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As more than sixty Nations gather in the coming days to discuss Afghanistan’s future, it is critical that the voices and concerns of the Afghan people are raised. Representing the six major coordinating bodies of civil society and NGO groups working in development, human rights, education, and humanitarian aid in Afghanistan, we call on the participants of the London Conference to ensure that the needs of the Afghan people remain forefront on the international community’s agenda.
Over the past eight years, despite significant improvements in sectors such as education, health, and infrastructure, conflicting agendas and strategies have undermined attempts to rebuild the country after decades of war, and undermined the capacity and responsibility of the Afghan government to provide for and protect its citizens (According to UNAMA Aid Effectiveness office, 20% of total aid has been provided to the government and 80% through bilateral projects). The lack of coordination, the lack of political vision, and the lack of tangible and sustainable results—in spite of the tremendous resources mobilized—has deepened Afghans’ distrust of the government and increased their frustration.
There are no quick fixes to address the numerous and complex problems which drive the crisis in Afghanistan. Growing insecurity, deep and chronic poverty, and impunity and corruption at all levels require comprehensive and coordinated action by the international community and the Afghan Government.
The purpose of this statement is to highlight priorities in three areas—security, governance, and economic and social development—that need to be addressed by the government and contributing nations in the coming years for the sustainable reconstruction of Afghanistan.
The Government of Afghanistan and the international community should recognise the crucial role of the civil society in the reconstruction process, particularly in understanding and addressing the needs of the Afghan people as well as improving their level of participation in the decision-making process.
Improvement of the security situation in Afghanistan implies that mutual trust exists between Afghans, civil society, the government and the international community.
The mismanagement of and unequal access to aid, driven by corruption and ineffective aid strategies and implementation (such as the use of PRTs to channel aid to the sub-national level) contributes significantly to the persistence of widespread poverty in Afghanistan. In addition, drug trafficking, high rates of civilian casualties, and the lack of respect for afghan culture and traditions directly fuels the conflict.
Initiatives such as the Community Defense Initiative, legitimise and empower militias and local commanders, many of whom have abused civilians, to operate. Emphasis should be placed on adequately equipping and training legitimate, mandated governmental forces. Accountability of all armed forces is critical to address the distrust in society.
Continued attention should be paid towards minimising civilian casualties. Despite efforts made, the number of civilian casualties is increasing. In 2009, 2,400 civilians were registered as killed by armed forces (insurgent and government/international military). This represents an increase of 14% from 2008 figures.
For effective eradication of poppy cultivation, alternative and sustainable livelihoods for farmers must be fully leveraged. In addition, aid to provinces that have so far not been involved in or have successfully eradicated poppy production should continue from both the government and donors.
2. Governance / Justice / Human Rights
Increasing the access to justice and in particular enhancing awareness and understanding of existing laws at district and provincial level remains instrumental for creating a sense of inclusiveness. This is particularly important in a society with high levels of illiteracy, where ignorance is often used to deny people their rights. The 2002 action plan for “Peace, Reconciliation and Justice” needs to be more effectively implemented, particularly in the case of transitional justice and war crimes. It is of vital importance that mechanisms to promote compliance of transitional justice with the Afghan constitution should be urgently attended to.
Laws and legislation that respond to the demands of both government officials and the people, through rehabilitation of infrastructure and training of justice providers is essential. Awareness raising of legal rights and laws should start at school and continue at university level, and should ideally be included in the curriculum.
Action should be taken against violators of human rights and international humanitarian laws. Instead of appointing former war criminals to governmental positions, the international community should rather support all initiatives aimed at bringing them to face justice. Legislative reform based on international human rights values should be looked into.
The lack of credible mechanisms to enforce professional standards, codes of ethics and disciplinary rules also contributes to a culture of impunity. The prevalent high level of corruption, which leads to extreme dissatisfaction, needs to be tackled—without this, little progress can be made. Commitment of the government is essential and it is also the responsibility of the international community to ensure that resources channelled through the government are wisely spent. Abuses should be severely sanctioned.
For the building of trust, merit-based systems of recruitment, transparent appointment processes, and career progression, as well as accountability together with strengthening of the capacity, need to be prioritised. Key to this is the fight against corruption, which should be an all-encompassing initiative involving various stakeholders. In light of this, formal cooperation should be established with the government so that the civil society can fulfill its mission of “watch dog” and contribute to strengthen check and balances mechanisms.
Despite significant resources allocated in this sector, a more strategic effort towards mainstreaming the rights and role of women, who continue to exist on the periphery in Afghan society, should be made. Respect towards the rights of women and also other groups, such as children and youth, and their participation in decision-making and implementation, should be a main concern. However, this cannot be addressed without adequate awareness-raising and capacity building of both society and authorities in both rural and urban areas. It should be noted that access to justice for women remains scarce both in the formal and the traditional system, in contradiction with the constitution which guarantee equal access to justice to all citizens, including women. Discrimination remains a norm.
3. Social and Economical Development
The development model for Afghanistan must be led by Afghans (national and local government and civil society) and be accountable to Afghan citizens. The development aid should not be linked to military objectives. Aid is not a weapon. The involvement of military in development activities result in focusing more on short term results at the expense of long term objectives and has caused harm to civilians by drawing them into the conflict. The multiplication of quick impact projects to win the hearts and the minds of the people often results in misused of funding, arming communities more than supporting them, distrust and more instability.
Apt utilization and equal access to available resources and services including rehabilitation of current economic infrastructure is deemed essential for economic and social development. Mineral (Asia’s largest Iron ore deposit), Hydro-solar and wind resource rich Afghanistan is yet to utilise this valuable reserve which could yield great results should due attention be paid to it. To assist a predominantly agriculturally dependent society in Afghanistan (80% of the population is dependent on this sector), land and water management strategy including distribution law should be revised in accordance with traditional systems and community requirements.
Rural development plays a vital role. Policies developed should ensure that the strategies and decisions made keep in mind the needs of rural Afghans and the advancement of the private sector. Reduction of poverty cannot be a reality without improved infrastructure, availability of credit and a vibrant private sector.
Hand in hand with this attention needs to be paid to increasing revenue through exports. The case for boosting trade is evident: almost 50 per cent of Afghanistan’s trade is with its five neighbors country, Pakistan, Iran Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. There exists a good potential for Afghanistan to build up its production and export capacity which however needs to be tapped through reassessing, planning and developing existing systems in place.
The development of human resources is among the most critical priorities in Afghanistan. More than half of the population are children (49% under the age of 15). Continuous support to education is essential. A special attention should be paid to secondary and higher education systems, where capacity to address Afghans’ third for education must be increased. 7 million students are studing in primary and secondary schools while there is only room for 60,000 students in universities. Major efforts should be made to offer professional training opportunities and facilitate access to the work market.
Health and sanitation conditions in Afghanistan are dire. One in five children do not live until their fifth birthday and every half hour, a woman dies from pregnancy-related complications. Afghanistan is the only country in the world where women have a shorter life expectancy than men. The main causes of morbidity are related to water born diseases (30%), respiratory illness (12%) and fever (19%) and malnutrition. Health facilities have been built over the past 8 years but more must be done to improve the quality of the medical services and the supply of medical facilities.
Despite the fact that vast amounts of human, military, and monetary resources have been spent towards the reconstruction of Afghanistan, the result so far has been disappointing to Afghans. While the amount of money could be argued as sufficient, emphasis should be put on qualitative intervention rather than quantitative (ie, Commander's Emergency Response Program funding supporting multiple projects with little impact in terms of sustainable development and stability). Assistance should be primarily needs-based rather than politically motivated. The government of Afghanistan and the troop contributing nations must respect the right of people in need to receive assistance in full respect of humanitarian principles of humanity, impartiality and independence*.
In that respect, the government and the international community should also respect the moral obligation of civil society and the NGO community to access populations in need, regardless of any other factors, such as whether it is a government-controlled area or not. One should not forget the critical role played by the civil society and NGO community in providing assistance, improving access to basic services to the population of Afghanistan and in capacity building human resources, and the even greater role it could play in addressing the key priorities to be discussed at the London Conference. In addition, we call on the international community to immediately cease any attempt to utilise civil society and NGO actors to pursue a military objective. Such approach could only negatively impact the population, and by extension the government and contributing nations.
 A large number of commanders across the country receive financial support from international military forces (No official data to confirm this rumor).
 *Interagency Standing Committee Reference Paper on Civil Military Relations in Complex Emergencies
17th June 2003 Status of the International Movement of the Red Cross, “Principles and good practices for Humanitarian Assitance » signed in Stockholm the by most European Countries, Canada, Japan, the United States of America and Australia
13th june 2007 « Toward a European concensus on Humanitarian Assistance», submitted for approval to the Euroepan parliament and the Council by the European Commission