Global Security: Afghanistan and Pakistan - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents

3  Where Afghanistan is now: an assessment

The security situation

62.  Afghanistan, by most measures, remains a fundamentally insecure state, eight years after the West mounted military action to remove Al Qaeda. In recent years, and indeed months, the insurgency has intensified and spread into areas which were previously considered to be relatively stable.[98] Although the main focus of the insurgency continues to be in the Pashtun-dominated south, where the Taliban has its heartland, and in the east of the country, which is vulnerable to increasing cross-border activity from neighbouring Pakistan, militancy has also increased in certain Pashtun pockets in the north and west including in the provinces closest to the capital, Kabul.[99] The capital itself has been the target of a series of high-profile attacks.[100] In an article for Foreign Affairs, Fotini Christia and Michael Semple state that "the Taliban's followers have pushed the Afghan government and its allies out of large swathes of the countryside and crept up to the gates of Kabul, bringing an alternative administration and sharia courts to the vacated areas".[101] Daniel Korski of the European Council on Foreign Relations told us that the Taliban know that instability in the capital has an "outsized psychological impact on the resolve of the country and the international community". Mr Korski added that, "the Taliban may not be about to over-run Kabul but they are trying to create panic, and show that the government cannot control the land it sits on".[102] The submission from the British and Irish Agencies Afghanistan Group (BAAG) states that insecurity is at its worst since 2001. BAAG also notes that:

civilian travel on all major highways has become fraught with risks of attacks by anti-government forces and criminal groups. There is an unprecedented level of criminal kidnapping. It has once again become extremely dangerous to live, travel and do business in the country."[103] One of the consequences of this degree of insecurity, according to BAAG, is that it has become increasingly difficult to deliver aid to those in need.[104]

63.  'Asymmetric attacks', which are commonly understood to mean terrorist attacks and guerilla warfare involving suicide bombs and improvised explosive devices (IEDs), have also become common. There was a fourfold increase in the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Helmand in 2008[105] and across NATO's Regional Command (RC) (South), which comprises six provinces (Nimruz, Helmand, Kandahar, Zabol, Oruzgan and Daykondi), Taliban and anti-government attacks increased by 77% during 2008.[106]

64.  A range of groups are involved in the insurgency in Afghanistan. These are said to include the Afghan Taliban, Al Qaeda, Hizb-i-Islami, the Haqqani Network, Hizb-i-Islami-Gulbuddin, and Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan. The number of groups involved, and their disparate aims and motives, means that there is no coherent command structure, strategy or motivation that spans the insurgency as a whole, although most groups are united by their demand for an immediate end to the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan. Although fragmentation of the insurgency is greater in the east than in the south, where it is made up of a wide range of jihadi groups, the FCO's written evidence states that the insurgency as a whole benefits from safe havens in Pakistan which are easily accessed across the porous border.[107] We consider the impact that insurgent groups based in Pakistan have on Afghanistan at Paragraph 146. The security situation also depends upon progress made in a range of other sectors. We consider some of these areas in the following sections of this Report.

65.  We conclude that the security situation in Afghanistan, particularly in the south where the majority of British troops are based, will remain precarious for some time to come. We further conclude that the current instability is having a damaging effect on Coalition Forces and efforts to engage in reconstruction and development.

Afghanistan's struggling security sector

66.  Afghanistan's security prospects have not been aided by the fact that years of conflict and thirty years of civil war have made the country, in the view of Colonel Langton, "something of an arms dump".[108] The international community's recognition of the potentially adverse affect that this could have on Afghanistan's future stability led to the initiation of a programme of security-sector reform conducted under the 'lead nation' system.

67.  In 2003, under Japanese leadership, the international community initiated a three-year voluntary disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) programme, through which former Afghan military forces, comprising the Northern Alliance, warlord militias and other Taliban-era armed groups, were supposed to surrender their weapons and be reintegrated into civilian life. The UK was the second largest donor to the DDR programme, providing £19.1 million in funding. The FCO claims that the programme led to the disarmament of over 62,000 former combatants[109] and that it dealt "largely successfully" with the potential security threat that the targeted groups posed.

68.  However, Dr Jonathan Goodhand, of the School of Oriental and Asian Studies, London, told us that it was "at best a flawed success".[110] A large-scale research project undertaken by the Post-War Reconstruction and Development Unit at York University, which helped to inform DfID's latest Country Plan for Afghanistan, concluded that "the long-term impact of reintegration assistance is widely doubted, as is the success of the programme in permanently breaking down militia patronage networks".[111] The DDR programme was wound up in 2005 and replaced by what the FCO describes as a "more challenging" Disbandment of Illegal Armed Groups process.[112] More than 1,000 groups are engaged in this process and over 42,000 weapons and over 200,000 items of ammunition have been collected.[113] However, the FCO warns that "more remains to be done to ensure that these groups do not continue to jeopardise Afghanistan's stability". Dr Goodhand told us that many Afghans, particularly in the north, are perplexed and frustrated that they have been forced to disarm while the Government has been re-arming other groups, particularly in the south "to pursue the war on terror and the war against the Taliban".[114] He added that the "disarmament process has been very uneven and partially successful and that there is no shortage of men and militias in Afghan society".[115] He argued that

DDR is not what brings about security; security enables DDR to happen. We are looking at it the wrong way in terms of cause and effect relationships. The other thing […] about the DDR is that it is reintegration—the R—that is the critical thing and which has been the weakest. How do you kick-start the economy? How do you invest in the rural economy to give people options? An AK47 is a means of sustenance.[116]


69.  In 2001 Afghanistan had no national army or national police force. Nearly eight years later, the existence of a fully functioning army and police force are widely regarded to be crucial to Afghanistan's future stability. The FCO states that "building the capacity of Afghan security forces is essential to improving security across Afghanistan", and notes that both ISAF and OEF are heavily involved in this process.[117] Witnesses and interlocutors have told us that under the tutelage of the US, and with NATO training and advice through Operational Mentor and Liaison Teams (OMLTs), progress towards the creation of a fully functioning Afghan National Army (ANA) has been good. The ANA increasingly leads on counter-insurgency operations and opinion polls suggest that the army is the most respected public institution in Afghanistan.[118]

70.   We were told by interlocutors during our visit to Afghanistan that the army was being created on "an industrial scale" and that consequently the force will be "crude, coarse and functional". It was explained to us that main aim is to create a functioning force before refining it at a later stage. In spite of this, interlocutors spoke highly of the commitment of those in the ANA and of its improving sense of professionalism. Clearly, however, challenges remain. The lack of rotation between battalions in the ANA means that troops based in unstable areas have no respite, a factor which is beginning to have adverse effects on both recruitment and retention rates. The ANA also appears to be suffering because of its own success. Daniel Korski told us that "the Afghan army is fielding units faster than NATO can supply OMLTs to train them. […] As it takes an average OMLT four to six months before they become effective, little time is left to leverage the skills learnt and the relationships created given that the military rotations are usually six months."[119] We discuss the issue of the length of civilian postings below at Paragraph 251.

71.  There is also uncertainty as to whether progress can be maintained in the medium to long term. We were told during our visit that the US currently spends approximately $300 million per annum on sustaining the ANA, an amount that the Afghan government is unlikely to be able to finance through its own revenue in the near future.


72.  The police force, through its regular contact with the general population, has greater potential to change popular perceptions about the legitimacy of the Afghan government than the ANA. As such it is a key factor in security sector reform. During our visit to Helmand, we visited the new, purpose-built provincial police headquarters where we were briefed about the work of the police. We were impressed by the obvious dedication of those who worked there, assisted, in part, by UK police mentors.

73.  However, the evidence we received on the police and police reform highlighted a number of serious concerns. Interlocutors told us that the police were actively involved in criminal activities, that training in the past had been minimal and that many police were drug users or involved in the drugs trade. Other reports state that police positions particularly in lucrative transit and drug trafficking corridors are "sold" for large amounts of money.[120] In some cases corruption occurs because of criminality, but in other instances it can be a result of low salaries which are not routinely or regularly forthcoming from central government. Irrespective of the cause, however, Peter Marsden states that public disenchantment with the police is widespread and that its inability to dispense law and order is a major factor in people turning to the Taliban for justice.[121] The Post-War Reconstruction and Development Unit concludes that the ANP is "one of the most dysfunctional institutions in the country".[122]

74.  The FCO's written submission highlighted another area of concern, which is that as a result of the deteriorating security situation, the police are in danger of "becoming a state security force, with no form of proper accountability or connection to community needs".[123] Dr Goodhand commented that there is a "worrying trend […] towards the paramilitarisation of security sector institutions, which should essentially be about protecting Afghans' lives and security", but instead are "now increasingly skewed towards counter-insurgency measures".[124] Although some 78,500 police officers are currently enrolled, the UN estimates that only about 57,000 are actually operational because, in part, of injuries sustained whilst assisting in military operations.[125] Peter Marsden states that the high death rate of police engaged in counter-insurgency operations is a clear indication that they are "neither resourced nor sufficiently trained to take on such a role." He adds that "their use, for this entirely inappropriate purpose, also takes them away from their primary role of providing an effective rule of law for the population".[126]

75.  Reform of the police was originally a task assigned to Germany, as lead nation, and then later to the EUPOL, the EU's police reform mission. Both have been heavily criticised for failing to make progress on reform. The creation in 2007 of EUPOL, comprising some 176 personnel (mainly police, law enforcement and justice experts), was supposed to consolidate different approaches among EU members. Yet, as the International Crisis Group has noted, "EUPOL is widely regarded as a disappointment and has been unable to find a niche".[127] Others have told us that since its creation it has struggled to attract staff, deploy into the provinces or make discernable differences to policing standards.[128]

76.  Lord Malloch-Brown told us that various approaches are being considered with a view to improving the police. He stated:

We have been looking at supplementing the police with a so-called Afghan Public Protection Force (APPF). We are currently running a pilot of that in Wardak province, with support from the US. It is basically a local community police force. There are issues of training, control, objectivity and performance which we need to track carefully, but I think we all agree that not nearly enough has been done on the police side. In addition to conventional police training, we need to look at some slightly out-of-the-box solutions to supplement the numbers of people we have who are willing to protect communities from Taliban activity.[129]

77.  However, BAAG states that setting up tribal militia groups under the APPF appears to be another attempt to find a quick fix to a security challenge that requires a coherent and nationwide strategy. Its written submission noted:

Afghans have had bitter experience of armed militias and are rightly concerned about inter-ethnic and inter-communal tensions that have almost always followed initiatives aimed at making communities responsible for their security. There is a real danger that communities involved in APPF would face additional security risk resulting from their association with pro-government forces.[130]

78.  During our visit it was clear that although the EU remains nominally in the lead on police reform, the shortcomings of its approach, along with a lack of sufficient EU police mentors, means that the US military, with its considerable influence and financial clout, [131] has now stepped into the breach and is driving the police reform agenda. Interlocutors told us that, however well-intentioned the US military may be, they do not possess the requisite skills or experience to create a civilian police force. They argued that, in consequence, the police force will inevitably reflect, to some extent, the values and approaches of the military. A Focussed District Development (FDD) programme, promoted by the US, takes police officers, district by district, and gives them eight weeks of training by the military, private security contractors and the Ministry of Interior. During the training period, policing in the affected districts is provided by ANCOP, the Afghan National Civil Order Police, who are more extensively trained and whose main role is to maintain order in the larger cities. Daniel Korski told us that the FDD programme has proved relatively successful. He commented:

Sure, there are problems; there are not enough ANCOP special troops to go in and, when the old police officers come back, people say, "Give us the special troops who were here before." There are positive things going on in the policing sector. It may not be that wonderfully expansive vision of a democratically accountable and responsive security sector that we originally had, but it is not yet handing over guns to a series of militias unconnected to the security sector reform process.[132]


79.  We conclude that the steady progress being made towards the creation of the Afghan National Army stands in sharp contrast to the disappointingly slow pace on police reform, for which Germany was the 'lead nation' before responsibility was transferred to EUPOL. As a consequence, the United States has considered it has no option but to invest a considerable amount of effort and resource in police reform, with assistance and training provided by the US military. We further conclude that military-led reform of civilian police institutions, no matter how well-intentioned, must run the risk of creating a paramilitary-style police as opposed to the civilian force which was originally envisaged and which will be needed in the future.

Governance, justice and human rights


80.  The British and Irish Agencies Afghanistan Group (BAAG) points to "a crisis of governance in many parts of the country". It claims that the police and judiciary, where they exist, are widely regarded as inept and corrupt. Reports of 'shadow government' are widespread.[133] There have been many recent attempts to improve the situation, including the creation of a new Afghan Independent Directorate of Local Governance which aims to by-pass corrupt government departments when selecting capable governors, police chiefs and other local office holders. We were told, however, that the pace of change was extremely slow, and that the capacity of the provincial government departments responsible for key services remains poor.[134] The FCO warns that "without renewed progress the governance situation could worsen" and that rule of law and basic security is lacking for large parts of the population.[135]


81.  The situation in relation to the justice sector is equally gloomy. As part of the 'lead nation' approach adopted in 2001, the substantial responsibility for reforming Afghanistan's justice sector was placed on Italy's shoulders, with assistance from the US. However, the different legal traditions of Italy and the US led to conflicting approaches. Indeed, justice also remained a low priority for the international community as a whole. A 2005 report by the World Bank stated that only 3 % of the donor funds allocated to the security sector went to justice institutions.[136] Dr Goodhand told us that the principal reason why strengthening the rule of law was considered to be a low priority in the early days of Western intervention in Afghanistan is that this was a reflection of the "politics of the time". He stated:

In the Bonn agreement, the issue of transitional justice was purposely kept opaque […] because […] the mujaheddin were brought back into power and they did not want to address those questions. An amnesty Bill in Parliament in 2007 drew a line under that. […] Was there an opportunity to push this more strongly in 2002? I think that there was. In civil society and in society more generally in Afghanistan, there was a demand to bring these people to account, but by making those early decisions […] it then became very difficult to address it. In many ways, the opportunities and the openings for intervention have successively narrowed since 2002. We are in a very different situation now from where we were in 2002.[137]

82.  Elizabeth Winter of BAAG told us that the Italians "found it very hard to make progress". She added that "people felt that they perhaps took the wrong approach in the beginning. They themselves blamed other members of the international community for not supporting them, but the upshot was that very little was done".[138] In some areas, the Taliban have exploited the lack of a functioning formal justice system by providing justice and law and order where none exists. Dr Goodhand told us that, particularly in the north of the country there is not necessarily public demand for the type of justice dispensed by the Taliban but warned that "we should reflect on what kind of state is realistic in Afghanistan and what kind of state people want. They want a state that is able to give a level of predictability and security to their lives so that they can go about their economic business […] . There is a need for much more modest ambitions about what an Afghan state is able to deliver in the medium term."[139]

83.   There have been some improvements: funding has increased in recent years and, in 2007, the international community adopted a National Justice Sector Strategy described by the Post-War Reconstruction and Development Unit at York University as "a major breakthrough" in addressing the previous ad hoc and poorly co-ordinated approach.[140]

84.  Dr Goodhand told us that, notwithstanding these positive developments, the international community is still "grappling with the problem of the rule of law and legal reform".[141] The Post-War Reconstruction and Development Unit notes that a "major resource shortfall remains" and that "it is estimated that up to US$1 billion dollars will be required over the coming decade to complete the necessary reforms in the system".[142]

85.  One major consequence of the poorly functioning justice system is that many Afghans resort to more traditional, informal forms of justice which have existed for hundreds of years.[143] Dr Goodhand told us that Afghans try to avoid the state sector because they regard it as predatory and biased and that "to ignore that would be very wrong-headed.[144] The FCO estimates that over 90% of justice in Afghanistan is delivered through the "informal justice" system.[145] This operates through two key informal institutions - the jirga among the Pashtuns and shura among the non-Pashtuns of Afghanistan. The United States Institute for Peace explains that "the jirga is […] a community-based process for collective decision-making and is often used as a dispute settlement mechanism, including imposing agreed sanctions and using tribal forces to enforce its decisions" while the term shura "refers to a group of elders or recognised leaders who make decisions on behalf of the community they represent".[146] A report by the United Nations Development Fund stated that jirgas and shuras reach community-led decisions that "promote restorative justice, helping to restore peace and dignity between the victims, offenders, and other key stakeholders. They also aim to reintegrate the offender back into the community after holding him or her responsible for a wrongdoing". The UNDP argued that, "in combination with [bodies] such as the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, civil society organizations, and the media, informal institutions of dispute settlement can complement formal state institutions to enable more Afghans to access affordable justice that is viewed as legitimate and can progressively do more to meet national and international legal and human rights standards".[147] However, it also notes women are almost totally excluded from participating in the decision-making of jirgas/shuras "resulting in serious consequences for their status and the protection of their rights."[148]

86.  We questioned whether it was possible, or indeed desirable, to mix traditional forms of Afghan justice with Western-oriented systems. Elizabeth Winter argued that there were ways in which international forms of law and Islamic law "can be complementary to each other" but added that some of the traditional systems of dispute resolution "are not particularly satisfactory."[149]

87.  The FCO's view is that "it is vital for the international community to engage more actively [with the informal system], especially in developing linkages with the formal system".[150] In an attempt to work with, rather than against, the Afghan grain, and in addition to its work to improve the formal justice system, the British Government has begun to assist with the development of local community meetings to help solve community disputes, and to strengthen and build links between the Afghan government and local communities.[151] This has included work to develop a Prisoner Review system which links tribal elders to the formal justice system and efforts to improve access to justice for vulnerable groups such as women and children, through the creation of a Women and Children's Justice Group in Lashkar Gah and the provision of training courses to female inmates in Lashkar Gah prison.[152]

88.  We conclude that the failure to create an effective formal justice system as promised in the Bonn Agreement means that many Afghans remain reliant on traditional, informal mechanisms of justice. We welcome the Government's policy of developing links between formal and informal mechanisms of justice providing that full access, including to decision-taking, is sought for women in both mechanisms. However, we further conclude that the Government must guard against inadvertently endorsing any measures which could lead to the introduction, through informal mechanisms, of extreme forms of justice which retard or even reverse the slow progress that has been made towards promoting internationally accepted standards of human rights in Afghanistan.


89.  Closely related to the issue of poor governance is the problem of corruption, which is endemic in Afghanistan. In its written submission BAAG states that corruption within the police force and amongst government officials has had a "crippling effect on business, social life and travel, leading to growing concerns that many Afghans now perceive the armed opposition groups as 'the lesser of the many evils' and therefore may actually decide to support those rather than the government".[153] Our witnesses and interlocutors were united in the view that corruption not only affects the poorest people disproportionately but also undermines efforts to improve stability.

90.  In 2005 Afghanistan's ranking in Transparency International's corruption perception index stood at 117 out of 159 countries. By 2008 it had dropped to 176 out of 180 countries.[154] According to a recent survey by Integrity Watch Afghanistan stated that the average Afghan household pays an estimated $100 in petty bribes every year (by way of context, 70% of the population survives on less than $1 per day).[155] Dr Goodhand told us that "Afghanistan is a highly insecure environment at the moment, and people do not have confidence in the future, so the risk-opportunity calculus is, "I need to make money now, while there is a possibility" […] This is not just a few immoral people trying to use public office for private gain, although, of course, there is that as well"[156] Ms Winter added:

Afghans are capable of deciding when something is really just to oil the wheels, and when something is out and out corruption and they really find it intolerable. Some of that is going on. Where you have good Ministers who manage their Ministries well and are able to find good staff to support them […] corruption is being rooted out and is lessening.[157]

91.  Allegations that corruption reaches to the highest echelons of the Afghan government have seriously damaged its attempt to extend its writ within the country.[158] The FCO states that it has pressed President Karzai to take action against corrupt public officials and that DfID has supported work to identify and address the areas that are most vulnerable to corruption, including creating more robust public financial management systems.[159] Elizabeth Winter told us that the UK Government was "one of the better governments in supporting the development and the capacity of the Afghan government".[160] In December 2008, the UK created a Multi Agency Anti-Corruption Task Force to assist the Afghan government in tackling corruption. It is made up of representatives from DfID, FCO, the Serious Organised Crime Agency, the Crown Prosecution Service, and the Crown Office Procurator Fiscal Service.[161] Two new Afghan anti-corruption bodies were also established in 2008: the High Office of Monitoring, and a corruption oversight unit within the Attorney General's Office. President Karzai's October 2008 appointment of Mohamad Hanif Atmar as Interior Minister was also seen as a signal that the Afghan government is serious about addressing corruption.[162] However, high-level prosecutions have been noticeable by their absence. Dr Goodhand expressed scepticism about the impact that anti-corruption bodies might have, arguing that they tend ultimately to "reflect power relationships within the government, and […] achieve very little".[163]

92.  Integrity Watch Afghanistan reported recently that of $25 billion given in aid since 2001, only some $15 billion had been spent, and that for every $100 spent, sometimes only $20 reached Afghan recipients.[164] Dr Goodhand told us that the problem "is not just about greedy Afghans grabbing the aid. There is a whole infrastructure, which is kind of auto-consuming the aid—I am thinking here of private sector contractors and security firms. A lot of the money is not even leaving Washington".[165] BAAG states that as long as the public administration, law enforcement and public accountability agencies remain unreformed, underdeveloped and ineffective, the problem of corruption is likely to continue.[166]

93.  We asked Lord Malloch-Brown about the Government's position on corruption in Afghanistan. He told us that:

Through DFID, we have worked hard both to make sure that our own aid money is not wasted and that we are building the kinds of institutions of governance—the checks and balances and controls over corruption—that start to clean this up. But one has to be honest—this is one of the real Achilles heels of the Kabul Government. Particularly at the regional level, there are governors appointed by Kabul who have a horrible reputation regarding corruption. We hope that [the] election campaign [in the summer of 2009] will be an opportunity for ordinary Afghans to air their grievance about that and demand of whomever they elect as President that they clean up their act.[167]

94.  We conclude that almost eight years after the international community became involved in Afghanistan, virtually no tangible progress has been made in tackling the endemic problem of corruption, and that in many cases the problem has actually become worse. We further conclude that policy commitments, action plans and all manner of strategies are of little value if they are not accompanied by the political will on the part of the Afghan President and government to drive forward change and tackle corruption at senior levels. Although corruption is a worldwide problem, the situation in Afghanistan is particularly bad and requires an Afghan-led solution if it is to be significantly reduced.


95.  The Afghanistan Compact sets out the respective commitments of the Afghan Government and the international community in relation to improving human rights. Under this framework, by the end of 2010 a range of benchmarks are to be met, which include:

  • more compliance with human rights treaties;
  • the adoption by government security and law-enforcement agencies of measures aimed at preventing arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, extortion and illegal expropriation of property;
  • improvements in the ability to exercise freedom of expression;
  • the inclusion of human rights awareness in education curricula and its promotion among legislators, judicial personnel and other Government agencies, communities and the public; and
  • human rights monitoring by the Government, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) and the UN.[168]

96.  The FCO states that "although much remains to be done, hard work and significant investment by the Afghan government, supported by the international community, is having an impact, for example gradually realising people's rights to freedom of expression, equality and a standard of living adequate for their health and well-being".[169] Since 2001, the UK has provided over £1.75 million of support for the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC)[170] and works with a range of small NGOs and the United Nations Development Programme to create a Human Rights Support Unit in the Afghan Ministry of Justice. The Unit will support and co-ordinate Afghan government efforts to protect and promote human rights.[171] The UK is also providing human rights training to the Afghan prison service, and in Helmand is providing advice and training to both the ANP and the Counter-Narcotics Police of Afghanistan to improve human rights compliance.[172]

97.   Overall, however, the UN concludes that the human rights situation remains a source of serious concern. A report published in March 2009 by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, states that gross human rights violations remain a serious threat to continuing efforts to transform Afghan society; that a culture of impunity prevails and is deeply entrenched; that there is a lack of political will to advance the transitional justice process to address past abuses; and there is an absence of accountability for current human rights violations.

98.  The 2004 Afghan Constitution includes references to a number of political, social and economic human rights as well as a commitment to abide by the core international human rights treaties.[173] However, Elizabeth Winter told us that although "Afghanistan has signed all the major protocols, […] it has not put a great deal of effort into actually following them".[174]

99.  We address the specific issue of women's rights in Afghanistan in the following section of this Report.

100.  We conclude that while much effort has been expended by Western governments on promoting human rights in Afghanistan, the underlying dynamics and cultural views in Afghanistan, amongst men in particular, have not shifted to any great extent. As long as security remains poor, human rights protection will not be considered a priority by many Afghans.

Women and their position in Afghanistan

101.  The FCO states that many women in Afghanistan still face significant hardships and unequal treatment as a result of poverty and insecurity, and in part due to deeply held cultural views. It adds that "a lack of legal protection and inadequate access to justice increases the risks women face in a society where the rule of law is still weak. Outspoken women still face severe risks".[175] In her most recent human rights report on Afghanistan, the UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights is particularly critical of a failure to protect women's rights and warns that gains made recently by women in the public sphere are in danger of receding.[176] Statistics from the United Nations Development Fund for Women for 2008 state that although women represent 27% of the National Assembly, the estimated literacy rate for women stands at 15.8% (compared to 31% for men), only 19% of schools are designated as girls schools, and in 29% of educational districts there are no designated girls schools at all. 70% to 80% of women face arranged marriages in Afghanistan and 57% of girls are married before the legal marriage age of 16.[177]

102.  The FCO told us that the UK attempts to enhance the status of women in Afghanistan in three main ways: through policy engagement with the Afghan government; through support for national programmes and services, which benefit women; and through bilateral programmes. The British Government also regularly engages in discussions about women's rights with members of the Afghan government, Afghan Parliamentarians and NGOs.[178] Most of the Government's financial support is channelled through the Afghan government but the UK also provides £500,000 to support a women's empowerment programme, implemented by the NGO Womankind (running from 2005 to 2010). The programme focuses on promoting women's equal participation in governance; building awareness of women's rights among civil society and policy makers; and providing educational, health, community and psycho-social support to women affected by violence and conflict. Over £35 million has also been provided to support the Afghan government's micro-finance programme, which we discuss below at Paragraph 138, giving women in particular better access to finance. The UK is also working with local and international NGOs in pursuit of the promotion of women's rights.

103.   The FCO states that:

The AIHRC [Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission] now has representatives in Helmand province, who are helping support the new Women and Children's Justice Group, established in Lashkar Gah in August 2008. Run by prominent female members of the community, the group is developing and implementing practical programmes on the ground to support women and children's rights and justice issues.[179]

104.  During our visit, interlocutors told us that human and women's rights had fallen from the agenda of the Afghanistan government and that of the international community. They argued that more money for the education of girls and women was required and that "if you educate a woman, you educate a whole family".

105.  We visited a girl's school in Kabul, which has been supported by the British Council, where we were able to see for ourselves what progress had been made, as well as some of the challenges that girls and teachers face on a daily basis. We were encouraged to see the voracious appetite for female education which exists: each day 6,337 students are taught by age group in three shifts starting at 6.30 am and concluding at 5 pm, a process that is overseen by 14 senior teachers.

106.  In spite of the obvious spirit and commitment of staff and students, it is clear that tremendous challenges remain. Elsewhere in Afghanistan, opponents of women's education have thrown acid at schoolgirls and have been accused of mounting poison-gas attacks on girls' schools.[180] The World Bank states that girls represent less than 15% of the total enrolment in many southern provinces and that the limited supply of learning spaces and lack of female teachers are major factors constraining girls' education.[181]

107.  A number of our witnesses pointed to the fact that the international community's approach to women's rights may, paradoxically, have contributed to the difficult situation that women in Afghanistan face. Dr Goodhand stated:

With human rights and gender, the perception that this is internationally driven has had perverse effects for Afghans who are interested in pushing the questions and pushing the boundaries. Women have become a banner issue that is being used by the Taliban and the mujaheddin to mobilise legitimacy. When international actors engage in these questions, they are hitting some very sensitive nerves. The key issue is looking historically and moving carefully without becoming an apologist for the […] view that culture never changes.[182]

Elizabeth Winter concurred, stating that the way the international community approached the issue of human, and women's rights "was at fault". She added:

Westerners found it very difficult to do it in an effective manner. Very often, they appointed women to do the job—very young, inexperienced Afghan women at that—who were told that they were focal points for gender, and human rights were often just seen as women's rights. You had grandstanding by many senior members of the international community in their own countries.[183]

108.  Christina Lamb also spoke about the specific issue of women's rights and argued that "it would not be wrong to say there has been a betrayal of women, given all the promises that were made in late 2001." Ms Lamb told us that the human rights initiatives that were introduced in 2001 had been unsuitable:

There were all these gender rights projects and feminists coming in with different things that were not what most women wanted. […] Afghanistan has the best laws for women in most of Asia because of the new laws that were drawn up after the Taliban were removed. […] Yet that makes no difference because nobody complies with those laws.[184]

109.  David Loyn told us that the international community had overly high expectations about what could be achieved in respect of human rights generally and women's rights more specifically. He said that although there was "a huge appetite for girls' education among the middle class, […] in most Afghan society, we are a long way from the kind of equality between men and women that is commonplace in the west. It is far too high an expectation for us to demand it of Afghanistan".[185]

110.  Interlocutors told us that in recent years lessons have been learned and that the British Government was committed to a more low key approach which aims to support women in Afghanistan in a manner which does not directly antagonize those opposed to women's rights, and which seeks to avoid playing into the hands of the Taliban and the large elements of Afghan society which remain socially conservative and resent what they perceive to be an example of the West attempting to change traditional Afghan values.


111.  The difficulty of reconciling Western conceptions of human rights with deeply rooted Afghan customs was cast into sharp focus recently by the controversy surrounding the so-called "Shia family law". In April 2009, it became known that a parliamentary bill on the Personal Status of Followers of Shia Jurisprudence ("the Shia Family Law")had been signed by President Karzai and was to enter into force. President Karzai's detractors accuse him of electioneering at the expense of women's rights by signing the law to appeal to Shia swing voters in this year's presidential election. His defenders argue that he was not aware of what he was signing. We were appalled to learn that if enacted the law would, inter alia, eliminate the need for sexual consent between husband and wife, tacitly approve child marriage, and restrict a woman's right to leave the family home without her husband's consent. We raised this issue during our visit to Afghanistan, and voiced our concerns with a number of interlocutors, including the country's two Vice-Presidents, Ahmad Zia Massoud and Abdul Karim Khalili, as well as with Foreign Minister Dr Rangin Dadfar Spanta. The law would apply only to the Shia minority in Afghanistan (which amounts to some 19% of the total population[186]), but on the basis of meetings we have had with Afghan parliamentarians, it is clear that the Sunni majority is reluctant to intervene in what they regard as the internal affairs of their Shia fellow citizens.

112.  Following an international outcry over the proposed law, President Karzai announced that the law would be changed to bring it in line with Afghanistan's constitution, which guarantees equal rights for women. In June 2009, Lord Malloch-Brown told us that the law was under review by a committee established by the Afghan Ministry of Justice. He added that the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) had been coordinating the international response to the passage of this bill and had convened a meeting in May with Afghan MPs, local and international NGOs, UN agencies and Embassies. Once the internal Afghan review has been completed, the intention is that law should go back to Parliament. Lord Malloch-Brown assured us that the Prime Minister had made his concerns clear to President Karzai, that the British Government would continue to monitor the situation closely, and that it would intervene again, "should we consider it necessary".[187]

113.  A subsequent letter from the Foreign Secretary stated that the Ministry of Justice had completed its review of the law and that following written recommendations by Afghan civil society, tthe Afghan Women's Network, Katib University and moderate Ulema (religious scholars) some sixty articles were added and around ten removed from the Law. The Foreign Secretary's letter also stated that "language was also added to clarify the meaning of certain articles" and that the Government understands that "the Afghan Women's Network view the amended draft as broadly acceptable, and contentious articles, including the provision appearing to legalise rape, had been removed". The letter also states that the Law is being reviewed by the Supreme Court and that President Karzai has indicated that the Law will next be sent back to the Afghan Parliament for approval in time for the new session of Parliament, beginning 20 July 2009. The Foreign Secretary's letter concludes that "the Law continues to cause controversy on both sides" and that "the outcome is still uncertain".[188]

114.  We conclude the proposed "Shia family law" which would have legalised rape within marriage and legitimised the subjugation of Shia women in Afghanistan, represented an affront to decent human values. We further conclude that it is a matter for alarm that these proposals were considered to be acceptable by President Karzai, by a majority in the Afghan parliament, and by significant elements of Afghan public opinion. This episode highlights the challenges that Afghan women continue to face in realising their basic human rights nearly eight years after the fall of the Taliban government. We conclude that this proposed law has had a detrimental affect on international perceptions of Afghanistan. We welcome the British Government's announcement that it considers those aspects of the law which undermine human rights to be wholly unacceptable. We recommend that the Government keeps us fully informed if the Shia Family Law takes legal effect and, if it does, provides us with an analysis as to whether it has been brought in line with the Afghan Constitution, which guarantees equal rights for women, and with the international treaties to which Afghanistan is a party.

115.  We consider further issues relating to the role of women in Afghanistan, in relation to any future political settlement in that country, in Paragraphs 316 to 318 below.


116.  Opium poppy is widely grown in Afghanistan. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC) estimates that 98% of it is grown in just seven provinces in the south-west, one of which is Helmand.[189] UNODC also estimates that opium cultivation in Helmand province alone accounted for two-thirds (66%) of all the opium cultivated in Afghanistan. Between 2002 and 2008, it is claimed that cultivation in Helmand, where the majority of UK troops are based, more than tripled.[190] The FCO notes that Helmand is likely to remain the main cultivating province for the foreseeable future.[191]

117.  The UK is G8 'Partner Nation' for Afghanistan on counter-narcotics, which means that it is responsible for leading international efforts to tackle illicit narcotics in Afghanistan. The various political and security challenges facing the country during the first two years after the fall of the Taliban ensured that narcotics and other issues received less attention than might otherwise have been the case. In several instances the central government's need to bolster its authority in the provinces and the US-led coalition's campaign against the Taliban led to a reliance on regional commanders and militias believed to be closely involved in the drugs trade.[192]

118.  The FCO states that its goal is to "to achieve a drugs trade divided from the insurgency and prevented from undermining security, governance and the economy to the point where the Afghan Government can take responsibility for its own counter-narcotics effort".[193] This involves targeting influential narco-barons, maximising access to markets for farmers, reaching out to Governors and building effective institutional and international development arrangements to sustain and expand poppy-free provinces. To this end, between 2004 and 2008 the UK spent nearly £160 million on its counter-narcotics programme in Afghanistan, in support of the Afghan government's National Drug Control Strategy (NDCS).[194] The NDCS advocates a coordinated, nationwide approach involving public awareness, alternative livelihoods, law enforcement, criminal justice, eradication, institutional development, regional cooperation, and demand reduction. Lord Malloch-Brown told us that the British Government's "whole effort is about strengthening Afghan Government capacity. […] [T]he Afghan ministry in that area remains relatively weak [and [w]e feel that it needs a strong external partner to help it stand up against the rather contradictory demands on it from elsewhere in the Afghan Government."[195]

119.  Lord Malloch-Brown believed that "our commitment in this area is slowly paying off"[196] and cited statistics from UNODC which indicate that poppy cultivation in Helmand has reduced this year.[197] We heard the same message when we visited Helmand when we were told about the success of an eradication programme led by Governor Mangal, and supported by the UK, which led to the creation of the Helmand Food Zone which has used a range of tactics to encourage Helmandis to switch to licit livelihoods including wheat-growing.

120.  Fabrice Pothier of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace told us that "for political reasons at home" and "counter-insurgency purposes" in Helmand, the Government was keen to show that progress is being made. However, while praising the UK for adopting and promoting a multi-pronged approach to counter-narcotics, both Fabrice Pothier and the freelance narcotics consultant David Mansfield stated that success could only be fully measured over the longer period.[198] We were told that a successful counter-narcotics approach could take some 25 years to take effect. Within this context Mr Mansfield stated that "pursuing these annual figures can be quite unhelpful", particularly without a full understanding of what is driving change.[199] A number of witnesses and interlocutors stated that recent reductions in poppy cultivations cannot necessarily be attributed to counter-narcotics strategies. Mr Mansfield told us that many farmers had switched away from poppy in recent months, not as a result of counter-narcotics strategies, but because high global prices for wheat made it made it profitable for them to do so. He argued that "[i]t now makes no sense to grow opium poppy to buy wheat when you can get more wheat by growing it on your land".[200]

121.  As Fabrice Pothier told us, the situation is complicated by the fact that "you literally have as many strategies [on counter-narcotics] as you have actors in Afghanistan". Both the EU and US, to name two key partners, follow their own drugs strategies and, reflecting a recurring problem in Afghanistan, Mr Pothier concluded that as a result, "you have high fragmentation, and that does not leave much space for true Afghan capacity to develop".[201] The reality of the situation was brought home to us during our visit to Helmand which coincided with the poppy harvest. Not only were the vast swathes of land used for poppy cultivation clearly visible to us from the air, it was obvious that Lashkar Gah was profiting handsomely from the drugs trade. Although it was clear that the drugs trade was in full flow in Lashkar Gah, interlocutors told us that a lack of resources and capabilities meant that police were unable to stop the trade during the harvest period and had no choice but to allow it to continue.


122.  Some interlocutors argued to us that further support from ISAF would make success in counter-narcotics more likely. ISAF's involvement in counter-narcotics operations was first authorised in October 2008, and ISAF troops can now conduct interdiction operations against drugs facilities and facilitators. The FCO has supported this move, arguing that ISAF involvement will enable "the UK to support the Afghan security forces in targeting those elements of the insurgency where there is a clear link to the illegal drugs trade".[202] Lord Malloch-Brown also told us that "we are trying […]to be a NATO country that meets our share of the responsibility on this."[203] However, the UK has struggled to convince other NATO members to adopt a similar position.[204]

123.  Although both the UN and the FCO state that there is a link between the drugs trade and the insurgency in the south of Afghanistan,[205] there is some disagreement over the extent and nature of the links. In 2008, the UN estimated that insurgents earned $100 million in taxes—or protection money—from opium farmers[206], while the Afghan Minister for Counter-Narcotics, General Khodaidad Khodaidad, has stated that between 20 and 40% of the profits from the poppy harvest help anti-government forces and that taxes on the poppy crop have become a major source of revenue for the Taliban insurgency.[207] However, a recent report from the Post-War Reconstruction and Development Unit at York University, which was commissioned by DfID, concluded that "the international community's assumption that poppy cultivation and trafficking supports the insurgency is considerably overstated".[208] Fabrice Pothier argued that the UN figures were "mostly a statistical extrapolation over what, potentially, the Taliban could generate by taxing up to 10% of the production in the areas that they want control over". He stated that the evidence was very weak and there is very little documentation about the extent and the type of relationship between the Taliban and the drugs economy.[209] Both Mr Pothier and Mr Mansfield pointed to the fact that the Taliban are focusing on drugs because they have a high financial value but have in the past taxed "whatever […] lootable resource" was available, whether it was drugs, […] onions or lapis lazuli".[210] Mr Pothier stated:

If you look at the historic relationship between the Taliban and drugs, it is one of ambiguity and opportunism, rather than a symbiotic relationship [and]that they go for or against opium when it serves some higher political purpose.[211]

124.  We recommend that the Government continues to do its utmost to persuade its ISAF partners in Afghanistan to give their full support and co-operation to ISAF's expanded role of conducting operations against drugs facilities and facilitators.


125.  Another challenge that the UK faces in tackling narcotics in Afghanistan is that of corruption. We deal with the general issue of corruption in Afghanistan in Paragraphs 89 to 94 above. Corruption is blamed by many observers for blunting efforts to control narcotics. Most reports suggest that the degree to which politicians are implicated in the opium trade is significant. During 2008, several mid-level Afghan government officials, including police commanders, were convicted of narcotics and corruption charges.[212] Senior government officials attempting to address the problem are increasingly being intimidated and attacked. On 4 September 2008, the head of the Appeals Court of the Central Narcotics Tribunal was shot and killed on his way to work in Kabul.[213] Corrupt practices range from facilitating drug activities to benefiting from revenue streams that the drug trade produces. In 2008, two new anti-corruption entities were established: the High Office of Monitoring, and a corruption oversight unit within the Attorney General's Office. However, David Mansfield told us that there is a strong perception among ordinary Afghans that not enough is being done to target high-level corruption and that ordinary people are being penalised for counter-narcotics activity while senior state officials act with apparent impunity.[214] He also told us that while many farmers are able to produce licit goods, have good land and "enormous agricultural potential" they are dissuaded from doing so because "when it comes to actually getting their goods to market", it is not worth it "because of the costs of checkpoints and of moving down what is perceived to be a very dangerous road". He added:

If I grow onion in Helmand and I try to take it to the market in Kandahar, I have to go through 14 checkpoints to get the goods to market. Everyone wants some baksheesh. By the time I get to market I am very much a price taker and I am at a loss. I have case studies of farmers who have gone through that calculation. […] So people grow poppy on their land and let people come to them. […] Removing the checkpoints or, mentoring the checkpoints so that they are not taking baksheesh, and constraining the movement of legal goods is fundamental.[215]

126.  We conclude that in accepting the role of Afghanistan's 'lead' international partner in respect of counter-narcotics, the UK has taken on a poisoned chalice. There is little evidence to suggest that recent reductions in poppy cultivation are the result of the policies adopted by the UK, other international partners or the Afghan government. While the British Government is to be commended for its broad-ranging, holistic approach to tackling narcotics in Afghanistan, it is clear that success depends on a range of factors which lie far beyond the control and resource of the UK alone. The scale of the problem, the drugs trade's importance to Afghanistan's economy and its connection to corruption makes any early achievement of the aspirations set out in the Bonn Agreement highly unlikely. We further conclude that the lead international role on counter-narcotics should be transferred away from the UK, and that the Afghan Government should instead be partnered at an international level by the United Nations and ISAF which are better equipped to co-ordinate international efforts.

127.  Witnesses suggested areas where the UK could have more of an impact internationally in relation to counter-narcotics. For instance, the success of any anti-narcotics programme arguably depends upon the co-operation of Afghanistan's neighbours, particularly, according to Fabrice Pothier, "Iran, Pakistan, Russia and, increasingly, the central Asian markets".[216] The bulk of Afghan opium leaves via Iran and Pakistan, and much of it is also consumed within those countries. These are issues that we previously considered at length in our Report on Global Security: Iran, published in March 2008.[217] Fabrice Pothier told us that 2.8% of Iran's population, amounting to some 3 million people, are drug users. Tehran's anti-drugs policy has led to the execution of some 10,000 traffickers over the past two decades but success in reducing volumes or increasing prices has been minimal.[218] Some suspect that elements of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps are complicit in the trade. Meetings between Iranian, Pakistani and Afghan officials aiming to form a co-ordinated approach have led to pledges of co-operation, and during our visit to Afghanistan we were told that the counter-narcotics and police forces of these three countries carried out the first-ever joint operation against drug trafficking networks on 8 March 2009, in an initiative brokered by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.[219] Fabrice Pothier argued that the British Government could make "a very helpful contribution" to the counter-narcotics effort by advising Iran, Russia and Pakistan on how to create comprehensive strategies that "reconcile supply with demand".[220]

128.  In recent months there has also been a far greater emphasis, internationally, on countering the flow of chemical precursors necessary for illicit heroin manufacturing. [221] A 2008 report commissioned by DfID argues that by closely tracking the sale and transport of precursor chemicals, the international community and Afghan government could provide an "ideal solution" in which "cultivators continue to receive payment for the raw product while the organised criminal networks will be unable to add value. […] Processing will continue, as it previously had, to be done outside of Afghanistan, thus leaving far fewer profits in the country to finance violence and, in particular, to undermine the State through the co-optation of public officials."[222] Fabrice Pothier told us that this was an important part of a comprehensive strategy:

Figures show that an increasingly high quantity of those chemical precursors is going to Afghanistan, which is an indication that the drug market is consolidating and increasing in value. According to UNODC, 70% of heroin is now produced in Afghanistan itself. Indeed, having a chemical precursor strategy would be an important and effective way of trying to cut the higher-value, and therefore more threatening, part of the drug economy.[223]

129.  We recommend that if the Government accepts our recommendation to relinquish the role of lead partner nation on counter-narcotics, it ought to re-focus its effort on facilitating regional co-operation and driving forward diplomatic efforts within international organisations to tackle the trafficking and processing of drugs.

130.  We consider the extent to which the UK's involvement in counter-narcotics efforts in Helmand constitutes a valid reason for a continuing UK presence in Afghanistan in Paragraphs 271 to 274 below.

Economic and social development

131.  The collapse of the Taliban regime in 2001 revealed the extent of Afghanistan's political, economic and social devastation at that time. The Afghan government was barely functioning, the financial system was in total disarray with no banking system and three different currencies in circulation; millions of refugees were preparing to return home, and nearly one million people faced starvation.[224] Infrastructure had been severely damaged and traditional irrigation systems had suffered from destruction and lack of maintenance. Agricultural production was limited, industry had ceased functioning and most skilled professionals had left the country.[225]

132.  From that time to this, most analysts have concluded that providing Afghans with access to basic services would go a considerable way to improving the government's legitimacy and credibility and that this, in turn, would help to improve Afghanistan's security and humanitarian prospects.[226] The FCO states that there has been "considerable progress made across most areas of the economy since 2001". However, it acknowledges that even with this progress, Afghanistan remains poor and is still at the very early stages of its economic development. It adds that making progress to a fully functioning economy is only achievable over the long term.[227] The submission by the British and Irish Aid Agencies Afghanistan Group noted that despite some progress in the communication sector, such as roads and mobile phones, and lately energy, infrastructure remains extremely weak. BAAG also points out that revenue collection by the central government through taxes remains "abysmally low", amounting, in 2007, to net receipts of just over $600 million. The result, is a country which continues to depend on foreign assistance to provide even basic services. [228]

133.  There are some bright spots. For instance, the BBC World Service's written submission details the massive expansion of the media sector in recent years which had to be largely re-built after the Taliban had destroyed all vestiges of it.[229] On the economic front, a new currency was introduced in October 2002, replacing the three different currencies in circulation.[230] In other sectors, a number of programmes initiated since 2002 are deemed to have been relatively successful. There have been significant improvements in health service provision, albeit from a low baseline,[231] resulting in greater access to healthcare and a corresponding reduction in mortality rates for infants and under 5s, and increases in the proportion of women receiving antenatal care.[232]

134.  In education, the 'Back to School' campaign initiated in 2002 led to the enrolment of 4.3 million children. As a consequence, some 6 million children are now in school, 35% of whom are girls.[233] Under the Taliban, girls were forbidden from attending school and estimates suggest that only 500,000 boys were enrolled when the Taliban's rule was brought to an end.[234] We were told during our visit to Kabul that since 2001 the number of schools has increased from 3,000 to 11,600 while the number of teachers has risen from 20,000 to 170,000. However, BAAG's written submission notes that there is a continuing lack of investment in secondary and tertiary education.[235] Interlocutors during our visit told us that 5.3 million young people of school age in Afghanistan do not have access to education, a figure which equates to 7% of the global out-of-school population. Teaching standards, however much improved in recent years, also remain low. Of the 6 million children who are in school, most are in the northern or western areas where stability is greater. Even in these areas, schools, their pupils and teachers have been targeted and intimidated by the Taliban.

135.  The World Bank states that, "with scarce natural resources in the country, quality education is a critical ingredient to poverty alleviation and economic growth in Afghanistan. The future performance of the country depends on the successful development of the education sector."[236] During our visit we heard about the British Council's attempts to encourage twinning of schools between the UK and Afghanistan and we also raised the prospect of twinning educational institutions with several interlocutors all of whom agreed that it would be a mutually beneficial arrangement.

136.   We conclude that long-term investment in education for young people of both genders in Afghanistan is both morally compelling and strategically sensible. It will enable Afghanistan to create an educated and skilled workforce equipped to develop the country and reduce its dependency on foreign funding. We recommend that the Government should consider extending educational twinning programmes to students in Afghanistan in a bid to foster educational opportunities and improve mutual understanding between students and teachers in the UK and Afghanistan.

137.  We were told in oral evidence and during our visit about a number of Afghan-led national rural development programmes which have produced impressive results, and apparently at a fraction of the cost of those undertaken by western contractors.[237] Considerable praise was forthcoming for the National Solidarity Programme, which the UK Government has actively supported. This is a community-based programme sponsored by the central government which helps local Afghans to elect councillors and provides technical assistance to let local people decide on their own priorities for development. We were told that, because the community decides upon and contributes towards the costs of the projects, there is an in-built interest for all those involved in making it work which leads to a greater sense of ownership. So far the programme has reached 40,000 villages and has led to the establishment of over 18,000 Community Development Councils across Afghanistan, and the delivery of projects in some of Afghanistan's poorest and most remote communities. During our visit we were also informed that the average cost of a project implemented by the local community is, on average, $2,000 whereas costs for private firms are closer to $60,000.

138.  We were also told about the Micro Finance Investment Support Facility of Afghanistan (MISFA) which helps Afghans set up and expand small businesses. MISFA has issued over £150 million in small loans to over 400,000 Afghans. Over 70% of MISFA's beneficiaries are women.

139.  We asked witnesses whether they believed that progress in the areas of health and education could be sustained over the longer term. Elizabeth Winter, Advisor to BAAG, told us that she thought this was possible. However, Dr Goodhand was more cautious. He argued that it would be difficult to maintain progress if the Taliban continued actively to target "visible symbols of the Afghan state" including infrastructure, health centres and schools. He also noted that it was proving difficult for aid agencies to sustain their operations and deliver aid in the current security climate. Finally, he stated that the majority of aid was delivered through contractors and non-governmental organisations, a process which he argued does not help the "state-building exercise" and raises "questions about how sustainable those projects will be in the future".[238]

140.  We conclude that in 2009 economic and social development in Afghanistan continues to lag behind what international donors promised and what, consequently, Afghans had a right to expect as a result of Western intervention in their country. We further conclude, however, that the success of recently initiated Afghan-led projects, such as the National Solidarity Programme, which appear to offer a highly effective model for delivering change, is encouraging. We welcome the British Government's support of this and similar initiatives which are having an impact on the lives of large numbers of people in rural Afghanistan. We recommend that the Government continue to examine how it can encourage other international donors to support Afghanistan in this way. We further recommend that in its response the FCO sets out what it considers the most important priorities of the international community in Afghanistan to be.

Assessing the international community's approach and impact

141.  There is general agreement amongst analysts and experts that, with hindsight, the Bonn Agreement process and its conscious decision to exclude key groups, including the defeated Taliban, limited its effectiveness. The process entrenched the power of warlords and gave them democratic legitimacy but also caused ethnic tensions to resurface, with President Karzai and his supporters seeking to align themselves with others Pashtuns, who supported a strong presidency, opposing the large block of minority ethnic groups in the north which supported greater autonomy and a weaker president.

142.   The goals of the Bonn process have also been the subject of much criticism. The Post-War Reconstruction and Development Unit at York University concludes that the international community's attempt to create a unitary western-style government was - given Afghanistan's long history of conflict and de-centralised power, vested in tribal structures - inappropriate and overly ambitious.[239]

143.  The adoption of the 'lead nation' approach was supposed to ensure that the burden of effort was shared between donors, but a lack of co-ordination meant that the overall impact was far less than had been hoped.[240] One of the consequences, according to Lord Ashdown, is that individual countries have tended to see Afghanistan exclusively through "the narrow lens of their own troop deployments", meaning that "the UK thinks Helmand is Afghanistan, the Dutch think it is Uruzgan and Germany thinks it is Kunduz. There is, in consequence, no comprehensive internationally accepted country-wide political military strategy and almost no means of creating one."[241] BAAG states that one of the consequences of this is that major troop-contributing countries have concentrated their reconstruction and development funds and efforts in the provinces where their troops are primarily stationed, apparently to promote their national profile and priorities. BAAG adds that this has resulted in large amounts of development funds being spent in the most insecure provinces of the east and south "often with dubious outcomes". BAAG concludes:

[T]he more stable provinces with 'poorer' PRTs [provincial reconstruction teams] have received significantly less resources despite significant needs and being more conducive to development. Many see this discrepancy as a disincentive for security and equally worryingly that donors are only concerned about their own immediate political objectives.[242]

144.  Others point to the international community's attention to areas which "did not contribute as greatly to security as they potentially could have". The Post-War Reconstruction and Development Unit's Strategic Conflict Assessment of Afghanistan states:

Demographically, a focus on gender and education led to a considerable focus on women and children. Attention to governance, founded in the belief that the promotion of elders and traditional leaders would lead to stability, focused primarily on older populations. Left out of the equation was the group of young men who pose, in nearly every country of the world, the greatest threat to peace and security. Livelihoods and economic development provided the greatest opportunity to address this group. However, agriculture, a source of employment for nearly 70 per cent of Afghans, was one of the least emphasised sectors of intervention. […] More broadly, livelihoods were rarely addressed, and efforts tended to focus upon urban areas and the higher echelons of the economy rather than on sustainable, low-level employment in rural communities. Without adequate sources of income, itself a cultural imperative to allow men to pursue marriage, these young men were highly vulnerable to recruitment by AOGs [armed opposition group].[243]

145.  We conclude that the international effort in Afghanistan since 2001 has delivered much less than it promised and that its impact has been significantly diluted by the absence of a unified vision and strategy, grounded in the realities of Afghanistan's history, culture and politics. We recognise that although Afghanistan's current situation is not solely the legacy of the West's failures since 2001, avoidable mistakes, including knee-jerk responses, policy fragmentation and overlap, now make the task of stabilising the country considerably more difficult than might otherwise have been the case. We recommend that in its response to this Report the FCO sets out what lessons have been learned from the mistakes made by the international community over the last seven years. We further recommend that in its response the FCO sets out what it considers the most important priorities of the international community in Afghanistan to be.

98   Ev 127 Back

99   Q 2  Back

100   Q 2 Back

101   Fotini Christia and Michael Semple, "Flipping the Taliban: how to win in Afghanistan", Foreign Affairs, July/August 2009, p 34, Back

102   Ev 158 Back

103   Ev 169 Back

104   Ev 169 Back

105   HC Deb, 5 February 2009, col 1034 Back

106   "Afghanistan Index", Brookings Institution, 21 January 2009 Back

107   Ev 78 Back

108   Q 5 Back

109   Ev 83 Back

110   Q 72 Back

111   "A Strategic Conflict Assessment of Afghanistan", Post-War Reconstruction & Development Unit, November 2008, p 44 Back

112   Ev 83 Back

113   Ev 83  Back

114   Q 72 Back

115   Q 72 Back

116   Q 74 Back

117   Ev 81 Back

118   89% of respondents to a survey carried out in 2008 said that the ANA is honest and fair with them, while 86% agree that the ANA is helping to improve the security situation in the country. Positive perceptions of the ANA have not changed significantly since 2007. "Afghanistan in 2008: A Survey of the Afghan People", Asia Foundation, 2008, Back

119   Ev 158 Back

120   "The situation in Afghanistan and its implications for international peace and security", Report of the Secretary-General, A/63/372-S/2008/617, 23 September 2008, p 7, Back

121   Ev 177 Back

122   "A Strategic Conflict Assessment of Afghanistan", Post-War Reconstruction & Development Unit, November 2008, p 41  Back

123   Ev 89 Back

124   Q 64 Back

125   "The situation in Afghanistan and its implications for international peace and security", Report of the Secretary-General, A/63/372-S/2008/617, 23 September 2008 Back

126   Ev 176 Back

127   "Policing in Afghanistan: still searching for a strategy", International Crisis Group, Asia Briefing No. 85, 18 December 2008, Back

128   Ev 156 Back

129   Q 196 Back

130   Ev 170 Back

131   Between 2002 and 2008 the US has provided $6,199,000,000 in support to the Afghan National Police ("Afghanistan Index", Brookings Institution, 26 May 2009) Back

132   Q 148 Back

133   Ev 170 Back

134   Ev 170 Back

135   Ev 87 Back

136   William Byrd, "Afghanistan-State Building, Sustaining Growth, and Reducing Poverty", World Bank, 2005, Back

137   Q 79 Back

138   Q 70 Back

139   Q 83 Back

140   "A Strategic Conflict Assessment of Afghanistan", Post-War Reconstruction & Development Unit, November 2008, p 42 Back

141   Q 63 Back

142   "A Strategic Conflict Assessment of Afghanistan", Post-War Reconstruction & Development Unit, November 2008, p 42 Back

143   "Afghanistan Human Development Report 2007: Bridging Modernity and Tradition - Rule of Law and the Search for Justice", United Nations Development Programme, 2007, Back

144   Q 71 Back

145   Ev 89 Back

146   Sudhindra Sharma and Pawan Kumar Sen, "Institutionalization of the Justice System", in "State Building, Security, and Social Change in Afghanistan: Reflections on a Survey of the Afghan People", Asia Foundation, 2008, p 46, Back

147   "Afghanistan Human Development Report 2007: Bridging Modernity and Tradition-Rule of Law and the Search for Justice", United Nations Development Programme, 2007, p 9, Back

148   Ibid., p 10 Back

149   Q 70-71 [Elizabeth Winter] Back

150   Ev 89 Back

151   Ev 89 Back

152   Ev 89 Back

153   Ev 169 Back

154   "Corruption Perceptions Index", Transparency International, 23 September 2008, Back

155   Quoted in "UN envoy: "Corruption in Afghanistan is endemic, it hurts the poorest people", ReliefWeb, August 20, 2008, Back

156   Q 66 Back

157   Q 76 Back

158   Kenneth Katzman, "Afghanistan: Post-Taliban Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy", Congressional Research Service, 18 June 2009  Back

159   HC Deb, 14 November 2008, col 278W  Back

160   Q 76 Back

161   Ev 90 Back

162   "2009 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report", US State Department, 27 February 2009,  Back

163   Q 76 Back

164   "Strategic Survey", International Institute for Strategic Studies, September 2008  Back

165   Q 66 Back

166   Ev 172  Back

167   Q 200 Back

168   Ev 91 Back

169   Ev 91 Back

170   Ev 85 Back

171   Ev 93 Back

172   Ev 89 Back

173   Afghanistan has ratified all the core human rights treaties: Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (24 April 1983), Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (24 April 1983), Covenant on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (05 August 1983), Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (05 March 2003), Convention Against Torture (26 June 1987), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (27 April 1994) and its optional protocols on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography and On the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (24 September 2003).  Back

174   Q 80 Back

175   Ev 92 Back

176   "Report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan and on the achievements of technical assistance in the field of human rights", A/HRC/10/23, 16 January 2009  Back

177   "The Situation of Women in Afghanistan", UNIFEM Afghanistan Fact Sheet, 2008, Back

178   Ev 92 Back

179   Ev 92 Back

180   "Girls targeted in 'Taliban gas attack", The Independent, 13 May 2009 Back

181   "Afghanistan: Education in Afghanistan", World Bank website, Back

182   Q 80 [Dr Goodhand] Back

183   Q 80 [Elizabeth Winter] Back

184   Q 122 [Christina Lamb] Back

185   Q 122 [David Loyn] Back

186   "Country Profile: Afghanistan", CIA World Factbook,  Back

187   Ev 188 Back

188   Foreign Affairs Committee, Seventh Report of Session 2008-09, Human Rights Annual Report 2008, HC 557, Ev 52 Back

189   "Afghanistan Opium Survey", United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 26 August 2008, Back

190   Ibid.  Back

191   Ev 97 Back

192   "Afghanistan and Narcotics", House of Commons Library Standard Note, SN/IA/3831, 4 June 2007  Back

193   Ev 99 Back

194   Ev 99 Back

195   Q 217 Back

196   Q 217 Back

197   See "Afghanistan Opium Winter Assessment", United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, January 2009 Back

198   Q 105 Back

199   Q 103 Back

200   Q 103 Back

201   Q 105 Back

202   Ev 99 Back

203   Ev 67 Back

204   Ev 99 Back

205   Ev 99 and see for example "Afghanistan Opium Survey", United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 26 August 2008 Back

206   "UNODC anticipates another large opium crop in Afghanistan in 2008", UNODC News Release, 6 February 2008 Back

207   "Closing in on the Enemy: Fighting Narcotics in Afghanistan", Transcript of meeting with Colonel General Khodaidad, Minister of Counter Narcotics, Afghanistan, Chatham House, 23 February 2009, Back

208   "A Strategic Conflict Assessment of Afghanistan", Post-War Reconstruction & Development Unit, November 2008, p 27 Back

209   Q 106 Back

210   Q 106 [David Mansfield] Back

211   Q 106 [Fabrice Pothier] Back

212   Christopher Blanchard, "Afghanistan: Narcotics and US Policy", Congressional Research Service, 18 June 2009  Back

213   "The situation in Afghanistan and its implications for international peace and security", Report of the Secretary-General, A/63/372-S/2008/617, 23 September 2008 Back

214   Q 108 Back

215   Q 104 Back

216   Q 112 Back

217   Foreign Affairs Committee, Fifth Report of Session 2007-08, Global Security: Iran, HC 142, pp 31-32 Back

218   "Afghanistan", House of Commons Library Standard Note, SN/IA2845, 8 July 2008  Back

219   "Counter-narcotics operation on the border between Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan", United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 16 March 2009, Back

220   Q 112  Back

221   "The situation in Afghanistan and its implications for international peace and security", Report of the Secretary-General, A/63/372-S/2008/617, 23 September 2008, pp 9-10 Back

222   "A Strategic Conflict Assessment of Afghanistan", Post-War Reconstruction & Development Unit, November 2008, p 60 Back

223   Q 111 Back

224   Ahmed Rashid, Descent into Chaos (2008), pp 177-178 Back

225   Ev 93 Back

226   "Afghan Hearts, Afghan Minds - Exploring Afghan perceptions of civil-military relations", British and Irish Aid Agencies in Afghanistan Group, 11 June 2008, Back

227   Ev 93 Back

228   Ev 172  Back

229   Ev 148 Back

230   "Progress toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan", US Department of Defense, January 2009 Back

231   "A Strategic Conflict Assessment of Afghanistan", Post-War Reconstruction & Development Unit, November 2008, p 43 Back

232   "The situation in Afghanistan and its implications for international peace and security", Report of the Secretary-General, A/63/372-S/2008/617, 23 September 2008 Back

233   "A Strategic Conflict Assessment of Afghanistan", Post-War Reconstruction & Development Unit, November 2008, p 43 Back

234   "Education and the Role of NGOs in Emergencies: Afghanistan 1978-2002", American Institutes for Research, August 2006 Back

235   Ev 173 Back

236   "Afghanistan: Education in Afghanistan", World Bank website, Back

237   Martin Stremecki, Testimony to the US Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Strategic Options in Afghanistan and Pakistan, 26 February 2009, p 15 Back

238   Q 92 [Dr Goodhand] Back

239   "A Strategic Conflict Assessment of Afghanistan", Post-War Reconstruction & Development Unit, November 2008, p 54 Back

240   See conclusions of "Afghanistan Study Group Final Report", Center for the Study of the Presidency, 30 January 2008 Back

241   Lord Ashdown, "What I told Gordon Brown about Afghanistan", The Spectator (Coffee House Blog), 15 September 2008, See also comments by Lord Ashdown on the BBC Andrew Marr Show, 19 April 2009 Back

242   Ev 173 Back

243   "A Strategic Conflict Assessment of Afghanistan", Post-War Reconstruction & Development Unit, November 2008, p 49 Back

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