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International Development Committee - Minutes of EvidenceHC 403
Taken before the International Development Select Committee
on Tuesday 3 July 2012
Sir Malcolm Bruce (Chair)
Mr Sam Gyimah
Mr Michael McCann
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Dr Stuart Gordon, London School of Economics, Gerard Russell, Afghanistan Analyst, and David Loyn, BBC Afghanistan and Development Correspondent, gave evidence.
Q1 Chair: Good morning, gentlemen. Thank you very much indeed for coming in to give evidence to us, following our visit to Afghanistan the week before last, which was part of our overall inquiry. First of all, I wonder if you could introduce yourselves for the record.
Dr Gordon: Stuart Gordon from the International Development department at the London School of Economics.
Gerard Russell: Gerard Russell, formerly of the Foreign Office and United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.
David Loyn: I am David Loyn, International Development correspondent from the BBC.
Q2 Chair: Thank you all. David, I seem to remember you gave us a briefing before our Committee’s last visit to Afghanistan, which we much appreciated. As we move into the transitional phase and, obviously, the military drawdown takes effect, how well do you think the institutions that have been put in place are able to cope and to operate? What is your judgment of how they might operate as we get into that transition and the active NATO forces leave?
Gerard Russell: I think any institutions, no matter how good they are, would be facing an enormous challenge, given that, to look at the economic consequences of transition, you are going to see potentially a reduction. Former Ambassador Karl Eikenberry said the other day that potentially $10 billion entering the Afghan economy a year from foreign aid would go down to potentially $1 billion to $2 billion. That is an enormous shortfall and that is simply from the point of view of the economic consequences.
Obviously, you have got security challenges. Afghan forces will rise to a peak of 350,000 people, but will that be sustainable in the long term if the US is going to cap its contribution at $2 billion per year? Or is this going to end up being a system by which many people are recruited-perhaps hastily recruited-and trained in how to use a weapon and then made unemployed? Potentially, there are some quite serious challenges, even if you were not to look at the potential effects of the election in 2014, which could result in a change of leader. Well, it must result in a change of leader. It could result in serious changes in the Government, at a time when many Afghans are concerned, very worried and divided over the main issues facing their country, such as the prospect of reconciliation with the Taliban.
David Loyn: The biggest problem that Afghanistan faces in terms of its institutions is accountability. Who are these elected politicians accountable to? At the moment, it is effectively a rentier state. There is quite a lot of academic work now about rentier states. They do not succeed; they are mostly in Africa; and they tend to create elites who are funded by corrupt patronage, use patronage and fund corrupt practices. That is exactly what has been happening in Afghanistan, so weaning the elite at the top off of this is going to be quite difficult over the next few years.
We have done something rather strange in Afghanistan-it is the opposite of the Jeffersonian principle of no taxation without representation-as we have got MPs and the President who are elected but are not accountable to their own people. We actually have a situation of representation without taxation. There is a very low level of taxraising from individuals in the country. The relationship that you, as elected politicians in a Western democracy, have does not exist in Afghanistan. Creating it is one of the new challenges of the next few years. Even at the moment, taxation is only 40% of what it needs to be in order to finance the Afghan state; the shortfall, as Gerard was saying, is going to be huge, with aid collapsing over the next few years. Building more accountable institutions and less corrupt institutions-given the extent of the corruption that has been allowed to grow in Afghanistan-is probably the country’s biggest post2014 challenge.
Dr Gordon: I would like to add something to David’s point. The international community has inadvertently created the world’s greatest rentier state. What we have seen is the formal institutions of the state becoming patronage networks and vehicles for the creation of these networks. Once you start to remove the injection of foreign capital, which we have seen over the last 10 years, those patronage networks will adapt. We have seen even the High Peace Council being used as a means for promoting Karzai’s patronage network, creating winners and creating losers. I think the real concern in terms of many of the institutions is the way in which they adapt to the tap being turned off and the way in which they reconnect, or connect more firmly, to the narcotics industry. That is the great concern.
The question you ask could be seen on a number of different levels. We tend to focus on the national level, obviously: how will the national level institutions-the Afghan national security forces and the political institutions-cope? There the big question is whether there is time to create a more accountable set of institutions with some sort of constitutional change: perhaps creating more accountable governors and a greater role for the legislature in generating legislation and greater accountability. There is also a question with a lot of the community councils that have been created at district level as well. There is a question about whether, with the removal of donor money we are going to see some of those community councils, which I think are the key to linking the districts to the province to the capital, will be able to survive, and whether we will start to see the great strongmen coming back.
Q3 Chair: I have a couple of questions arising from that. You have expressed it, it is the view of the British people and it seems to be the view of the people we met in Afghanistan that in 2014 everything is going to fall off a cliff. The money is going to stop coming from the international community. Yet, Chicago is about to say, "No, that is not going to be the case," and Tokyo I will come back to later, but it is presumably about something else.
Indeed, the objective from the Kabul Conference was that 50% of the funding in the future should be channelled though the Government; I think you have answered the question as to what you think about that. In Afghanistan, part of the Committee went to Helmand and the other part-of which I am the only one here-went to Bamyan, and it is a completely different story. Indeed, it is a diverse country. Presumably, there are some local institutions that are more focused and accountable than others. It is the central Government who are not.
First of all, is it right to put 50% of the money through the Government? I think you have almost halfanswered that question. Secondly, is there more to be done at local level, particularly in those parts of the country where there is more genuine accountability?
David Loyn: Paradoxically, I think it is right to put more than 50% through the central Government, provided you can put it through betterfunctioning institutions. Not enough work has been done to build functioning parts of the state. It is happening at the moment and taxation is increasing. It was increasing 20% a year until 2011; it is now increasing 40% a year. Adam Smith International’s project, financed by DFID, is to increase tax collection. I have seen people at a Kabul tax office queuing up to register to pay their taxes. When I met businessmen in Helmand last year, this was the first thing they said they wanted to do: when the businessmen registered with the Bost Business Association they said, "You realise you have to pay your taxes." They all said, "Of course, that is what we need to do."
There is a new awareness in Afghanistan that these things have to change, but all of the World Bank indications recently have been that the Government are getting worse, and that the direction of consolidation at the centre is worse. You have seen Bamyan; Herat is the same. MazariSharif is a functioning town with very good relations across the border, a railway line, good roads and a new university. Industry is really booming. There are large chunks of the country that are not controlled by the centre; they are controlled by warlords, but seem to be controlled in a functioning way.
Dr Gordon: I am fairly concerned about the dynamics of the transition process. I think there has been a significant set of attempts to try to make sure that the scenario that you have described-a transition simply leading to a mass exodus of foreign forces and a closing of the aid pipeline-does not happen. I think a lot of effort has gone into that, but talking to the aid community and international donors in Kabul and beyond, there really is a sense that aid will drop off; in the Afghan National Security Forces there are already backroom discussions about reductions in size because the current size is unsustainable.
The transition process needs to be much more carefully managed by the international community. This year we are going to see provinces and districts that are more turbulent and volatile being transitioned to Afghan National Security Forces’ control. I think that is the right thing, but it could be bloody and messy at times and it is important because the history of transition in Afghanistan tells us some quite interesting things. When the Soviets left and the Afghans were left behind, the Mujahedeen had their Jalalabad moment, which is where they challenged Kabul and it was only after a significant military defeat that you had a period of stability in the transition, so having that process occurring while the Americans are still there to back up or to provide insurance is an important dynamic.
In terms of what the international community can do, there are two things which concern me. One is that, as transition becomes more likely and the international civilian presence reduces, there is a significant risk that the amount of international oversight of Kabul’s expenditure will reduce, and that will slow up even further the passage of money from Kabul down to district level. If that occurs, it will have a dramatic impact on some of the governance arrangements as well, and make it more likely that other patronage systems will become more dominant and the informal sector of governance will predominate over the formal.
Q4 Mr Gyimah: I wonder if any of you are familiar will this book that is being serialised in The Sunday Times, extracts from Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan that has been written by a gentleman by Rajiv Chandrasekaran.
David Loyn: He wrote Imperial Life in the Emerald City, the Baghdad account.
Q5 Mr Gyimah: The reason why I raise his latest book is that he points to conflict between the US military and British forces, but from my perspective what is important is the conflict between the provincial reconstruction team in Helmand and US military forces. As far as the transition is concerned, what does the international community need to get right within itself to make that effective? If what he is saying is true, it means that we have not got our own policies right, and that makes it very difficult to actually have the right policy for Afghanistan.
Gerard Russell: I think that provides, in a sense, the answer to why 50% of aid funding should go through the Government. The alternative has often been a rather poorly co-ordinated international effort. Unless one body has oversight of all aid then of course it is always going to be somewhat poorly co-ordinated. That is partly because different actors may co-ordinate, but they have different objectives and different priorities. The military, traditionally, has tended to look at the areas where they are most present and the periods when they are most present as being the highest priority, whereas aid agencies tend to take a longerterm vision. That is a slight generalisation, but I think that has often been true.
David Loyn: The two key principles of the Paris Declaration that are relevant for Afghanistan in terms of aid effectiveness are that 50% of aid should go through Government budgets and the other one is about co-ordination. It is about co-ordinating effort. We have seen in Afghanistan that it seems to be in the Government’s interest, President Karzai believes, to have aid not very well co-ordinated. We saw four or five years ago the suggestion that what was at the time called a "super gorilla" figure should emerge-Paddy Ashdown’s name came into the frame-a big international figure who should co-ordinate aid. President Karzai quashed the idea that some figure could do it much better than it is being done at the moment.
You have seen a fragmentation on the ground and the World Bank, again, has been highly critical of all of the aid that has flown outside of the Government budget. They have described an aid juggernaut in Afghanistan, which has corrupted the elite of the country, corrupted people in the countryside and made it far harder for any of the effective international actors, such as DFID, to operate well within the country. I think what will happen in Helmand in the future, though, if you remove the American troops, who have done so much to stabilise Helmand and to assist governance in the last two or three years, is one of the big unknowns.
Q6 Chris White: Bearing in mind that when the Committee visited DRC a great deal of emphasis was put on the £28 million that DFID was spending on voter registration for elections that were subsequently found to be neither free nor fair, how would you suggest the UK supported legitimate and safe elections in Afghanistan and how would you see that our money was spent effectively?
David Loyn: Do you have a choice of not supporting elections? In a sense, democracy is one of the things that the international community has held to more than anything else in these postconflict countries. I remember, during the dispute over the presidential election last time, when there was quite a pressure from the international community that President Karzai should not be reelected-that was well known; there were diplomats briefing against him. As you will remember, there was a recount. Going to Afghan villages, they said, "Could you just get on with it? We voted. This is your politics and your democracy that has been imposed by the West. It is seen very much as something imposed by the outside, but is hugely popular with individuals. We have all seen the women voting, holding their fingers in the air. It is a very popular thing to do.
Voter registration is key. The elections in these countries are stolen not at the ballot box; they are stolen at the registration points. There will be, over the next two years-we have already seen it-significant pressure from President Karzai to keep the international community out. Continuing oversight of election monitors and of the registration process, and financing it properly with proper international scrutiny seems to me to be something that the international community probably is bound to do. At the same time, it needs to get fair reporting of elections and much better media reforms. The second biggest funder of the media in Afghanistan is Iran. If we pull out from some things in terms of building civil society and in terms of building elections over the next few years, we will not leave Afghanistan with very much.
Gerard Russell: I agree that a proper voter registration system would be an extremely useful tool in combating fraud. Having resisted it in the past, I do not believe the international community is now going to carry it out, particularly because the security conditions and the level of funding are not propitious. In 2010, Democracy International identified several steps that could be taken to improve the quality of future elections, some of which are relevant to the presidential elections. Those include, for example, an independent electoral complaints commission or electoral supervisory commission. A recent draft law has been put forward by the Afghan Independent Electoral Commission, which would make the head of the IEC head of that appeals body-that electoral complaints commission. That is not a particularly satisfactory situation because the IEC chair is himself appointed by the President, even though he did a good job in 2010.
You have a question about how these bodies are created. One of the other suggestions they had, which I think is very useful, is to build up the Afghan’s own domestic observation capacity. Can you train Afghan monitors? As David said, can you foster the independence of the media? The timing of the election is going to be important. I actually have a lot of sympathy with President Karzai’s proposal that it should be moved forward to 2013. I think a change of President in 2014, at the very time when Afghans are most worried about what the future holds, is going to be radically destabilising, but the question is also who the chosen candidate of the President is going to be, and there is a lot of speculation that a candidate might be put forward who essentially represents the establishment, which leads us to a rerun of what happened in 2009-you have quite an ethnically fragmented set of candidates; one is taken to represent the Pashtuns; one in essence represents the Tajiks and another represents the Hazaras. That would be a very unfortunate situation, really, for Afghanistan in 2014 or 2013. The political parties need to be worked with: you obviously want to have a competition, but you do not want to have a competition that is on ethnic lines, if you can avoid it.
Q7 Chris White: Bearing in mind what you have said, if some of these things came to pass, what confidence do you have that the elections will be legitimate? Is it totally unreasonable to ask that?
David Loyn: They were not very last time, although the parliamentary elections were better than the presidential elections. As Gerard says, getting voter registration done successfully is really complicated at a time of conflict. Afghanistan is a much more peaceful place now, and it could be done better, but British military lives were lost securing voter registration in Marja and providing peace so that people could vote in Marja, and very few people actually voted because they were too frightened to turn out on the day. These things remain very complicated.
The other issue about media freedom, if I could just come back to that, is getting fair reporting throughout the period between the elections. I know of two candidates who could have been serious presidential candidates, but when they began to put their toe in the water nationally to stand up and say, "Perhaps I could run a campaign," they were cut off viciously below the knees by personal campaigns run on several television stations owned by people at the centre, some of them close to President Karzai. It is quite hard to see genuine opposition candidates emerging and building any kind of political machine, other than mavericks like Ramazan Bashardost, the anticorruption candidate, who-from nowhere, remember-came third in the presidential election last time because this anticorruption mantra is so popular in the villages.
Gerard Russell: I almost feel like suggesting that Afghanistan take a look at what happened in Egypt. I would be very interested to see what lessons there are. It seemed as if people in general, in Egypt, took those elections to be fair. There were specific claims and criticisms, but it would just be interesting to take some lessons from that about how their systems work.
Q8 Hugh Bayley: I can understand entirely the need for a comprehensive approach, but we are the International Development Committee and perhaps I can start by asking you for impressions of our aid programme. There are two points I would like your responses to. First of all, how effective, in terms of outcomes, do you believe the UK aid programme has been over the last 10 years, and what would you see as the key successes and key failures? Where do you think the emphasis should be over the next two years, which have already been described as a very difficult transition process? Perhaps I should say that one of the reasons I ask this question is that I was struck forcibly, in Afghanistan, by how poor the retained memory is. Because the DFID teams go in and out for a year or two, or two or three years at a time, there was no recollection among the staff in Afghanistan that saffron was a key alternative to poppy, or that mint at another time was a key alternative to poppy. Wheat, of course, has continued as an alternative. I would welcome your view over the longer period of the last 10 years and your suggestions for priorities for the future.
Dr Gordon: I have drawn the short straw on this one. I will start with a negative, being a natural pessimist. I think you are absolutely right: the institutional memory has been a problem, but I think it has been a problem for all three Government Departments engaged in the comprehensive approach.
For every DFID person who spends six weeks on, two weeks off, and spends six months to a year there, you have got an army private who spends six months in theatre, for two of which he knows nothing, for two of which he is very competent and for two of which he is looking to go home. The Foreign Office shares many of the same challenges. I think the UK would never have pursued a policy in Northern Ireland with that degree of personnel churn and I think that has been an enormous restriction on their capacity to make effective change.
As for the things that I think DFID has done particularly well, I think it is worth remembering that Afghanistan has been one of the world’s poorest countries; I think it is the second most corrupt in terms of business skills; there have been 30 years of conflict; and it is a violent place, as well, particularly from 2006 onwards. Therefore, actually operating a development programme at all in those sorts of environments is quite an achievement.
We have been able to function in terms of trying to corral the international community, pursing an aideffectiveness agenda, seeking to build the institutions of the Afghan Government and creating a policy environment in which business can take place. I think those have been good. In the early days, though, I think it is fair to say that the national technicallevel approaches were problematic and the absence or weakness of areabased approaches was a real challenge. The lessons of Helmand have been that you need a much more judicious balance between districtlevel delivery and a nationallevel technical programme about national institutions, both political and economic. I think DFID has slowly evolved towards an approach that has a more effective balance.
The other thing I would say is that the ICAI report on Afghanistan took many DFID staff by surprise. That, to me, suggests that there is perhaps a difference between how ICAI and DFID’s internal auditing mechanisms are working. ICAI perhaps should not have been so much of a surprise. Somewhere along the way either ICAI has got it wrong or DFID’s internal auditing mechanisms have not been sufficiently robust, and, whereas ICAI may have underestimated the difficulties of operating in a conflict environment, DFID’s audit mechanism may have overcompensated for them. That is where I would suggest there is room for improvement.
David Loyn: There was a big problem at the beginning. It is not just that NGOs have a sixmonth memory or a oneyear memory, but that to all of the internationals who came to Kabul in 2001 it seemed like a prairie, like nothing had ever been there before. They forgot that there had been functioning institutions there within living memory. There were thousands of civil servants who came back to their offices in 2001 expecting to be put to work. We all know the cliché of the individuals who put on a shalwar kameez or grew their beard or wore a suit, depending on whether the communists or the Mujahedeen or the Taliban were in power. I knew some of those individuals; I travelled a lot in Afghanistan in the 1990s and met the same man at the Foreign Ministry who would accredit you, who was wearing different clothing depending on who was in power.
They got their suits out from under the mattress in 2001 and came into work; they were told that they were not needed because there was this sense, particularly from the US, that nothing had ever existed there before. Huge mistakes were made, and an opportunity was lost, right at the beginning, in not going to those institutions, which did not work terribly well in a modern sense but did have civil servants who wanted to operate. Forgetting what had been there before has been a constant problem in Afghanistan in terms of the institutional reforms.
DFID, actually, has been one of the aid darlings over the years. The World Bank and DFID have worked together in Afghanistan in a very co-ordinated way. Britain, as we know, is the largest bilateral donor to the Afghan Government. It is not the biggest donor to the country, but is the largest bilateral donor because of the way the aid goes through the bits that actually work. The Afghan Reconstruction Trust Fund, when it started, was a really problematic creature that did not work very well at all. It had very hard conditions for people to get anything out of it, but it now works extremely well, and the United States is beginning to put things through it. There is also the National Solidarity Programme, which is the other really functioning thing. Of course, funds for that are being cut very rapidly at the moment, but the NSP, again, in the villages, is one of the shining stars that has really worked in Afghanistan, in terms of delivering aid that is effective on the ground. This is, again, principally DFIDfinanced. In health and in education, much of the really good work that has been done on the ground in terms of financing the things that matter, like teachers’ salaries, again has been paid for out of DFID budgets. I think there is much to be proud of along the way from the way in which Britain has put money into the country.
You ask, Hugh, where we have got it wrong. I am someone who talked to Afghans on the ground in 2001 and said, "What do you need?" I get the sense there is a lack of justice structures, the rule of law and land tenure in particular. Getting land titles right is something that the international community has failed to do over the years. The Americans put some money into it then stopped doing it. I was slightly surprised at DFID the other day when I was told there was a pilot programme under way, financed by DIFD, to sort out land rights. You can imagine the issues that Afghans face, returning to their farm that has been fought over three times; refugees have come and refugees have gone. What you tend to do is to put the powerful land title into the hands of the man with the biggest gun-into the warlords rather than into any institutional structures. That has been a fantastic opportunity for the Taliban, who have succeeded in villages right across Afghanistan in providing what Afghans need, which is resolution with their neighbours.
Any disputes that people have with their neighbours are sorted out by informal courts that tend to be backed and supported by the Taliban. That has been, I think, their major success in the country, particularly since 2004 or 2005, when the moment of opportunity for the Karzai Government went. When you went into Afghan villages then they talked about the Karzai government as if it was in the past. They said, "When Karzai’s police were here they were corrupt; we had to pay for justice. Now that the Taliban are back, things are much better. We get the justice that we need in terms of these resolutions with our neighbours."
I think some attempts at justice reform in recent years have been more successful. In Helmand last year I saw a justice shura financed by DFID. Women were talking openly about what they wanted, and they were listened to by lots of Pashtuns in a very conservative place. So things are changing, and justice is finally being properly seen by the international community as something that they should be putting money into, but it is very late in the day. I think, of the mistakes that have been made since 2001, it is the biggest opportunity that has been lost.
Gerard Russell: I agree with a lot of what Stuart and David have said. I think that probably the two things we missed the chance of doing in the early years, when it would have been a lot easier to do, was a proper census and a survey of land and water rights, because those have contributed a lot to local disputes. If you look at, for example, HazaraKuchi disputes in Wardak that went on just about every year, as David said, those disputes at a local level-especially, down in Helmand, disputes over water rights-have been consistently exploited by the Taliban. I would say, in my experience of the DFID staff in Afghanistan, they were of a very high quality on the whole. I think that their policies have been very progressive against a backdrop where expectations have to be pegged quite low. I think an increasing awareness of the fact that politics plays a role in projects, and that you cannot separate aid out from politics in Afghanistan, has been important.
I want to comment on two things that I think deserve greater scrutiny or need to be thought about more carefully, perhaps more carefully than I can. First is the balance of risk, because if you have projects at a local level, a lot of people think that these-this microcredit, the National Solidarity Programme-have been pretty good in the effects they have delivered, but they are hard to supervise, and you have, perhaps, a greater risk of money going astray. Have we got the balance of risk right between the risk of money going astray, if there is insufficient supervision by internationals, and the risk that the international presence, being relatively expensive and limiting, holds us back from the effect that we could have if we put more money through Afghans at a local level and took just a slightly higher level of risk?
Secondly, I think DFID has done some work on metrics; I have here the metrics of expected results for the plan that they have at the present time. Perhaps some more work needs to be done to fix these a little more carefully. For example, DFID "will contribute to an increase in the number of people who say their provincial government was doing a good or very good job by 2015" makes the aid process very much hostage to opinionpolling, whose methodology some people regard as suspect. Is that necessarily the right criterion by which to judge success?
Dr Gordon: I just have a couple of quick responses. First, DFID did recognise land tenure as a problem right from the start, but I think they had significant difficulties in accessing Helmand, particularly in 2006. They did invest in the land registry in Helmand, so that was a recognition of the importance of land and water rights, but they under-invested in their own staff to manage those programmes and to deliver those results, and there was not sufficient financial investment at the start.
That is also related to a serious problem in DFID’s approach to Afghanistan, one which is also true of the other two Government Departments-the understanding of the conflict dynamics and the drivers of conflicts. The first strategic conflict assessment DFID produced was not until early 2008 and then there are question marks over how effectively that was used as a basis for programming, particularly as most of the strategies had already been set by that stage, such as the Interim Country Programme, the Helmand Roadmap. All of the great strategy architecture had been set by that stage. I think for future work for DFID on conflicts, the integration of conflict assessments into earlystage planning and then into programming choices would allow you to recognise the conflict drivers, rather than simply superimpose template solutions from the DRC on to the new crisis that you face. I think there is some important work to be done there, and I think DFID has already started to do some of that work with the new Joint Assessment of Conflict Framework, but I think that needs to be given more visibility across Whitehall. There is a real risk that the Foreign Office and the MoD will have their own procedures for conflict assessment, and that DFID’s much more systematic approach will not necessarily get the profile that it needs.
I think there is another problem as well. DFID has been pressured at times into infrastructure work within Helmand and in Southern Afghanistan. In part, that pressure has come from other members of the international community. The Americans have been very keen on roadbuilding, for example. I think it was Petraeus-I might be wrong-who said, "Where the roads end, the Taliban starts," but I think the reality is that where the roadbuilding starts, the Taliban benefit. The problem with much of the infrastructure work that has gone on through the international community outside of Government processes has been that it has created rentseeking opportunities and it has been a conflict driver as well, with diversion of money to the Taliban and to militia groups and also a real sense, in this sort of zerosum society where there are always winners and losers, that some people have benefited and others have not benefited from roadbuilding and all of the major infrastructure projects. That has been a source of conflict as well.
Chair: I think we have a few more questions. We want the answers, but as briskly as possible.
Q9 Mr McCann: I have some questions on corruption. I think it is important that the British taxpayer knows that Afghans on the ground despise corruption, and it is rather disturbing that the Taliban are using that as an offer to exploit what is happening at the top of Afghanistan. That brings me to President Karzai who has an ambiguous history in relation to corruption. He made a speech in Parliament last week on corruption. If I could put this question to David first, how realistic is it that anything can be done about corruption in Afghanistan, and how realistic or feasible is it at present, when Karzai is at the helm?
David Loyn: I think there will be a significant reduction in corruption when there is a significant reduction in international aid. Remember, it is one of the big drivers of corruption in the country, not just because there is an awful lot of money around, but because there is a lack of unaccountability in the provinces. I remember last spring talking to a police chief in Maiwand, right at the eastern end of the British sector, bordering with Kandahar. I said to him, "Who are you fighting? Who is your enemy? Who is the biggest threat to security in Maiwand?" I was expecting him to say, "Well, the Taliban." He said, "Of course the Taliban are here and they are causing us some trouble, but the real trouble is criminal gangs because there is so much unaccountable American money floating around that they all want a slice of it," which was very much Stuart’s point about local roadbuilding contracts.
The way that the money has flown outside the system has been a corrupting element in itself for one part. The other part of the corrupting element is the salaries that are paid by the international community. If I can quote Astri Suhrke, who wrote this excellent book recently, When More is Less, about the problems with the funding that has gone into Afghanistan, she said that the pay differentials between what people were paid in the public sector and what people were paid by external contractors, by international donors outside the state, has created "a perception among the core civil service that it is outclassed and outpaid, and that corruption is, therefore, a valid means of levelling the playing field." The Government system becomes corrupt because there is an expectation of getting a slice of this money.
As far as President Karzai’s speech is concerned, he has now appointed a tribunal to look into the Kabul Bank; $120 million of the Kabul Bank money that was stolen has been traced. There is more widespread acceptance that they will not get a huge amount more of it back. There has been a property market collapse in Dubai. No one knows quite how much money there really is. If it had been invested, it would now be $900 million, but the belief is that it is probably around $500 million that they would be looking for. There is a growing sense from the international community that enough has been done by the Afghan state in terms of putting this tribunal together.
President Karzai is now saying all the right things on corruption, but the other point that he mentioned in that speech was about the central bank governor, Abdul Qadir Fitrat, who had fled to the United States because he felt he was under investigation, having tried to name and nail some of the individuals involved in the Kabul Bank fraud. President Karzai named him and said he wanted him back from the United States to face trial himself, and this seemed to send a lot of the wrong kind of signals, because Abdul Qadir Fitrat, in a BBC interview, named the brother of Field Marshal Mohammed Fahim, one of the most significant men in the country, as potentially implicated in the Kabul Bank fraud. He named the brother of this very senior person and said that he had been continually pressing for a special prosecution but he had not received any information that there was a credible plan to prosecute or investigate those individuals. He said that high political authorities of the country, i.e. President Karzai, were personally responsible for blocking these efforts. That was this central bank governor, who is now in the United States fleeing for his life. President Karzai wants him back, at the same time as saying that he is against corruption. There are political wheels within wheels in this, which in some ways, point in the wrong direction.
Q10 Mr McCann: This ICAI report gives us two extremes: it gives us the Secretary of State’s mantra that you want to follow every pound, every 100p, of British taxpayers’ money and how it is spent, and then the other side of the coin is that we are working in a war zone. How do you put those two issues together? The question would be: how effective is DFID’s work on corruption, given the place where they are asked to carry out their work?
Dr Gordon: It is a difficult one to give a single answer to, but I would say that they are doing a reasonable job. They have a fairly balanced strategy. When you are looking at corruption in that environment, you cannot simply look at a criminal response to it or a politicocriminalised response to it. They have been seeking to create mechanisms for accountability in civil society; they have been trying to strengthen the institutional management of funds; they have been trying to pursue public financial management, good governance and anticorruption strategies. These represent quite a balanced portfolio of approaches. When you take into account the volatile environment they have been working in, and the idea that you will apply checks and balances that you would apply in the City of London, for example-one would hope that they would be slightly better than those.
Q11 Mr McCann: Taking the 100p argument, how much of every British taxpayer’s pound do you think is lost through corruption in Afghanistan?
Dr Gordon: I have no idea. I think it depends on the project; I think it depends on the programme.
Q12 Mr McCann: Give me parameters in which to work. What is the bestcase scenario and what is the worst?
Dr Gordon: I do not think you can do that. You would just produce a whole series of generalities. I do not think a single headline figure is a worthwhile benchmark; I am sorry.
Gerard Russell: I have only two things to add. First of all, to focus on losing no money through corruption has its own potential perverse effects. For example, it is very safe for DFID to employ foreign consultants like me. I did this last year, to be completely open about my own connection. For somebody like me to be paid to go out and do a project is very safe, but of course none of that money reaches Afghans. If you say that avoiding corruption must be the number one rule, you risk choosing projects that are entirely safe but maybe do not deliver as much as slightly riskier projects.
However, I suppose that somehow there is a difference between corruption where the money is siphoned off outside Afghanistan by the elites, and corruption where the money goes around the system in Afghanistan. I suppose if I were an Afghan, I might be most concerned to see leaders and people in the political elite appearing to invest their money overseas because that sends a signal that they do not have confidence in Afghanistan’s future. I fear that is the worst aspect of the Kabul Bank crisis and others like it: the perception that the elites themselves are not going to be sticking around.
Q13 Mr Gyimah: David, you said that the corruption, to some extent, has been driven by aid and the lack of accountability and that should somehow diminish post2014. When you have got people who have got used to earning their way-or not earning their way, as it were-through the system, what do they do when the taps are turned off? Presumably they find other ways to get their take.
David Loyn: That is the biggest security risk that Afghanistan faces after 2014, finessing the expectations of people who have grown rich, particularly military contractors. There are dozens of warlords who have got a lot of money from running a lot of security contracts for the international community, which will not exist after 2014.
As someone who has written a book on Afghan history going back over 200 years, the proximate cause of the collapse of the British in the first and second AngloAfghan wars was the withdrawal of funds from warlords, in 1841 and in 1880; the third war was slightly different. Remember that the Najibullah Government collapsed in 1992 because Russia turned the taps off. We know the story. The Najibullah Government succeeded rather well after 1989 and, as Stuart said, destroyed the Mujahedeen in Jalalabad, and that gave them a breathing space for the next three years. When Russia cut the funds in 1992, the Mujahedeen came back with all of the banditry and damage that we are still reaping the consequences of in Afghanistan.
It is a huge risk, but the big advantage of it is that you might then create a situation in which the only jobs people can get in Afghanistan-providing you can get the institutions working, which is the big challenge over the next couple of years-are within the state system or within functioning private industry. That will take away the opportunity for warlords to play the game that they will want to play in order to retain their power.
Q14 Mr Gyimah: That requires a big culture change in the next two years.
David Loyn: Not hugely. There are large pieces of Afghanistan, as I said before, that are working very well, even in Helmand. When I was in Helmand last year, there was one day when I went out, off the programme, with Royal Engineers, who were building a road, and the foreman of their road gang-this was an individual who was not introduced to me by a Government press officer-had, until six months previously, been the local Taliban commander. They did not even know it until I went to interview him. Asked why he was now doing what he was doing, compared to what he was doing before-he was about 30 years old-he said, "Well, a lot of my friends were being killed. It did not look as if there was going to be any future in the war, so I left the Taliban and I got this job and it pays me more money than I got with the Taliban." He and his men had all left together and were camping in a tent, building a road for ISAF. Reintegration happens. You do not need to give him any sort of false incentive to lay down his weapon if you have got a functioning economy. In places like Helmand you are beginning to see that.
Q15 Mr Gyimah: My next question is on the security situation. One of the questions I am still grappling with-even after having spoken to a number of people there-is what progress has been made in improving security in Afghanistan? It is not very obvious, given that we had to go out in armoured vehicles every time in bulletproof vests.
Dr Gordon: You did manage to go out, and I think that is part of the key. The level of security that you face is different from that faced by the average Afghan. I was in Helmand earlier this year; I went on a patrol with the American military in Sangin, and unlike on earlier trips there was no shooting and no IEDs. We managed to walk through the bazaar for the best part of two hours. You could never have done that 18 months or so before that. There has been a change. In the central Helmand river valley, as well, the change is really quite significant. That is because, I think, the recipe finally was right. There were sufficient troops-American and British, as well as Afghan-to provide a form of security and there was a governance reform programme. That recipe was quite powerful. Where you have not found that, in the bulk of the rest of Afghanistan, you have less progress, obviously.
Q16 Mr Gyimah: I suppose the key to post-2014 is the Afghan National Security Forces. The question there is how the progress made in improving their capacity can be sustained post-2014.
David Loyn: They are better than they were. The trainers I talked to say that they are better than they thought they were going to be by now. The midranking ANA officers whom I have spoken to are in a completely different league to where they were only four or five years ago. They seem to be an impressive and cohesive national force. I saw something in Gereshk, in Helmand, last March, which I never thought I would see, which was local Pashtun elders bringing their sons to a recruiting office to join the local police and the ANA. A recruiting office had been set up in the town hall. For Pashtuns in Helmand to be joining the ANA marks a sea change in the political culture of the place.
They are not anything like as good as the forces that the Russians had put together by the same period; they are nothing like as ruthless. They do not have good local militias, as the Russians had. We are leaving Afghanistan in a much less secure state than it was left in 1989, but they are much better and a much more cohesive force than I think anyone had a right to expect two or three years ago.
Q17 Mr Gyimah: We heard from one NGO, when we were in Afghanistan, that there were doubts over whom the Afghan National Security Forces would be loyal to post2014. How valid is that concern? Is there a danger that the army will fragment and support local warlords?
Dr Gordon: Yes and yes, I think. I agree with David’s assessment of the Afghan forces, but I think there are two problems. One is the difficulty in sustaining the current levels without adequate funding, and that really worries me because we have seen an expansion both in the formal security forces and in the informal security forces. If you remove the funding, what you have got is a welltrained militia. There are already signs, in parts of Helmand and elsewhere, in particular, of some of those security forces, particularly the ANA and some of the militia, realigning with some of the local power brokers; the old strongmen. I think it is that fragmentation along tribal and patronage network lines that is the real concern.
There are two key things here. The first is to make sure that the level of funding for the ANSF generally is maintained as high as possible, and the training is continued so that we leave them in a reasonable state, although there are significant weaknesses. I think I would be slightly more pessimistic over the strength of the Afghan National Army than David. The other thing is that there needs to be a much more coherent plan for dealing with the militia, their incorporation into the ANSF and their demobilisation programmes. I think that is the real weakness.
David Loyn: Can I just add that, given the very sombre news yesterday of three more British deaths, a quarter of the British deaths in Afghanistan this year have been socalled "greenonblue" attacks, and that is a really hard statistic for individual young men and women going out over the next two years, and a huge threat to morale. On the bigger scale, we saw the response of the French Government when they lost some troops earlier this year. It has had a significant effect for the timetable in terms of the support of nations who so far have been part of the coalition.
Q18 Mr Gyimah: My final question is on reintegration, and whether you see the Afghan peace and reintegration process as a success. What, if anything, can be done to improve it?
David Loyn: I talked about the individual I met. I think it is about the economy, not about reintegration. I think on the whole reintegration on the ground has been very patchy at best. Individuals in Jalalabad, whom we have interviewed on the BBC, have gone in and out of the army, gone back, got their money, gone back to the Taliban, got their money, and have, on several occasions, as it were, sold and bought Kalashnikovs and still have not got a job. The key is economic support. The bigger question is reconciliation, which you probably will not be addressing in terms of international development. Attempts to talk to the Taliban have been so badly handled by the United States that I think it is not going to happen this side of 2014. All of the kind of work that was done in Northern Ireland, with longterm relationships with MI5, and individuals rather bravely pursuing those relationships during the dark years of the 1970s and 1980s, has not happened in Afghanistan. The links have not been made and there has been a real impatience on the part of American negotiators, which has confused the Taliban high command-their political structure-because they are getting mixed messages from the international community.
Dr Gordon: On the reintegration issue, I do not think Karzai takes it particularly seriously. He sees it as another opportunity for building his insurance policy and patronage networks for once he leaves presidential office. The functioning of the reintegration process has been dreadful, catastrophically dreadful.
Q19 Richard Burden: I suspect that the last point you made, David, about reconciliation, may well be relevant to the inquiry we are doing. Whilst we have not got time today, probably, to go into great detail, any notes you want to send us on that could actually be quite informative.
I was going to ask about the question of the rule of law, particularly in remote and rural areas. If I have understood what you have said correctly, there is often a thirst for that to happen. Often it will manifest itself as a respect for more traditional or informal sorts of systems and can, in some cases, gain the Taliban credibility for cleaning things up locally. Gerard, you said that you thought we had missed a trick a few years ago on things like land rights and water rights. What do you think we could be doing now about that, even if it is a more difficult environment to do in it? Particularly in rural areas, what should we be doing around the rule of law? How do we marry up going with the grain, understanding that traditional systems have got a traction that you cannot ignore, and the equally valid point that if you are a woman that does not really mean very much.
Gerard Russell: First of all, there has been some progress in the provision of access to formal justice systems, even if it remains the case that allegedly 80% of disputes are resolved informally. At least if you are in some areas of Helmand you might now have a chance of being seen by a judge. Frankly, the number of judges has never been adequate to cope with the cases anyway, and there is a perception that justice is a very corrupt process, and that contributes to the success of the informal systems. It is hard to compare them, because we do not of course know all the details of the informal system and the judgments that it makes, but it is pretty clear that it is not as good a forum for a woman as a formal court would be. None the less, I do think one of the things we probably should consider is how to work with that flawed system and make it slightly better, rather than necessarily putting all our eggs in the basket of the formal system, with all its flaws and the perception-the reality, frankly-that you pay money to the judge if you want the case resolved your way. Many Afghans have told me that they themselves have-for example, in civil disputes over land-paid according to the acreage, essentially, and the judge then will decide in their favour if the other side has not paid more.
David Loyn: There is a danger of being too romantic about the informal system. A lot of really good tribal elders have been targeted and killed by the Taliban since 20052006 in Helmand. I asked about an individual I knew very well when I was in Gereshk last year, and he had been targeted and killed as the sort of person who was a useful individual for a functioning system of any kind. There has been a coarsening of the local dialogue. We can be very romantic about tribal elders and informal systems, and sometimes the apparatus is just not there.
Q20 Richard Burden: So what could we do? If we were talking about recognising that it is relevant, improving it a bit, what does that mean in practice?
David Loyn: Provide clean justice from the top, secure the rule of law at the centre, have an elite that is not seen as corrupt within the country, and respect local justice. At the same time, however, Afghanistan is becoming much more traditionally and socially conservative again. There were a few years when the Chief Justice Shinwari, who was backed by the international community, moved towards a far more fundamentalist, Sharia direction. He is now no longer Chief Justice, but is the head of the Ulema and he wants a protoTaliban style of national law in the country.
You are seeing more fear growing into national public life in Afghanistan as we move towards 2014. There was a new report out by Media Action yesterday suggesting that the media in Afghanistan is selfcensoring for fear of the Taliban. So you are already seeing people taking decisions that they believe would put them in a better light were the Taliban or people like them to return to central Government. There is an ActionAid report out today saying that violence against women is increasing. There is a real sense of fear. There was an NGO worker, and the driver, when they got to a checkpoint, was asked by a policeman, "Why are you driving this foreigner around? You should be killing them." This NGO worker spoke Dari and understood the question. These are just anecdotes, but they are reports of a country that is moving in the direction more of fear than of governance and rule of law of the sort that would bring the sort of justice that people in Afghanistan yearn for.
Q21 Chair: On the Tokyo conference this month, as I understand it, Chicago is designed to ensure that there is a commitment to fund the Afghan forces, and Tokyo is designed to ensure there is ongoing commitment to deliver effective, targeted aid, at least to 2017 but actually beyond. What do you think might be achieved at Tokyo? What do you think the outcome is likely to be?
Dr Gordon: It is very difficult to say. I think there will be significant attempts to avoid the sense of a dash to the door. I think a number of NATO partners are already looking at programmes on the softer side-civil society, health, education in particular-recognising that leveraging aid to deliver political aims in Afghanistan will be quite difficult. I think there will be significant commitments from countries to maintain a real semblance that aid is not suddenly dropping off the cliff; that there is a commitment that goes beyond 2014; that this echoes the Strategic Partnership agreement. I shall be particularly interested in how much of this will be focused on governance, on maintaining civil society and maintaining the ability of civil society to hold government to account.
Q22 Chair: The DFID programme operating under the National Security Committee is specifically targeted to building the capacity of the Afghan Government. Is that likely to be a shared objective of the international community? It is slightly different. It is not about reducing poverty; of course, it is about reducing poverty, but normally that would not be the headline. The headline is strictly the capacity of the Afghan Government.
Dr Gordon: I think it is, for two reasons: firstly, it is a wonderful legitimiser for a military withdrawal that will have some very damaging impact on society and stability in Afghanistan, so it is a wonderful way of balancing your own scorecard. Secondly, within the aid community, there has been a renewal of good governance as a valid approach in conflict and postconflict environments. The only problem is, I think, that there are multiple definitions of good governance-of what the institutions, the policy, the strategy should look like. I think the problem is that we are likely to see a lack of cohesion in governance approaches, with what is likely to be an increase in money.
The critical areas remain balancing the powers of presidential government with the ability of Parliament and civil society to hold it to account. There have been some tremendous improvements in terms of health access; I think 85% of Afghans now have access to healthcare of some description through the basic package of health services. Education opportunities have really been strengthened as well.
Whilst I think we have been quite critical of some of the perverse impacts of development, I think particular types of development have created those perverse impacts-the forms of development that have been militarised, harnessed for shortterm political objectives; that have been outside Government and bypassing Government. Those have tended to be the ones with these perverse consequences, and, as you pointed out, the National Solidarity Programme and some of the NGO work as well has been very effective at delivering NSP objectives. That is the area for strengthening, and the capacity of the Afghan Government to manage the little money that flows through their own structures has to be a really strong focus too.
Q23 Chair: Just a passing comment. We had a briefing from the Ministry of Mines, which through DFID’s support has substantially increased its revenue. Off the top of my head I do not know the exact figures, but it has increased from something like from $7.5 million to $150 million in two years, with much, much bigger projections in the future. That does give the framework for getting away from lots of what you call corrupting US dollars flying around in the present system, and a rising revenue base that is specifically internal and designed to focus on building services. That is a good way to develop a country, is it not?
David Loyn: Yes, although the history of countries, particularly in Africa, which already had corrupt systems and had minerals is pretty bad. It is the curse of resources. Switzerland does not have any mines, and it seems to be doing quite well. The World Bank, in its most recent report, was very sceptical: mines will bring something into the economy, but agriculture for the moment is going to be the main export industry bringing in foreign money.
As far as the Tokyo conference is concerned, it is an unprecedented challenge. No one has tried to raise this kind of money before. The sorts of money that Afghanistan requires, even over the next two years, beyond transition, are at Gazalike levels, and there is an intensity of development funding in Afghanistan that is unlike anywhere else in the world, and an expectation of that to continue. DFID has an ambition to have a biennial summit, where it gets a fiveyear commitment every time, up until 2025. That is certainly what Ashraf Ghani would like to see in terms of securing and locking in the international community. I think there are few European countries, in particular, that would commit the sorts of money that Afghanistan needs for that long.
Q24 Hugh Bayley: I would like to ask two final questions about aid, to do with sustainability. In terms of the things we seek to buy with aid over the next two years, what are the sectors you think will be most sustainable after 2014? Many things could happen after 2014. You certainly could have the majority of the country, I guess, ruled more or less effectively from Kabul, but some areas of the country under different political leadership. How flexible do you think DFID will need to be, given that it is likely to say, "This is one of the poorest countries in the world; we should remain there whatever the governance of the country"? How flexible do you think they need to be, and how do they strengthen their ability to adapt an aid programme involving quite possibly very challenging political conditions?
Gerard Russell: I suppose I would put it in terms of risk. The ones that are most likely to be sustainable are the projects, I would guess, at a local level, which have community support. In provinces that are relatively insulated from fighting, like Bamyan. I am not sure that we do anything in Bamyan, but were we to be doing something there, I would stay there. I suppose the highest risk is where DFID puts a large proportion of its money, which is government and civil society at the national level. And yet, even if it is a highrisk way to use your money, it may be the right one.
I say it is high risk because obviously what may happen is that you have a political change of whatever kind, which could mean that all the people we are working with, the people we are training and so forth, lose their jobs. That has happened in the past and it could happen again, but that does not mean it is not the right approach. In a way, I would defer to David and Stuart, but I feel that flexibility could go the wrong way. In a way, I feel that actually staying the course on certain things might be the right approach to take, even if political pressures may push this way or that. You develop expertise, and even if individual staff move on very fast, you can sometimes have consultants and others who work in a sector, and DFID is one of the agencies that keeps them going in Afghanistan. Some of them have been there for 10 years. That expertise is very, very valuable, and the contacts they have with Afghans are very, very valuable. I am not sure. I see the need for DFID to be flexible over the long term, maybe, but I would not want them to be too flexible.
Dr Gordon: I suppose the answer to that question depends on what you see as the most likely scenario. I know that a number of organisations within and outside Government have worked on a range of scenarios. It is fair to say that they range from, at one level, a sort of status quo reduced, through to a form of meltdown and civil war. The most likely is really somewhere towards status quo and partial meltdown in some areas, but with a central degree of authority and stability. I think it depends very much on that, but also-notwithstanding Gerard’s point-bureaucracy finds it very difficult to be nimble. What you may see, as the humanitarian situation worsens, is that different parts of the bureaucracy start to receive more attention. That is the way DFID will respond. There is something to be said for DFID being much more nimble in terms of its conflict assessment. I think its processes for assessing conflict erupt periodically; they do not have this constant impact on shaping and reshaping priorities. In a more conflictprone environment, where you have far less leverage, you have to look at the nimbleness of your organisation and its procedures. Setting contracts, committing years in advance, multiyear programming, building rigidities that may be problematic for you in the long run, although exactly as Gerard pointed out, maintaining a place at the table, even if you are not contributing to the food in any way, is sometimes quite important. As we go into a period of volatility, just maintaining local contacts will be an important platform, even if it comes alongside corruption and wastage of some of that funding.
Q25 Hugh Bayley: DFID, over the last five years at least, has invested a lot through the PRT in Helmand. How do you think it maintains the benefit of that if it moves staff away? Does it need to move staff away from Helmand?
David Loyn: It is going to move staff away from Helmand.
Q26 Hugh Bayley: It is. Is that the right decision?
David Loyn: As I understand it, there will be no UK staff in the south at all; the whole PRT process collapses.
Q27 Hugh Bayley: Is that the right decision, and how sustainable will the Helmand work be if it is managed from Kabul?
David Loyn: Governor Mangal runs Helmand-DFID does not-and he has been rather impressive in terms of creating local civil servants who drive around in thinskin vehicles and are getting the job done. The big challenge is whether they are able to do it without large numbers of US Marines up and down the Helmand river valley. We just have to wait and see. The transition has been flagged up. A transition timetable has been, I think, an advantage for places like Helmand. People know it is coming; they are preparing for it. What DFID can do is to continue to finance from the centre and watch and see what happens in Helmand. You cannot then continue to run with the intensity that you have been running programmes on the ground.
Dr Gordon: But I think there is a role for DFID in maintaining or tracking the flow of money from Kabul down to district level. How you do that in the absence of the kind of protection that the Americans provide and the force protection that the PRT has, I do not know. Certainly a lot of the governance advisors in Helmand and Kabul say that the key to maintaining some of the formal governance structures is to maintain what are really quite limited flows of money through those structures. They are enough to grease the wheels and give that sense of responsive, accountable government that links district, provincial and capital authorities. Simply turning the lights off in Helmand and going via Kandahar to Kabul is a mistake, but certainly maintaining a physical presence in Helmand is going to be very, very difficult.
Gerard Russell: There is another risk I would like to highlight. Governor Mangal has always been under political sniper fire from his predecessor and others in Kabul who do not like him. There is the risk that he could be removed, in which case quite a lot of what we have done there could be entirely undone.
Dr Gordon: There is also another, bigger danger. He has been very successful in appointing district governors who have been more technocratic and meritocratic, and less corrupt. People like Sher Mohammed Akhundzada have sought to undermine that at every opportunity and place their strongmen in. I think there is a role for the international community in trying to support Mangal in maintaining good district governors and good district chiefs, and provincial chiefs of police. That is the absolute minimum for maintaining a degree of stability after the US and British military withdrawal.
Chair: Can I thank all three of you for sharing your experience, knowledge and understanding? I think in a way you confirm that Afghanistan now and in the future is complicated, diverse, confusing and entirely unpredictable. All kinds of rays of hope and concerns mingle in together, which I guess is just the tapestry that we pick up. Your insight has been really helpful, and we very much appreciate your sharing it with us.
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Orzala Ashraf, Independent Civil Society Activist, David Page, Afghanaid, Mervyn Lee, Mercy Corps, and Howard Mollett, CARE International, gave evidence.
Q28 Chair: Good morning. Thank you for coming here to give evidence, and for being patient while the previous session overran, but I hope you agree it was interesting for us to have that input, as indeed it will be to have yours. Again, I wonder for the record if you could introduce yourselves.
David Page: I am David Page. I am the Chair of the Trustees of Afghanaid.
Orzala Ashraf: I am Orzala Ashraf, a PhD candidate and also an independent civil society activist.
Mervyn Lee: I am Mervyn Lee. I am the Executive Director for Mercy Corp Europe.
Howard Mollett: I am Howard Mollett. I work with CARE International. I am a Senior Policy Advisor.
Q29 Chair: I suppose the starting point is whether you think, given that our interest and concern is what the UK Government’s aid relationship with Afghanistan is, that DFID’s priorities are the right ones or whether they should either prioritise some of them, or indeed refocus them?
Howard Mollett: One of the issues raised in the previous session was governance and corruption, and of course that is a DFID priority. It is evidently a good thing and the right thing, particularly when we look at other donors who have placed less attention on building the capacity of Afghan institutions and so on. However, I would say, particularly now as we near the Tokyo Conference, that the discussion around corruption and governance is very much centred on the Kabul Bank scandal and meeting the IMF benchmarks around asset recovery and prosecutions.
That is important, but it is not enough. It is very much at the macro level, and also the Afghan Government’s draft paper for Tokyo-the last draft that was shared-set out 15 benchmarks, also very much at the macro level. Talking to our staff and folk who work on the ground, one of the issues is the importance of monitoring and oversight at the subnational level, in rural areas outside the Kabul bubble.
Q30 Chair: Do you mean by that petty corruption?
Howard Mollett: Recommendation 6.9 of the Independent Commission on Aid Impact, which I have committed to memory, talks about reporting responsibilities throughout the delivery chain. Our staff were sharing ideas around the fact that at the moment, donors ask NGOs, "How do you collaborate and build the capacity with the Government, and build the capacity of Government in different sectors like education, for example?" We also have MOUs with the Government on how we will work with them. However, there is no specific requirement for reporting, and sharing that reporting with donors on issues of Government performance, quality control and effectiveness. Also, at the Kabul level there is, I believe, a monthly meeting at least in the education sector, but at the moment that is not the sort of strategic forum in which issues of governance, corruption, and other quality issues that are specific to education could be worked through. That is the education sector, which CARE is particularly engaged with, but I understand that it applies in other sectors too.
Mervyn Lee: Governance is a very important issue for DFID to be looking at. I would say, in addition to what Howard has said, that Afghanistan as a country has never really respected Kabul. The rest of Afghanistan looks a bit askance at Kabul. There is a slight danger in putting all your efforts into central Government in Kabul, and not recognising the different sectors and the disparagement outside Kabul. Effectively, people are trying to run Helmand on good lines-we heard something about that in the previous session-and I think good efforts are being made there, but they are separate from what might be going on in Kabul.
There has been some effort at improving the capacity of district and regional governments, and perhaps more focus should go on that as we go forward in a balanced way. Whether governance remains one of the prime objectives has to be left open, because it will depend, certainly past 2014, on who else is looking after what, and who is leading in what sectors. We may find there are other gaps, which we identify-or DFID or the Government identify-as equally or more important than governance. For the time being, we would certainly support making governance a prime objective.
Q31 Chair: Your relationship with DFID is that you are almost their only NGO partner in Helmand. That presumably indicates that they take your point that they need to have people on the ground outside Kabul and they are looking to people like you to help them do that.
Mervyn Lee: Yes. There is always a difficulty when you are working in a complex and conflictrelated environment like Afghanistan. We work in many other countries with similar situations, and very often the donors cannot get to the field to monitor the programmes and projects and meet the local officials in a way that we can do. That is not a very satisfactory arrangement, so anything that can be done to improve on that is a help. I doubt, once the PRT leaves Helmand, that DFID could have a presence there, but there could be an aspiration at least to have a formal presence at some time, and certainly to visit when it is appropriate.
David Page: Could I also support what Mervyn was saying? I speak for an agency that works outside Helmand-we are working in Ghor and Samangan and Badakhshan. We are also working on the NSP. That is an aspect of governance that DFID has been involved in through the NSP programme, which has worked very well. At the subnational level, at the provincial level, at the district level, there are still a number of issues that need to be resolved. Government at those levels is still not empowered and not well staffed. I think that is a very important area DFID should take an interest in, because we have been dealing with an extremely centralised Government, and people have been talking about the need to improve subnational governance for a long time, but it actually has not happened. It has not happened sufficiently.
Orzala Ashraf: Just to add a few points on DFID’s priorities. I agree with my colleagues’ views about the prioritisation of governance, because if we look at statebuilding and stabilising the country, governance comes as key. Definitely DFID has done some work in this area, partly through programmatic approaches, supporting programmes like NSP, and also at the policy level, but as other colleagues say, there is still a lot to be done. First of all, there are very serious discussions going on, and a decision might have been taken or might be taken soon about clarity when it comes to local governance, particularly at village or community level. What kind of structures are we looking at? By 2013 discussions and reviews should have taken place of the subnational governance policy, and in those reviews there will be a need to look at reforms on local governance.
In a meeting two weeks ago, as part of the national priority programmes, all donors agreed to strengthen local institutions. How then, in terms of legitimacy and constitutional articles, can this be a legitimate form of governance at the local level? This is something that needs to be looked at. Of course there is great room for civil society to take an advocacy role. Besides supporting Government programmes like NSP and so on, I would like to see DFID more involved in supporting the civil society organisations who advocate reforms in local governance or subnational governance matters. There was lots of discussion in the earlier session about the democratisation process, patronagebased systems and so on. What I can tell you practically from the ground is that, without any doubt, democracy takes a long time and we have been rushing everything. I would like to also share with you what I heard from a very ordinary woman living in a village, who managed to get into the local Community Development Council; it is a message that tells us so much and one that I would like to repeat here. I might have mentioned it when we met in Kabul also, in one of the meetings with you.
The woman told me that democracy was good, but the elections ruined it. I remind you that the understanding of democracy for very local people in Afghanistan-those people who, according to many ‘experts’, are ungovernable and ‘very tribal’ and very closed-came from the elections organised by NSP. The NSP or the National Solidarity Programme, which organised a relatively safe, clean, accountable and transparent process of elections for a local council. They explained that there was no money involved and that there was no priority set by some kind of central Government that said, "You must do this and you must bring this kind of person and not that kind of person." People said, "Okay-set of rules-everything we decide." But then, this process managed to bring up a Community Development Council, with the leaders and all the structures there. Only two years after that, the presidential and parliamentary election began, and this is when the corruption of the political processes started to emerge, and the same people started to get into these bigger election processes. By "elections" she actually meant the larger elections, in which a lot of corruption started, involving distribution of money, lunches, clothes distribution, selling votes or buying votes and all these things. She said, "This kind of election ruined what we were going through in a very smooth way." I just wanted to mention this, because I think it is very important to realise, especially as you are a development committee, that what is required for Afghanistan is a longterm commitment to building those democratic institutions from the bottom to the top.
Q32 Chair: Just before you come back in again, we were specifically talking about DFID, but how well does DFID work with the other organisations? How well co-ordinated are the donors? How well do they work with USAID? Or do you feel there are a lot of crosscutting tensions?
Orzala Ashraf: In terms of co-ordination, I have not directly worked with DFID, except that I am now, since very recently, sitting on the Steering Committee of Tawanmandi, which is a new development programme, I think led by DFID. Aside from that, I did not have a very direct involvement, but my general understanding of co-ordination is that we are still living in a very chaotic situation.
Unfortunately, aside from talks about co-ordination, and apart from complaining about a lack of co-ordination, I have not seen very clear mechanisms of co-ordination that avoid duplication. Again, as we are discussing governance, look at what is going on in all the districts. At the district level, for example, there are five different kinds of institutions: every country, every government has their own priorities-for example, district development assemblies-and then there is ASOP, and in some cases these are creating more conflicts and more confusion at a district level. I am not sure about DFID, but I can say that probably the same organisation or the same donor is funding both projects in a larger picture. There is a need to go back to it and avoid duplication of the services provided, or find some more practical means of co-ordination.
Howard Mollett: Your question about co-ordination also connects to the point I wanted to make, to build on Orzala’s remarks on subnational governance reform. One of the main mechanisms for co-ordination, which is in theory supposed to bring civil society and NGOs alongside government and the donors, is this mechanism called the JCMB-the Joint Co-ordination and Monitoring Board. This was supposed to follow the Afghan Compact that was negotiated, I believe, in 2006, setting out commitments from the Afghan Government and the international community. One of our partners in Afghan civil society used the words "toothless and tokenistic" to me in describing the JCMB process. This links to the point I was making earlier about oversight, monitoring and accountability and the need not just to be within the Kabul bubble but to connect down to meaningful oversight at community and subnational levels. I think DFID, alongside other donors, has very much promoted this idea of a mutual accountability framework-a kind of fresh, new, revised Afghan Compact, or something along these lines, to come out of Tokyo.
I think one question for the Committee and DFID will be, "How will that not repeat the mistakes of the previous process? Will we learn from the weaknesses of the previous process?" One aspect of that is that there must not just be occasional and increasingly infrequent meetings in Kabul, but real, substantive monitoring on the ground.
The other point on subnational governance is that DFID has been talking to other donors about how to bring more money to the provincial and district level, linked to reform of institutions at these levels. In line with what David and Orzala were saying, yes, we recognise that that is important, but there are concerns or question marks over these experiments. To date, they have been very much driven by political and military counterinsurgency objectives, and the shoring up of structures to align with the counterinsurgency agenda. That is quite far from the democratic, participatory and inclusive processes that we have tried to support through the National Solidarity Programme.
Also, yes, reforming governance at the provincial and district level, and yes, bringing some money and decisionmaking over it to those levels is important. However, in doing that, do not cut off the funding for those programmes on the ground that are actually at the community level. Some people, including some of the lead researchers and policy people who are developing these subnational governance reforms, have said, "Well, it is problematic that there are all these Community Development Councils. We need to end funding to them and switch it to the district and provincial level." Do not throw out the baby with the bathwater in shifting from the community level. Especially as conflict worsens, which it is doing, acceptance of any assistance at all is negotiated at a very local level, and the structures at higher levels will be all the more impacted by shifting power dynamics and conflicts.
Q33 Chair: Decisions about the role of CDCs in districts are really a matter for the Afghan Government, not really something that donors can impact.
Howard Mollett: Yes, absolutely, but DFID and others have strong views about how these reforms should, and can most effectively, roll out and they have supported them through support for institutions like the IDLG, the Directorate for Local Government, and have funded programmes. Actually, the US in particular has now funded, through a contractor, the ASOC programme supporting the district committees, and it is very much driven by the US special forces counterinsurgency agenda, and very politicised. How does that then link into any meaningful governance reform that the Afghan Government roll out and that communities can participate in at different levels?
Q34 Sir Malcolm Bruce: Well, we did meet with them.
Mervyn Lee: Howard has clearly outlined how complex and complicated the business of donor co-ordination is. Looking forward, it is an area in which we can perhaps do better, post-Tokyo and beyond transition. Things in some ways will be easier; the PRTs were always a challenge. Each PRT ran to a national agenda and they were all quite different. That was not a great thing. Other national donors have their own agenda, and that will continue. With the counterinsurgency operations coming to an end by 2014, with the PRTs departing, perhaps with less donor money, there may be an opportunity, if we are smart about it, to focus better and get better co-ordinated delivery of aid where it is needed most.
Q35 Jeremy Lefroy: Good morning. Of course, DFID is also working together with the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office through the Conflict Pool. Some 60% of that money is being spent in Helmand on stabilisation, conflict prevention, infrastructure and so on. Could you perhaps comment on how DFID is involved there, and how it works together with the other Departments?
Mervyn Lee: We do not receive any direct Conflict Poolrelated money in Helmand. Our experience elsewhere is that money is often very focused on a particular need that has to be agreed by three Departments of State and therefore is probably of some greater perceived importance even than usual. Where we are in receipt of Conflict Pool money elsewhere, it is money that we can put to good use, but I cannot speak for Helmand in that particular respect.
Q36 Jeremy Lefroy: I am not particularly thinking of Helmand-generally.
Mervyn Lee: I think the general remark from Mercy Corps would be that that is money that is always related to areas where obviously conflict is present or has recently been present. That is the environment we find ourselves working in more often than not, and such funding is well used and well directed.
David Page: I think the general point that NGOs have been making over the last few years about, if you like, the security focus of a lot of the work that is taking place in Afghanistan is that aid is not necessarily directed to the needs of the people as a whole. It tends to be focused on those areas that are unstable. Afghanaid is working in some very poor areas; it has been very difficult, actually, to raise funds for those areas, for basicneeds work. Perhaps one hope is that when the PRTs withdraw, we will have a more open playing field as far as this is concerned.
Obviously DFID’s view has been that we are working in Helmand because we are in the PRT in Helmand; we are actually contributing to development across the whole country through the National Priority Programmes, but the National Priority Programmes have basically focused on health and education. There has been nothing, and there still is as yet nothing concrete on agriculture. It is in the process of emerging now. There have been a number of areas of work, in agriculture, veterinary work, whatever it is, which the National Priority programmes have not been dealing with. We have had huge areas of unmet need, I think, and that is partly as a result of this military focus.
Howard Mollett: I cannot comment on the specifics of Helmand, but I can comment on the wholeofGovernment approach, and particularly now as the Government has been developing frameworks like the "Building Stability Overseas" strategy, where stabilisation and stability goals come very front and centre of aid policy. Also, within Afghanistan and within Helmand, there is a commitment at the policy level to safeguard the funding of political space, if you like, for independent humanitarian assistance that is not connected to either a counterinsurgency stability agenda or a statebuilding agenda. If we look in Afghanistan now, however, the humanitarian Common Appeals Process-the CAP is-I think, only 21% or 25% funded. As recently as even last year, colleagues working on our humanitarian side described a real lack of political will to recognise the levels of conflictrelated population displacement, particularly in the Kabul region, where many of the conflictdisplaced end up. That impacts on the levels of assistance and protection that they are provided with. There are concerns about lack of access to ID cards, which impacts on people’s ability to access basic services, and there are forced evictions. Now UNHCR, we hear, is developing a proposal for regional return of refugees from neighbouring countries. Of course, that is a longterm interest of countries in the region, but, given the increasing violence and so on, there is real humanitarian concern about the capacity to absorb more returnees in a safe and appropriate manner. Then also, more generally, the neglect of humanitarian needs in the country because of this political focus on statebuilding and counterinsurgency is a concern.
Q37 Jeremy Lefroy: One thing that I am picking up, but maybe I am wrong to do so, is that there is almost a sense in some places that the way to get money is to cause trouble. Places that do not cause so much trouble will not receive funding, not just from the Conflict Pool but generally. Is that a valid perception, or not?
Orzala Ashraf: I would say it is a valid perception. One example is Bamyan Province, which has very good security. Sometimes people are making a joke, saying, "Okay, we should also find some suicide bombers so that we get some more funding." That definitely is the case for some areas-because they are safe they do not get funding. Too much funding goes to the places that are insecure and sometimes because the funding is going there, the insecurity increases there, because the insurgents or the antiGovernment elements also find out that there is more attention to this specific area. That is why funding creates an increase in insecurity.
On the earlier point about PRTs, I wanted to say that, in my personal opinion, the way in which the PRT provided services in the area of development has somehow damaged the work of the NGOs. The NGOs were going there with a very neutral position, trying to work with people, not associating themselves with Government or international military forces. Now, however, with the transition process and the end of the PRT, the NGOs will not automatically return to the same position as they were in before the PRTs and before the military funding for development, so in some situations we might see more risk for the NGOs in returning to development work.
Mervyn Lee: Can I just put one point on the record, please? Just following what David said about the PRT in Helmand, and DFID funding ion agriculture, we are of course receiving funding for agriculture in Helmand from DFID, and have been for some years-substantial funding-and that has included a lot of very sustainable agricultural infrastructure in Helmand, and an agricultural high school that we built there, which is running very successfully with 300 students.
Q38 Jeremy Lefroy: Have you seen results from that in terms of agricultural productivity?
Mervyn Lee: Yes, we have. As you will know, Helmand 30 years ago was a very productive province, and a great exporter of agricultural products. We have been doing a lot of work with the local community there, both to increase agricultural production and to provide access to internal and external markets. For example, last year we sent a container load of pomegranates from there-in fact, from the neighbouring province; it started out in Kandahar-to Amsterdam to prove a route, and we will continue to work on those external markets.
David Page: If I could just come back on that point, obviously a lot of work has been going on in Helmand. I was making the point that in terms of the National Priority Programmes, we waited a long time for a National Priority Programme in agriculture. Given that 75% of the population depends on agriculture for their livelihood, it has been a very long time coming. We welcome very much that it is now arriving, and we hope that DFID will become a funder for that, because it is a very, very important area for the future. DFID has been providing some money recently through the Ministry of Agriculture for agricultural projects, so everything is moving in the right direction, I think. The tendency in the Ministry of Agriculture is to look at production very much, which is to some extent an issue for the small farmer. There are a huge number of issues around how small farmers can be helped. Afghanaid has worked on a community basis, and we note that the Ministry of Agriculture is now becoming much more effective, but on the ground in the districts, they are not really to be seen. We work within a very large district called Lal Wa Sarjangal, in Ghor, which is bordering with Bamyan. I think there is only one Ministry of Agriculture person there. Extension services are very limited. This is an area where we hope there will be movement, and change and investment in the future.
Q39 Jeremy Lefroy: One of DFID’s targets is to see an increase in food grain production to 6 million metric tonnes. Do you think that is a valid priority or target, or is it perhaps distorting because it is concentrating on a specific output rather than the development of the sector as a whole?
David Page: I think I am right in saying that it refers to "irrigated land". One of the issues, if you are working with poor communities in rainfed areas, is how you can help them. One needs to think about the field strategically, to look at the whole thing and to look at how the small farmer can also be helped. It is obviously important that we increase the productivity of Afghan agriculture, but you need to look at the whole picture and not just, if you like, prioritise what tends to be the richer farmers and commercial agriculture.
Q40 Hugh Bayley: A number of you mentioned ICAI earlier. It did not find examples of leakage of DFID money, but said the system would permit leakage of DFID money. How serious do you think the problem of leakage is? Is ICAI right? What more could be done to ensure that DFID’s budget delivers development outcomes and does not leak?
Mervyn Lee: In a country like Afghanistan, it is a challenge to us all to prevent corruption and leakage, and none of us would believe that we can prevent 100% or anything like that. That is certain. It is going to happen. We had an experience last year. It was a personal experience of one of our staff. It was a very substantial amount of money, and he was a longstanding member of staff. There is nothing you can do about that. You cannot report it to the police, because nothing will happen. It becomes very difficult and very complicated. You have to have a series of checks and balances that are as watertight as you can put in, and you have to have accountability and transparency. DFID, I am sure, has all of those things, but with the best will in the world, there will be occasions when things do not happen as seamlessly, and aid or funds are not 100% delivered.
Howard Mollett: I would just add to that, going back to this point about the proposals going towards the Tokyo Conference, which will really set the framework on this. It will be really important that, beyond the macrolevel benchmarks that the Government put forward in its draft paper, and beyond resolving overarching issues around the Kabul Bank scandal, there are sectorspecific monitoring and oversight mechanisms, and that that is established perhaps NPP by NPP. Those mechanisms should become like benchmarks that then determine further shifts to aid coming on budget through the Government.
There were the Kabul Commitments to bring whatever the percentage was of aid on Government. The Government’s paper towards Tokyo calls for 50% of aid to come on budget by the end of 2012. What with the transition deadline towards 2014, there is a political momentum towards bringing aid on budget that is not in sync with reality or the sort of timelines that will be required to build up capacity at all levels, to administer funding in an effective and accountable fashion, and to establish monitoring mechanisms at the different levels. I think that is really important. The Afghan Government’s paper towards Tokyo acknowledges these challenges, to be fair. It says that they will address them in an aid management policy document that will be in the annexe, but it is not there yet. It was not in the annexe of the draft, and it is not clear when that will be provided. It is that level of detail.
Also, the ICAI does talk about those reporting responsibilities throughout the delivery chain, but it is very much focused on a bureaucratic, financial auditing side, and pushes DFID to hire more auditors. Perhaps that is unsurprising because the ICAI is made up of a lot of auditors, amongst people with other areas of expertise. Going back to Orzala’s point, the role of civil society and the voice of the intended beneficiary communities in the monitoring process are important, because there are things that numbers do not capture. Numbers can also be massaged or generated in ways that hide things, whereas were the mutual accountability framework or the National Priority Programmes to include clear monitoring and oversight mechanisms and processes, and civil society -
Q41 Hugh Bayley: Can I just add one other point? A businessman we met at the Afghan Chamber of Commerce when we were in Afghanistan a couple of weeks ago has sent us a note since the meeting, and he is really urging us to be cautious about the reports you receive from bodies that are funded and ask for independent checking. He says, for instance, "Reported facts, data, statistics, quotations from people should be crosschecked at field level and by different stakeholders, i.e. not just submitted by those receiving the funding, to make sure that they are accurate." That sounds like a common-sense comment, but we heard in the earlier session that post2014, there will be no prospect of maintaining a DFID office in Helmand. We know that the ICAI people themselves did not travel outside of Kabul. They were exactly as you described, Howard, looking at the paperwork and thinking how within the office you could strengthen controls. My question is this: how should crosschecking in the field take place, if it is so difficult for British officials to get out, especially into the more challenging parts of Afghanistan?
Orzala Ashraf: First of all, I think it is true that whenever the Government of Afghanistan, especially the President, want to gain a lot of support and praise they start to complain about corruption, so you get confused as to who is responsible for this. My great worry is that, even in Tokyo, if we go back to relying on another anticorruption commission or anticorruption oversight body, or some policy papers, we will not get anywhere. The funding or the money will be wasted and we will again be deep in corrupt systems everywhere. What I would like to propose is different mechanisms, because the simple and easy justification, even from our side, working and being involved in the NGOs, is, "Okay, our monitoring and evaluation mechanisms are designed in such a way that one independent person has to go there directly, to see by his or her own eyes, whether it is happening or not." The forces of corruption and the forces that promote corruption created some kind of insecurity; that is not necessarily the Taliban. For example, they know a school was built there; they plant a bomb there or pay somebody to plant a bomb there; and that ends the story of monitoring and evaluation.
Now, there can be other creative mechanisms. For example, nowadays electricity is there, mostly. Many provinces are better than Kabul, in terms of electricity. Lots of the young generation are using different social media, networking and the internet. There is telephone coverage all over Afghanistan and there can be different mechanisms. For example, you do not need to be there to monitor something. You get five, 10 or 15 random people’s contact numbers and check through them. The media is another form of monitoring and evaluation. I can say that, despite all of the challenges that we have in terms of media, we are doing very well and there are very strong and good programmes that are following cases of corruption if they are given a chance. It will be very critical, definitely post2014 when the withdrawal will happen, to support and strengthen these kinds of mechanisms through, for example, different civil society organisations such as media organisations, NGOs, grassroots or the CDCs that we were mentioning before.
I must tell you something. The Community Development Councils are not very visible structures on the ground because there is still confusion about their existence, but if they are given recognition as a grassroots structure that can watch over things without sharing the corrupt funding that comes to them, they can be a stronger force for proper and participatory monitoring and evaluation.
Q42 Chris White: What do you think will be the implications for the Afghan economy when international troops finally leave? That is quite a big question.
Mervyn Lee: I will start, and I am sure colleagues will wish to come in on this. Clearly, there is going to be a big impact because a lot of money has flowed into Afghanistan and a huge amount of infrastructure has been built, with all the jobs that surround that. That is all going to go. That is a negative, if you like. On the positive side, as was mentioned earlier in the previous session, a lot of the money that appears to go into Afghanistan now equally quickly flows out of Afghanistan. All the people who gain are in other countries, either through salaries or contracts or whatever it might be. Then there is the question, of course, that a lot of the people who have been involved in that have built up businesses and a lot of people have built up trades and skills. Again, there is the possibility there of some transferrable skills into Afghanistan post2014, which could be a good thing.
How do we manage that impact collectively? As far as we are concerned, we are trying to build an Afghanistan, in the parts that we are working in, that has a strong and stable economy and where people have legitimate livelihoods. You may have, for example, heard of our Invest programme in Helmand; Invest is about growing businesses in Helmand. It has had remarkable success. The programme was built by going to the businesses and saying, "What skills do you want?" and then asking them to get involved in the design of the programme, and then asking them to get involved in the instruction on a threemonth course. The applications went out for the first course in late last year and 7,000 people applied. The first course took 1,000; they graduated on 19 September last year. I was there, and it was the most uplifting day I have ever had in Afghanistan.
These young men-men in this case, but I will come on to that in a second-between 15 and 30 suddenly had got skills for life. This has got the buyin of the Governor. It is DFIDfunded. Since then, more than 7,000 people have qualified, including 1,200 women in two women’s centres that we opened up. Some 80% of those have either started their own business or got jobs. This is really very successful, and we are rolling it out over other centres in Helmand. DFID intends to roll it out across other provinces of Afghanistan. It is giving people legitimate jobs and legitimate economic futures and skills for life.
If you take where those people have come from in Helmand, we all know what the communities are like that we work with there. If those communities were not supporting this, they would not allow us to open schools for girls and do this training for girls. These 1,200 women are all in employment now. Most of them are at home, but one group, for example, has formed a co-operative of 65, and they have a contract to make and supply bed linen to hospitals and health clinics in Kabul and beyond.
Chris White: The specific point is really when international troops leave, will there be a vacuum? What will replace them? Do you have a view on that?
Q43 Chair: Can we assume that you are all going to stay after that time?
David Page: There will be a vacuum because a lot of the money has been going into contractors and so on. The total economy has been so heavily dependant on external funding, hasn’t it? What one hopes is that in terms of development funding, the donor community is going to be able to commit itself to maintaining some key areas of investment going in to the future. With something like the NSP programme, which is now in 40,000 villages, what one hopes is that the kind of funding that is going to make it possible for that to continue, to develop, to build on that basis, and to provide the funding for continued work in the localities, will be regarded as a priority.
Q44 Chris White: Are you suggesting that the military pound or dollar is replaced by the aid pound or dollar? But what happens if the aid pound or dollar reduces at a similar rate? As Afghanistan is so reliant on the international aid community-I am painting a fairly cataclysmic picture-what has been put in place to manage that transition?
Howard Mollett: Does this not partly also go back to the balance between funding through institutions and structures that were linked to the counterinsurgency military strategy, which will no longer benefit from military protection, versus support for independent organisations, both international and, more importantly, Afghan civil society and communitybased groups, which can work in areas as conflict worsens? Their ability to negotiate that access and acceptance of that role should be recognised and supported.
That where we run into this question mark over the understandable interest from bilateral donors in continuing to support and hold the Government to account, and then the question mark over how much of that will actually reach communities in areas that are increasingly affected by conflict, and how to get funding to organisations that can work in those areas. I forget whether I mentioned that one of the real concerns about the humanitarian side is that many of the co-ordination and funding mechanisms are based in Kabul and the local Afghan organisations that can most effectively work in the conflict areas may not have offices in Kabul. They may have other cultural or language obstacles to accessing that funding and neither OCHA nor the Afghan National Disaster Management Authority, the ANDMA, has capacity across the country. Obviously, that being a government institution, as the Government presence retracts, there will be question marks over its ability to provide assistance in the most violenceaffected parts of the country.
There is a particular issue with access for women and girls to assistance. CARE is putting out a paper this week on aid to Afghanistan, and one of the quotes in the paper was from a seasonal migrant worker in Mazar. She said, "My aunt was affected by the recent floods. She lost her house, but because she was a woman, no one came to ask her what her needs were. There were no women in the assessment team to ask her what her needs were so they only asked the men in the village. A strange man cannot ask a woman something in our village. He cannot even see her." In terms of consequences of conflict trajectories within the country and how that impacts on aid, I think support for humanitarian assistance and, within that, for building up the capacity of organisations to address women’s needs is particularly important. That needs to involve in situ training for women in those rural areas, and CARE has experience in doing that. Also, within the ANDMA, at the district level many of their offices do not have any female staff, so it is important to have a minimum level of female staffing and to work with Afghan NGOs and INGOs that have capacity and experience within the communities of working with women and involving them, whether it is with assessments or actual aid delivery.
David Page: I think we are already experiencing a deterioration of the security conditions in the provinces where we work. One hears that in Helmand things are a great deal better, but in Ghor to the north of Helmand, or even in Badakhshan in the north-east, you have got a great deal more instability as people position themselves for this 2014 deadline. There is no doubt that we are going to have to deal with conflict situations and it becomes more onerous for everybody in terms of investment in security, having to travel by airplane, having to be more conflictsensitive. We obviously want to be more conflictsensitive now, but much more effort has to be made in dealing with these difficult situations. I think DFID, looking forward, needs to think about how it is going to operate, in what could obviously be a much more insecure environment.
As far as the humanitarian side of things is concerned, I think we would like to compliment DFID because it has now put humanitarian aid much higher up its agenda. It is providing more money for this than it was doing before. We would like to see DFID becoming more of a voice, I think, in arguing for international humanitarian aid for Afghanistan because, as Howard was saying, the funding for that is still very limited.
Q45 Mr Gyimah: How do you think DFID can focus effectively on private sector development and revenue generation? I know you have touched on this, but it would be good to get your answer to the specific question on record.
Mervyn Lee: Thank you for that. We very much see, going forward, that we can only go forward with the type of programme that I have just described and other programmes, to get economic regeneration and likelihoods going, with the co-operation of a) the Government, local and national, and b) the private sector. It has to be a partnership. That is why we involved the private sector in Lashkar Gah so successfully, and that is a model we are going to follow elsewhere in the country. Another very short example would be in Parwan province. We have worked with a UK company, Fullwell Mill, and local farmers and got them fair trade certification for raisins, which you can now buy in the UK. Again, I describe that as a pilot project. We could do much more of that in future.
Howard Mollett: I would add that one critical element has to be on the education side. There has very much been a focus on primary education and to some extent that is one of the success stories in Afghanistan: that there are over 7 million children in education, 38% of whom are girls, we hear. The focus has been on the primary level. That said, CARE and other agencies have had some very promising experiences in bringing secondary education to the rural areas through the communitybased approach to education that other panellists have described. In DFID’s Country Programme-while I do not recall the specifics; it is something that could be useful for the Committee to look into-there is a focus on primary. I know that we are currently in discussions with DFID on that, and support for secondary education on the ground. There is also a need for more female teachers. This is the same issue as was highlighted in relation to humanitarian assistance. At the moment, there are many bureaucratic and legal requirements and teachers need, I believe, 14 years of education. Perhaps there is a need for some more flexibility around that, so that we can extend education opportunities out into rural areas and also beyond the primary level.
Orzala Ashraf: Can I just add to what colleagues were mentioning? I think the point I am going to make will somehow be mixed between economic investment and education. I believe very strongly that it is very important to invest in higher education for women. I use the word "investment" because I have not seen enough investment being made in the younger generation-this is in general, but it particularly affects women in the younger generation-to provide more opportunities for them. For example, there are very few girls who manage to get out of, for example, Kandahar, and into a good quality university in Kabul such as the American University of Afghanistan. I would like to see part of the support that you are providing paying for that. For example, of girls from Helmand, I am sure there are many who would be more than happy to find the opportunity of a sponsorship or a scholarship to get into higher education within the country. If it is outside the country then there are all kinds of risk with that, and it is very expensive. Within the country, many people will be interested in moving from smaller communities or districts to the centre of the province or sometimes to Kabul for the purpose of education.
Also, in terms of support, it is important, besides the teachers and other things, to focus on the quality of education. Students who graduate the 12th grade are not comparable with 12th grade students from 15 or 20 years ago. They are not, in some cases, even able to write their names when they have graduated after 12 years of education. Why? It is because of the very poor quality of education that we have. Too much focus, over the last 10 years, has been on the infrastructure and enrolment. What we hear all of the time about the very glorious picture of education is that 7 million girls are going to school-I do not know how many million-but nobody talks about how many are dropping out or what they are learning there. Quality of education is another thing that should be one of the priorities in this period.
Q46 Mr Gyimah: My supplementary was going to be on agriculture but I think we have dwelt on that extensively so far. My final question is to Mercy Corps. We understand, from our visit to Afghanistan, that you work with the Taliban to provide services in some areas. Could you let us know how that works?
Mervyn Lee: I would say that we, and colleague agencies as well, working in countries like Afghanistan, have to have community acceptance to do the work we do. We get our security through community acceptance. We do not have any form of protection other than the community. That is very important to us wherever we work. In places like Helmand, where we have been, by the way, for 26 years, we are quite well known and accepted. If they did not like us, they would have had us out a long time ago, but we are there, and we are able to do things like what I described earlier in terms of the Invest programme. To get girls and women training, 1,200 of them, in a place like that, as Orzala and others will know, is no mean achievement. You can only do that if you have the acceptance and support of the community. If there are people in the community who did not wish that to happen, they would tell us and we would have to stop it fairly quickly.
Q47 Mr Gyimah: If you have been there for 26 years, am I right in assuming that you are going to be there post2014?
Mervyn Lee: We are not leaving.
Q48 Jeremy Lefroy: If I could address this perhaps first of all to Orzala: what risks do you see the transition as posing to gains made in strengthening women’s rights over the last few years?
Orzala Ashraf: I think the risk is basically women being in danger of dropping off the agenda. What I see as being at risk is, in a way, fair advocacy. It is a message coming from Afghanistan all of the time on our side. We need to participate in processes, whether it is in decisionmaking processes, whether it is a peace process, whether it is a decision about development priorities, and all of that. My worry is that the Government are responding to calls for participation by bringing in a few women, just to show to the international community and those who are interested that there are women here. My greatest concern is that in terms of content, and concrete things that are in favour of women and meet the needs of women all across Afghanistan, we are gradually dropping off the priority list. I would like to see-for example, in education, the private sector investment that was mentioned earlier. Across sectors, including the security sector and all of that, there should be more active engagement with women.
Whether it will change post2014 or not also very much depends on the situation that we will live in. I have experiences of working under the Taliban. I ran homebased literacy classes under the Taliban. There are many organisations or grassroots activists now; at that time there were not that many. They will start building their bases and getting the support of communities to run such programmes, but whether the Government or the future Government will be supportive towards women or not is very much a question for the international community, because if the international community supports the kind of government that does not support or consider the needs of Afghan women, then we will return back to the same situation. But if there is a clear conditionality that the gains and achievements that women have made and the activities that women are doing should not be sacrificed or compromised, the situation will be different.
David Page: I am sure Orzala is right. Education and secondary education has not been sufficient for women. The progress that women have made at the local level has been considerable, I think. Through the National Solidarity Programme, women have been emerging as officebearers. They have got more of a voice in their community because of that programme and Afghanaid has been working with women at the local level as an extension of that programme, providing opportunities for them to start their own businesses and to raise their own capital. We are seeing an emergence, actually, of quite interesting businesses at the local level run by women. That is also an argument for maintaining the thrust of programming at the local level, because those achievements have been made with the support of the communities in those areas and they are, more likely, therefore, to be sustained.
Howard Mollett: One of the recommendations from the Afghan’s Women’s Network to donors-this would apply to DFID as well-is that very clear gender indicators should be brought into the priority areas that donors fund, so that they spell out specifically how different areas of programming will address gender and women’s rights concerns and how women will participate in defining those. There is something called gender budgeting: actually, is the money going there? One of our partners in the No Women No Peace campaign, focused on Afghanistan, has identified that potentially $90 million is required to tackle issues related to violence against women, and at the moment the national strategy on that is actually pitched much lower at $30 million and even of that only a tiny fraction has made available. Also, with gender auditing-that is the jargon-the recommendation is that women are involved in these monitoring and oversight processes, not just at the Kabul elite level but at the subnational level.
Q49 Chair: How likely is this? What women have said to us is that things have already been pushed back. How much of what has been gained can be sustained? As a little anecdote, we went to a school outside Kabul, which I had visited five years before, and, in fact, the front cover of the report in the last Parliament was taken in that school with us there with girls. Indeed, I have photographs of me sitting down at a desk with girls. This time we were told that men were not allowed in the classes or anywhere near the girls. That was five years on. They were completely relaxed about it five years ago and it is not possible now.
David Page: There is a more conservative trend undoubtedly, as a result of what people anticipate is going to happen, but I think at local level you still do find that these gains are being maintained.
Q50 Chair: Do you think there will be? Patchily-we are pushing backwards and forwards.
Orzala Ashraf: I think, definitely, this will be maintained. For example, if I am running the school, I would prefer the school not to be targeted. If your visit would put my children in the school in a vulnerable situation for a suicide bombing, then I would not really prefer that. That can be one reason, but I definitely cannot confirm it, when somebody comes and tells you that the country and the society is turning more conservative.
I think we have elements of conservative groups everywhere in society. "Conservative" can have a different definition for every family in every community and so on, but one thing which is very clear is a very strong commitment and dedication towards education and empowerment across countries, ethnicities, villages and communities. Everyone is so passionate. We are living in competitive families and one of the competitive things nowadays is to send your son-not vet so much daughters, but sons-abroad to get an education. There is a clear intention among communities to invest in education. It is the same for girls’ education, but this is relatively different because of the security and safety concerns that people usually have. I cannot say that this will be changed because the desire for education, justice and all that will remain as before.
Chair: I am about to lose my quorum, but thank you all very much indeed. We very much appreciate what you are doing on the ground as partners and also the evidence you have given to us, both in writing and by coming here today. Thank you very much indeed.