The UK's foreign policy approach to Afghanistan and Pakistan - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents

Written evidence from Christian Aid


  1. The UK Government should support more actively the search for a political settlement to the conflict in Afghanistan.
  2. The peace process should be an inclusive one and any agreement that emerges should not lead to the undermining of the rights of the most marginalised groups in Afghan society, especially women.
  3. Security and development in Afghanistan is linked to the wider stabilisation and development of neighbouring countries.
  4. In addition to working for a political settlement, the UK should continue its efforts to build up Afghan institutions but should increase its focus on supporting Afghan actors that can hold the executive to account.
  5. Aid should not be used to achieve military objectives.


1.1.  The conflict - defined as the fighting between the Afghan Government and NATO forces and the insurgency - is currently the biggest block on development in the country. It has engulfed most of the South and East of the country and is now spreading to formerly peaceful areas in the North and the West. The Taliban have de facto control of many districts in the South and the East and have a strong presence in all the Southern provinces. By contrast, the Government's authority there is weak if non-existent. In these areas the insurgency is significant and receives relevant support beyond the Afghan borders. The conflict is interrupting development; it is leading to significant human casualties and human rights violations; it disrupts economic growth and damages the credibility of the Afghan Government; it contributes to the instability of the wider region.

1.2. We do not believe there can only be a military solution to the current crisis. There is an important challenge of ensuring the rule of law and stability in the country - a prerequisite for development. The international community is supporting these efforts in different ways. However, it is crucial not to lose sight of the fact that this process will only succeed if the state institutions fulfilling these tasks enjoy broad legitimacy in Afghan society and are accountable, and if human rights are respected. It is imperative that all efforts to reduce and end violent conflict in Afghanistan must by framed within the context of a political strategy which places primacy on supporting efforts to reduce and end violent conflict in Afghanistan in a sustainable and legitimate manner.

This is clear when one considers what Afghans who live in the South and feel marginalised under the current system identify as the main causes of the conflict[2]: the weak legitimacy of the Government coupled with the presence of international forces. Any strategy which does not address both these conflict drivers is unlikely to succeed.

1.3. In light of the picture presented above, Christian Aid believes that the UK must play a more active role in bringing an end to the conflict promoting a political strategy that is inclusive of all ethnic and social groups. The UK Government should further encourage peace talks amongst all the main parties to the conflict. As an International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) contributing nation and a party to the conflict, the UK is not a neutral player. Therefore, the process requires an impartial mediator to be engaged for this task: the United Nations, regional multilateral bodies, or countries within the Arab League are possible options which ought to be explored. In order to be successful, the talks must address the question of the length of the presence of international forces. They should also consider different ways in which insurgents can be encouraged to re-join the political mainstream.

1.4. The UK Government's current position on the question of a political settlement is inadequate because, firstly, it is only supporting a limited process of dialogue between the Afghan Government and insurgency, where the latter must agree to lay down their arms (the Afghanistan Peace and Reconciliation Programme) but without addressing the root causes of the conflict or any major concessions in return; and secondly, it is ignoring the question of its own role and that of other NATO countries in the conflict.

1.5. Donors are planning to allocate significant sums of money to support the implementation of the new Afghanistan Peace and Reconciliation Programme (APRP).[3] Some elements of the APRP do have value, such as the setting up of Peace Councils to manage peace talks with the Taliban and other armed groups. However, we think that in the absence of a national peace agreement it is going to be very difficult to meet the objectives relating to the local level re-integration of former Taliban fighters, whatever the incentive may be not only economic but also in terms of power sharing. This problem is even acknowledged in the APRP document itself![4] These issues should be addressed before large sums are spent on the new programme.


2.1. Afghan civil society can play an important role in a future peace process. There are a number of international examples where civil society initiatives have helped to increase trust and cement peace in conflict-affected countries:[5]

  1. In Guatemala Asemblea de la Sociedad Civil paralleled the two-year official peace negotiations. Eventually two thirds of their proposals made their way into the peace agreement.
  2. In Northern Ireland a survey was commissioned where 3,000 people submitted testimonies to a Norwegian academic. A number of the recommendations on human rights were adopted into the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and the commission proved influential in creating an atmosphere of inclusiveness.

2.2. There is clearly a risk that a settlement which involves a stake for the Taliban in the country's government will lead to an undermining of the progress made since 2001 in the area of women's rights (for example, better access to education and healthcare, greater livelihoods opportunities and increased participation in politics). There is also the real possibility of smaller ethnic and religious groups being unrepresented in any power-sharing deal. If the UK moves towards a policy of full support for a political settlement, it should make its support contingent on any deal being both inclusive - in terms of a meaningful role for civil society and the aforementioned marginalised groups - and protective of human rights. Each of these twin pillars serves to strengthen the other.


3.1. The success of international efforts to promote security and development in Afghanistan is linked to the wider stabilisation and development of its neighbouring countries. In this framework, both the United Nations and the United States have adopted a regional approach to promoting stability in Afghanistan.[6] The issue of regional cooperation is included in the Security Council's Resolution 1806 (20 March 2008) and entails both launching a political dialogue among regional capitals on the Afghanistan issue and fostering regional cooperation on urgent issues in order to make progress towards regional security.[7]

3.2. Achieving progress in this area will take time. It will require trust and dialogue among the states, as well as a greater recognition of what are the shared vulnerabilities and interests of the countries concerned. Questions about neutrality and sovereignty are at the heart of much of the distrust: the failure to resolve a number of ongoing conflicts, such as the Kashmir question and the dispute over the Durand Line between Pakistan and Afghanistan, the nuclear affair between Iran and the international community, competition over resources that involves a more assertive engagement by China, concerns about the scope of Russian influence in Central Asia, and the presence of NATO and American troops in the region, are all unsettled issues that have direct impact on trust between states in the region.

3.3. We believe that to achieve long-term peace in Afghanistan a regional strategy is required that creates platforms for dialogue and encourages trust-building measures among the countries in the region. The UK Government could play an important role in such efforts. Finally, countries should refrain from using Afghanistan as a ground upon which to settle their unresolved geographical disputes and political grievances.


4.1. The UK should continue its work of strengthening the efficiency and legitimacy of the Afghan State through institution-building. DFID has committed over £700 million over the next four years to Afghanistan, at least 50% of which will to be channelled through Afghan government systems via the Afghan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF).[8] We support the UK's policy of channelling over half of its aid through the Afghan Government and its lobbying of other donors to increase the proportion of their aid spent in this way. This is essential if state capacity is to be developed.

4.2. However, the serious problems of corruption, poor performance and lack of transparency mean that it is important that institutions also exist and grow that can hold the executive accountable for its actions. Both the Afghan Parliament (especially the Lower House, or Wolesi Jirga) and civil society organisations have a critical role to play in this respect. Our long experience in the area of civil society development - capacity-building of grassroots NGOs, rural development and support for the delivery of essential services - convinces us that more Official Development Assistance should be allocated to this task. Christian Aid would welcome the extension to Afghanistan of such civil society programmes that DFID runs in India and Bangladesh to improve the capacity of national civil society (including development NGOs) to deliver services - where government provision is lacking - and engage better in local decision-making processes.


5.1. As one of the major donors to Afghanistan, the UK should support a country-wide strategy to strengthen the accountability of the Government at sub-national level through governance and justice reforms. Whereas we recognise the importance of the UK's efforts in supporting the central Government in strengthening governance sectors, particularly in the justice and public administration reforms, we believe there should be a focus too on improving sub-national governance, which includes support to NGOs for service delivery.

The UK should work closely with the Afghan Government as duty-bearers, to enable state institutions to fulfil their responsibilities in a way that is accountable to poor men and women in Afghanistan. Civil society plays a vital role in this respect: both working with poor Afghan men and women to increase their understanding of their rights and the duties which the state bears to them (and they to the state), and empowering them to claim these rights and enact these responsibilities.


6.1. Christian Aid firmly opposes the use of aid to achieve military objectives. We believe that using scarce resources for development and poverty eradication programmes will produce greater benefits and increased stability in the long term. We therefore remain concerned by the proportion of the UK's aid that has been spent in Helmand province, and by the fusing of the aid and military strategy in the form of Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs). PRT Quick Impact Projects are of limited development value and we are sceptical of their ability to "win hearts and minds" in a conflict zone. We call on the Government to undertake a thorough review of its policy in relation to aid projects managed by PRTs. The findings of such a review could be used to inform planning around the proposed Stability and Reconstruction Force.

6.2. Furthermore, the UK should follow more closely the existing UN guidelines on the involvement of military forces in the provision of humanitarian assistance in complex emergencies,[9] as well as the civil-military guidelines drawn up specifically for Afghanistan in 2007-08 and agreed by UNAMA, NATO and NGOs.

6 October 2010

2   See the independent Report commissioned by DFID on this question in 2009. Interviews were held in two Southern provinces (Wardak and Kandahar) and the wider Kabul area. The interviewees were government officials, tribal elders, religious leaders, youth groups, women's groups, traders and businessmen, as well as Taliban combatants and Hizb-i Islami commanders.  Back

3   The APRP document estimates that it will cost $129 million to implement just the first year of the Programme. Afghanistan Peace and Reconciliation Programme, National Security Council, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, July 2010, p. 33. Back

4   Ibid., p.14. Back

5  T.Paffenholz,CivilSocietyandPeacebuilding:ACriticalAssessment,2010. Back

6  "CountriesneighbouringAfghanistanhaveanessentialroletoplayinprovidingsupporttotheGovernmentofAfghanistan'seffortstobuildastablestatewithsecureborders.SecurityCouncilresolution1806(2008)highlightstheneedforUNAMAtosupportregionalcooperationtoworktowardsstabilityandprosperityinAfghanistan",SecurityCouncilSpecialReportoftheSecretary-GeneralpursuanttoSecurityCouncilresolution1806(2008)ontheUnitedNationsAssistanceMissioninAfghanistan,3July2008. Back

7   The UN has established a Regional Center for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia based in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, with the mandate of initiating regional dialogue and projects around common threats. Back

8 Back

9   Cf. UNOCHA, Guidelines on the Use of Military and Civil Defence Assets to Support United Nations Humanitarian Activities in Complex Emergencies, March 2003, Back

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