Harriet Harman writes to Andrew Mitchell about women’s projects in Afghanistan

Harriet Harman, Shadow Secretary of State for International Development, has written to Andrew Mitchell to ask him about funding for women’s projects in Afghanistan.

Here are some extracts from the letter:

“I recently had the opportunity to meet with Hussn Banu Ghazanfar, the Afghan Minister for Women…. One of the issues that was raised with me by the Minister, and was raised by women MPs with my political advisor on a recent visit, was the question of UK funds going to support women’s organisations in Afghanistan.

“I think it is important that when deciding which women’s groups, organisations and projects to fund, the government informs and consults the elected women in Afghanistan.  They, after all, are in a good position to have an informed view about where the funds could best be spent.  At the very least they should know which groups, organisations and projects are being funded.

“I would be grateful if you would

  • confirm to me that in future the elected women representatives will be consulted by DFID as part of the consultation process of deciding how to disburse funds to women’s groups, organisations and projects
  • set out to me the full details of all the projects to support women which we are contributing funds to
  • undertake to convey that information to Minister Ghazanfar and the other 68 women MPs in Afghanistan.

“When the British presence in Afghanistan is reduced, we want to be sure that women are stronger because of our actions not undermined and bypassed and thereby weakened.”

Development in Afghanistan is paying off, shows new poll

A new poll shows that people in Afghanistan are growing more prosperous and more confident, showing how the hard work of the international development sector is beginning to pay off for citizens on the ground.

The BBC/ABC poll show a 12% increase in the number of people who feel that job prospects are good, while agricultural production rose by 29%. The latter figure is particularly important in showing the move from poppy growing to agriculture and is encouraging for the future. Mobile phone ownership, which can aid development of businesses and regularised banking, was at 60% among the respondents.

This is thanks to the work of the international community, including the Department for International Development, who have been working on the ground in Afghanistan for several years now. Projects, such as the DfID-sponsored micro-finance initiative are helping to make life a great deal better. And the results are promising: nearly two-thirds of respondents said that they support foreign troops and 70% said that the Taliban posed the biggest threat to security. This growing rejection of the brutal Taliban regime is vital to securing Afghanistan’s future prosperity.

Is the work in Afghanistan now done? Absolutely not. Promising as these figures are, they are just a beginning. We need to ensure that funding for development is maintained and that corruption (seen as a problem by the survey respondents) is tackled: action that the Government believes in and will continue to implement. But, with continued aid and the right support to the area, these results show that, despite what critics say, Afghanistan can recover from decades of bloody conflict.

For more information on DfID’s Afghanistan strategy, click here.

By Tim Nicholls

The Tories announce their Afghanistan strategy, but there’s a lot left unanswered

In this article in The Times, William Hague and George Osborne are credited with announcing a new Tory policy for the development of Afghanistan. Their aim, so they say, is to draw on the military to carry out “quick impact aid work and infrastructure projects in the aftermath of fighting.” Surely this sounds like a good idea: drawing on the excellent experience of our Armed Forces to aid with construction. It is a good idea (when done properly), but it is not new. DfID incorporated it into its Afghanistan strategy months ago.

In 2008, the Department for International Development carried out a comprehensive consultation, including government ministries, civil society, the private sector and most importantly Afghan communities. The resulting strategy for Afghanistan includes a vital role for the military. Douglas Alexander is quoted in The Times as saying, “The highly praised provincial reconstruction team operating in Helmand already brings together military and civilian support in delivering a comprehensive approach to stabilisation.” This is a strategy that can provide positive results, but the role of the military must be considered wisely. What is crucial to success in Afghanistan is a balanced partnership between civilians and the military, as well as the Afghan Government. Indeed, it is vital that development comes from the Afghan state and that is why DfID channels half of its funding through the Government.

The Tories are often quick to criticise civilian aid work, but in doing so they run the risk of relying too heavily on the military. In a country with as bloody a past as Afghanistan, civilian aid groups are often able to reach communities that the military simply cannot. It is vital that this role is not overlooked. A spokesperson for Médicins sans Frontières is quote in The Times saying just this: “We secure access to very tricky parts of the world because of civilians understanding that we are not military. Where military sell themselves as humanitarians it is very, very problematic.”

There is little meat on the bones of the policy beyond simply stating that the military could be used. The Times reports that DfID will be dismayed to hear that funding for the military activities would come out of the International Development budget. This would lead to a real-terms cut in aid for civilian development. What is also unclear is how much of this new Tory policy relies on what people on the ground believe to be right for development. DfID’s consultation spread the net wide and included local communities. What is not clear is how far the Tories have consulted outside of the military.

Tim Nicholls