Afghanistan: Tokyo Conference

– in the House of Lords at 4:40 pm on 28th January 2002.

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Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Government Whip, Lord in Waiting (Whip) 4:40 pm, 28th January 2002

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development. The Statement is as follows:

"I should like to report to the House on the Afghanistan Reconstruction Conference, which was held in Tokyo last week. The conference marked the turning of the focus of the international community onto the reconstruction of Afghanistan. I believe that we now have an important opportunity to provide the people of Afghanistan with the chance of a better future.

"The conference lasted from 21st to 22nd January, and was attended by Ministers and representatives from 61 countries and 21 international organisations. It was co-chaired by Japan, the US, the EU and Saudi Arabia. Chairman Hamid Karzai led a strong delegation from the Afghan Interim Administration. I led the UK delegation. There were delegations from the World Bank, the IMF, the Asian Development Bank, the Islamic Development Bank and the UN agencies. Kofi Annan also attended and addressed the conference. In the margins of the conference, experts met to discuss military demobilisation, military and police training, de-mining and narcotics.

"Chairman Karzai—who performed impressively throughout the conference—outlined current and future priorities for the reconstruction of Afghanistan. A 21-member commission is being set up to oversee the emergency Loya Jirga process, leading to the establishment of a transitional government in five months' time. The Interim Administration's priorities for the next few months will be to expand emergency assistance programmes, to establish an effective government administration, to provide peace and establish the rule of law, to ensure that as many children as possible, particularly girls, are in school when the new school year begins on 1st March; to begin to reconstruct the country's shattered infrastructure, in particular roads, electricity and telecommunications, to rebuild an agricultural system and eliminate poppy cultivation, and to accelerate mine-clearing. The conference was clear in its conclusion that women's rights and women's empowerment should be fully honoured and mainstreamed through all programmes during the reconstruction process.

"Chairman Karzai stressed the Interim Administration's commitment to responsible economic management, transparency, efficiency, and accountability. He was also clear, and we strongly agree with him, that Afghan ownership of the process of reconstruction will be vital to its success and to the full implementation of the Bonn agreement.

"We have the best opportunity in a generation to bring about development and lasting stability in Afghanistan. Learning the lessons of previous efforts to reconstruct failed states such as Cambodia, Kosovo, Sierra Leone and East Timor, it is clear that the United Nations must play a pivotal role. We must continue to strengthen the capacity and effectiveness of the UN system. The conference recognised and greatly appreciated the role that the special representative of the Secretary-General, Mr Lakhdar Brahimi, has played and his continuing role in promoting peace and stability in Afghanistan. We shall need to continue to support his efforts and those of the United Nations Development Programme who have been appointed to co-ordinate the early recovery efforts on behalf of the UN system. It will be crucial to maintain and enhance the existing humanitarian effort while also putting in place arrangements for long-term reconstruction. UNICEF will lead the effort to re-open schools. The World Health Organisation and UNICEF will work with the Red Cross to improve healthcare and the UN Mine Action Service will lead and co-ordinate the de-mining effort. The World Food Programme will continue to supply food for six million people, and will develop food for work schemes across the country plus feeding schemes in schools focused particularly on encouraging girls' attendance.

"We need also to make an urgent effort to strengthen the Interim Administration and build its capacity to lead the reconstruction effort. In order to take this process forward, a common trust fund will be established, and we shall work to try to encourage co-ordinated support for the interim authority's strategy rather than a proliferation of donor projects.

"The preliminary needs assessment undertaken by the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the UNDP to prepare for the conference concluded that Afghanistan's funding requirements would amount to just over 10 billion dollars over the next five years. At the conference, 4.5 billion dollars from 36 countries was pledged, including 1.8 billion dollars for 2002. I announced a commitment from the United Kingdom—funded from the DfID budget—of £200 million over the next five years. In addition, DfID will make substantial contributions through the EC, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. This commitment is additional to the £60 million that we have allocated in the current financial year for humanitarian and recovery assistance.

"Since my last Statement to the House, a lot has been achieved. The conference in Tokyo was an excellent example of how the international community can achieve results when it works collectively. But there is still a great deal to do. The humanitarian situation in Afghanistan remains fragile, and it is not yet clear whether there will be a fourth year of drought. I believe that we should strongly congratulate the United Nations system, and particularly the World Food Programme, in having averted a major humanitarian catastrophe in Afghanistan. We must be clear that these efforts will have to continue for some time while arrangements for long-term reconstruction are put in place.

"The most urgent issue that now needs to be addressed is the need to provide security across Afghanistan, and to begin the process of demobilisation and disarmament and the building and training of an Afghan army and police force. As a first step the UK has offered to work with the Afghan Interim Administration on a scoping study. The greatest danger to the future of Afghanistan is the risk of mounting disorder, criminality and faction fighting.

"In conclusion, with the Taliban removed, the Interim Administration in place, and the widespread commitment by the international community to the future of Afghanistan made clear in Tokyo, there is real hope for a better life for the people, and especially the children of Afghanistan. We must not fail to grasp this opportunity".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

Photo of Baroness Rawlings Baroness Rawlings Conservative 4:47 pm, 28th January 2002

My Lords, we on these Benches welcome the Statement repeated by the noble Lord, Lord Grocott. We thank him for his courtesy in making available, in advance, a copy of the Statement. The British contribution of £200 million announced in Tokyo to fund reconstruction of Afghanistan is extremely welcome. Many people were quick to suggest that the West would bomb Afghanistan, and then abandon it. It is encouraging to see that this is not the case. I pay tribute to all those engaged in liberating Afghanistan from the Taliban and Al'Qaeda. We wish them success in completing their task.

We share the Minister's belief that there is now a new opportunity for a better future for the Afghans, provided that the solution is looked at in the context of the whole region. That is as important in this part of the world as it was with Kosovo. Only today, the government of Kyrgyzstan resigned—an illustration of the fragility in the area.

There are four points that I should like the Minister to clarify. The first relates to control over spending. Given the fact that £3.1 billion has been offered to Afghanistan, does the noble Lord agree that there needs to be clear monitoring of each project that is being supported? Can the noble Lord tell the House which bodies will be scrutinising the aid provided to Afghanistan? Who will monitor where the aid is being allocated? Is any institution in place to bring co-ordination to the aid being provided by countries as diverse as Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States, the EU and Saudi Arabia? Is the noble Lord confident that the aid being dispersed via the EU—worth £500 million—will be dispersed quickly and effectively?

The second point concerns the civil service. Does the Minister accept the difficulties facing Afghanistan at the moment and that reconstruction will fail unless the basic infrastructure of the new government is in place? Given the Secretary of State's high praise for Hamid Karzai, does the Minister agree that the first priority for reconstruction should be to legitimise his government in the eyes of his people to help bring the necessary political stability to Afghanistan? Such reconstruction is something that you do "with" a country and not "to" a country.

My third point concerns the refugee problem. The Minister will be aware that there are more than 4 million Afghan refugees in Iran and Pakistan. Since 1998, the UNHCR has repatriated 4.6 million Afghan refugees. Can the noble Lord confirm whether there is provision in the reconstruction package for the repatriation of refugees?

Fourthly, the Secretary of State twice mentioned the need to stamp out the opium production. Does the noble Lord agree that installing new irrigation systems would help the possibility of growing alternative crops?

Finally, if we are to look at the long-term rehabilitation of Afghanistan, the international community will need to consider the issue of debt relief. Can the Minister give assurances that he will urge the Secretary of State to look imaginatively at ways of helping the new Afghan government to deal with the issue of debt relief?

Again, I warmly welcome the Government's Statement and the results of the Tokyo conference. If we can reconstruct Afghanistan properly, it will be another victory for the war on terrorism.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Liberal Democrat 4:52 pm, 28th January 2002

My Lords, we on these Benches also welcome the Statement. The House will remember that among the problems which led to the arrival of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan was the failure of the United States and other countries to remain involved after the withdrawal of Soviet forces in 1989, and the failure to spend as much effort on reconstruction after the war as on support for the war itself. Nation building is absolutely something which we and other countries have to do, a subject to which the House will return in the context of a different continent—Africa—on Wednesday.

I note with pleasure that there are some very warm words in the Statement about the role of the United Nations. How far beyond current plans do the Government intend to move in terms of strengthening the United Nations? There is much in the Statement about the need to strengthen the United Nations. The UN peacekeeping operations department has been embarrassingly weak for far too long. Progress on reform and strengthening has been painfully slow. Sadly, we may anticipate that Afghanistan will not be the last country in which there will have to be a multilateral effort to rebuild, and it should be very much part of the British and European contributions to ensure that the UN is better equipped for these tasks from now on.

It is excellent that Mr Brahimi is leading in this role. After all, the Brahimi report was about the need to strengthen the UN's capacity in this area. Can the Minister say—now or later—what effort the British Government are putting in to make sure that the Brahimi report will at last be implemented?

As Clare Short has said on many occasions, the provision of security is essential to any form of national reconstruction. There is presently an interim force in Kabul and, I understand, Mr Karzai has been talking about expanding the role of that force across the rest of the country. It would useful to know more about that and whether any expansion of that force's role will carry implications for the British, who are now playing a large role in that force.

The British have a worthwhile tradition in the provision of educational assistance to countries in need, and the entire educational system—from primary to higher education—will need to be reconstructed in Afghanistan. In the tradition of joined-up government, has the Department for Education been brought in on this?

Lastly, this cannot be about Afghanistan alone. There are problems with Afghanistan's near neighbours and we need to make sure that Iran and Pakistan are fully on board. There are a number of other extremely weak states to Afghanistan's north. The heroin trade from Afghanistan to Europe came through Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and elsewhere. Can we be assured that in the response of the international community to the reconstruction of Afghanistan, the weak states of central Asia to its north—some of which also have within them a degree of Muslim terrorism—will be a part of the overall package?

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Government Whip, Lord in Waiting (Whip) 4:55 pm, 28th January 2002

My Lords, I appreciate the continued support of both parties opposite, as expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, and the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, for the Government's efforts, through the international community, to honour our commitment not to walk away from the people of Afghanistan. Both Front Benches opposite sought reassurance that that would not happen—that the Government's commitment and the commitment of the international community would continue—and I can certainly give that assurance as far as it is within my individual power to do so. It is certainly the intention of the Secretary of State and the British Government.

Both speakers drew attention to the fragility of the area as a whole—the "Stans", as the neighbouring states are referred to. It is acknowledged that we are dealing with a difficult situation in a fragile area of the world. It will take all our skill, determination and continuing commitment to deal with it.

The noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, asked about refugees. At least 100,000 Afghan refugees have returned from Pakistan and Iran since last November, and thousands of internally displaced persons have also started to return to their homes. The Department for International Development has provided £3 million to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees to support its operations in response to the current crisis. This has included technical personnel, material and financial support.

The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, referred to security in Afghanistan. This was specifically referred to in the Statement and the Secretary of State attaches enormous importance to it. The delivery of aid and the establishment of good governance is preconditional on having a secure country in which to deliver that aid and to begin the process of reconstruction. The interim government of Afghanistan attaches great importance to that issue, as does the United Nations, which is overseeing the operation.

The noble Baroness referred to control over spending and supervision of EU funding. I can assure her that those matters were discussed at the conference and are of great importance. However, I should emphasise two of the strengths of the way in which this on-going situation is being handled. First, there is the abiding importance of the United Nations and its involvement from the start. The Secretary-General's special representative, who has done tremendous work, has been there at all stages, and that has been vitally important. Secondly, there is the crucially important issue of the "ownership"—I do not particularly like the word but the House will know what I mean—of the operation by the people of Afghanistan and the Interim Administration which has been established. The noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, is absolutely right to say that we must work "with" a country and not dictate to it.

The noble Baroness also raised the question of debt relief. It is my understanding that there is no huge outstanding problem at present. If there is, I shall write to her.

Reference was made to opium production. The vital point is that we should not lecture people but give them an alternative continuous and on-going source of income. That is precisely what the intention of the international community and the Interim Administration has been.

It may be helpful to the House if I re-state the six priorities set out by the Afghan Interim Administration, as they cover many of the issues raised. The first is enhancement of the administrative capacity, with emphasis on the payment of salaries in the establishment of government administration—points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings. The second is education, especially for girls—an issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace. The third is health and sanitation. The fourth is infrastructure, particularly roads, electricity and telecommunications. The fifth is the reconstruction of the economic system. The sixth is agriculture and rural development—and relates particularly to the dependence on opium production.

I repeat that the welcome for the Statement from both Front Benches is greatly appreciated. We have moved an astonishingly long way since the dreadful events of last September. It is barely believable that after just five months we are talking about, as we hope, a rather more optimistic future for Afghanistan. That is what the Government and the international community—led by the United Nations and principally by the people of Afghanistan through the Interim Administration—will continue to do.

Photo of Lord Campbell-Savours Lord Campbell-Savours Labour 5:02 pm, 28th January 2002

My Lords, I strongly endorse the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, in referring specifically to the monitoring of projects and how the money is spent in Afghanistan. Will my noble friend check with officials in the department that post-project evaluation reports will be used as the means to ensure that money actually gets through to the projects that we want to support? I refer in particular to projects to support women. Much of the international support for the coalition came about because of the problems faced by women in Afghanistan under the Taliban regime. Many people in this country will want to know that money will get through to women's projects, and that the expenditure will be properly monitored.

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Government Whip, Lord in Waiting (Whip)

My Lords, I strongly agree with my noble friend. He has taken a close interest in these issues in the other place as well as in this House. I can assure him that enormous importance is attached to the monitoring of projects. I can certainly assure him about the importance that we attach to women's projects, and in particular to the education of women. My noble friend is right to emphasise that, when the debate was raging throughout the world about the operations of the international coalition in Afghanistan, the issue that arose time and again in relation to the appalling nature of the Taliban regime was its treatment of women. It is no coincidence that the international community and indeed the interim Administration in Afghanistan see the empowerment of women, education for women, and the lead that women can take in development issues as fundamental to the reconstruction process.

Photo of Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I declare an interest. As a recently appointed special envoy to the director-general of the World Health Organisation in relation to the eastern Mediterranean region, I led the WHO delegation to Tokyo. Inevitably, therefore, I must ask the Minister why the re-establishment of healthcare for Afghanistan plays so little part in the Statement that he has kindly laid before this House. The infant mortality rate in Afghanistan is the highest in the world—a quarter of children die under the age of five; and the average age of death is 46, the lowest globally. Therefore, should not the establishment of healthcare in that country be an absolute priority for the Department for International Development? I am surprised that it plays so little part in the Statement. I urge the Minister to recognise that the World Health Organisation has created a national health plan for Afghanistan, which has been warmly welcomed by the Minister there, a famous woman, and has now been adopted. Does the Minister agree that that plan must be supported, lest the fragmentation referred to in the Statement should occur? I urge the Government to re-cast the mechanism by which DfID policy is created, so that healthcare can again be an absolute priority, as it must for this particular nation.

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Government Whip, Lord in Waiting (Whip)

My Lords, the noble Baroness has great expertise in these matters. I know it is difficult when Statements are made and documents are not always seen immediately. There was a specific reference in the Statement to the importance of the World Health Organisation; namely, that the World Health Organisation and UNICEF will work with the Red Cross to improve healthcare. In the list of priorities set out by the Interim Administration health is seen as crucially important. Specific support to the World Health Organisation amounts to £5 million in relation to the redevelopment; in relation to UNICEF, it is £8 million. I should not want anything that I have said—and I am sure that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State would not want anything that she has said—in any way to diminish the importance of the statistics that the noble Baroness has placed before the House in relation to infant mortality and life expectancy. They are of crucial importance.

Photo of Baroness Turner of Camden Baroness Turner of Camden Labour

My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for repeating the Statement, which I welcome. However, is he aware of a rather worrying report in today's newspapers concerning the continuing danger from cluster bombs? During the course of the bombing campaign, a number of us raised objections to their use. It appears that the bomblets arising from them are still causing deaths, particularly among children, who are attracted by the yellow colour of the bomblets. Is it not a priority that these remnants of the bombing should be cleared up as soon as possible? It looks as though they are still causing damage, injury and death among the child population.

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Government Whip, Lord in Waiting (Whip)

My Lords, I know that my noble friend has taken a close interest in this important issue for a long time. On the issue of mines more generally, the Department for International Development has approved a commitment of £3 million for humanitarian action in relation to mines in Afghanistan. The department has been a principal donor to humanitarian action of this kind. We do not want to go over the whole argument about cluster bombs. However, it should be said that they were carefully targeted to deal with specific issues. I understand that there is close co-operation between the military authorities and the aid agencies in dealing with the problem of cluster bombs. An important part of the reconstruction process is the further training of de-miners to deal with these types of munitions.

Photo of Lord Sandberg Lord Sandberg Liberal Democrat

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that, among the many nations involved in the conference taking place on Afghanistan, we are taking particular steps to make sure that the Government of Pakistan, a fellow member of the Commonwealth, are much involved? Pakistan has almost lost count of the number of refugees that it has "imported". Its border with Afghanistan is somewhat "porous". Refugees come and go—and, no doubt, terrorists as well. It is important that we side closely with Pakistan and help it in what is a difficult position for that country. General Musharraf has already taken a brave step and helped us all. It is important that we recognise that and give him the support that he may need.

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Government Whip, Lord in Waiting (Whip)

My Lords, the noble Lord is right. This has been an unbelievably difficult time for the people of Pakistan, for the reasons that he has spelt out. I mentioned earlier that at least 100,000 Afghan refugees have returned from Pakistan since last November. We are talking about a staggering number of people. I agree with the noble Lord about the importance of Pakistan. The British Government and the international community fully acknowledge the need not to walk away from the consequences for Pakistan of the conflict in Afghanistan.

Photo of Lord Rea Lord Rea Labour

My Lords, I apologise for not being present for the beginning of my noble friend's Statement. How are British forces involved in the distribution of humanitarian assistance and food, either through keeping roads safe or perhaps through the use of military aircraft and helicopters to get to more remote places?

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Government Whip, Lord in Waiting (Whip)

My Lords, there is co-operation at all levels in the reconstruction of Afghanistan. I fully understand why my noble friend was not here at the beginning of the Statement. No doubt he was finalising the details of his grilling of the Government on Chechnya, which is coming in a few minutes. I said earlier that experts met during the conference to discuss military demobilisation, military and police training, de-mining and narcotics. Those issues were discussed during the debate on reconstruction.

Photo of Baroness Thomas of Walliswood Baroness Thomas of Walliswood Liberal Democrat

My Lords, will the Minister accept my delight that the conference was clear in its conclusions that women's rights and empowerment should be fully honoured and mainstreamed through all programmes? That was a reassuring phrase. I also strongly agree with the support for the Afghan ownership of the process. In that context, can the Minister reassure the House about the position of the Minister for Women's Affairs in Afghanistan, who, until the conference, was working out of her own house with no funds for her important ministry? She should at least be supported and reinforced in that ministry.

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Government Whip, Lord in Waiting (Whip)

My Lords, I wholeheartedly agree with the noble Baroness's sentiments. I cannot reassure her that things are improving at this precise minute, but I can certainly reassure her that ensuring proper facilities for that vital government department is an issue very close to the heart of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development, as your Lordships would expect. We may not yet have all the funds that are required, but securing funds and facilities for the proper establishment of that Ministry is a recognised issue and is being addressed.

Photo of Lord Bruce of Donington Lord Bruce of Donington Labour

My Lords, with the permission of the House, I wish to return to the Minister's answer to my noble friend Lady Turner about cluster bombs. In view of the fact that it is very difficult to get authentic news about exactly what is happening on the military front, but particularly in the light of recurrent reports that our United States allies are continuing their military use, will he convey to the American Government the profound distaste of the British Government for any use of cluster bombs at this stage, whatever the provocation may be and whatever the desire to seek a military solution may be? I am sure that the Minister agrees that these matters are of vital concern not only to my noble friend but to the country at large.

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Government Whip, Lord in Waiting (Whip)

My Lords, I know well enough the concerns of my noble friend and others about this issue. I must emphasise that the international coalition against terrorism—which is properly so called—involves constant dialogue between the countries concerned. The coalition has constantly re-emphasised the fundamental truth that this was never just a military operation: it is also a humanitarian operation—and my word we have seen evidence of that in the number of people who have received humanitarian assistance—and it continues on a diplomatic front. It would be a mistake to see what has happened in Afghanistan as in any way one-dimensional. It would also be a mistake to focus on this particular issue without realising, as I know that my noble friend does, that the problems of mines and of large numbers of people with huge amounts of armaments in Afghanistan are now easier to address—although still phenomenally difficult—as a result of the military action that has been taken.

Looking to the future rather than talking about the process so far, successful though I believe that process to have been, I assure my noble friend that, as I made clear in the Statement, there is a very strong recognition of the importance of dealing with the problem that he referred to and related matters in the reconstruction process.

Photo of Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne Liberal Democrat

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that, given the—

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I think that it is the turn of this side and I think that it is customary to intervene on only one occasion.

Photo of Baroness Crawley Baroness Crawley Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I too welcome my noble friend's Statement, and particularly that part of it that assures us that women's rights will be fully honoured and mainstreamed. May I press my noble friend to say that the Government will use their influence in the process to ensure not only that women are the recipients of funding, but also that they participate in the allocation and distribution of that funding? They should not be on the receiving end only; they should be fully integrated in the decision-making about the distribution.

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Government Whip, Lord in Waiting (Whip)

My Lords, I can give my noble friend that absolute assurance. It is interesting that at least five or six of your Lordships have mentioned the importance of re-establishing the rightful place and role of women in the development of their country, which was so appallingly ignored by the Taliban during their period in control. My noble friend is absolutely right to say that we must ensure not only that women are the recipients of any reconstruction process, but that they are fundamental in making decisions about how the money is spent, knowing intimately as they do the needs of their own local community, whether it is for a school, a health centre or whatever else.