. Our discussions in Afghanistan tended to confirm the view of the International Crisis Group (ICG), expressed in its March report, that "registration to date has been markedly uneven."[236] In March 2002, the United Nations set a target of registering at least 10 million voters before the elections. As at 8 July 2004, the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) reported that more than 6 million had registered,[237] 38 per cent of whom are women.[238] Encouraging though this progress was, it left a huge task to accomplish in just three months. During our visit to Afghanistan, we were very concerned to be told that UN funding for the elections of over £100 million had not materialised. This was confirmed by a letter to our Chairman from the Foreign Secretary of 11 June.[239] We were pleased, therefore, that on 13 July Foreign Office Minister Mike O'Brien told the House that the UN "is confident that existing pledges from donors will cover the total cost of the election budget", although our concerns were not entirely allayed when the Minister continued that "Not all of [the funding] has arrived but we hope that it will."[240]

175.  On 9 July, the Afghan-UN Joint Electoral Management Body announced that the presidential and parliamentary elections would, after all, be held on different dates.[241] The presidential elections will take place on 9 October, with parliamentary elections following in April 2005. If the presidential elections cannot take place in October, it is possible that Ramadan, followed by severe winter weather, will mean that they too will be delayed to Spring 2005.

176.  The stated reason for postponement of the elections was to "enable voters and candidates to participate more meaningfully in the election of their representatives in the National Assembly and in local councils".[242] Behind this form of words lies concern that neither the administrative for the security arrangements are in place for the holding of full parliamentary elections.

177.  It was repeatedly made clear to us when we visited Afghanistan in May that security is a prerequisite for democracy, and that without greater security the prospects for elections which are sufficiently free and fair to be regarded both inside Afghanistan and internationally as legitimate are poor. We therefore welcome the announcement on 13 July that American forces will provide security support for October's presidential election.[243] Lieutenant General David Barno, commander of US forces in Afghanistan, said Operation Lightning Resolve would work closely with the UN. The problems of providing security, however, will require more far-reaching measures than the placing of American boots on the ground. The UN's top envoy in Afghanistan, Jean Arnault, whom we met during our visit, said recently that, "We cannot separate elections from disarmament, demobilization and reintegration."[244] With the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR)[245] process stalled, the danger is that any government which emerges from the elections—assuming they can be held at all—will lack credibility.

178.  In Afghan terms, a government's credibility is enhanced the more interests it encompasses and the more points of view it embodies. Although, like all coalitions, such a government will find it difficult to take tough decisions, in Afghanistan a government which is not inclusive may find that its writ does not extend across the whole country. It appears likely, therefore, that President Karzai will balance his ticket in the forthcoming elections, by choosing running-mates from different ethnic groups and by continuing to include some of the regional commanders in his administration.

179.  A different test of credibility will be applied by the international community. In the West, in particular, governments and NGOs alike will be looking to the incoming Afghan administration to demonstrate its commitment to democratic values and its respect for human rights. The tension between credibility within the borders of Afghanistan on the one hand, and credibility on the international stage on the other, is therefore likely to be very real. Since no government can survive without the support of major power brokers, Afghanistan's friends may have to accept that it is likely to be some time before an Afghan government will be able to demonstrate full compliance with international democratic norms.

180.  We conclude that it is important for Afghanistan that the presidential elections planned for October 2004 should proceed, unless the United Nations judges that the level of voter registration has been so low as to damage the credibility of the process, or the security situation has deteriorated to a point where the dangers posed to human life—or the threat to voter turnout—are unacceptably high. We further conclude that the cause of democracy in Afghanistan requires that parliamentary elections be held as soon as possible after the presidential elections and we recommend that the Government offer every assistance to the Afghan and UN authorities to enable this to happen. We further recommend that in its response to this Report the Government provide a detailed breakdown of what funding for the electoral process in Afghanistan has been pledged by UN member states; and what has been delivered. Our recommendation on the provision of security assistance forces is made in paragraph 232 below.


181.  One challenge for the Afghan political process is how to deal with the former dominant power in Afghanistan, the Taliban. Should they be excluded from the new politics, or should efforts be made to integrate some of them with the political system?

182.  When we visited Afghanistan, we were told that Pakistan tolerates the presence on its territory of hard-line remnants of the former Taliban regime, and even that it has detained some Taliban moderates who have lost sympathy with the aims and methods of their erstwhile comrades. We also visited Peshawar, in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province, where we met a group of former senior Taliban figures who claim to be seeking ways of participating openly in the Afghan political process. Many scores remain to be settled in Afghanistan and at present, these men and their families dare not return to their home towns or villages. Their situation is made more difficult by the continuing violence of the rump of militant Taliban.

183.  Although for many the term 'moderate Taliban' may be an oxymoron, others—including President Karzai—feel that it ought to be possible for those members of the former regime who were not personally involved in atrocities or repression and have renounced violence to reintegrate into Afghan society, and maybe even into its political life.[246] The overall impression we gained in Afghanistan, however, is that any such reconciliation will be a long and difficult process, and that in due course the Taliban as a political force is likely to wither away, its more moderate elements having joined legitimate political factions.[247]


184.  On some indicators, such as the percentage of the population living on under US$2 a day, Afghanistan is the poorest country in the world.[248] At the Berlin conference on Afghanistan, held in March and April 2004, fifty donor countries pledged US$8.2 billion of aid over the next three years.[249] The United Kingdom has pledged US$900 million as part of this package, making it the second largest donor after the US.[250] Afghanistan is also seeking aid from other Islamic states, particularly the countries of the Gulf, the importance of its relations with which it has perhaps been slow to recognise.

185.  It is particularly unfortunate that efforts to create a functional and effective Afghan army have failed to make sufficient progress to ensure the protection and safety of aid workers. There have been, and there continue to be, attacks on aid workers—both foreign and Afghan—which undermine the reconstruction process and must deter some who would otherwise wish to engage in it. Construction workers employed on improving road links between Afghanistan's centres of population have been among those targeted and killed.[251] Election workers too, including women working to ensure the registration of women, have been assassinated.[252] The task which faces those international agencies charged with creating a secure environment within which reconstruction can proceed safely—the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs)—is enormous.


186.  There were 15 PRTs in Afghanistan as at 1 July 2004.[253] Most of them are led by US personnel; one jointly by the US and South Korea; one by New Zealand; and three by NATO (ISAF) forces, two of these being under United Kingdom command and one under German command. More PRTs are planned, and it was agreed at the Istanbul summit in June that progressively more of them will be placed under NATO (ISAF) control.[254] The principal role of the PRTs is to assist the Afghan authorities in extending their authority in the provinces, in order to create conditions in which reconstruction and renewal can take place safely. We described the work of PRTs in our Reports of July 2003 and January 2004.[255] Since then, we have had the opportunity to visit the British-led PRT at Mazar-e Sharif, in the North of Afghanistan. We have also heard additional evidence about their work.

187.  Peter Marsden of the Refugee Council told us that US forces working in the US-run PRTs do not focus on their primary task of providing a secure environment within which the Afghan authorities and international aid organisations can function safely. Instead, they too often engage directly in reconstruction projects. By doing so, he argued,

    … 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.[256]

188.  Similarly, on 27 May, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty quoted the European Aid and Development Commissioner's spokesman, Jean-Charles Ellermann-Kingombe, as saying that "the distinction between humanitarian and military personnel is becoming blurred. … This undermines the perception of humanitarian aid workers being impartial, being neutral, and therefore makes it also difficult to carry out reconstruction activities."[257]

189.  BBC journalist Kate Clark, who has long personal experience of Afghanistan, gave us some disturbing statistics about violence against aid and reconstruction workers:

    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.[258]

190.  Both Mr Marsden and Ms Clark commended the approach taken by the United Kingdom-led PRT and its relationship with NGOs. According to Mr Marsden,

    … 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.[259]

Kate Clark added,

    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.[260]

191.  We saw for ourselves when we visited Mazar how young British servicemen and women have a natural and engaging relationship with local people, which contributes to reducing tension and avoiding confrontation. The British Army has an excellent, probably unrivalled, record in sensitive patrolling of potentially hostile areas and building confidence and trust. We conclude that these are among the most important tasks for PRTs in Afghanistan.

192.  We conclude that the Provincial Reconstruction Teams are one of the success stories of international engagement in Afghanistan and that their expansion should be regarded as a priority. However, there are real differences between the approaches adopted by the various PRTs as well as between Afghan perceptions of NATO's ISAF forces and those which are part of Operation Enduring Freedom. We recommend that all PRTs be placed under ISAF control as soon as possible.


193.  The opium poppy is widely grown in Afghanistan. The climate and topography are suited to its cultivation and the general lawlessness which prevails in much of the country outside Kabul allows traffickers to operate with the minimum of interference. Farmers have been encouraged to grow opium not only by the many inducements—and threats—offered by Afghanistan's 'narcotics mafia', but also because the poppy will crop reliably even during periods of drought. As an Afghan Government Minister put it to us when we were in Kabul, some farmers grow opium poppies through need; others through greed. A hectare planted with opium poppies will yield over £7,000, whereas the same land planted with wheat pays only about £120.[261] Opium production and trafficking now account for a substantial proportion of Afghanistan's gross domestic product.[262]

194.  We received the following information on opium production in Afghanistan from the FCO:[263]

    In October 2003 the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported that opium farmers account for 7% of the total Afghan population of 24 million people. The UNODC estimated that opium poppy cultivation covered 1% of total arable land and less than 3% of irrigated arable land in Afghanistan, but that poppy farmers and traffickers income was equivalent to more than 50% of Afghanistan's estimated GDP. UNODC figures[264] for the level of opium poppy cultivation and production in Afghanistan for the last 5 years show the scale of the problem:

195.  The FCO factsheet from which the above information is taken explains the reduction in poppy cultivation in 2001 as follows:

    The Taliban (in power from 1998 until 2001) prohibited opium poppy cultivation in 2000-01, hence the decline that year. Whilst the ban may have reduced production it was enforced through a mixture of threat and bribery and did nothing to address the underlying causes of poppy cultivation in Afghanistan, and it is unlikely it could have been sustained. The ban did not apply to trafficking or processing—activities from which the Taliban profited. This restriction of cultivation pushed up the price of opium, further increasing the benefits to the Taliban through the increased value of their substantial stockpiles.

196.   The World Drug Report 2004, published by UNODC on 25 June, concludes that the situation is likely to get worse before it gets better:

    During the 1990s, Afghanistan firmly established itself as the largest source of illicit opium and its derivative, heroin. In 2003, opium production in Afghanistan still accounted for more than three quarters of the world's illicit opium production. In October 2003, UNODC and the Afghan government conducted a farmers' intentions survey that revealed that almost 70% of the farmers interviewed in the opium growing regions of Afghanistan intended to increase poppy cultivation in 2004, while only 4% considered reducing it.[265]

197.  The FCO estimates that about 95 percent of heroin in the United Kingdom originates from Afghanistan.[266] This is one reason why the United Kingdom has taken the lead role in co-ordinating counter-narcotics operations in Afghanistan through the Afghan National Drug Control Strategy (ANDCS). Under the ANDCS, adopted in May 2003, the authorities aim to reduce opium poppy cultivation by 75 percent by 2008, and to eradicate it completely by 2013. In a written answer of 16 June, FCO Minister Bill Rammell told the House that,

    In the first year of implementation of the strategy, the basic counter narcotics structures have been put in place: drug control legislation, a Counter Narcotics Directorate, a Special Narcotics Force, the Counter Narcotics Police and a central eradication capability. Work is also in hand to develop alternative livelihoods for farmers dependent on opium poppy cultivation. These measures provide a sound basis for the future development of robust institutions and programmes to combat opium production and trafficking.[267]

198.  So far, however, the achievements of this strategy have been very limited. Indeed, the area under opium poppy cultivation is predicted by the US State Department to rise this year to between 90,000 and 120,000 hectares,[268] increasing the dependence of farmers on this crop and funding the defiance of central government by local commanders.

199.  Giving evidence to the US House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform (Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy, and Human Resources) on 1 April, the State Department's Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, Robert B Charles, criticised the United Kingdom's leadership of the ANDCS. Speaking under the headline Afghanistan: Are the British Counternarcotics Efforts Going Wobbly? Charles said that the British Government has committed insufficient resources, and has failed to draw up a campaign for opium poppy crop eradication.[269] He identified a difference of view between the US and the United Kingdom as to the best method of dealing with the drugs problem.

200.  Nor has the US been the only critic of the drugs eradication plan. The Iranian Government, which faces a major trafficking problem along its border with Afghanistan, told us that the eradication plan "does not involve fields belonging to commanders and influential local figures".[270] They called on the United Kingdom, as the country co-ordinating the counter-narcotics programme, to "take a firmer stand".

201.  However, when we visited Afghanistan, we were told that eradication is not only very difficult—as anyone who has had an aerial view of the country can appreciate—but that it is also temporary in its effect (because crops can be replanted), and can even provide perverse economic incentives if farmers are compensated for their destroyed crops. Some eradication has been taking place, but it is not and cannot be a long-term strategy for success.

202.  The United Kingdom instead supports the agreement reached at a February 2004 international conference held in Kabul on a series of Counter Narcotics Action Plans covering judicial reform, law enforcement, alternative livelihoods for farmers and labourers, drug demand reduction and treatment, and public awareness.[271] The Foreign Secretary was downbeat when we asked him about progress, noting the great difficulties involved and concluding that "it will take time."[272] As with so much else in Afghanistan, "security is an inherent prerequisite for good counter narcotics work".[273]

203.  The few journalists and commentators who have been able to visit the opium-growing areas of Afghanistan have reported that the situation is deteriorating, rather than improving. A feature in The Spectator of 5 June concluded that "The war on drugs … is being fought and lost. It's not so much a defeat as an utter rout."[274] Without greater security in Afghanistan, without a successful programme of disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration, and for as long as the commanders or 'warlords' retain their effective autonomy from central government, the war on drugs cannot be won.

204. We conclude that there is little, if any, sign of the war on drugs being won, and every indication that the situation is likely to deteriorate, at least in the short term. We recommend that the Government, which is in the lead on the counter-narcotics strategy in Afghanistan, explain in its response to this Report exactly how it proposes to meet the targets of reducing opium poppy cultivation by 75 percent by 2008, and eradicating it completely by 2013.


205.  Afghanistan is sometimes described as a "forgotten war", overshadowed by events in Iraq.[275] Yet there are more than 25,000 military personnel from dozens of countries engaged in operations there, including 600 British personnel,[276] and these numbers are increasing. The international forces in Afghanistan are dealing with threats posed by foreign fighters and the remnants of the Taliban, by 'warlords', and by standing militias, exacerbated by a lack of capacity in the Afghan army and police. In this section, we describe these threats and consider how they should be dealt with.


206.  As well as providing security for the forthcoming elections, the multinational forces in Afghanistan have a more general role to assist the Afghan authorities to deal with the violence which afflicts Afghan society. To this end, the United Kingdom and other countries are training Afghan army and police units so that they can assume responsibility for protecting the population at large.

207.  When we visited Mazar-e Sharif in May, we called in at a regional police training school, where large numbers of policemen were being trained by a small mixed force of US and British trainers. This visit presented us with a vivid demonstration of the task facing Afghanistan as it restructures its security forces. We were told that the great majority of trainees are illiterate, and that their four-week training course therefore omits basic police skills, such as report-writing. Only 8 of the 500 trainees at the school were women, although we were encouraged to note that they wear uniform rather than burkhas.

208.  The United Kingdom is also playing a role in training the Afghan National Army (ANA), together with American and French forces. About 10,000 members of the ANA had been trained as of 15 June.[277] However, according to a report published by the International Crisis Group in March 2004, the ANA's establishment is well below coalition targets, it is not ethnically representative of the population, and it suffers from a high rate of desertion.[278] For the time being, security for the people of Afghanistan will have to continue to be provided by foreign forces.

209.  We conclude that improving security for the civilian population is one of the highest priority needs in Afghanistan. We recommend that the Government set out in its response to this Report what further contributions the United Kingdom will be making to improve security for the Afghan people.


210.  There are two ongoing military operations in Afghanistan: the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF); and the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). The first of these is much larger and better equipped than the second (in June 2004, OEF had 20,000 personnel as against ISAF's 6,500[279]), and its primary objective is to extinguish the remaining groups of al Qaeda and other foreign fighters, and the diehard remnants of the former Taliban regime.

211.  One of our witnesses reminded us that when the Taliban were in power in Afghanistan—and it is important to remember that they were not in control of the entire country—foreigners were relatively safe.[280] Ironically, it is now those areas where the radicalised remnants of the Taliban remain which are most unsafe for foreign aid workers, and where the greater part of the OEF forces are deployed. Similarly, while Taliban leaders tolerated the presence of al Qaeda in Afghanistan prior to their removal in 2001, it is only since the international intervention that Taliban and al Qaeda fighters have joined forces.

212.  Most of the terrorist incidents which continue to blight Afghanistan, and which target foreign aid workers and Afghans involved in political and other reconstruction, are now believed to be carried out by Taliban and al Qaeda fighters.[281] It appears, then, that these groups are now more of a threat to Western interests in Afghanistan and to their efforts to rebuild the country than they are a direct threat to Afghans themselves. Unlike in Iraq, there have been few attacks aimed at police or national army targets, although the recent (30 June) attacks on police checkpoints in Jalalabad[282] and the killing of a police chief in Kandahar Province on 12 July[283] may herald a worrying change.

213.  Coalition forces, principally the Americans, continue their search for Osama bin Laden in the border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan. When we visited Pakistan, we travelled to the North West Frontier Province and were briefed on the operations by Pakistan's armed forces to hunt down al Qaeda and other foreign fighters.[284] Information on operations in Afghanistan itself is hard to come by, but flying over the region provides a graphic insight into the difficulty and scale of the task which faces the OEF.


214.  When the Taliban were ousted in 2001, a number of local military commanders, often referred to in the Western media as 'warlords', established de facto control over most of the country outside Kabul. At the time, they were a force for stability; in fact, the actions of the commanders were in large measure responsible for Afghanistan's avoidance of the anarchy which later descended on post-conflict Iraq. Following the Bonn Conference, some commanders were brought into government—most notoriously, General Dostum as Deputy Minister of Defence—and many of them or their protégés remain in positions of responsibility to this day. For example, the present Defence Minister, Mohammad Qasim Fahim, retains his own forces in Kabul.

215.  There have been several incidents of central and local government officials being attacked by militia under the control of commanders, usually in circumstances where commanders are dissatisfied with their treatment by government. For example, on 18 June the regional governor of Ghor province, West of Kabul, was evicted by a force of fighters loyal to local commander Abdul Salaam Khan.[285] Today, there are still large areas of the country where the Afghan government depends on the support, or at least the sufferance, of local commanders, and this is unlikely to change for some time.[286]

216.  The commanders are part of a complex and ever-changing set of rivalries and alliances. Many of them have conflicting aims or interests, and clashes between their forces are common. Among the malign activities in which the commanders engage are the following:

  • they are heavily involved in poppy cultivation and in heroin trafficking;[287]
  • they dispense summary justice and commit human rights abuses;[288]
  • they engage in smuggling, and collect customs revenues and levy other charges, which are not passed on to central government;[289]
  • they frustrate the activities of NGOs engaged in reconstruction and humanitarian work.[290]

217.  One option for dealing with the commanders would be to use force. We discussed this possibility with several of those we met when we visited Afghanistan. Some felt that a successful military operation to disarm one of the more troublesome commanders could send a powerful signal to the others to cease their disruptive activities and to submit to central authority. Others were concerned that such a course would make enemies of men whose active co-operation will be required if Afghanistan is to stabilise, succeed and even prosper. In an interview with the New York Times on 11 July, President Karzai said that efforts to persuade the commanders to disarm their militias had failed and now "The stick has to be used, definitely."[291] It is not clear from the interview which stick the President would use. On balance, we believe that taking on the commanders militarily is probably neither a sensible nor a realistic option in the short to medium term.

218.  Yet the commanders cannot be ignored. They are in a very real sense stakeholders in Afghanistan's future and they will inevitably play a prominent role in that future, be it constructive or negative. If the commanders are to be persuaded to give up their present disruptive and illegal behaviour, they must be convinced that such a move is in their own interests—as well as being in the interests of their country. This may mean recognising the realities of their political power and offering them office in return for subordination to the state, a stratagem already employed to mixed effect by President Karzai. It could also involve diversifying commanders' interests, so that they become businessmen, many of them having already shown some entrepreneurial flair in their exploitation of the drugs trade. Whichever approach or mix of approaches is adopted, it is important that ISAF and the Afghan authorities maintain a credible military capability in order to negotiate with the commanders from a position of strength. At any stage, confrontations which fall short of all-out military action could take place.

219.  In his recent report on the situation in Afghanistan, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan noted that "The weak or corrupt provincial and district administrations, the continued rule of local commanders, and the absence of effective national law enforcement are more common sources of insecurity for the population than terrorist violence."[292]

220.  We conclude that Afghanistan's 'warlords' or commanders are both a large part of the problem and an essential part of the solution. We recommend that the Government use its good offices to assist the Afghan Transitional Administration to ensure that the political process is as inclusive as possible, while avoiding the corruption and abuses of power which have been evident in some parts of central and local government. We conclude that, until this process is complete and has become irreversible, and until the Afghan National Army has developed its own capacity, the international forces in Afghanistan must retain the option and therefore the capability of assisting the Afghan authorities to deal militarily with commanders who persist in operating outside the rule of law.

221.  The key to reducing the influence of the commanders is the removal of their standing armies from the power equation. The mechanism for achieving this is known as disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR).[293]


222.  The DDR process in Afghanistan is slow and making little headway. The Afghan government committed itself to demobilising at least 40 percent of the stated strength of Afghan militia forces—many of which are at least nominally under its control—by June 2004.[294] However, several of those whom we met in Afghanistan in May told us that DDR has in fact come to a halt. The Commander of ISAF has been quoted as saying that "The DDR process is coming to a spluttering end."[295] In BBC journalist Kate Clark's view, it never really started.[296]

223.  One problem facing those seeking to carry out DDR is the lack of reliable information. For example, the International Crisis Group's report of March 2004 quoted a UNAMA estimate that the number of men serving in the commanders' militias may be no more than 45,000.[297] One of our witnesses, however, suggested that there are as many as 200,000 militiamen,[298] while the UN Secretary-General's Report of March 2004 refers to 100,000 men in the militias controlled by the Afghan Ministry of Defence alone.[299]

224.  Commanders also retain large numbers of civilian followers, who may be mobilised as and when necessary. It has been suggested that many of these men, equipped with obsolete arms, have been put into the DDR process, while the full-time fighters and their more sophisticated weaponry have been held back. Once 'disarmed and demobilised', some of the part-timers have to hand over their severance payments to their commanders.[300] It is clear that the DDR process presents challenges and dilemmas which will not be overcome easily or resolved quickly, yet it is the most urgent task facing the authorities in Afghanistan.

225.  Again and again when we were in Afghanistan, we were told that the Afghan people want improved roads, schools, hospitals and other services, but that most of all they want the guns taken out of their daily lives. We conclude that the most urgent and pressing need for Afghanistan is to achieve disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration. We recommend that the Government and its allies devote greater resources to achieving this goal. We further recommend that as an essential first step reliable data should be assembled on how many fighters serve with the militias, what arms they have, and to whom they are responsible; only then will the true scale of the task be fully apparent.


226.  In contrast to the 20,000 personnel at present assigned to Operation Enduring Freedom, NATO's International Security Assistance Force has been consistently under-resourced and overstretched. In our January 2004 Report, we quoted the view of the UN Secretary-General that "the international community must decide whether to increase its level of involvement in Afghanistan or risk failure."[301] Since then, ISAF has expanded its reach beyond Kabul to take responsibility for security in some Northern provinces, including leadership of the PRT in Kunduz, and has developed plans gradually to establish itself in further areas. However, and despite commitments entered into at the recent NATO summit in Istanbul, ISAF has yet to receive an increase in resources commensurate with these commitments. This has damaged its credibility as much as it has restricted its operational effectiveness.[302]

227.  Further, some of those forces which have been deployed by NATO member states have made a contribution which is more limited than their numbers, set out in the table below, would suggest: for example, Germany's 1,900 troops are not permitted to serve in a combat role, because of conditions imposed by the Bundestag.[303] NATO's Secretary-General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, expressed his frustration at NATO's failure to deliver its force commitments in a recent address to the Royal United Services Institute in London:

    Given the vast quantities of personnel and equipment available to the Alliance overall, we have to ask ourselves why we still cannot fill them. What is wrong with our system that we cannot generate small amounts of badly needed resources for missions that we have committed to politically?[304]

228.  If Afghanistan is, as the Secretary of State suggested to us, a test case for NATO's out-of-area policy,[305] it is a test which even NATO's Secretary-General appears to believe the Alliance is dangerously close to failing.

Breakdown of ISAF Personnel Strength by nations (as at 15 June 2004)[306]
NATO nations
Czech Republic
United Kingdom
United States
Partner Nations
Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
Non-NATO/Non-EAPC nations
New Zealand

229.   Canadian General Richard Hillier, the commander of ISAF, whom we met when we visited Kabul, was quoted in the Financial Times of 14 June as telling a NATO meeting in Brussels that, "If I had the assets to do more, we would be doing it. With the assets I have now, I can't take on more areas."[307] General Hillier had the support of the Foreign Secretary in this. Mr Straw told us:

    You are right to highlight the dangers of NATO member states failing to provide the necessary resources to expand the International Security Assistance Force's presence across Afghanistan and the associated dangers of conditions being attached, including in the form of national caveats, to the use of those resources that are committed. An expanded ISAF presence in Afghanistan is urgently needed, not least to help the Afghan authorities provide the necessary support for the forthcoming elections.[308]

NATO's response came at the Istanbul summit, held on 28 June, when Mr de Hoop Scheffer announced that,

    Today, Allies approved a major expansion of NATO's role in Afghanistan, in support of the Afghan authorities—with the resources to make it work. We made a commitment to help. We will meet it. We will play our part.[309]

230.  All those who are concerned for Afghanistan's future will welcome the NATO announcement. However, it is open to question whether the announced intention to send about 1,000 additional troops to Kabul to provide temporary security for the elections and a further 700 to the North of the country support the work of PRTs amounts to the "major expansion" described by Mr de Hoop Scheffer, and it remains to be seen exactly how and when NATO member states will deliver the commitment entered into at Istanbul. President Karzai, for one, wants to see the extra forces in place sooner rather than later.[310] Afghan Defence Ministry spokesman General Zahir Azimy has said that "It's up to ... NATO, but this is not sufficient, we expect more."[311]

231.  It is also apparent that the increases agreed at Istanbul represent a compromise, not only in relation to what Afghanistan had requested, but between the views of NATO member states. The United Kingdom pressed hard for NATO to commit its Response Force to Afghanistan to provide security for the elections. That proposal was blocked by President Chirac, who objects to use of the NATO Response Force in what France sees as a peacekeeping, or "sticking plaster" role.[312] This dispute may yet be resolved by redefining the mission in terms which are acceptable to the French, but other difficulties remain to be resolved. For example, there is so far no indication of which member states will supply essential equipment such as helicopters for the new PRTs. Until there are firm undertakings by member states to commit specified resources to Afghanistan, the Istanbul announcement remains little more than a statement of intent. The apparent inability of the world's most powerful military alliance to find a few helicopters when the need is so great and urgent is deplorable.

232.  We conclude that, welcome though the Istanbul declaration of limited further support for Afghanistan is, fine communiqués and ringing declarations are no substitute for delivery of the forces and equipment which Afghanistan needs on the ground. We agree with President Karzai that the need for more resources for ISAF is urgent. There is a real danger if these resources are not provided soon that Afghanistan—a fragile state in one of the most sensitive and volatile regions of the world—could implode, with terrible consequences. We recommend that the Government impress upon its NATO allies the need to deliver on their promises to help Afghanistan before it is too late, both for the credibility of the Alliance and, more importantly, for the people of Afghanistan.

230   UNSCR 1386 also established the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), with a mandate to secure the city of Kabul and the Bagram air base and to provide security for the ATA (security outside Kabul rested with the US-led Coalition forces under Operation Enduring Freedom) In March 2002, the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) was established under UNSCR 1401 in order to co-ordinate the work of the sixteen UN agencies operating in the country in support of the Bonn Agreement. See and Back

231   For a brief history of loya jirgas, see Under the Afghan Constitution agreed in January 2004, the Loya Jirga remains the "highest manifestation of the people of Afghanistan". The full text of the Constitution is available at Back

232   Q102 (Kate Clark) Back

233   Secretary-General's Report, ibid Back

234   ibid Back

235   For the full text of the Berlin Declaration and related documents, see Ev 132 et seq Back

236   International Crisis Group Asia Briefing, 30 March 2004 Back

237   See 'UN envoy warns Afghanistan still faces major challenges in holding elections', Back

238   HC Deb, 13 July 2004, col 1251 Back

239   Ev 165 Back

240   ibid Back

241   'Secretary-General expresses full support for Afghanistan election dates', Back

242   ibid Back

243   'US launches Afghan poll operation', Back

244   ibid Back

245   See para 222 below Back

246   See President Karzai's December 2003 interview with Newsline, Back

247   BBC journalist Kate Clark told us that "the Taliban have lost all credibility." (Q79). See also Q53 (Dr Cheema). Back

248   See Back

249   See Back

250   For a detailed assessment of the UK aid effort in Afghanistan, see the First Report from the International Development Committee, 2002-03, Afghanistan: The Transition from Humanitarian Relief to Reconstruction and Development Assistance, HC84 Back

251   'China workers die in Afghan raid', BBC News Online, 10 June 2004, Back

252   'Women killed in Afghan bus attack', BBC News Online, 26 June 2004, Back

253   For the locations of PRTs, see the map of Afghanistan after para 170 above Back

254   'NATO flag raised in Mazar-e-Sharif and Maimana', See also HC Deb, 7 July 2004, col 718W. Back

255   HC 2002-03, 405 & HC, 2003-04, 81. See also the Government Responses to these Reports, Cm 5968 & Cm 6162 Back

256   Q88 Back

257   See Back

258   Q77 Back

259   Q89 Back

260   Q90 Back

261   'Battle begins to stem Afghan opium harvest', Guardian, 3 May 2004 Back

262   Q234 (Jack Straw) Back

263   Ev 170-171 Back

264   Source: UNODC Afghanistan Opium Survey 2003 Back

265   See Back

266   Ev 171 Back

267   HC Deb, 16 June 2004, col 987W Back

268   See Back

269   See Back

270   Ev 184 Back

271   Afghanistan: Counter Narcotics, document produced for the Berlin Conference on Afghanistan, 1 April 2004 Back

272   Q229 Back

273   Q235 Back

274   The Spectator, 5 June 2004, p18 Back

275   'Afghanistan: the forgotten war', Independent, 14 December 2003; 'Fighting in the Shadow of Iraq Some Fear Afghanistan Has Become a Forgotten War', Washington Post, 2 June 2004 Back

276   HC Deb, 21 June 2004, col 1178W Back

277   HC Deb, 15 June 2004, col 796W Back

278   International Crisis Group Asia Briefing, 30 March 2004. See also Q93 (Kate Clark) Back

279   See Table after paragraph 228 below Back

280   Q77 (Kate Clark) Back

281   See HC Deb, 12 July 2004, cols 962-3W Back

282   See Back

283   See Back

284   See paras 233 to 279 Back

285   See Back

286   See 'Let the Afghans vote when they're ready', International Herald Tribune, 15 June 2004; 'Karzai 'not cutting deals with Afghan warlords'', Financial Times, 16 June 2004 Back

287   Q82; see also 'Forgotten war', Financial Times, 11 June 2004, p18 and 'Following the Afghan drugs trail', BBC New Online, 4 June 2004, Back

288   'Afghanistan: Warlords Implicated in New Abuses', Human Rights Watch, July 2003, Back

289   Q82. When visiting Afghanistan, we were told that in 2003, the Afghan Government received less than one third of the revenues due to it; most of the missing revenues were collected and retained by commanders. Back

290   See 'Drugs trade is wrecking Afghanistan rebuilding effort, says NATO General', Financial Times, 14 June 2004, p7 Back

291   'Afghan President describes militias as the top threat', New York Times, 12 July 2004 Back

292   ibid Back

293   The term DDR is used in this Report to refer to the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration process. Alternative terms used by others include DDRRR and DR. Back

294   Ev 134 Back

295   See 'Drugs trade is wrecking Afghanistan rebuilding effort, says NATO General', Financial Times, 14 June 2004, p7  Back

296   Q83 Back

297   International Crisis Group Asia Briefing, 30 March 2004 Back

298   Q82 (Kate Clark) Back

299   Report of the Secretary-General on the situation in Afghanistan and its implications for international peace and security, 19 March 2004, available at Back

300   ibid Back

301   HC, 2003-04, 81, quoting remarks by Kofi Annan to the UN General Assembly, 8 December 2003 Back

302   'Nato's Afghanistan credibility test', BBC, 30 June 2004, Back

303   See,413.62832/Protokollerklaerung-zum-Antrag.htm Back

304   See Back

305   Ev 165 Back

306   Ev 165 Back

307   'Drugs trade is wrecking Afghanistan rebuilding effort, says NATO General', Financial Times, 14 June 2004, p7 Back

308   Ev 165 Back

309   NATO press conference, Istanbul, 28 June 2004, full text available at Back

310   'Karzai's plea to NATO on troops', BBC News, 29 June 2004, Back

311   See Back

312   'France blocks U.S. on elite force for Afghanistan', Reuters AlertNet, 29 June 2004 Back

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