Afghanistan, the war the world forgot
By Colin Brown and
25 May 2004
'We've got to make sure this time that we do it
Tony Blair, 5 April, 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
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
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
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.