Global Policy Forum

Afghanistan, The War The World Forgot


By Colin Brown and Kim Sengupta

May 25, 2004

'We've got to make sure this time that we do it properly'
Tony Blair, April 5, 2002
'It's a basket case. It's a forgotten country'
Eric Illsley, Labour member of Foreign Affairs Select Committee, yesterday

Three years after the overthrow of the Taliban and George Bush's declaration of victory in the first conflict in the war on terror, Afghanistan is a nation on the edge of anarchy. A devastating indictment of the Allies' failure to help reconstruct the country in the wake of the 2001 conflict is to be delivered in a parliamentary report.

The Independent has learnt that an all-party group of MPs from the Foreign Affairs Committee has returned from a visit to the country shocked and alarmed by what they witnessed. They warn that urgent action must be taken to save Afghanistan from plunging further into chaos because of Western neglect.

As President Bush and Tony Blair unveil their plans today for the future of Iraq through the draft of a new United Nations resolution, the MPs warn that the mistakes of Afghanistan could be repeated with similar tragic consequences in Iraq. Eric Ilsley, a Labour member of the committee, said: "Afghanistan is a basket case. It's a forgotten country." Shortly after the conflict, Mr Blair pledged to the Afghan people: "This time we will not walk away from you", as the United States and Britain had been accused of doing following the mujahedin's war against the Soviet Union.

But MPs and international aid agencies say that is, in effect, what has happened. With the focus of Washington and London firmly on Iraq, the situation in Afghanistan has been allowed to unravel. The remaining infrastructure is shattered, opium production is rocketing, and the Taliban and warlords are back in control of large areas.

The committee, chaired by Labour MP Donald Anderson, will charge in their report, due out in July, that Nato and the West failed to fulfil their promise to restore order and democracy to Afghanistan. They will urge Mr Blair to press for Nato countries to fulfil their commitments in Afghanistan at the organisation's summit in Istanbul at the end of June. The committee believes Nato countries are holding back troops from Afghanistan because they may be needed in Iraq. The MPs' assessment follows similar warnings by humanitarian organisations. Earlier this month, a report by Christian Aid described how aid efforts were in jeopardy because of Western inaction.

With Nato forces suffering from a shortage of manpower and materials and the Americans concentrating on hunting Osama bin Laden, Western organisations and diplomats, including the British ambassador, Rosalind Marsden, are dependent on private security firms for protection. Mr Ilsley said: "It's very worrying. We arrived in Kabul and found our ambassador has a private security firm acting as her bodyguards who look like the Men in Black. They were in civilian clothes and armed to the teeth."

The security situation was so fraught that the committee reported to the Foreign Office that they felt several MPs, including the former minister Gisela Stuart, were in danger during a demonstration in Kabul. The Nato commander in Afganistan, Major General Rick Hillier of the Canadian Army, told the visiting MPs that he had asked for 10 helicopters for his force of more than a thousand but not a single aircraft had been delivered.

John Stanley, a former Conservative defence minister, said: "We were told in no uncertain terms by the top Nato general that the situation in delivering Nato expansion in Afghanistan is very disturbing indeed."

Hamid Karzai, President of the interim Afghan government, praised the role of British troops in getting warlords to disarm in his meeting with the parliamentary delegation. Afghan officials say he is under pressure from the US to hold elections in September, prior to the American presidential elections in November, so that President George Bush can show how democracy has been successfully nurtured in the country.

However, the Afghan elections, originally scheduled for June, have already been postponed once due to the unsafe security situation. The UN reports that attacks by the Taliban have led to only 1.6 million out of the 10.5 million eligible electors being registered.

The Liberal Democrat MP David Chidgey added: "The UK troops are doing a wonderful job but we found only 30 looking after an area the size of Scotland. It's a disgrace. Allowing the Afghan operation to remain a forgotten theatre means warlords, funded by drugs profits, will continue to flourish."

Taliban attacks on aid workers has led to many humanitarian projects being abandoned.

More information on the Security Council
More information on Afghanistan


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