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The PRTs, on the other hand, should have as their primary focus the promotion of peace and the provision of human security for the Afghan population, through, for example, training a democratically accountable national army and police force. The NGO consortium believes strongly that official development assistance should not be used to fund PRTs or military objectives such as force protection, intelligence gathering or hearts and minds operations. Furthermore, the NGO community working in Afghanistan is critical of the PRT strategies of building relationships with local power-holders due to the potentially deleterious consequences: in the absence of adequate regulation, such relationships can reinforce inter-group conflict, the war economy and corruption. I do not necessarily subscribe to the civilian/military division, particularly since each PRT tends to work in different ways and contexts, but a reassessment of roles would, to say the least, be helpful. Closer collaboration between the military and civilian sectors, not just in the field but in the recruitment and training of PRTs, might be a better model for the future.

What impact have the PRTs had and how it is to be measured? One suggestion, serious at the time, was that success could be measured by the number of smiling Afghan children in a given village. However, given their agreed objectives, the degree of stability in a region must feature as a main indicator of success, as must the spread of the rule of law and good governance. The security failures, the fragility of local and regional peace-keeping forces, the growth of corruption and the too-slow by far extension of government authority to rural provinces, are inescapable facts and suggest that PRTs should be greatly increased and/or their functions redefined to meet current conditions. For example, why not have a co-ordinated focus on communications infrastructure? Another commentator has pointed out that it should not be beyond the co-ordinating authorities in Kabul to be able to analyse cause and effect; has reconstruction such as clinic building resulted in a reduction in rocket attacks, for example, or, what activities have had the greatest local impact, measured, for instance, by better co-operation with local power structures?

At the same time, the agreement that all or the majority of donor assistance must be channelled via the central government, while crucial for bolstering government authority has to be modified in the light of the serious gaps in government capacity at all levels and the growth of corruption. The NGO community has an absolutely vital role to play in outreach and fostering ownership and should be fully supported in carrying out that role.

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Almost six years after the defeat of the Taliban Government and some four years after the institution of PRTs, their multinational and multifunctional roles as well as the insecure environments in which they work should prompt a reassessment of where and how they can be most successful in significantly extending stability and the climate for reconstruction.

7.45 pm

Baroness Verma: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza, on initiating this very important debate, which raises more questions than I fear it will answer.

Civilians are the biggest casualties of conflict and, of course, Afghanistan is no exception. To date, the Afghanistan compact and its international partners agreed to work on the following key areas; security, governance, rule, law, humanity and economic and social development. The task is a great one and the main concern when responding to a country that is in need of reconstruction should always lie with the people who are affected by the aftermath of such destructive conflicts. Why is the amount of money promised per head for Afghanistan lower than for other recent post-war countries? Too little is being done to increase the capacity of the Afghan Government to be able to run things efficiently themselves.

Findings from groups such as the British and Irish Agencies Afghanistan Group and Care International highlight immediate problems that are blocking the way for the necessary and important progress which needs to be made in order for Afghanistan to be able to begin the reconstruction process at a sustainable level.

The distinction between military aid and aid provided by NGOs is blurred and is resulting in a loss of lives of aid workers. Since 2003, it is reported that 89 of these workers have been killed and since 2001 the ordinary levels of violence have risen, due to the mistrust civilians hold for the military and for any aid work carried out by bodies such as NATO.

The propaganda that has been filtered to the civilian population about the UK and USA has made them adverse to intervention and the reason some NGOs have been successful to date is that they have built good and trusting relationships within the communities that they serve. The NGOs understand the need to build capacity within the Afghan Government, where UK aid policy is too state centred and is not effective in fulfilling the hearts and minds strategy, as local people have little understanding and trust for this type of commitment to be met at this level. Hearts and minds attempts at restoring and reconstructing a nation can be met only when the local people of Afghanistan have a level of self-empowerment and involvement in the actions taken to achieve such goals.

The lines between the military and civilian actors must cease to be blurred, and the suggestion of promoting effective dialogue between military and civilian actors should be put into effect where it is clear that reconstruction will be led by local civilian agencies and military intervention will always be a last resort.

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In hostile environments, it is imperative that agencies are clear about who is doing what and that the local people are clear about this information if there is to be any chance of building up trust. Without trust at ground level, Afghanistan will remain in a state of chaos and confusion, and the lives of aid workers will continue to be placed at high levels of risk.

The Government, alongside the Afghan Government, should aim to achieve stability by increasing civilian leadership to provide a clear context of understanding and increased engagement with local power holders and the communities. It is vital that the British Government respond to the needs of the Afghan people and not use funds as they see fit without this type of consultation. The suggestion of an independent evaluation is welcome as this would ensure that local concerns are addressed. As an example of the Government's response to a perceived need in Afghanistan, I highlight the opium trade.

The women of Afghanistan are still in danger whether they are in high-level politics or young girls risking their lives to become equal citizens by educating themselves and raising human rights issues with their peers. It has been reported that several high-powered women politicians have come under the threat of suicide bombers. It is admirable that women should be recognised under the country’s constitution, but at the same time we are told that the state cannot protect them.

Instead of bringing international officials in on short-term contracts, we need to channel money through the Afghan Government.

7.50 pm

Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon: My Lords, the noble Baroness who has just spoken referred to civilian leadership—I shall talk about international leadership. First, I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown, to his title and his new position. He is an inspired choice. He did great work at the United Nations and I am personally very grateful for the help that he gave to me. I am sorry tonight, on his first outing at the Dispatch Box, to have to deliver to him a somewhat bleak message.

A year ago, on 9 July, our brilliant general, Sir David Richards, said in Afghanistan that the war there was a good and winnable war but that, at the pace that we were proceeding, we needed to realise that we could fail there. I fear that we are failing there—or at least we are certainly not winning. I am saying not that failure is inevitable but that it is very likely unless we can get the international community to work with a single voice and to a single unitary plan. I am not saying that there has not been some brilliant work done there; there has—and I pay tribute to DfID for the tremendous work that it has done in re-establishing and reconstructing parts of Afghanistan, though not Helmand but certainly elsewhere. I am not saying that self-evidently our soldiers are not operating to the highest standards of professionalism and courage; they are doing a brilliant job and winning every tactical battle. But you can win the tactical battle and lose the strategic war.

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I recently had a somewhat heated discussion with a senior government Minister who said that we were winning in Afghanistan because we were killing more Taliban. That is not the measurement; the measurement is whether we are reconnecting more water supplies, giving people the prospect of better government and the rule of law or increasing jobs. Above all, it is whether we are winning public support. We are not winning public support but losing it. The Minister will have seen the opinion polls—they are already on the slide. I know, and he knows, how quickly that slide can continue, how fast that happens and how difficult it is to turn around. As a young soldier in Belfast in 1969, I remember how we were welcomed by the Catholics with tea and sandwiches. A year later, we were their enemies. The Minister will know, too, how quickly we lost support in Basra and Iraq generally. We are losing public support—and that is the crucial battle. If we lose that, we cannot win.

There are many reasons for this concerning situation and this lack of success, including Balkanisation and a lack of troops on the ground. I fear, too, that relations between the Governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Presidents Musharraf and Karzai, are worsening. But the central proposition is the failure of the international community to act with a single plan and speak with a single voice. Normally we would expect the military to have a unitary command but in Afghanistan there is none. The United States is operating under Operation Enduring Freedom, not under ISAF command, and frequently in ways that run counter, especially with regard to limiting civilian casualties, to the aims of the ISAF operation. The United States special forces are being commanded not from the theatre but from Washington—a precise and loving replica of the situation in Somalia that led to “Black Hawk Down”.

If the military situation is bad, civil co-operation is even worse. This operation is entirely characterised by bilateral operations and a lack of cohesion. Whitehall resounds these days with the call for a comprehensive approach, and ministries in Whitehall are learning the importance of a comprehensive approach. This is the central requirement to be successful in these operations. It is no good having a comprehensive approach in Whitehall if there is no comprehensive approach on the ground in Afghanistan—and there is not.

I hope that the Government will take this really seriously, because I fear that we are now staring failure in the face, unless we get the international community to act in a single and cohesive fashion. We are putting into Afghanistan today one-25th the number of troops and one-50th the amount of aid that we put into any other peace stabilisation mission. Does that in itself mean that we will fail? Probably not. But if we then do not act in a cohesive way, that probably not becomes a “definitely, yes”.

I wonder whether the Minister or the Government have calculated yet the consequences of failure in Afghanistan. They are much worse than in Iraq. I do not think that we could hold Pakistan—and the consequences for the security of this country would

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be very grave. Furthermore, it would do catastrophic damage to NATO. A British general recently said to me that a failure in Afghanistan would do as much damage to NATO as Bosnia did to the UN. I wonder whether we could then prevent a widening conflict in the region.

This is very serious. It was the right war to fight but we are fighting it in the wrong manner and, unless the international community can learn to speak with a single voice and act in a unitary fashion, failure—which is not inevitable today—will become much more likely tomorrow.

7.55 pm

The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, the best provincial reconstruction teams bring together good governance and aid in conditions generally favourable to peace-keeping—mainly in the north and west, where a small military force can usually help to balance the power of local militia while providing security for reconstruction and development. The NGOs, as my noble friend so rightly said, have co-operated with the PRTs but have been cautious about their effectiveness in securing development, even through quick impact projects, because co-operation with any occupying forces could be seen as collaboration. The noble Baroness, Lady Verma, spoke of the trust that is necessary among local people.

There is a much wider, related problem of governance, which also concerns NGOs, which is the imposition of the centralised state on traditional civil society. Part of the mandate of PRTs is to extend the reach of central government. Donors are repeatedly asked to strengthen the capacity of ministries to intervene more directly in provinces in which they previously had little or no control. It is not going to happen. New structures have been created by priority programmes such as the national solidarity programme, often with the effect of bringing new forms of democracy into villages as a precondition of development. Thousands of community development councils have been set up principally to channel funds into these programmes. This has also meant that NGOs have been drawn into a parallel network of government, away from the traditional shuras or councils of elders. An excellent report by ACBAR last December, quoting the World Bank, said that parallel structures inhibit capacity building and do not reinforce the state’s legitimacy but, on the contrary, undermine it.

On the face of it, it looks correct to introduce more liberal traditions, such as more equal representation, human rights and the strengthening of the role of women. But that is an expensive if necessary process and NGOs fairly complain that they, although they are best placed to deliver on poverty reduction strategies, have been bypassed by the new structures.

Academic work on the development of civil society in the Middle East suggests that the West is not only imposing solutions but too often ignoring the existence of traditional Islamic or tribal structures, which were developed before there was centralised government. These may already serve the population and maintain high standards of self-help, philanthropy and social welfare. While the first task

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of the PRTs is security, they should also be reinforcing traditional structures, because they are the ones that will outlast all foreign intervention. If the worst happens, they are absolutely essential.

We should beware of stereotypes of authoritarian, male-dominated Islamic societies in need of our liberation. In any case, the picture is usually a mixed one; many shuras are already engaged with the modern sector, use mobiles and e-mails and quickly adapt and ally themselves with civil society and the private sector, enabling development to take place without too much government interference. So while NGOs are becoming impatient with bureaucracy, corruption, funding delays and the slow pace of reconstruction already mentioned, Afghans will not be further deceived into accepting western democracy and aid if that means giving up their own traditions and independence.

Most Labour supporters believed that we came to Afghanistan to bring aid and governance, not troops, and they will sympathise with the remarks of Rory Stewart in the Independent, when he said that,

I look forward very much to the Minister’s reply and welcome him to this House.

7.59 pm

Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, I welcome my noble friend to his ministerial role and congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, on choosing this debate.

In my opinion illegal opium is destroying Afghanistan. No solution to the stabilisation and development of that country is possible without overcoming the problem of that illegal opium production. Last year Afghanistan produced some 92 per cent of the world’s illegal opium. This vast illegal product produced an economy which simultaneously threatened stabilisation, development and the legitimacy of the Government and weakened the rule of law.

Year by year the poppy harvest has increased and its economic significance has multiplied. The Taliban has capitalised on this. The forced eradication of the poppy crop has served to increase the Taliban base in farming communities. Talk of alternative crops has been risible in terms of the adequacy of the alternative income that would produce for the farmers.

I am no expert but I am seriously persuaded by the report of the Senlis Council published last month on an Afghan village-based poppy-for-medicine project. The first reaction of people to a poppy-for-medicine project is to laugh at it, but in terms of opium production it has worked twice before in the world. It worked in Turkey in the 1970s with the support of the United States Drug Enforcement Agency and the United Nations. It also worked in different circumstances in India. The report gives detailed advice on the previous successful transfer of opiates to medical purposes.

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There is a global pain crisis and a serious shortage of medical opiates. The Senlis Council report claims that Afghanistan could supply medical morphine at 55 per cent below the current market price of opium.

In four minutes it is impossible to review the claimed merits of this scheme: the empowerment of the village shuras; the denial of the Taliban; the economic benefits percolating upwards from the villages; and the supply of medical opiates at an advantageous price, to which I have already referred. All those benefits are claimed. I have insufficient evidence to judge the merits of all the claims but I believe that they must be seriously examined. If some but not others are viable, Members of this House are entitled to a detailed explanation from the Government on how they propose to react to the report. I am not asking my noble friend the Minister to respond positively to the report tonight—although I certainly hope that he does not respond negatively to it—but I am asking him to make sure that it is studied and that a detailed response is given. An acknowledgement should be given that this mechanism has previously succeeded. I look forward to him giving that undertaking tonight. As I say, I do not ask him to respond other than to give me the guarantee that there will be a considered response. In expectation of a high quality reply to the debate and a ready, positive response to my request I congratulate my noble friend in anticipation of what I am sure will be an excellent maiden speech.

8.04 pm

Lord Chidgey: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, on securing this debate on a very important subject—the progress of the provincial reconstruction teams in Afghanistan. I, too, am interested to know what progress there has been since I last visited Afghanistan back in May 2004 with the Foreign Affairs Select Committee of another place in its inquiry into what was then called the foreign policy aspects of the war against terror.

We met United Kingdom service and civilian personnel making up the provincial reconstruction team operating out of Mazar-e Sharif. Basically it was of patrol strength and covered an area larger than Scotland. The contribution it made was out of all proportion to its small numbers and was a great credit to ourselves and to its outfits.

The prime aims of the United Kingdom and its allies then as now, together with those of the Afghan Government, were, first, to strengthen and broaden democracy at federal, provincial and local levels.

I thank the Government Whip for adjusting the clock. I know that I speak fully but I did not think that I would manage five minutes in 10 seconds. To continue with my theme, but with less panic now, the aims of the UK and her allies were to rebuild and develop state institutions, deliver health and education services, distribute humanitarian aid, food and medicines, but most importantly, to re-establish human rights and equal rights for women in that troubled country, and, equally importantly, to provide access again to education for girls, which had been denied them under the Taliban.

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Underpinning this was the eradication of opium poppy cultivation, as the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, mentioned. The British Army PRT in the north focused first on security and establishing a secure environment to allow the Afghan authorities and the international aid organisations to function safely in the reconstruction arena. The example was set in the following terms—allow the locals and the civilian agencies to disburse aid and resources within a secure environment. Do not blur the distinctions between military security assets and NGO aid workers by using military resources and personnel to undertake construction projects and disbursing aid budgets directly through their own personnel.

As part of the Foreign Affairs Committee inquiry we visited the United Nations and discussed these issues with Kofi Annan and his very able assistant, the Minister, who is now in his proper place with us tonight. He may recall our visit. I certainly look forward to his maiden speech on this subject.

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