Let Taliban share power, says key report

Care agencies map out a future for Afghanistan to guide Bonn Conference foreign ministers tomorrow

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The Independent Online

The future of Afghanistan depends on the leading powers forgetting about military success or failure and focusing instead on the needs of the Afghan people.

So says a briefing paper backed by more than 20 organisations being released tomorrow to coincide with a new attempt to draw up a plan that will secure peace for the country after decades of war.

With time running out and the threat of civil war breaking out once coalition forces leave in 2014, President Hamid Karzai, and foreign ministers, including William Hague and Hillary Clinton, are holding talks in Bonn tomorrow.

A change in strategy is vital, according to the "priorities for action" document, backed by 22 organisations from 10 countries, including international humanitarian aid agencies such as Christian Aid, Oxfam and the Mercy Corps.

It calls for a long-term aid and development strategy; an inclusive political settlement and an end to the use of aid money as a "lever" by the military.

The stakes could not be higher, according to Serena Di Matteo, Christian Aid's country director for Afghanistan: "We are calling on the UK Government, international and Afghan leaders at the Bonn Conference to commit to concrete steps towards a long-term commitment, a poverty focus in aid and an inclusive and transparent peace process that sets out the path to lasting peace. A quick-fix political deal will risk another civil war."

While the 2001 Bonn Agreement, which followed the fall of the Taliban a decade ago, has failed in its stated aim to "end the conflict in Afghanistan and promote national reconciliation, lasting peace, stability and respect for human rights", significant progress has been made in women's rights, health and education.

Under the Taliban, only 1.2 million children were in education. Today they number 8.2 million, 40 per cent of whom are girls. Only eight per cent of the population had access to basic healthcare – that figure is now 80 per cent. And the role of women has been transformed, with 27 per cent of seats in the lower house of Parliament now held by women.

These gains could be wiped out, however, if there is a return to the conflict.

Huge challenges remain before ordinary Afghans can enjoy many basic human rights and Afghan women continue to face entrenched discrimination and disadvantage, the briefing paper says.

Afghanistan remains one of the poorest nations on earth. Over the past decade, too much aid has been spent supporting military action, rather than addressing the needs of the Afghan people, the paper argues. It calls for long-term aid to "address the needs and rights of Afghans".

It also warns politicians not to repeat the mistakes of the past – most notably the absence of the Taliban from the Bonn agreement in 2001.

"The approach to support for reconciliation in Bonn 2011 needs to be inclusive... involving all those with a role in the conflict". It also says women must play a part in peace talks and that women's rights should be "guaranteed in all negotiations".

The document calls on governments to make "a stronger commitment to better protect Afghan civilians as the transition proceeds" and demands improvements in the training of Afghan security forces with police and soldiers being instructed in humanitarian law.

More attention needs to be paid to "civilian development" after the troop withdrawal, and measures to ensure the 2014 elections are not rigged are a "critical priority".

The chances of any meaningful success in Bonn were badly dented last week when Pakistan pulled out in protest at the Nato airstrike that killed 24 of its soldiers.

At the same time, Afghanistan's Finance Minister warned yesterday that Britain and other countries would need to continue providing billions of pounds worth of aid to his country.

Referring to a recent report that concluded Afghanistan was likely to need around $7bn a year from the international community to help pay for its security and other bills long after 2014, Omar Zakhilwal said: "The World Bank's study makes a case for continued assistance. We have done our own analysis and our conclusion with regard to the fiscal gap is not too different."

Money alone will not solve the problem unless the authorities change the way they spend it, according to Farhana Faruqi-Stocker, the managing director of Afghanaid.

"For the last 10 years the international community's support for Afghanistan has been too closely aligned with military and political objectives," she said.

"The focus on quick result projects means Afghan communities are left with a brand new school building but no teachers or toilets, or miles of pipe water systems, but no way to protect and maintain them.

"So despite the progress which has been made – millions of children continue to miss out on an education and communities continue to suffer from a chronic lack of access to safe drinking water."

Meanwhile, as politicians prepare to map out paperwork that could see peace brought in Afghanistan for the first time in decades, the death toll of coalition forces continues to mount. Yesterday, three coalition soldiers were killed in a bomb attack in eastern Afghanistan.

Priorities for action: Briefing paper's key points for the future

* Change the military-focused strategy to one that is based on long-term aid and development.

* Include the Taliban in an "inclusive" political settlement.

* Improve training for Afghan security forces.

* Separate aid from "military objectives".

* Guarantee protection of women's rights (along with other human and civil rights); ensure women have at least 30 per cent of all seats in official meetings.

* Make a stronger commitment to better protect Afghan civilians.

* Professionalise the Afghan National Security Forces, extend police training and train soldiers and police in human rights and humanitarian law.

* Compensate victims of conflict.

* Stop any further expansion of the Afghan Local Police Programme until controls exist to stop human rights violations and abuses.

* Ensure that elections in 2014 truly reflect the will of the Afghan people.