Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Perhaps I may spell out a little more the consequences of this shift in the allocation of aid money. NGOs are increasingly becoming sub-contractors without the means to initiate new programmes, implement training courses and/or work in areas other than those presently occupied by various military forces. Given the precarious context in Afghanistan, local programmes that focus on capacity building, such as support for community development councils in health, education and local government structure, help to provide employment. That creates less incentive for young males to join the insurgents and therefore allows a more robust community that is less likely to fall to the Taliban at the first fence. Community work is a form of defence, yet the priority programmes decreed and funded by central government are short term, have no exit strategies and are running short of money—some speak of a $20 million deficit. Even if donors are willing to commit more, maintaining aid flows to rural communities is beyond the capacity of the government in the absence of a strong NGO presence.

A further consequence of the decrease in direct funding to NGOs is the shift to development programmes in insecure provinces being delivered by military personnel, which is an extremely bad precedent and not necessarily efficient. For example, aid pledged for Helmand but delayed due to the insurgency is aid money not being spent. As we know, military spending is six times greater than that spent on development. There is therefore an urgent need to deploy scarce resources well, if not synergistically. While it is understandable that the Government may

10 Oct 2006 : Column 193

be reluctant to commit non-military staff to working in insecure regions, it is precisely in those areas that long-term infrastructure building is most urgent, and this job is best undertaken by NGOs.

A continuation of this scattered approach, dictated by military rather than perhaps developmental considerations, will result in an imbalance in aid programming and an eventual imbalance in the country as a whole, with some provinces lagging far behind developmentally. Meanwhile, there are some NGOs mainly employing local staff, such as Afghanaid, that are prepared to carry on working in some areas considered to be insecure, but no longer have the means to do so.

The argument is for complementary programming to support the Afghan Government’s priorities, but to maintain some direct NGO funding to pre-empt the pulling out by some NGOs due to lack of support. Perhaps I may add that the Nordic Governments are extremely supportive of their NGOs and continue to fund them generously, precisely because they understand the role that they play in reconstruction. I therefore ask the Minister to reassure us here and the aid community more widely that support will be continued and/or forthcoming for those NGOs with a proven track record of serious work in the poorest parts of Afghanistan.

7.57 pm

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, there seems no point in denying that things have not gone as well in Afghanistan as was hoped and, perhaps, unrealistically expected when the Taliban regime collapsed five years ago. We underestimated the degree of failure of the Afghan state after a decade of Soviet occupation and another decade of civil war. We underestimated the intractability of the problems posed by the fissiparous tendencies of the different ethnic groups, by the longstanding tradition of interference in Afghanistan by its neighbours and by the grip that drug production had taken on Afghanistan’s otherwise almost non-existent rural economy. We did, here as in many other places, fail to grasp what a very long, complex task peace-building inevitably is in a failed state. It is good that the Question introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Garden, gives us an opportunity to look at all this and reflect on it.

One hears quite a few voices suggesting that we and our NATO allies are unwise to commit ourselves to new and demanding security operations in the south of the country and that the international community as a whole is trying to achieve the impossible task of helping Afghanistan become a stable, working state with reasonably democratic institutions. Before following that line of reasoning, it is as well to consider the alternatives. Do we seriously believe that Afghanistan could yet stand on its own feet without any or with less external support than is currently being provided? If not, what would be the likely consequences of our doing less or simply quitting? The Taliban and the forces of religious extremism remain a force to be reckoned with, as do the remnants of al-Qaeda. Can we possibly afford to

10 Oct 2006 : Column 194

run the risk of their achieving something similar to their joint control of Afghanistan that existed until 2001? Do we not in any case have a political and moral duty to see through the peace-building tasks that we assumed when we intervened in Afghanistan that year?

The answers to all of those questions seem to point to our having a national, as well an international, interest in seeing this matter through, and doing so with a will and the necessary resources. But are we and the Afghan Government yet doing all we can to achieve a successful outcome? Is enough being done to marginalise the former warlords and to ensure that they do not return or reassert their control over the instruments of the state? Is enough being done to offer a substantial stake in the new Afghanistan to the Pashtun tribes of the south and the east, without whose active co-operation a peaceful and stable Afghanistan will not be achievable? Have we yet achieved the right policy mix for dealing with the drug problem? I doubt, frankly, if it is possible to give an unhesitatingly affirmative answer to any of those questions.

Afghanistan has suffered from external interference for hundreds of years and it has sometimes interfered in its neighbours itself. Recently we have heard distant echoes of past quarrels over the tribal areas that straddle the Afghan-Pakistan border, otherwise known as the Durand line. Is it not an essential element of any stabilisation of Afghanistan itself that it and all its neighbours commit themselves to non-interference, to respect for existing frontiers and to a range of confidence-building measures and co-operation? In many parts of the world those objectives are anchored in regional or sub-regional multilateral organisations, which impose legal obligations as well as expressing good intentions. Is it not time to construct some such regional approach around Afghanistan? I raised this point in our debates some five years ago and I do not believe that much has been achieved. Perhaps the Minister can say something now about the Government’s thinking on this point.

And then there is the issue of drugs. I should like to hear the Government’s thinking on this. Is there any aspect of the ideas being promoted by the Senlis Council, and which would involve some legitimised production for pharmaceutical purposes, as takes place in certain other countries such as Turkey, which might over time make sense in Afghanistan?

Clearly security issues lie at the heart of any peace-building effort in Afghanistan. It was surely a mistake to have left large areas to the south and east of the country so long as a kind of free-fire zone for the US forces and the remnants of the Taliban. The successes achieved elsewhere by the provisional reconstruction teams show just how important it is to pursue reconstruction and development at the same time as security. Perhaps the Minister could tell the House how those tasks of reconstruction and development are being pursued in the areas where Britain and other NATO allies have now taken the responsibility for providing security.

10 Oct 2006 : Column 195

More, much more, could be said on this subject. But I would like to end with one thought, which is in no way specific to Afghanistan. The tasks we have undertaken in Afghanistan will not be successfully achieved if we cannot check and reverse the increasing political alienation that is developing between Muslim countries and the West. That alienation will not be checked and reversed if we—and that in large part means the United States—do not resume without delay a serious effort to solve the Arab-Israel dispute in its entirety. The policy vacuum in this matter over recent years has wrought havoc to our wider objectives—the recent events in the Lebanon being the most recent evidence of that—and it is all set to wreak even more havoc if we do not collectively do something urgently to fill the vacuum with a meaningful peace process which has the united support of the whole international community. That is surely something on which Europe should now give a lead.

8.03 pm

The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, there are positive signs in Afghanistan—children in school, women’s rights, the growth of civil society and of people’s power to change their lives. But these things are happening almost invisibly against a background of propaganda, insecurity and the uncontrolled cycle of violence.

This is not a conventional civil war, nor even really an ideological one: it is an old territorial struggle between rival groups and militias. The coalition decided to back the Northern Alliance against the Taliban, which is now a convenient name for the enemy. But there were never two sides, only temporary alliances. In 2001 we expected the whole country to fall in line because of the undoubted diplomatic skills of a new Pashtun leader. It has not, although he has held the rest of the country together remarkably well.

Disarmament is an extremely slow process, as the noble Lord, Lord Garden, pointed out. The end-2007 deadline is quite unrealistic. No fewer than six district chiefs and security chiefs of different provinces were fired recently because they were not co-operating with the disbandment of illegal armed groups and there are still about 1,800 of those groups. The Taliban, with its mainly southern commanders and allies such as Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, are never going to co-operate. They have chosen to repeat the Russian experience and to become the Mujaheddin of today. They could hold out in the hills for years. I think it is unlikely that NATO, even under its new combined command, will be able to sustain its action in the south except along a front closer to Kandahar. It had much better concentrate on the areas it knows it can defend.

We originally sent our soldiers to defend reconstruction, and I am still of the view, as others have said, that we can do that in safer areas through the UN mandate and the PRTs in the north and west, but not in the south. What has changed is that NATO is now acting through a fighting force as well as through peace-keeping troops and the Taliban will

10 Oct 2006 : Column 196

make sure that the people are confused by this mix of objectives. Britain came as a friend, but it is also seen as an enemy and we have to come to terms with that. The longer our troops are fighting limited actions in Helmand, the less we can be regarded as helping in the country as a whole.

There are, of course, other reasons for the rise in violence, including the ideological overspill from Iraq and the perception of the US and the UK in general. We are not winning the hearts and minds of the Arab world because of our narrow foreign policy. I was very glad to hear that the Chancellor had made an excellent speech at Chatham House this morning, pointing out that the hearts and minds campaign has been neglected and that we must put more resources into it. I hope it gets it from the Treasury.

While we are right to assert human rights and the rule of law, we can do this only within the capacity of Afghan institutions. As the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, said, these things take years to grow, and to claim, like President Bush, that we are fighting for democracy is absurd. Those who are genuinely engaging with the Islamic world in the FCO and DfID and really understand the culture of the Middle East deserve much more support. There are some excellent projects, such as the Turquoise Mountain Foundation, which are slowly reviving traditional crafts and restoring buildings; NGOs such as CARE are offering courses among the neediest Afghan women, providing them with income-generating skills. There is a myriad of valuable NGO projects. It might help if our various governments did not try to solve all of Afghanistan’s problems at once.

So what are the priorities for DfID and can it stick to them? Poppy eradication or poverty reduction? Let us concentrate on the poorest farmers, not the richest ones. Before 2001 we were concerned about the extent of drought in the north. The same is happening today. Lack of rain last winter caused severe water shortages and there has been a 50 to 80 per cent loss of rain-fed cereal production.

My questions for the Government are these. What are we doing to avert hunger in these areas, with nine provinces facing a critical shortage of drinking water? What contribution will the UK make to the latest UN drought appeal? What are the Government doing to help the UNHCR reach the estimated 15,000 families displaced by the conflict in the south? How is DfID supporting the attempts of the Afghan Government to provide safe access to education for girls and boys in high risk areas? The extension of education to girls is one of the major achievements. It is now threatened by the widespread closure of schools all over the south. This issue surely needs more attention if the Afghan people are going to trust foreign invaders.

8.09 pm

Lord Dahrendorf: My Lords, it is highly probable now that the intervention in Iraq—which I supported at the time—will fail to reach its purpose to create a pacified, unitary and democratic state of Iraq. This makes it all the more important that the other intervention in the area, that in Afghanistan, succeeds. Its objective was, and is, more modest. The

10 Oct 2006 : Column 197

mission for what are now NATO troops refers to the needs of reconstruction but concentrates on basic security. If I were a soldier, I should like this limited mandate which is within the professional competence of the military. However, enduring freedom—I am using the words rather than the term—requires more.

The problem of Afghanistan is that three needs are indissolubly interlinked. One is security. The second, however, is statehood. Foreign military forces are in a sense expected to represent the elected Government in Kabul—or is it of Kabul?—throughout the country. It is hoped that they will prevent Afghanistan becoming a failed state. The third need is sustainability in the social and economic sense. This involves, above all, the transformation of a drug economy into one that provides long-term opportunities without a mafia or warlords—present rulers are often both—running the economy for the greater glory of their power.

One may hope that one day the international community will have a force capable of helping with all three objectives. That day, however, is still far away. One must be satisfied if military intervention forces are trained in appreciating the needs of statehood and sustainability as well as security. In any case, the three are closely related. There will be no security as long as the central state is failing to control local and regional warlords. There certainly will be no sustainable social and economic development as long as the drug economy is the main source of employment and the basis of local and regional power structures.

At the moment, there is an uneasy division of labour between the international troops charged with guaranteeing security, the training of a police force to support the elected Government and non-governmental organisations trying to build elements of a sustainable economy and society. In some areas, notably in the north of the country, this works reasonably well; in most areas it does not. When hand grenades were thrown through the windows of a hospital for women, which a friend of mine had constructed with the NGO he set up for the purpose, the troops stationed nearby did not know what to do, to say nothing of the absence of an Afghan police force representing the elected government.

When I reflect on these and similar incidents, it seems to me that although security clearly is an important objective, it will be achieved only if and when the need is met to help the establishment of an effective state of Afghanistan. Training an Afghan police force matters as much as fighting renewed Taliban incursions. The curse of the region—and that now includes Iraq—is failed states. Hence, state-building is the first objective of intervention. It is no good winning local battles with insurgents or burning poppy fields if there is no indigenous and effective state structure which gradually establishes the monopoly of violence which defines statehood. This requires a local police force which is loyal and an independent judiciary as much as elected leaders. It also requires some rethinking of objectives and of the measures and skills needed to achieve them. Who is doing the rethinking?

10 Oct 2006 : Column 198

8.14 pm

Lord Chidgey: My Lords, in winding up this debate on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, I stress the importance of not only the debate but the strength of the contributions made so far tonight. I am sure they will give the Minister much food for thought.

My noble friend Lord Garden referred to the slow progress made in Afghanistan due to the diversion of the adventures in Iraq. He said that the benchmarks we were aspiring to only some nine months ago are already failing to be met. The noble Lord, Lord Brennan, called for caution and for a regular review in the short and long term because of his concerns brought about by the history of that troubled region. The noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, referred to the fragility of the development programme, and other noble Lords made similar telling contributions.

One fundamental concern must be the progress being made with reconstruction and security in Afghanistan. Reconstruction appears not so much to have stalled as to have hardly started in some provinces. The recent reports claiming that the outcomes to date of the £20 million DfID programme in the Helmand province amount to little more than rebuilding a few market stalls are cause for great concern.

The provincial reconstruction teams programme, much vaunted at the beginning of our current involvement in Afghanistan, seems to have fallen off the agenda. Instead, critical appraisals are emerging that the local development projects undertaken under the umbrella of ISAF and NATO, while worthy and well executed, are uncoordinated. They are not planned as part of a provincial or national development programme, thus tending to be ineffective in progressing towards national reconstruction goals. Yet our commanders on the ground are reporting that we have, at best, six months in which to turn things round and convince the Afghan people that the infrastructure improvements promised are materialising and that the destruction of their villages through the mayhem of war-fighting is a costly, yet acceptable, price to pay.

At present, we seem far from winning that argument. While President Karzai repeatedly calls for coalition forces to exercise greater care when conducting air strikes, the monthly rate of strikes by the US Air Force has reached 750, far exceeding the monthly rate in Iraq. The resulting collateral damage has been immense, with shopping districts, schools and transport infrastructure being destroyed and large numbers of civilians killed or injured to add to the civilian casualties occurring in the fighting in the south, which exceeds 50 per cent of total casualties.

While today’s Statement reflected on new schools being built and children now in school, schools are being destroyed, men and women teachers murdered and girls denied education on pain of death wherever the Taliban are back in control. Is it any wonder that Afghanis are said to be at a tipping point between supporting the coalition and NATO forces, with the continuing destruction and casualties that that implies, and turning again to the harsh regime of the Taliban and all that that implies?

10 Oct 2006 : Column 199

Will the Minister confirm reports that the vast Pashtun tribal belt along the Pakistan-Afghan border is once again alive with the Taliban and its militant supporters, threatening the political achievements over five years in Afghanistan post 9/11? Will she accept that rejuvenating the Taliban is a major reverse in efforts to locate and destroy the al-Qaeda camps hidden deep in the mountainous North-West Frontier Province?

Will she tell noble Lords when last the UK Government made representations to President Musharraf of Pakistan over the pressing need for his military intelligence and our coalition Special Forces to work towards the same goals and the elimination of terrorist enclaves on both sides of the border?

Will the Minister confirm also that the United Kingdom-led strategy to eliminate narcotics production has been undermined by the US and Afghan Governments’ decision to pursue poppy eradication without offering compensation or an alternative livelihood to farmers? Is this not evidenced by the latest figures from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, indicating a 60 per cent increase in poppy cultivation this year?

8.19 pm

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Garden, for taking on the Question of the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, on the progress of peace and stability in Afghanistan. I am sorry that she is unable to be with us, but send her our best wishes for her family.

It has been invaluable for the House, building on the Statement that we heard earlier today, to speak out on the treatment of, and attitude towards, our troops. I add our condolences to the families of those troops who have been killed or wounded, and pay tribute to all the service men and women. I should declare my interest as a longstanding patron of the Afghan Mother and Child Health Clinic.

It is unfortunate that our efforts in Afghanistan are linked with the ongoing horrors in Iraq, yet the ever-climbing fatality figures and violence are only part of the Afghan story. In Afghanistan, a solid alliance is acting against Taliban fighters, including the Afghan Government, national forces and NATO troops, with the support of local people, who remember what was inflicted upon them by the Taliban during the past 30 years. The continuing power of warlords, the dependence on poppy production by many farmers, and the crushing poverty and underdevelopment found in many regions are unquestionable and well documented.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page