THURSDAY 24 OCTOBER 2002
Mr Tony Baldry, in the Chair
DR ABDULLAH ABDULLAH, Minister for Foreign Affairs and MR MOHAMMAD HANIF ATMAR, Minister for Rural Development and Reconstruction, Transitional Islamic State of Afghanistan, examined.
(Dr Abdullah) Thank you; I appreciate this opportunity to talk about the situation in Afghanistan in reconstruction. The Tokyo conference took place a month after the establishment of the interim government. We all worked out our proposals, our expectations and our programmes in a hurry. At that time there were different estimates by the World Bank and UNDP about the need for assistance for Afghanistan. Now we see that the scale of the problem is much more than we had anticipated at that time. First of all, the money pledged for Afghanistan was not enough. Before the conference there were talks about $25 billion, $30 billion, $20, $10 and we ended up with $4.5 billion. The composition of this $4.5 billion was not defined. It is meant to be reconstruction assistance. There is a humanitarian situation in Afghanistan which has to be addressed as well. Now we have ended up with a situation where 70 per cent of the money has gone to the humanitarian side of it, which has to be addressed, but humanitarian assistance is not reconstruction assistance. This is one issue. Some countries which made pledges at the Tokyo conference had not defined the fact that they meant credit as well as grants so later on we found out that some countries' pledges were only 50 per cent grants. The flow of money has been slow, the disbursement of money has been slow. These are the issues related to that. Talking about the reconstruction of Afghanistan, I shall give you one or two examples and then I shall let my colleague, Minister Atmar, elaborate further. The health situation; one of the priorities, out of which I choose ophthalmology, which is my former profession. Four clinics for the whole country, four clinics for a population of 22 million; four eye clinics. This is the scale of the problem. Let us take education. Three million school boys and girls returned; we were expecting something like 1.5 million, so the number was double. This is good news but on the other side, what about schools, what about teachers, salaries for teachers, training of teachers, equipment and so on? Refugees. We were expecting 500,000 refugees would return this year; so far 1.6 million refugees have returned. This is good. It is a sign of stability and the confidence of the people in the situation. On the other side, who is going to take care of this situation? 1.2 million internally displaced people have returned. This is the scale of the problem. Pick up one area, just a simple example, you will not be able to imagine the scale of the problem. This is the amount of money pledged. I should not judge every country as a stereotype as there have been countries which have increased their pledges, countries like the United States which has committed more than they had initially pledged in Tokyo, but it has been otherwise as well with some donor countries.
(Mr Atmar) Thank you very much for this opportunity. As my colleague explained, the number one issue is that as the Government of Afghanistan, we definitely think that the pledges made are not going to be sufficient. We have not undertaken a comprehensive needs assessment. However, it seems that the World Bank estimate between $10 and $20 billion is towards the upper projection that they have made. A second point which needs to be considered is a comparison with the four other recent post-conflict countries. Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor and Rwanda. For example in Bosnia per capita assistance over five years was around $328, Kosovo $288, East Timor $175, Rwanda something similar. In Afghanistan in 2000, based on pledges which have been made, the per capita figure is $75; over five years it is roughly around $40. The first issue one needs to look at is some kind of equity in terms of international assistance pledges. The second point is that Afghanistan is more destroyed by far than any of these countries we have talked about. This situation has been even further exacerbated by the return of 1.8 million people and we are expecting that this number will rise up to two million by the end of this year. 4.21 November 20021 November 2002 million people are estimated to be facing severe food shortages during this winter. The next point I should like to make, as my colleague said, is the imbalance between the humanitarian and reconstruction assistance. The problem with the humanitarian assistance, as we have always argued is that it addresses the symptoms of the problem rather than the causes. For instance, one quarter of the entire assistance which has come to Afghanistan this year is food aid and food aid is only postponing death rather than strengthening lives and livelihoods. Much of that has also gone to refugee reintegration and assistance. What we are advocating is that there needs to be a proper balance. Conventional reconstruction like reconstruction of the energy sector, transport, etcetera, has not received adequate funding at all. In a way that actually fails to address the root causes of the humanitarian situation in the country. A third point we should like to highlight is that we should not take it for granted that the resources must come to Afghanistan which would help the political, humanitarian, human rights and development project, which is what we call the state building project in that country. From any perspective, the state building project is central for us to all our objectives. Over 90 per cent of the resources have gone through non-state entities and this will be counter-productive to the state building project. What we are advocating is that the Afghanistan Government has taken all the necessary steps to ensure accountability, transparency and efficiency by recruiting reputable international firms for financial management, audit and procurement, yet still there is a kind of reluctance to consider channelling resources through the national development budget. This is not helpful in terms of the capacity building of the government and the government's ability to ensure equity in resource distribution across the country through a unified policy.
(Dr Abdullah) For quite some time there has been this issue of lack of capacity in part of the government. That was an excuse not to deal through the government. By presenting the national development framework to the implementation group just recently, the government proved that it has the capacity, but what is also needed as well is that part of the reconstruction assistance should have gone and should go to institutional capacity building in the government. In a few years' time the money will be gone, humanitarian assistance will be by NGOs and the government will be in the same position as today. This government will not have the capacity itself to utilise the potential which exists in the country for future development. This government will not be able to stand on its own feet, though we have national resources, a very good location indeed for transit, a good climate and hard-working people and so on and a political process which is democratic. What is it like not to know about resources and still be in a position of responsibility, not as the continuation of another government, but as a government which has started by becoming a government, by creating a government on the scars of 20 years of war, starting from below zero. One example from the Ministry of Reconstruction, which is responsible for the reconstruction of Afghanistan. The minister had to start by finding a building, then recruiting a few people, then what about office facilities and so on? This is how things start. You can imagine the problems with lack of resources. One big danger, one big risk which this government is facing is that it is losing credibility among the people. Because of the Bonn agreement, of the Tokyo conference, especially after the Loya Jirga, the expectations of our people were raised to a high level. They expected everything would start, especially after the Loya Jirga. Then we ran out of excuses for the people, things are coming, things are in the pipeline, commitments are there and so on. How long can one maintain this situation while we are expected to build a state, to integrate the government in different parts of the country, to combat drugs, to combat illegal activities, to work out the constitution, to deliver in every aspect of life. I cannot explain it.
(Mr Atmar) Absolutely. Quickly to reinforce what the Minister has said, the first issue is that the government's legitimacy is at stake. Any government has both a national and international obligation to deliver on its commitment, its commitments to the international community and to the Afghans at large. A government without the basic operating budget and without a development budget will not be able to deliver on any of its commitments. The absence of an accountable government in Afghanistan has been the key reason for human rights abuses in that country, the growth of terrorism, drugs and the rest. The second point is that we should not take it for granted that multilateral and bilateral relationships with non-state entities in Afghanistan would actually deliver on the international community's promise for reconstruction and rebuilding of Afghanistan. The key problem with that is that they will never have a national vision, given the nature of operations and scope of operations. At the end of the day you need a government to formulate a national vision, policies and strategies and for policies, the key instrument is actually a national budget. That national budget has been developed by the government and the issues of concern to the donor community have largely been addressed. So the issue now is that we are keen to ask other donors to follow the example of DFID, which has taken a number of good steps towards that by contributing to the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund. Finally, the reform process we should like to undertake is not about building a Soviet-type state in Afghanistan; we need an effective and small state which is accountable and efficient and for the reform agenda we have the resource issue is definitely a key issue.
(Dr Abdullah) First of all the issue of security. Security remains our main priority. On the other side, we do not want this to become a chicken and egg situation: there is no security, so there is no assistance because there is no security. Terrorists are there in Afghanistan as well as in the region. They will take every opportunity to destabilise the situation. As far as the issue of the airport is concerned, I was in the middle of a meeting of the implementation group when I received a note from the head of ISAF saying we should close down the airport that night for another three or four days because of a threat of rocket attacks. It was not my feeling that we should have gone down that route. If the terrorists realise they can shut down the airport, that with every threat one way or another they can cause this closure, then we shall all be permanently shut. That was an extra extra precaution taken. A story of a similar episode when we were travelling back from our trip to the Gulf States to Kabul our plane was kept in the air on advice as a security precaution for an extra hour. I was with President Karzai on our plane and I told the President that when we land we should tell these people that keeping us one more hour in the air was a greater potential risk than any other likelihood. The environment is not secure as such and unfortunately we have to deal with it as a process which will take time, but the security situation has improved. Out of a population of 22 million one has to expect one, two, ten terrorists to be hanging around waiting for an opportunity. I came from Washington this morning and there I was in the best place to explain how difficult security is. You will all have heard about this case of the sniper. Security will be restored in a process, the process will include the creation of a national army, a national police force, demobilisation programme. When I say "demobilisation programme" it is demobilisation of 700,000 armed people. This is a big job. There will be an anti-narcotic programme, the revival of the judiciary system and so on and so forth as well as reconstruction programmes, development improvement, development programmes. Then what about the foreign element in the security situation and the threat from elements in our neighbouring countries. The expansion of ISAF was a preference and still is a preference. I do not know how realistic it is to expect ISAF to be expanded because it involves lots of factors. At the same time another alternative could be the expansion of coalition forces to some extent, coalition forces which are already there. It will not add to the numbers a great deal. If ISAF is not achievable we have to find ways in which things could be done.
(Dr Abdullah) No, not commitment. Discussions on this issue have started for the first time in different capitals and I am aware of that.
(Dr Abdullah) Definitely. It is the main element of integration in preserving sovereignty in the role of the government and the role of law in the country. We have different armies at this stage. These different armies are the main source of insecurity for the people of Afghanistan, not al-Qaeda. The threat from al-Qaeda comes from time to time; it will be there, as I mentioned. In different regions of Afghanistan different people are in charge of the armies. These armies should be dissolved, a part of them should be integrated into the national army and that situation should come to an end. This is the obstacle for development and for state building. Yes, we do need a national army, a national police force and other national security institutions.
(Dr Abdullah) It will not happen overnight. The process has started, the Loya Jirga itself, where the people and representatives of the people gathered and voted and they expressed their views about the rule of the central government and integration of the central government in different parts of the country. All this has helped, but once again it depends on the capacity of the government to deliver. We cannot just ask the people to disarm; that will not happen. Efforts on the creation of a national army should be parallel to the efforts in the demobilisation programme, as well as activities to enhance the role of the grassroot population. On the warlords and regional leaders, those who are considered to be part of the problem should be dealt with as part of the problem. Those who could be part of the solution could be made part of the reform programme and that is doable.
(Dr Abdullah) Definitely.
(Mr Atmar) Absolutely. One extremely important point for the state building project is to reconstruct the reciprocity between the peripheries, provinces, the remote areas and Kabul, the capital. That reciprocity through establishment of security, reconstruction and development aid budgets, will have to be demonstrated. Again, credibility and legitimacy of the state largely depends on that. The second point that the Minister highlighted was the creation of the national army which will work both as an incentive and disincentive to the privatised armies. Incentive to be retrained and be part of the security establishment, but with a new code of conduct, particularly when it comes to human rights. Disincentive in that of course a warlord is as much part of the political agenda as the economic one. One really needs to pay attention to the fact that alternative livelihoods will be extremely important in terms of ensuring sustainable security in Afghanistan.
(Mr Atmar) Actually to both. First, poppy is one of the key elements of the war economy in the country and the government is determined to reverse that unhelpful situation. An alternative livelihood, not only for the poppy growing communities but also for the professional soldiers who have had nothing but this option to serve a commander. The issue of a sustainable alternative is increasingly important.
(Dr Abdullah) When it comes to the revenues, it is not just the revenue from the opium, it is also tax collection from the border crossing points and so on. Those regional leaders rely on those taxes and they pay their own private armies through that so the whole situation is all interactive. If we do not move in one section we cannot move in all the others. The problem for this government is to deal with every aspect of it. When a new government is elected here, either it has to deal with many issues such as the NHS or something else, the priorities, look at the priorities over that. Whatever you mention will be a priority and a huge priority and a challenging priority.
(Dr Abdullah) Relations between Afghanistan and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan have improved since the creation of the interim government, the Bonn agreement and afterwards. We appreciate the position of President Musharraf and the campaign against terror as a coalition but recent developments were not fundamentalists. Those people who have been elected in those provinces and will be the authorities in the North West Frontier and Baluchistan are the mentors of the Taliban. These are the mentors of the Taliban, they are of the same mind, the same ideology, the same agenda. It is a cause of concern for us. We hope that President Musharraf will be able to deal with this issue because it is an issue for the stability of Pakistan as well as our collective interest in the stability of Afghanistan and the whole region. It is a major cause of concern. I hope this will not be considered as interference in another country's affairs, which we hardly do: Afghanistan was interfered with by other countries, by its neighbours. Afghanistan has never been the cause of a problem. The Taliban were an imposed agenda. With those people in power in the North West Frontier they cannot be elements in any healthy process. They have announced their agenda and that they want the Taliban to return. From now on al-Qaeda leaders and Taliban leaders will be in safe hands in those areas. That is rubbish and they can incite violence in Afghanistan, they can raise the morale of the Taliban who are in Afghanistan or in the region. It will have negative impacts unfortunately. We hope that we will be able to deal with this issue together with the Government of Pakistan, but it is a major concern.
(Dr Abdullah) Yes, in my initial remarks I mentioned that institutional capacity building is one of the needs of the reconstruction of Afghanistan. This should have started in the early days of the formation of the government. It is not just IT and English language, it is much more than that. The bureaucracy has suffered in the past 23 years, as every other aspect of life. The Minister mentioned the need for a change in it. That takes all sorts of capacity, administrative, managerial capacity to propose and create projects and the training of civil servants and other aspects of that. My point is that a significant amount of the reconstruction assistance should be allocated for that purpose because fortunately Afghanistan has the potential, the resources to stand on its own feet for quite some time to come, but this has not been done so far.
(Dr Abdullah) Some of the people from the diaspora outside Afghanistan, from the United States, from Europe especially, have returned; a good number of people have returned to the country and the different ministries are making use of this opportunity. It is a great opportunity because they have learned skills outside and they know the country and they adapt much faster than foreigners in the situation, the language and the whole thing, but there as well is the issue of the salaries, the accommodation, all these other related issues which make it a challenge. There are people who have volunteered their services, but how long could one expect people who are paid a decent amount of salary outside in other institutions and so on to come to the country? A few months of voluntary service, but what else as a means of gaining a living? This is one of the areas to focus on. We have these sorts of multi-dimensional problems. People will be encouraged to return home. This is one issue. Then while they are returning, they are contributing to the reconstruction of their own country. They can help the others, they can train people, so there is multi-dimensional benefit from it but there again we need capacity.
(Dr Abdullah) We did have this problem at the beginning; it was a huge problem at the beginning. If I had to meet the Minister for Rural Development, which at that time was another gentleman, I had to take a car and go to the ministry because there was no means of communication to find out whether the minister was there or not. Of course we have weekly cabinet meetings and extraordinary cabinet meetings whenever necessary. There are a few venues for co-ordination. For example the High Commission for Investment, the Afghanistan Assistance Co-ordination Authority. These are committees or organisations where certain ministers gather in addition to the cabinet meetings. The National Security Council deals with national security related issues, the National Defence Council is a place where regional leaders are represented as well as central government.
(Dr Abdullah) Sure, but at the beginning, for example, what the Ministry of Planning would do was not defined, what the Ministry for Reconstruction would do. While we have a Ministry of Planning and a Ministry for Reconstruction, nevertheless a political agreement was born that it had to accommodate different people, it had to have representatives of different people. This sort of administrative interest was not taken into account. Bonn created a large government of 32 ministries which we had no choice but to form.
(Mr Atmar) In terms of co-ordination and minimising overlaps, the last effort was the creation of a board for the Afghan Assistance Co-ordination Authority (AACA) and the four ministers, finance, planning, reconstruction and foreign affairs, are going to be members of that board. For that reason an institutional arrangement has actually been made to minimise overlapping agendas. The second thing is the development of a national development framework and national development budget which are instruments not only for implementation of government policies but also institutional labour divisions to be put in place. I should slightly disagree with Care's viewpoint that there is no strategic capacity there. Look at the remarkable performance of the government, particularly in developing the two documents mentioned. No other government in such a short period of time has delivered on so many things. Our proposal for capacity development of the government institutions includes things like, first, avoid parallel structures. We will never have a government revived institution if there is a parallel within the UN system which is receiving assistance from outside and there is no added value apart from delivery of assistance. So that is issue number one. Issue number two is the example of DFID in terms of technical assistance for capacity development with the Ministry of Finance, with the Ministry of Rural Development and Reconstruction and with the central bank. With little technical assistance this government has achieved quite a lot. However, the issue is the issue of institutional reconstruction in the country as well, which takes a lot more than just technical assistance. Again I would refer to the chicken and egg situation which the Minister mentioned at the beginning. Unless we have resources, unless we have water in the pipes, we will not know where the leakages are in the pipes, so that is the issue to be considered.
(Mr Atmar) The government key principles are that reconstruction will not be a government driven effort. It will be a people owned and driven effort in the country. One of the six programmes which we have prioritised for donors to consider is a national solidarity programme which would allow communities to set their own reconstruction and development agenda and the government to provide strategic services, NGOs and the private sector to be the implementing partners of the government. The unity which the cabinet demonstrated during the implementation group meeting in October was remarkable. All donors have consensus in terms of saying that the government demonstrated a unique unity, which again is a remarkable demonstration of the fact that the cabinet is representing the view of all Afghans across the country.
(Dr Abdullah) Before coming to your point, on the Afghan ownership of the national development framework, it is very much an Afghan owned framework. The donor community has been invited to fill in the areas which we have identified as our priorities in our national development framework. Talking to the World Bank yesterday, I was told that in no other case had the recipient come forward with such a programme nationally owned whilst asking for partnership from the donors. It has always been vice-versa, always supply driven assistance to the recipients in other cases. This is an area which has already affected our capacity to deliver the promises which we have made to our people or the expectations of our people as far as the developments in the country are concerned. Let us talk about salaries. When we say that we have not paid salaries for two months, three months, what is the amount of salary which we are paying to the people? I can clarify this with an example. If the people in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have to be fed with lunch in the ministry, then the amount of money which they will end up receiving at the end of the month will be something $6 per month, all civil servants. If they are not fed then that amount will rise to something like $30 a month if they just remain and work until the evening. That applies to all civil servants. When we talk about security, the police force in Kabul is responsible for security. If you compare the security in Kabul, in Afghanistan, with our neighbouring countries, it is perhaps better than most of our neighbouring countries. The police force is not being paid and how to feed them once or twice a day is the problem. This capacity is lacking in every area you can touch on and this has restricted our capability. While we have trained people, skilled people, coming from outside, people who trained in the past, they do need refresher courses. Take the Ministry of Mines and Industry, we have dozens of PhDs, without exaggeration over 300 people with masters degrees, who are in the same situation: their salaries are the same. In most cases they need a refresher course for a period of time to enable them to accommodate to the new circumstances and to the new situation. That capacity does not exist there and that is not being considered in the reconstruction assistance.
(Mr Atmar) In terms of the right balance between humanitarian and reconstruction, there is definitely that dialogue. Currently we are engaging with the donors and WFP on the issue of how much food aid and how much cash for work. Our preferred instrument is cash for work. Food aid will not address the causes of the poverty of our people. Therefore we should like to engage constructively with the donors and explore reconstruction aid to strengthen the cash-starved economy of our country. The second issue is the civil service and the reform agenda which we have. We have promised the donors that in February we shall come up with a concrete strategy and plan for the reform of the civil service. Elements of that will include social policy; we cannot just lay off people for whom the civil service has become a safety net. So we shall look at a social support package, plus training, which would enable them to increase the marketability of their skills to be recruited by the private sector and other state run organisations. Again, any reform agenda requires resources, so the issue now for us is that we are quite determined to address this situation. We really need to emphasise the need for an adequate level of understanding on the part of our donors.
(Dr Abdullah) There are two issues. One is the institutional type of relations between these commissions and government ministries. The other one is the type of relations which the person in this role would have to build. Whatever the rules in the codes of conduct, those will be there, but the person in that job should find ways and means to deal with these issues on a personal basis. I am sure that this is doable and we have the experience. I shall meet Dr Sima Samar when I return. She is shy of dealing with these issues. Sometimes we think that since this commission is there and the rules are there, everything must be all right but it does not happen. We have to deal with each other, we have to work with each other, we have to work on the common causes, objectives of the government which are mainly based on the Bonn agreement. This is another way of dealing with this issue and one has to focus on the first part of it which I mentioned, which is institutional types of actions.
(Mr Atmar) Absolutely. The first point is that the government is strongly committed to the independence of these commissions, therefore I resigned from my membership of the Human Rights Commission because I became a government minister; secondly, to whatever support we can strategically provide to these commissions in order for them to meet their objectives. At the moment my ministry is supporting the Human Rights Commission in a variety of ways and vice-versa. We should like to develop this relationship with them for mainstreaming the human rights agenda within the work this ministry is supposed to be doing. The commission is in its infancy, it has a long way to go and our support will have to be provided in a timely manner to foster that growth.
(Dr Abdullah) For example, I personally, in my capacity as Minister for Foreign Affairs, in my capacity as a member of the National Security Council, can help that commission, but I have not been approached. The first day when Dr Sima Samar sat by my side in the cabinet I said to her that she was new to the situation, I had been in the resistance against the Taliban and I could do things and if she wanted me to help her in the running of her ministry - at that time it was the Ministry for Women's Affairs - I would see what I could do. My advice to the head of the commission and other commissions would be to take a proactive role and make things work and let us know. I do not know what the problems are for that commission.
(Dr Abdullah) Yes; yes. The head of every commission has to take action. One cannot solve everything sitting in a commission, that is self evident, and we have to work together and see how we can help each other.
(Dr Abdullah) I am sort of wary of that date; this might not be a realistic time frame. We have lived with all the other commitments and timetables in the Bonn agreement and we hope we shall be able to meet this one. Personally, looking at the situation and the developments and the slow pace of developments ... That time frame was considered on the understanding that security would improve, development activities would start, integration of the government in different parts of the country would take place and at the same time we would keep to the time frame.
(Dr Abdullah) No, not as a political consideration because this government was not able to deliver so it should postpone the elections. No. In practical terms we need a secure environment, we need communication systems, we need government to be integrated in the different areas in order to be able to work with the people and lots of other factors and elements. If these elements are not provided because that was part of the package then this is my personal view in that regard. The government is committed to make that possible within that time but personally when I look around and see in all other fields the things which are required, not as a political decision, but pragmatically.
(Dr Abdullah) Yes.
(Mr Atmar) It is more a technical matter than a political one. The point is that the government will have to live up to the expectations. We have already delivered. Look at the Bonn agreement. There is nothing in that agreement which we have not delivered. We have every reason to believe and be hopeful that we will deliver on the rest with the right sort of assistance.
(Dr Abdullah) This is one of the programmes which we have to carry out before elections, for men and women. The issue of identity in Afghanistan, population census, the demographic aspect of it, all these things have to be addressed before we have an election.
(Mr Atmar) Registration is not just a problem for women, it is a problem for every Afghan because of the lack of institutional capacity to do that. Certainly we are quite confident that this will have to be a prerequisite for the election.
Chairman: Ministers, thank you very much for your time. We have trespassed slightly longer than we had intended, but we are very grateful to you for coming to the Committee and sharing with us some of the difficulties and the frustrations which you are experiencing. About a year ago our Prime Minister said to the Afghan people, "We make this commitment: we will not walk away". I think so far as this Committee are concerned, we are determined to do whatever we can to ensure that the international community as a whole does not walk away from Afghanistan and hopefully when, in due course, our report is published, it might help that whole process of support for what you are trying to do. Thank you very, very much and we hope you have a very successful conference at Wilton Park and a safe journey home to Afghanistan.
Memorandum submitted by the BBC World Service Trust
MR SHIRAZUDDIN SIDDIQI, Director, Afghan Education, BBC World Service Trust and MR STEPHEN KING, Director, BBC World Service Trust, examined.
(Mr Siddiqi) Thank you very much. I am really grateful for this opportunity and honoured to be here to talk to the Committee about our work in Afghanistan. We started our activities in Peshawar in the North West Frontier province of Pakistan in 1994 by launching an Afghan soap opera modelled on the Archers. This soap opera has been going out for eight years in the two main languages of Afghanistan, Pashto and Dari. The soap was like the Archers, delivering lifeline information to Afghans to help them to cope with the difficulties of everyday life. Initially in 1993-94, we were thinking that the soap opera would help Afghans to go back to their country and rebuild the country and reconstruct, start a new life and build a new home for themselves. Unfortunately, because of the civil war, it did not happen and a massive number of people left Afghanistan and became refugees in the neighbouring countries again. The soap turned its attention and its focus to help them cope with the difficulties of everyday life. It has become quite popular, it has become part of the Afghan culture, it has become part of the everyday lives of the ordinary people. It has chosen to use the language of the countryside, which is equally and universally accessible to all Afghans across the country and in the region, in Pakistan, central Asia and Iran. At one stage during the Taliban it became almost the only means which connected Afghans with each other and gave them something they all shared and all had in common. We expanded our activities when the Taliban imposed restrictions on education and specially on female education. We started a new series of programmes called REACH, Radio Education for Afghan Children, and through that we have been trying to provide whatever possible by radio in terms of educational opportunities so the children can use the natural resources in their own local environment in order to learn. After the interim government took over in December last year, the Government of Afghanistan and the United Nations asked the BBC World Service Trust to go and conduct a needs assessment into the reconstruction of media in Afghanistan and come up with recommendations which were incorporated into the 'Preliminary Needs Assessment for Recovery and Reconstruction in Afghanistan' which was presented by the World Bank, UNDP and the Asian Development Bank at the donor's conference in Tokyo earlier this year. We did that and as a result of that the interim government of Afghanistan issued a declaration of intention, a set of policy directions which has been sent to this Committee, which was probably one of the most important and significant steps towards turning the Afghan media into a public service entity. The Afghan Interim Government committed themselves to hold an international seminar which happened in September this year and at this international seminar experts from other countries came and sat with Afghans and worked on a media strategy to build the media infrastructure. The government has asked us to provide an adviser who will help them in the implementation and further development of this strategy. That is where we are at the moment. I would like to ask my colleagues, Stephen King, Director of the Trust, to add a little.
(Mr King) In addition, as a result of the earlier needs assessment, the BBC World Service Trust have received a grant from DFID to implement a number of media reconstruction activities. From February this year we did four main things. First we delivered training to about 350 Afghan journalists, of whom about one third were women, and we took care to ensure that they were drawn from both Radio/TV Afghanistan, the national broadcaster, plus also from independent media as well and as much as possible from around the country, so reflecting the different provincial interests as well as Kabul. The other thing we did was to provide two digital self-operating studios to Radio/TV Afghanistan. Unsurprisingly, after 20 years of war, and the latest military campaign, most of the equipment had either been destroyed or become obsolete. Two radio studios allowed them to continue production of programmes and news broadcasts. The other thing we did was to provide them with some advice and support. We found through the needs assessment that the level of knowledge of the modern media environment unsurprisingly was quite low, so we were really providing a range of options for the future reconstruction. We also produced a number of radio programmes as well to help provide people with information about the Loya Jirga process, to educate people about the process, about elections and what is going to happen. Radio is really the principal medium for Afghanistan; television is not really in operation outside Kabul and radio, through both the BBC plus Radio Afghanistan and a number of other international broadcasters is the way that people get their information where illiteracy rates are very high.
(Mr Siddiqi) We did distribute a number of wind-up radios in the Jalalabad area a few years ago just for testing. We did an evaluation at the time of the distribution of those radios and then we went back about three or four months later to find out what had happened to these radios. Quite a number of them were actually broken or converted into conventional radios and they had actually connected them to car batteries to use them. I was also surprised. I was born there, I have lived there, I was brought up in Afghanistan, but I always thought Afghanistan was a very poor country and could not afford many radio sets across the country. However, I was really surprised to see how high the ownership of radios was. The United Nations did a massive evaluation in 1997 aiming mainly to study the impact of our programmes. They found out that out of 60,000 households they interviewed, 50 per cent of them owned a radio and the listenership, given the pattern of the family relationships in Afghanistan, is much higher than that. In most cases people were actually using batteries which created a cycle of employment for people to travel outside the country and import batteries and take them to different areas in the country and sell them. The dominant pattern is using batteries rather than mains electricity or the wind-up radios. Recently people have become interested in testing it further and they have brought in some wind-up radios. Recently I saw that UNESCO had brought in a new model of lantern radio which has a device on top of the lamp and the heat produces electricity which is fed into the radio. That is quite an interesting thing to explore to see whether it works in the countryside. It should work, given the fact that it produces light as well as operating a radio.
(Mr Siddiqi) The transmission capacity was quite badly damaged unfortunately because of the 23 years of war. Afghanistan used to have nationwide coverage on medium wave, but that was quite badly damaged during the war. Initially they did not have the necessary fuel to generate so much electricity to run that transmitter and achieve that nationwide coverage, and later on, because of the bombing, the transmitters were actually destroyed. At the moment work is under way on a medium wave transmitter which will restore that nationwide coverage of Radio Afghanistan. There are radio stations in different provinces. I am not sure about the figure, I can confirm this figure later, but in at least 19 provinces of Afghanistan there were radio stations; some of them were partly damaged, some of them were totally destroyed. Some of them have been restored, but the most important element in the role of media in Afghanistan, especially the Afghan radio and television, is the credibility. That credibility was actually affected quite badly because radio and television and the media in general in Afghanistan were used by different groups and different governments as their own mouthpiece. That is precisely the reason why Afghans turned to international broadcasters and that is why the BBC became one of the major broadcasters to that region. One of the most important broadcasting activities has been taking place through the BBC World Service Trust in a very in-depth way. The BBC World Service has not only been providing Afghans with quality information and impartial information on what was happening on the political ground in Afghanistan, but also helping people to deal with the difficulties of their lives and helping them find solutions to those problems in the absence of quite a lot of social infrastructures in these 23 years or so.
(Mr Siddiqi) The soap opera is called New Home, New Life. It is based in three fictional villages somewhere in central Afghanistan (the reason for that being that both Dari and Pashto are spoken with different accents, so we wanted to go for the accepted accent which used to be used by Radio Afghanistan for a very long time) covering the life of the village communities. We have male characters, female characters. They have their own problems and we have a small evaluation team. The team visits different parts of Afghanistan, different provinces, talking to the members of the audiences and identifying their needs, their problems. Then we use those needs and their priorities to make storylines for the soap opera. The soap opera is being broadcast three times a week in one language and three times a week in another language and then like the Archers we have an omnibus for one language on Thursday, for another language on Friday; Friday is the holiday in Afghanistan. One of the most interesting things that recently happened in the soap opera was that we were running a story line on the Loya Jirga in Afghanistan, highlighting some of the problems within the process of the election leading up to the Loya Jirga. The reaction was very, very interesting. First of all, the special representative of the Secretary General offered to appear in that storyline and play his own role and meet the characters who were selected for the Loya Jirga, which was quite a big milestone for us. Secondly, his message basically was to Afghans to keep up their voice and stay involved in the election for the simple reason that if they choose their leaders, the leaders will have to listen to them. After that message was aired, we had quite a lot of Afghans from different parts of Afghanistan, illiterate people, coming to the BBC World Service Trust buildings and saying they would like to give an interview, they had been denied their rights or giving their point of view on how they could stay involved. It has had a huge impact on Afghans so far.
(Mr Siddiqi) In 1992 quite a large number of Afghan writers and media professionals came to Pakistan and at that time the BBC World Service Trust was running a recruitment campaign. They brought in a couple of trainers to train these people. Now we have 12 Afghan writers writing the soap opera and three editors and we have a pool of over 100 actors and actresses because everything is being done in two languages simultaneously. So six of the writers write in Pashto and six of the writers write in Dari and we have a team of Pashto actors and actresses and a team of Dari actors and actresses. They are all Afghans.
(Mr King) The BBC World Service Trusts Sexwise project has actually now finished unfortunately but during the time when it was on, which was for about three years, it did broadcast to Afghanistan as well. There are plans to launch another series on sexual reproductive health, which would be a global series and we would certainly prioritise broadcasting that in Pashto and Persian. These are also issues which we might cover through the storylines of New Home, New Life.
(Mr Siddiqi) In addition to the soap opera which covers family planning, safe motherhood and reproductive health related issues, we are also running a number of weekly feature programmes which are basically factual. We go to people, we interview them and then we make a feature programme about any particular issue which becomes a problem for Afghans. One of those features is called Health in Life which focuses heavily on the health-related needs of our female listeners in Afghanistan. Although the Sexwise series came to an end, we have been covering the issue on an ongoing basis, especially with quite a lot of input from those NGOs and UN agencies which are actually working on the ground in this area in Afghanistan.
(Mr King) The World Service Trust was set up by the World Service as a separate and independent NGO with really two considerations: firstly, taking account of the very wide audiences the World Service (with a 150 million listeners a week world wide); secondly, the ability to reach communities in developing countries through a very popular medium, radio, and also through a trusted voice. With that combination of targeted programmes with development messages and reach, it represents a very powerful force. The Trust has worked worldwide in 23 countries to date, not only in Afghanistan but in sub-Saharan African, South and South-East Asia and the Balkans and our main focus is on health and educational messages to the poorest communities and that is really the main purpose of the organisation. On the HIV/AIDS issue, earlier this year, in conjunction with Doordarshan, the national broadcaster in India and All India Radio, we launched the world's largest campaign on HIV/AIDS which is a mass media campaign. That was supported by DFID, but is a very good partnership between the BBC World Service Trust, the national broadcasters in India which have a huge reach, plus also the Ministry of Health in India as well. There are plans now and we are talking with DFID at a very early stage about extending those similar kinds of campaigns in Africa as well and Ethiopia is indeed one of the places we shall be considering doing that.
(Mr King) We have not done that as the Trust. Our remit is focused very much on development programming, on education and health programming to reduce poverty.
(Mr Siddiqi) That is being done through the Persian and Pashto services of the World Service, so they do have quite a number of series on serious issues, political issues. Our basic mandate is to provide educational or development oriented information and knowledge to the people of Afghanistan.
(Mr Siddiqi) Yes; yes, it is. However, the BBC World Service Trusts remit is to reduce poverty in developing countries through the innovative use and reach of the media. In answer to the earlier question, the equivalent of Eddie Grundy in the Archers is called Nazarim in New Home, New Life.
Chairman: Thank you very much and thank you very much for that insight into what I think has been an important part of UK PLC's contribution to the post-conflict situation in Afghanistan. Thank you very much for that and for coming to give evidence.