The UK's Foreign Policy towards Afghanistan and Pakistan

Written evidence from the British and Irish Agencies Afghanistan Group (BAAG)

The British and Irish Agencies Afghanistan Group (BAAG) is an information and advocacy network of 27 British and Irish Non Governmental Organisations that support relief and development programmes in Afghanistan. See: http://www.baag.org.uk This written submission has been prepared by BAAG’s Secretariat. Its content of this submission may not represent the views of all BAAG member agencies.

Summary

1. The United Kingdom has made an important contribution to security and development assistance since the fall of the Taliban and in many respects its policies are generally regarded as effective in terms of good practice and taking a long term view of the country’s needs. However, certain parts of UK policy should be revised in order to enhance the focus on meeting the immediate security and humanitarian challenges as well as creating the conditions for sustainable and equitable development.

2. The UK government must work with its international partners to ensure that commitments made at the London Conference to increase the transparency and effectiveness of international aid are honoured. Civil society’s role in ensuring accountability also needs to be strengthened. The Government of Afghanistan, the UK and its international partners must support and encourage consultation with a broad spectrum of civil society: local communities, NGOs, civil society organisations and activists and the private sector in the design and implementation of policy and programmes. Existing aid co-ordination and consultation mechanisms must be broadened to ensure regular dialogue and input from civil society.

3. The application of the comprehensive approach in Afghanistan has resulted in an instrumentalisation of aid. Too often the international community has looked for ‘quick fixes’ to problems relating to development needs. The UK government must ensure that it works with its international partners to ensure that aid is delivered according to needs and in line with national development plans and not on the basis of strategic military priorities. The role and responsibilities of the international Provincial Reconstruction Teams in providing relief and development should be transferred to civilians as soon as practicable. A conflict-sensitive approach to development is critical. Local ownership and broad participation and representation, are key to successful and sustainable development.

4. In the current period in which efforts to secure the rights and safety of women are increasingly fragile, the UK and its international partners must work actively to ensure that the experience, knowledge and interests of women are listened to and brought to bear in security, development and peace and reconciliation agenda.

5. Civilian protection requires legitimate, accountable and capable national security and justice institutions. The British Government must work with its partners in the coalition to end programmes, such as community defence initiatives or the use of irregular armed militia, that establish parallel, competing systems to those of the state and that divert resources (financial and human) away from the development of an accountable Afghan National Security Force. It must make every effort to strengthen the protection of the civilian population and to investigate and bring to justice perpetrators of violations of human rights. The UK government must also focus on ensuring that Afghan National Security Forces are supported to understand and respect human rights and their obligations under international humanitarian law and to institute mechanisms to ensure accountability in security operations.

Introduction

6. The United Kingdom has made an important contribution to security and development assistance since the fall of the Taliban and in many respects its policies are generally regarded as effective in terms of good practice and taking a long term view of the country’s needs. However, certain parts of UK policy should be revised in order to enhance the focus on meeting the immediate security and humanitarian challenges as well as creating the conditions for sustainable and equitable development. It is also clear that given the scale of the international interventions, particularly the number of actors involved, good policy and practice on the part of the UK alone are unlikely to bring about the much needed change for which all, but particularly the Afghan population, long.

7. In 2010 at the London and Kabul Conferences, the International Community and the Government of Afghanistan have made important commitments to address the security, development and economic needs of the Afghan people. Yet there is a growing scepticism among many people in Afghanistan of the value of such conferences, which seem to make little difference to their lives, or adequately recognise the challenges that that they face. In addition, the International Community and the Afghan Government have repeatedly missed important opportunities at these conferences by failing to adequately engage with civil society in important discussions on critical issues of peace, development and good governance.

8. The UK government must therefore work with its international partners and the Government of Afghanistan to ensure that concrete action is taken to honour these commitments; particularly as they relate to increasing the transparency and effectiveness of international aid, enhancing sub-national governance and the rule of law, ensuring more effective and properly resourced civilian engagement to improve the impact of international civilian assistance and strengthening the role of civil society. Despite growing scepticism not all opportunities to turn the situation in Afghanistan around have been lost, but there is an urgent need for a rethink of how future policies should be framed.

Transparency and Accountability

9. According to Integrity Watch, Afghan citizens paid almost £658 million in bribes last year to access government services, with corruption in the police and the justice sector having the highest impact on households. [1] It is no doubt that allegedly few of the cases that do get reported to authorities lead to proper investigation and even less to conviction. A ministry official observed in a recent interview that none of the 200 plus cases that their ministry had reported to the relevant department had been investigated.

10. The ways in which contracts are awarded both by the Afghan government ministries and international agencies is no less problematic. It would appear that few contracts are given on the basis of capacity, professionalism or value for money. Contractors are often former warlords or their associates or other power brokers with interpreters who work for the PRTs sometimes playing an important role in the process. Use of political patronage is allegedly a deciding factor in decisions over who wins a bid.

11. Transparency International lists Afghanistan as the second most corrupt country in the world. Given that every year billions of dollars are directly spent by donor and troop contributing countries through contracts with private (international and national) security and construction companies totally bypassing the Afghan government systems, the international community is also to blame for the rampant corruption that exists in the country.

12. The lack of transparency and accountability has exacerbated negative perceptions with many Afghans regarding the international community complicit in not playing their part in tackling corruption. In Helmand, for example, the widespread rumours about the involvement of a substantial bribe in the improved wheat seed distribution project under the Food Zone programme which allegedly resulted in farmers receiving low-quality wheat unsuitable for cultivation remain unaddressed. The absence of open and accountable bidding processes has led to accusations that contracts are only awarded to those who have links to senior government officials or other contracting bodies and who is willing to pay the highest bribe often as a percentage of the overall project budget.

13. Furthermore, low quality standards inherent in projects undertaken by unprofessional and unaccountable private firms exacerbated by a lack of effective management and oversight have led to accusations of fraud involving material and labour costs. Some roads, including highways that cost close to half a billion dollars to re-build have reached a near-total state of disrepair within just a few years.

14. Projects should be evaluated more rigorously and the results should be communicated to communities. The British government could assist the Government of Afghanistan to develop a set of standards to assess the qualification and suitability of contractors and to ensure that contract management and procurement policies are effectively implemented.

15. The planned establishment of the Major Crimes Task Force and Anti-Corruption Tribunals and a set of measures aimed at enhancing government capacity for audit are important steps to tackle corruption. However, the Government of Afghanistan will need much support from its key international partners to implement these programmes.

16. Civil society’s role in ensuring accountability also needs to be strengthened. It is incumbent on the provincial and national government with support from the UK and its international partners not only to allow this to happen, but also to support and encourage it. The Afghan government with the support of the international community must implement procedures to ensure that those involved in non-government civil action that calls for change of policy or greater accountability do not face retribution and have the necessary protection against threats by anti-government forces and others.

The role of Civil Society

17. Problems of accountability have been compounded by an apparent lack of political will on the part of the Afghan Government and donors to ensure that the views of civil society organisations are integrated into policy formation processes. Consultation with a broad spectrum of actors; local communities, NGOs, civil society organisations and activists and the private sector is needed to design and implement good public policy that responds effectively to the needs of the Afghan people. At the London Conference calls were made for strengthening the role of civil society. Yet on many occasions it has taken civil society organisations weeks of intense negotiations to secure representation in discussions and consultations on national and international policy on Afghanistan; sometimes with unsatisfactory results. For example, after weeks of lobbying only one civil society representative was allowed to participate in the Kabul Conference of July 20th –an event in which the Afghan government was supposed to affirm its commitment towards the Afghan people.

18. Similarly, women’s rights groups have had to work extremely hard to get a place at discussion tables. Only as a result of determined and persistent advocacy by women’s rights groups, the number of female delegates invited to participate in the Consultative Peace Jirga of June 2010 was raised from 20 to 310. Whilst this was welcomed by many women’s groups, they argue that the government’s approach to inclusion has been far from consistent.

Women’s Rights

19. Despite the progress that has been achieved in women’s rights, significant challenges remain; Afghanistan is currently the lowest ranking country on the Gender Development Index in South Asia. Women face serious and indeed growing insecurity in the public sphere. Female candidates for both the Presidential and parliamentary elections faced a campaign of intimidation and death threats with the campaign staff of some candidates murdered or abducted. Attacks targeting schools, teachers and students have increased over recent years. Girls’ schools have been particularly targeted.

20. As insecurity grows, women’s rights and access to basic services are diminishing in rural communities affected by conflict. Research also indicates that gender based violence is widespread in the country; especially at the community level where there is a serious, and in some areas a total vacuum of functional state judicial institutions. Efforts should be made to ensure the strengthening of the formal justice system at the national and local levels.

21. As the Afghan government takes further practical steps towards peace and reconciliation, ensuring women’s involvement in consultations leading to possible negotiations, and in such negotiations themselves, should be an integral part of the policy. With only six seats in the 70-member High Peace Council – the body set up by the Afghan government to seek peace with armed anti-government groups – it is likely that the voices of the female delegates in the Council will be drowned out in the decision making processes that have the potential to result in worrying change in their status. Furthermore, it is critical that the rights of women and girls are not compromised in the reconciliation process. Only an inclusive, just and fair process that has the rights and interests of Afghans, particularly of women, at its hearth can lead to a lasting peace.

22. We welcome the Secretary of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Affair’s recent statement of commitment to promote human rights painstakingly and consistently. [2] In this period of growing fragility in securing the rights and safety of women, the UK and its international partners must work actively to ensure that the experience, knowledge and interests of women are listened to and brought to bear in security, development and peace and reconciliation agenda.

Humanitarian and Development Needs

23. A more joined-up approach to the overlapping challenges of conflict, reconstruction, humanitarian assistance and development in Afghanistan will help enhance the effectiveness of UK policy in Afghanistan. However, in practice the application of such a comprehensive approach has too often resulted in an instrumentalisation of aid. Politicians and military officers from NATO countries place significant emphasis on ‘winning hearts and minds’ through aid and reconstruction. Too often the international community has looked for ‘quick fixes’ to problems relating to development need. Recent research has shown that many Afghans perceive the creation of a political economy of aid in Afghanistan as extremely dangerous. They contend that inadequate oversight mechanisms of development aid delivered through the military or PRTs means that it is easily manipulated to fit particular patronage, ethnic or tribal agendas to the exclusion of the most vulnerable and marginalised. This lucrative aid economy, in turn, has resulted in the consolidation of noxious elite that have an interest in subverting or retarding the state building process. [3]

24. In multi-national missions, such as Afghanistan where individual countries have lead responsibility for specific provinces, policy coherence across all participating actors is extremely important. Security and development in Helmand are influenced by, and in turn impact, events not only in the neighbouring provinces, but further afield. The way insecurity has spread leaves doubt that a proper analysis of conflict dynamics and vulnerabilities has underpinned the strategies of the Afghan government and the coalition. In the past three years many provinces previously regarded relatively secure have seen a significant rise in armed violence.

25. Similarly, the potential of appropriately designed and delivered development programmes in tackling some of the causes of the conflict in regions that until recently had not been affected by the insurgency in the same degree as the southern and eastern provinces was significantly underused. Notably among these are Badakhshan in the north, Ghor in the centre and Nimroz in the south-west which have experienced a significant rise in security incidents in the last couple of years.

26. A conflict-sensitive approach to development is critical. Local ownership and participation are key to successful and sustainable development. DFID, through the multi-donor monitoring and evaluation of implementation of the DAC Fragile States Principles and through the Conflict Sensitivity Consortium, is widely respected for its innovative approach to conflict sensitivity. These efforts should be encouraged and built on in Afghanistan. [4] Development interventions are most effective and sustainable when led by civilian actors who have experience and knowledge of local contexts. The role and responsibilities of the international Provincial Reconstruction Teams in providing relief and development should be transferred to civilians as soon as practicable.

27. A large proportion of the Conflict Pool-approximately £40‐50 million per year-is spent in Helmand through the PRT. [5] Much of the US’ Commanders Emergency Response Programme (CERP) (to which the funding allocation for 2010 is over US$1 Billion - more than the Afghan national annual budgets for agriculture, health and education combined) was reported to have been earmarked for Helmand province. More secure provinces in the north, centre and west in which the security and development environment has been more permissive have received just a fraction of this assistance. [6] As the attention of the UK government turns to stabilising 80 ‘key’ districts, in working together with other major donors it must ensure that a) critical humanitarian and development needs across the country are not ignored in favour of the immediate stabilisation concerns; b) a sound analysis of potential adverse impact of inappropriately delivered aid funds on conflict supports policy and practice and c) valuable resources are not spent on ‘consent winning’ projects the outcome of which both in terms of acceptance and life-changing results has all too often been proved inconclusive.

28. As insecurity is increasing and living conditions have remained difficult and in some places worsened, Afghans have grown increasingly sceptical and distrustful of the motives of the international community. Their trust is crucial, but as long as tactical consent winning replaces genuine effort at improving their lives through poverty reduction, these negative perceptions are likely to be exacerbated. Effective and lasting development results are dependent on proper leadership of the process, which in any context, but more importantly in fragile environments, such as Afghanistan, only DFID can provide.

29. Furthermore, in line with good development practice and the commitments that donors, including the British government, made at the London Conference of January 2010, practical steps must be taken to improve openness and transparency in all spending. Although the amount of information that the British government has submitted to the Afghan ministry of finance on its disbursements has been more than that of most other donors, comprehensive data on where and how funds are spent, are yet to be published. Given rising concerns about corruption, timely and accessible information will go a long way towards reassuring the public in the UK and Afghanistan that British funds are spent appropriately.

30. Crucially, a radically different approach to gathering and applying knowledge is required. The first major attempt in understanding the context appears not to have been made until late 2008 when the Department for International Development initiated the ‘Understanding Afghanistan’ programme. In terms of critical data collection the report of this programme made two important recommendations: a) given that the ‘currently fragmented nature of data collection makes data-based analysis and policy making burdensome if not impossible’, there was a need to improve, widen and centralise the collection of data concerning governance, corruption, social exclusion, conflict vulnerability and economic growth; and b) given, Afghanistan’s rapidly changing context evidence based research, such as the ‘Understanding Afghanistan’, must be refreshed from time to time. [7] It is important that both of these recommendations are taken forward. Moreover, whilst some country donors have commissioned studies looking at provinces under their auspices, it appears that a comprehensive country-wide analysis of the issues outlined above, particularly conflict vulnerability, has not been tried.

31. Donors must urgently increase funding and support for independent humanitarian action. Since the reestablishment of OCHA in 2008, it has made some notable achievements while operating under the constraints of limited resources, including the facilitation of the production of two humanitarian action plans and regional contingency plans, the establishment of five field offices, and the set up of information management tools and the Emergency Response Fund. [8] The establishment of the Emergency Response Fund, in particular, has enabled organizations, particularly Afghan NGOs, to quickly access funding to respond to crises, but continued financial support for the fund is needed.

32. As the humanitarian needs in Afghanistan reach a critical stage, the UK Government must support OCHA in an urgent redoubling of their recruitment efforts and consider secondment options which will strengthen OCHA Afghanistan’s effectiveness in facilitating independent and principled humanitarian coordination, outreach and response. [9]

33. Programmes emerging as a result of national policies must sequence initiatives carefully to ensure effectiveness and sustainability. This requires effective co-ordination between donors and line ministries, but also within and between the Afghan ministries themselves. There is a real need to bridge the current gap between provincial/district and central level administration and donors in the planning and budget making processes. In provinces across Afghanistan, fractious relationships between provincial governors and the central state, or ineffective communication channels between central and provincial level administrations, continue to hamper the implementation of new laws and procedures meant to protect vulnerable groups.

Civilian Protection

34. Care needs to be taken to ensure detailed, objective examination of how security policy may affect the daily lives of communities across Afghanistan. Superficial assumptions appear to underlie the increasing use of so called ‘tribal militias’. Aside from perhaps some short term tactical military gains, militias are known to have been a detriment to long term stability. The Afghanistan NGO Safety Office recently reported that ‘The use of Local Defense Initiatives (LDI) & Arbaki ... continues to fracture the security landscape ... reminiscent of the 1963 South Vietnamese Self Defence Corps and LDIs are falling prey to all the same vices with active ones being murdered en-masse (Kandahar); smart ones partnering with AOG to exploit the population and Government supplies (Kunduz/Takhar); bold ones just being the AOG (armed opposition group) (Parwan) and timid ones keeping the status quo (Wardak). Some Arbaki have joined AOG when Government failed to give them weapons while others still have scared neighboring villagers to turn to the AOG for protection. The "Village Stability Program" (VSP, the US catchall moniker for such activities) is perhaps the most disturbing development of the year not least because it is so opaque with no single institution having an overview, let alone control, of all activities under this rubric’. [10] BAAG has grave concerns that initiatives to set up community defence mechanisms that run in parallel with the Afghan security sector have wide-spread negative implications for security, development and human rights. We believe that the British Government must work with its partners in the coalition to ensure this practice stops.

35. The continued escalation of armed conflict in Afghanistan has had significant consequences for civilian protection. In the first half of 2010, there was a dramatic increase in civilian casualties. In the period January to June 2010, UNAMA reports ‘a 31% increase in the number of civilians who were killed or injured in fighting in Afghanistan compared to the same period in 2009’. [11] In the South, during the same period ‘there was a 136 per cent increase in civilian deaths’. Women and children have been adversely affected not only in terms of a greater exposure to danger, but also in terms of violations of their basic human rights and increasing barriers in access to services. ‘Community elders, provincial officials, and others, who have supported or are believed to support the Afghan Government and International Forces are being systematically targeted through assassinations, abductions and executions’. [12]

36. In the main, UNAMA attributes this increase in civilian casualties to the activities of anti-government forces and the Government and International Forces inability to protect civilians in many parts of the country. However, Afghan civil society activists are also deeply concerned by the increase in the damaging influence of local warlords and former militia commanders (nominally aligned with the international military forces) on civilian protection, security and rule of law at a local and provincial level.

37. Protection requires legitimate, accountable and capable national security and justice institutions. These alliances have offered militia groups a veil of legitimacy without adequate mechanisms to ensure transparency, lines of authority, sufficient monitoring of activity and accountability or capability. This, in turn, undermines processes to enhance civilian protection and foster the trust of local populations in the security architecture in Afghanistan. The UK has legal responsibility concerning the protection of civilians in situations where it is involved in military action. It must make every effort to strengthen the protection of the civilian population and to investigate and bring to justice perpetrators of violations of human rights. The UK government must also focus on ensuring that Afghan National Security Forces are supported to understand and respect human rights and their obligations under international humanitarian law and to institute mechanisms to ensure accountability in security operations.

NGO operating environment

38. British non-governmental organisations continue to deliver humanitarian, reconstruction and development assistance across Afghanistan despite the significant security risks and challenges involved. Due to the deterioration in security, security management costs are rising and NGOs are finding it increasingly difficult to fund security needs from project or central budgets. For example, these may range from increased expenditure on communication equipment and security training to the costs associated with robberies and attacks on offices as well as to those associated with delays in project implementation resulting from specific security incidents. NGOs would encourage a serious discussion within Whitehall about funding for NGOs and support for them to put in place effective measures to minimise risks to their staff.

11 October 2010


[1] http://www.iwaweb.org/corruptionsurvey2010/Impact_on_population.html

[2] 15 September 2010, Lincolns Inn

[3] Wilder, Gordon.

[4] Communication with member of BOND Conflict Group

[5] IDS

[6] Oxfam http://www.oxfam.org.uk/resources/policy/conflict_disasters/downloads/quick_impact_quick_collapse_afghanistan_en.pdf

[7] Sultan Barakat, Synthesis Report, U nderstanding Afghanistan , The Consolidated Findings of a Research Project Commissioned by Her Majesty’s Government , the University of York, http://www.york.ac.uk/depts/poli/prdu/pub.Understanding%20Afghanistan%20Nov2008.pdf

[8] See Humanitarian Reform Project letter to John Holmes, Jun e 2010

[9] Ibid .

[10] ANSO

[11] Ibid .

[12] Ibid .