Douglas Alexander: Afghanistan remains a desperately poor and unjust country

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Both of our governments understand that the desperation described by Secretary [Hillary] Clinton cannot solely be answered by military action or even political processes. It can, however, be answered by a comprehensive approach embracing development. For development can address the pent-up grievances, unrelenting poverty and lack of opportunity that contributes to people resorting to violence. And it is clear that today such desperation still remains widespread in Afghanistan.

For while our headlines and broadcasts inevitably and appropriately focus upon our armed forces' engagement in the country, it is often forgotten that Afghanistan remains a desperately poor and unjust country. A legacy of poverty, civil war and warlordism coupled with the current Taliban and al-Qa'ida insurgency means over half of Afghans live below the poverty line, 40 per cent remain unemployed, and violent incidents have risen by 60 per cent in Helmand this year alone. Indeed, to give just one example from Helmand, only two or three criminal cases are handled by the court in Gereshk each month.

It is little wonder therefore, that on Monday, when I met teachers in Musa Qala and farmers in Lashkar Gar, they all made the same single plea – for security. For so great is the fear and the threat of violence that security and justice matter as much, if not more, than the provision of other basic services in the eyes of many ordinary Afghans.

This prioritisation of security, however, is not unique to Afghanistan. Indeed such views underpinned the World Bank's 2000 Voices of the Poor report, which captured the views of 60,000 poor people across the globe, and highlighted that safety, security and access to justice are among their top concerns, and highlighted the full detrimental impact that their absence has on the lives of the poor.

This is why in my department's newly published White Paper we place such a strong emphasis on getting the building blocks of security in place first in all fragile countries. And in the distinctive circumstances of Afghanistan, working to address the insecurity and impoverishment of the population is vital to our shared counter-insurgency efforts.

This is part of a speech by the Secretary of State for International Development to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, in Washington on Thursday

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