Afghanistan: Provincial Reconstruction Teams

– in the House of Lords at 7:35 pm on 11th July 2007.

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Photo of Baroness D'Souza Baroness D'Souza Crossbench 7:35 pm, 11th July 2007

asked Her Majesty's Government what progress has been made by provincial reconstruction teams in Afghanistan.

My Lords, I am delighted that this debate is taking place and even more delighted that it will be the occasion for the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown.

Provincial reconstruction teams were set up in the aftermath of the US-led liberation of Afghanistan from the Taliban in 2001.The idea was to bring stability and reconstruction to Afghanistan and the PRTs seemed an ideal model in the context of post civil-war Afghanistan. The first PRTs were operational by early 2003, each one consisting of about 60 to 100 soldiers plus, over time, Afghan advisers and representatives from various development agencies. The mix was a good one as was the intention of dealing with counterterrorism, security assistance, peace operations as well as training civil administrators and promoting the rule of law and economic development.

PRTs were a good thing in principle but sadly part of an overall flawed strategy for Afghanistan at that time. It was mistakenly believed that having liberated Afghanistan, peace building and reconstruction would be a relatively simple matter. And there was too a degree of naivety about the incentives for local warlords to abandon their power bases and adopt government rule. Afghanistan, as many noble Lords will know, is not a unified country, which is something of an understatement. Its topography and political history have combined to make it a decentralised nation with factions between ethnic and language groups, divisions between rural and more urbanised areas, and physical separations due to mountain ranges and the paucity of transport communications. In the post-Taliban world, the international community's aim has been to democratise, unify and develop the nation.

In some sense the PRTs were a mechanism to achieve security cheaply, but there were too few of them and too little oversight and co-ordination. It was perhaps significant that the PRTs were dreamt up at the same time as frantic preparations were taking place for the war in Iraq.

It has to be acknowledged from long experience that the rule of law and good governance are always but always the key factors in bringing about stability. As one colleague has pointed out, personal violence affects an individual far more than does a broken bridge. The PRTs were simply not geared to undertake this fundamental task and the lawlessness that prevailed needed and still needs a strong and widespread military presence.

Despite these structural flaws several PRTs from many nations began work and three basic objectives began to emerge: enhancing security, strengthening the reach of the Government in Kabul and facilitating reconstruction. In following these objectives confusion inevitably arose between the military and civilian components of the PRTs and their work and they were frequently criticised by NGOs; the latter believing that the PRTs had introduced unsustainable projects that lacked community input and the crucial ingredient of capacity building.

The savage toll that fighting is taking in the south of the country should not obscure the real advances that have occurred in other parts, particularly in the north, due in part to some of the PRT inputs. However, there are questions which should be asked about any continuous military presence outside the battle arena including: what is the mandate or changing mandate of the PRTs; how do they implement their mandate; how well do they do it; and above all are they meeting local needs and making a difference? Measuring impact, as we all know, is not an easy task but progress requires knowing what works and why.

Current conditions for most people in Afghanistan are of the greatest concern—poverty is deep and widespread, insecurity is growing, the level of violence in the country is at its highest since 2001 and progress on reconstruction is slow and fragile. Above all, most commentators now remark on the lack of public confidence in the central government and the belief that it can guarantee people's safety. Lawlessness prevails in far too many provinces, and corruption and intimidation are rampant.

People witness the large foreign military presence, the billions of dollars of aid pouring in—it was recently estimated that between 2005 and 2007, the US provided almost $10 billion of aid—and at the same time people experience insecurity, continuing poverty, especially in rural areas, and the lack of progress in building both physical infrastructure and the institutions of democracy.

Lack of capacity is still seen as one of the biggest constraints and it is one of the peculiarities of aid that those regions that have achieved a degree of stability and have few narcotics receive less development assistance. Despite all that, Afghanistan is increasingly seen by the outside world as a security rather than a development challenge.

Priority needs in the next few years have been drawn up and largely agreed by a consortium of some 25 development agencies which have been working in Afghanistan for some decades. They can be summarised as follows: the provision of basic services in areas beyond the reach of the central government; building the capacity of local and central government to provide such services in the long term; holding the Afghan Government and donor agencies to account on the reconstruction process; and promoting human rights and democratic governance.

Traditionally these activities are carried out by NGOs working with local civil society organisations. The NGO community believes very firmly that there should be a clear separation between military and civilian activities and that to continue with present arrangements will compromise the space for effective civilian-led reconstruction. More specific criticisms concern the potential security risks to the local populations of any confusion between military and civilian operations, such as the military taking it upon themselves to dress in civilian clothes and use NGO resources including vehicles, office equipment and premises without permission. Equally, the NGOs wish to be clearly distinguished from the PRTs, which may bomb a village one day then ask to build a school in the same village the next day.

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

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

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

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

Photo of Baroness Verma Baroness Verma Shadow Minister, Innovation, Universities and Skills 7:45 pm, 11th July 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo of Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon Liberal Democrat 7:50 pm, 11th July 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wonder whether the Minister or the Government have calculated yet the consequences of failure in Afghanistan. They are much worse than in Iraq. I do not think that we could hold Pakistan—and the consequences for the security of this country would be very grave. Furthermore, it would do catastrophic damage to NATO. A British general recently said to me that a failure in Afghanistan would do as much damage to NATO as Bosnia did to the UN. I wonder whether we could then prevent a widening conflict in the region.

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

Photo of The Earl of Sandwich The Earl of Sandwich Crossbench 7:55 pm, 11th July 2007

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

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

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

Academic work on the development of civil society in the Middle East suggests that the West is not only imposing solutions but too often ignoring the existence of traditional Islamic or tribal structures, which were developed before there was centralised government. These may already serve the population and maintain high standards of self-help, philanthropy and social welfare. While the first task of the PRTs is security, they should also be reinforcing traditional structures, because they are the ones that will outlast all foreign intervention. If the worst happens, they are absolutely essential.

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

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

"we need to focus on areas... of the country where we are welcome, where people want us to work with them".

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

Photo of Lord Tomlinson Lord Tomlinson Labour 7:59 pm, 11th July 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo of Lord Chidgey Lord Chidgey Liberal Democrat 8:04 pm, 11th July 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

Since 2004 the situation in Afghanistan has changed significantly. The capital city, Kabul, was, and still is, unsafe to walk in at any time of the day or night. Jalamabad had been relatively quiet but now it, too, is a battle ground with suicide bombings increasing day by day and targeted increasingly at local and NATO forces. The Taliban is back but this time in tandem with al-Qaeda. International aid has not made the difference it should, with, according to the World Bank, an "aid juggernaut" operating outside the state economy. Afghan citizens and organisations were not allowed to bid for infrastructure projects such as roads and other public works. But some progress is being made on small road schemes, particularly in the rural areas, and that ridiculous situation is being addressed.

Progress is being made in teaching with one in 10 teachers' salaries paid by the United Kingdom taxpayer. The teachers do not see this as earmarked foreign aid because their salaries are paid directly by the Afghan education department, although, of course, Britain is picking up the bill. The number of teachers has increased sevenfold and 6 million children have returned to school. But in the same period more than 200 schools have been destroyed by insurgents and more than 100 teachers and students have been killed. Now insurgents have started ambushing and murdering children on their way to school. What is clear is that the good work of the PRTs on the back of effective security is at risk. It may in fact be overwhelmed if the security challenges facing our Armed Forces are not met rapidly, robustly and are not properly resourced.

Photo of Lord Inge Lord Inge Crossbench 8:09 pm, 11th July 2007

My Lords, I, too, congratulate and thank the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza, for securing this important debate. I welcome the noble Lord in his new appointment. I hope that he listens very closely to the words spoken tonight, not least those spoken by the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown.

The situation in Afghanistan is much worse than many people recognise. We need to face up to that issue, the consequences of strategic failure in Afghanistan and what that would mean for NATO.

I will focus down for a minute and talk about the importance of the hearts and minds campaign, which is not just about PRTs or NGOs, but about putting the co-ordinated effort together. The newspapers and the media coverage inevitably tend to concentrate on the operational situation and not the overall situation. It is also difficult in a four-minute speech to pay full justice to the part played by the PRTs and the success that they have achieved. It is important to remember that the PRTs cannot work in isolation and nor can the NGOs. They must work within the overall campaign plan. They must be part of that plan. The importance of their role must be recognised, and in return they must be team players. In saying that, I am in no way criticising their bravery or their commitment. Indeed, it would make the whole thing much easier if the various NATO nations involved in Afghanistan had the same rules of engagement and did not have too many national caveats, which there are the moment and which makes the task of the general that much more difficult.

Having said that, I do not see how you can make any real progress in Afghanistan and have a credible hearts and minds campaign while we still do not know what to do about the poppy crop. Here, I share many of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson. To me, this seems to be a very major weakness in our overall strategic plan. We need decisions and a comprehensive plan as a matter of the utmost urgency. It must involve all the key players, not only the military. Having said all that about the poppy crop, I also believe that we should look very closely at what the Senlis plan proposes and buy the poppy crop for medical purposes, because we seem to have no other option on the table at the moment. I recognise that this will not be easy, and it will be a major challenge both to police it and to administer it, but further delay will only increase our problems on the ground. I also know that it will mean challenging the warlords and the smugglers, which is bound to have security implications. It must involve intimately the Government in Kabul.

At present, I sense tension in the relationship between the security forces on one hand and the PRTs and NGOs on the other. If we do not put that relationship on a better footing, we will make our task in Afghanistan all that much more difficult. I stress the point that was made all too clearly by the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, that we need to recognise that the situation—in my view, and I have recently been in Afghanistan—is much, much more serious than people want to recognise.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Deputy Leader, House of Lords, Spokesperson in the Lords, Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs 8:13 pm, 11th July 2007

My Lords, this is a short dinner hour debate, which is a very unsatisfactory debate in which to welcome the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown. I say to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House that it signals a need for a much fuller debate on this as soon as we come back in October.

The general consensus is clear that we face a very serious and deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. It has become one of the major priorities of British foreign policy. I understand that we now have one of our biggest diplomatic missions in Afghanistan. We have nearly 8,000 soldiers there. We have a long-term commitment, which as we well know from Bosnia and Northern Ireland can be a matter of 10, 15 or 20 years or more before we are able to work ourselves fully out of the role; and it is a rising proportion of our aid budget. This is one of the central themes of British foreign policy and, as a number of noble Lords have said, it is the crucial issue for the future of NATO. When I was at NATO 18 months ago, I found myself talking to a succession of people in SHAPE who said that the future of NATO now depends on success in Afghanistan. If that is the case, we have some real questions to ask about the future of NATO.

The commitment of a great many British NGOs is evident in their efforts in Kabul and elsewhere. We all recognise that we lost that crucial early period of post-conflict reconstruction between 2002 and 2004, when the western community, in particular the Americans and the British, were distracted by Iraq and when we should have been putting much greater effort into Afghanistan. That is past; we now need to do the best with what we can. We suffer from divided command, with ISAF as well as the Americans working alongside, with differences over tactics, with the Americans, as in south-east Europe, sometimes preferring to bomb from a distance rather than be there on the ground. We are suffering from differing terms of engagement and differing attitudes towards nation-building roles for armed forces and, as the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza, said, with the ambiguous roles of the provincial reconstruction teams, which are partly military and partly civilian. That makes things very difficult as the mission drifts from reconstruction towards security.

We need to try as hard as we can to get back towards reconstruction on the ground without drifting too far into a war on terror and the war on drugs; security being the main occupation. We recognise that as insecurity grows in the region, as we saw with the British commitment in Helmand, you do drift unavoidably from one to the other. We clearly need not just an approach to Afghanistan but also a regional approach. I am horrified by the way in which debate in Washington over policy towards Iran takes place in an entirely different context from the debate about what to do about Afghanistan. Iran is a neighbour; there are still half a million Afghan refugees in Iran, and people come backwards and forwards across the frontier all the time. We have to co-operate with the Government of Iran if we are going to manage the future of Afghanistan, just as we all recognise that we had to co-operate with the Government of Pakistan and with Iran's rather difficult northern neighbours.

Here we are, with the future of NATO at stake, with a number of question marks about the quality of the American approach and about the analysis of American foreign policy towards the region, and with Britain—not for the first time by a very long way—attempting to hold the sceptical European partners together with sometimes misguided American leadership. That is not a comfortable role for the Government, or for the Minister to answer on, but we recognise that here we have at stake not just the future of Afghanistan but of south-west Asia, and the spill-over that any deterioration of the situation, particularly in Pakistan, would have on the streets of this country.

Photo of Lord Astor of Hever Lord Astor of Hever Shadow Minister, Defence 8:17 pm, 11th July 2007

My Lords, I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown, to the Dispatch Box and to his new appointment. I had an excellent working relationship with his predecessor, the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, who did a great job here, and I look forward to having the same constructive relationship with the Minister. As the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, said, supporting reconstruction in Afghanistan is a key objective for NATO and the wider international community. It is essential that we can demonstrate to the Afghan people that we are improving their lives.

The United Kingdom assumed control of the PRT in Lashkar Gah, Helmand province, in May 2006. How many Afghan police have been trained in Helmand since May 2006? Can the Minister update the House on the progress of the ESDP police mission? Can he also update the House on what progress has been made in eradicating corruption and establishing "sound provincial administration" in Helmand?

The Minister will be aware of the real concern that far too little reconstruction and development work has taken place in Helmand. Mohammed Daoud, who was governor of Helmand province until December last year, highlighted the importance of the need to make an impression in the minds of the Afghan people:

"They are helping, but very slowly. They have Quips—quick impact projects. We say they are Slips—slow-impact projects. They must accelerate their activities. We need stability and security in Helmand. But we can't achieve this without development. DfID must fulfil their promises".

In the light of those comments, how many DfID officials are currently based in Helmand overseeing the DfID programme? Since 2001, DfID has spent over £490 million on reconstruction and development in Afghanistan. This country is Afghanistan's second largest bilateral donor, spending over £100 million last year. Over the past three years, the size of DfID's programme has grown substantially and further increases are planned. Given this, is the Minister concerned about comments from people such as the former governor? Might the Government need to look again at how funding is directed to the PRT through the central Afghan Government? We must have proper safeguards in place to ensure that resources for long-term development fully reach their intended recipients and are not caught up in needless bureaucracy.

The UK has been designated at the lead country in tackling the problem of opium in Afghanistan. Why, then, is poppy cultivation in Afghanistan on the increase again and rising fastest in areas under British control? The Independent on Sunday reported in April that the former Prime Minister had ordered a review of the UK's counter-narcotics strategy. A Downing Street spokesman confirmed that Mr Blair was considering whether to back a pilot project that would allow some farmers to produce and sell their crops legally to drug companies. What were the results of that review? How much money has been set aside to support alternative livelihood programmes for poppy farmers?

One of the key challenges facing PRTs across the country is the threat from insurgents. The Taliban is renowned for targeting schools. In the past 13 months, 226 schools, many run from tents, have been burnt down by insurgents. A total of 110 teachers and students have been killed in incidents of indirect violence and another 52 wounded. What are the Government doing to provide assistance for schools and teachers to defend themselves from such attacks?

The new ambassador to Afghanistan, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, has said that Afghanistan is now,

"one of Britain's top foreign policy priorities".

Some would say that Afghanistan should have remained as one of our top priorities since the events of 11 September 2001. Nevertheless, I wish the ambassador well in his formidable task and hope that he will be able to increase the pace of reconstruction in Afghanistan so that the people of that country can enjoy a more prosperous and hopeful future.

Photo of Lord Malloch-Brown Lord Malloch-Brown Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN) 8:22 pm, 11th July 2007

My Lords, it is a great honour to speak for the first time in this House. This Chamber has a long reputation for wisdom and judgment and, on the basis of the interventions this evening, for early warning. We have seen in today's debate the emergence of a collective view that it is incumbent on the Government to take very careful stock of the progress that we have and have not made in Afghanistan. It is an important first lesson for me to come to this House and receive that kind of guidance and advice.

Perhaps, first, I may say a word about my elevation to this House. My choice of provenance for my title takes me back to a boyhood in Sussex. St Leonard's Forest is a magical spot. It is steeped in local lore and legend and, as a child, I spent many hours wandering through it. It takes its name from a forester, St Leonard, who fought and killed a dragon; where his blood spilled, lilies of the valley grew. There is also a long ride where a local smuggler, Mick Mills, challenged the devil to a race and won.

For a young boy and then a grown man many thousands of miles away, the forest has continually been a place of magic and imagination. It buoyed me up as I tended to famine, war and refugee crises, but that forest is perhaps also a proxy for this country of ours, which has so much to offer to the rest of the world—not just ideas but initiative, influence, imagination and history.

Because of where I have been, I have also seen, no less clearly, how the security and prosperity of this country is tied to the security and prosperity of the world as a whole. St Leonard's Forest belonged in a wider eco-system and so, too, does our country today. The challenges that we face of terrorism, poverty and climate change are global ones. No Government can meet them on their own. We will build a strong and thriving UK only if, at the same time, we work actively for a strong and effective international community. Our problems have gone global, yet too often we cannot reach beyond the old national answers.

For the United Kingdom, that means an active and engaged foreign policy that maximises the many benefits of globalisation, while minimising and mitigating the very real risks. We will need to reach towards real partnerships within the multilateral system—the EU and, for me, the United Nations in particular—because these bodies offer an opportunity to help us to manage today's security challenges. We must go beyond them to new partnerships with countries that fall within my responsibility, such as India and China, and we must also reach out to civil society and other agents of change in this era of global issues before us.

Much of the effort to build new relationships and approach problems in a new way is, to an extent, on trial in terms of how we handle Afghanistan. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza, for giving us the opportunity to debate the situation here. I confess to feeling some surprise not just at the speed of my elevation to this House; many years ago, the noble Baroness and I were friends and allies on many human rights and development situations around the world, and I still shake my head to find myself answering her in a debate. The same can be said for my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown. We saw a lot of each other in Sarajevo and New York as we worked together on the situation in Bosnia.

I say immediately to all who have spoken tonight that I recognise that Afghanistan is a very complicated country. It has weak bonds of nationhood but its people have very long memories. We have made tremendous tactical progress in terms of the number of girls that we have in school, the improvements in the new constitution over the old, the success in individual development projects around the country, and in stepping up the size of our military commitment and that of NATO. However, we have to step back and wonder, as several noble Lords have said, whether that tactical success is matched by us achieving our strategic objectives. I take on board everything that has been said and will reflect closely with my colleagues in government on whether we are, indeed, attaining the objectives that must be attained for the sake of Afghanistan and for the sake of NATO, the UK's own security interest and, I argue, the global interest.

We have certainly embarked on a comprehensive approach, and we have done it in partnership with others. To the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, I say that, although we may not have managed to marshal enough resources as an international community, the United Kingdom is the second largest bilateral contributor after the United States and, as has been mentioned, it is also a major troop contributor, providing some 8,000 troops. Therefore, I think that we are playing our part. Of course, we have also played it through the introduction of the Afghanistan compact, launched here in London as a follow-up to the Bonn process. We also made efforts to ensure that the international community came together with the Government of Afghanistan in a series of mutual commitments so that that the Government could strengthen their capacity, improve their democratic reach and tackle internal issues, such as corruption. In return for that, as an international community, we pledged support to improve their economic means of supporting their people and improve their security issues.

The noble Lord, Lord Astor, asked for information on the number of DfID staff in Helmand and on our success on the training issues. I shall get back to him with the detailed answers.

This comprehensive approach on which we have embarked is one that has won successes. Women now play a much more prominent role in different aspects of Afghan society—indeed, 28 per cent of the lower House of Parliament is female, which is more than in the other place. We can estimate that tens of thousands of babies there who have made it through early childhood without loss of life would not have done so if it were not for the economic assistance provided. Nevertheless, I state these successes in all humility and modesty because I recognise the broader point that has been made tonight.

I shall turn for a moment to the role of PRTs—provincial reconstruction teams—because they are the core of our discussion. I am on record before joining the Government for expressing some concern about the confusion of military and non-governmental elements in these teams, and the worry that this might compromise the humanitarian character of the assistance. We also have to be realistic. When a region of the country has graduated from being insecure to stable in allowing a fuller range of interventions, we are able in the north of Afghanistan to move to a model where non-governmental organisations, DfID and other development agencies can act independently of the military. Even more important is that the Government of Afghanistan can start providing government services, which they should be providing, and which over time is the only means for them to build legitimacy, authority, support and trust in the eyes of ordinary Afghans.

In the south of the country, in Helmand, as we are well aware, there remain heavy security difficulties. If we did not have PRTs, which combine military and non-military assistance, we would not be able to meet local needs. We must try to graduate from that model as we have done in the north as quickly as we can, and we have been encouraging the United Nations to deploy humanitarian and development workers in the south as that is critical in going forward. We can look at the successes in Lashkar Gah and elsewhere with improved access to healthcare, new water storage facilities, a new bus station and decent roads, all of which PRTs have helped with. Indeed, there have been 150 quick impact projects, which have made a significant difference. However, I still take the point that these PRTs are a necessary but limited device in terms of building the kind of stability and development that we want.

I could not finish without saying a word on the counter-narcotics issue. I clearly heard the proposal of my noble friend. While there is nervousness about a movement to semi-legalise or legitimise the poppy crop, I understand that in the south, in particular, our success in turning back the growth of illicit drugs is one that means that we should not turn down any suggestion without considering it hard and seriously. We will do that.

Let me also say to the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, that it is extraordinarily important that we are not seduced by western-style government structures and constitutional arrangements at the expense of respect for traditional structures. We shall certainly make sure that we respect Afghan choices on all those issues. We shall follow them and support them, and will not substitute our own vision of priorities for theirs.

I conclude by saying that we see the UK doing a proud and important job in Afghanistan, working closely with international partners to deliver policies that we hope will prevail and make Afghanistan safer. By making Afghanistan safer, we shall make its sub-regions safer and, therefore, the United Kingdom safer. I have heard the message of tonight's debate. I, too, would welcome a fuller debate in October, and hope that my noble friend the Leader of the House will arrange for that to happen. I look forward to joining your Lordships on that occasion to debate these issues more fully. I thank your Lordships very much for giving me a magnificent introduction in the form of a very thoughtful tutorial to what no doubt will be one of the more difficult responsibilities in my portfolio.

Photo of Baroness D'Souza Baroness D'Souza Crossbench 8:35 pm, 11th July 2007

My Lords, I beg the indulgence of the House to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown, on his inspiring maiden speech. As many in this House will know, his reputation goes before him, and we are indeed fortunate to have a Minister so distinguished on the international stage who has managed to cross and recross many different disciplines in the course of his career.

In the early 1980s, many of us were angry at the mismanagement of aid, particularly in the context of disasters, resulting in frustration, wastage and harm to those we most wanted to help. The noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown, perhaps uniquely among us, used his discontent constructively. He joined the enemy and worked ceaselessly to alter policy and action in the field of development assistance. Having worked with the UN during the boat people crisis in the late 1970s, he founded and edited the influential Economist Development Report. He then became the lead partner in an international communications consultancy, and in 1994 joined the World Bank as vice-president for external affairs, which included responsibility for relations with the UN.

The next decade was one of meteoric rise. The noble Lord was administrator for the UNDP, chair of the UN development group, with the mandate to co-ordinate all the UN agency development programmes—a task that I can only imagine was fraught with interagency difficulties—and one of the key architects of the millennium development goals adopted by the UN in December 2000. It goes on. In 2005 he was appointed Chef de Cabinet to the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, and a year later succeeded to the post of deputy Secretary-General, his term of office coming to an end when Kofi Annan completed his final term at the end of 2006.

I have to say that the noble Lord is still a young man. He brings with him remarkable experience from which we will all benefit. I thank him for his maiden speech and congratulate him warmly on his triple appointments as Minister, life Peer and privy counsellor, and I am certain that the House looks forward to working with him.