Part I

Part I

Background to development assistance to Afghanistan

It is not possible to understand Australia's contribution to development assistance to Afghanistan without first appreciating the legacy left to this war-torn country after years of conflict and political instability.

In Part I of the report, the committee traces the history of conflict in Afghanistan since 1979 when Soviet forces occupied Afghanistan. It looks at the bitter internecine fighting between local warring factions, the rise of the Taliban, the continuing hostilities and consequent widespread destruction of Afghan lives, property and government and civil institutions. The committee outlines the events of 2001 which led to outside intervention in the form of an international security force and commitments by the international community to help Afghanistan rebuild its country.

Against this background, the committee examines the current challenges that face donor countries, including Australia, in ensuring that the assistance they provide is used most effectively to benefit the Afghan people. The committee considers the physical features of the country—the remoteness of some areas and the prevalence of natural disasters such as drought and landslides. It also looks at other factors that make the delivery of assistance to Afghanistan difficult including the lack of infrastructure, corruption and capacity constraints including at the sub-national level and insecurity. Donors also create their own inefficiencies when delivering aid. In this regard, the committee looks at the key principles underpinning aid effectiveness and their application to development assistance to Afghanistan.  


Chapter 2


Recent history of conflict and violence

2.1        For decades, Afghanistan has been wracked by political instability and internal conflict.[1] In 1979, Soviet forces entered the country in response to a reported request from the then Afghan Government for help against insurgent movements.[2] After years of protracted fighting and unable to subdue the resistance, the Soviet Union finally initiated a phased drawdown of its forces from Afghanistan in May 1988.[3] In this chapter, the committee traces developments in Afghanistan from the time the Soviets pulled out of the country until the collapse of the Taliban in 2001.

Soviet withdrawal

2.2        At the beginning of the 1990s, the aftermath of years of conflict were visible throughout the country—towns, villages, property and vital infrastructure destroyed, the economy devastated, innumerable deaths, disappearances, prisoners whose fate remained unknown, displaced and maimed people and continued widespread violations of human rights.[4]

2.3        But the withdrawal of Soviet forces did not end hostilities and the Najibullah government, installed during the Soviet occupation, continued to face armed resistance. In disputed areas, local warring factions engaged in bitter civil fighting causing widespread political upheaval and human suffering.[5] A great many civilians fled the country creating a refugee crisis and by 1990, there were an estimated 6.3 million civilians in exile—3.3 million in Pakistan and 3 million in Iran.[6]

2.4        As material and financial assistance from the Soviet Union dried up, the Afghanistan Government, unable to pay its militias and army, found its grip on power slipping.[7] Fighting between the rebels and government forces intensified with the Mujahedeen eventually gaining the ascendency in 1992, when they took control of Kabul and brought the government down. At that time, Burhanuddin Rabbani was declared President of the Islamic State of Afghanistan. The victorious mujahedeen regime, however, was unable to form a unity government and the various Afghan factions and warlords resorted to fighting among themselves and the country descended once again into civil war.[8] According to the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General, the opposing sides failed to show 'the will to rise above their narrow factional interests and to start working together for national reconciliation'.[9] This pattern of political instability and internal warfare continued unabated causing massive destruction of property and serious damage to Afghanistan's already seriously depleted economic and social infrastructure.[10]

Rise of the Taliban

2.5        In response to the failure of the mujahedeen parties to secure stable government, a group, known as the Taliban, emerged as a formidable opposition. In November 1994, it seized power in Kandahar Province and the capital of Helmand Province—an area considered one of the principal producers of opium in the world. The UN Special Rapporteur wrote that the Taliban, which appeared to be a national movement, had advanced to Zabul Province, on its way to Herat. Representatives of the  Taliban told the Special Rapporteur that they intended to create a national army,


Detailed map of Afghanistan showing states, provinces, major cities and the national capital

collect weapons and fight corruption and anarchy.[11] The Taliban took control of the province of Herat in September 1995.[12]

2.6        By April 1996, Afghanistan was a divided country under the military control of three major forces—the Government in Kabul and five other provinces in the north-eastern part of the country; the Taliban in 14 provinces in the southern, south-eastern and south-western parts; and forces under General Abdul Rashid Dostum in six provinces in the northern section of the country. At this time, Kabul remained under siege by the Taliban, which had been ensconced on the outskirts of the city for many months and were preparing for a major battle for the capital. A report by the UN Secretary-General noted that the principal reason for the continuing hostilities was 'the uncompromising stance of the parties'. It stated:

The Taliban, for their part, remain determined to remove Mr Rabbani (the President) from power by force. Equally determined has been the resolve of the Government to maintain its control of Kabul at all costs.[13]

2.7        By the close of 1997, the Taliban had taken Kabul. Although it now held approximately two-thirds of the country, the Taliban could not prevail over the northern part of the country which remained under the control of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance or United Front. The Secretary-General reported:

The deepening division of the country along ethnic lines, reinforced by external military and political support, continued to inhibit efforts to engender political dialogue among the factions. Throughout 1997, neither the Taliban nor its rivals appear to have given serious consideration to a political, as opposed to a military, solution to the conflict.[14]

2.8        A year later, the UN again expressed its grave concern at the failure of all Afghan parties, in particular the Taliban, to put an end to the conflict. It strongly condemned the sharp escalation in hostilities and the intensification of the fighting. In its assessment, the continuing violence was adding to the enormous suffering of the Afghan people resulting in 'the massive loss of human life, refugee flows, killing, harassment, the forcible displacement of innocent civilians and extensive destruction'.[15]

2.9        It was equally concerned about the persistent violations of human rights and breaches of international humanitarian law, 'as exemplified by reports of mass killings and atrocities committed by combatants against civilians and prisoners of war'. It referred to substantiated reports of systematic discrimination against girls and women, particularly in Taliban controlled areas.[16]

2.10      Two years later, the situation for the Afghan people remained dire as the civil war intensified and the Taliban and the United Front unleashed attacks and counter attacks against each other.[17] The plight of Afghans continued to worsen as the country's socio-economic conditions deteriorated significantly. The UN reported:

The prolonged conflict and the resultant anarchy has left hundreds of thousands of Afghans chronically dependent on international assistance for their survival. The provision of food, shelter, health care and other services by the assistance community is recognized as an essential lifeline for many.[18]

2.11      The task of providing humanitarian assistance in such a volatile environment, however, was becoming increasingly difficult in Afghanistan. In 2000, the outlook was grim with most Afghans reduced to 'eking out a "bare bones" existence' and with indications that the situation was 'likely to deteriorate dramatically over the winter months and throughout the next year'.[19] The UN Secretary-General observed, however, that while there had been a measure of attention paid to Afghanistan during the year, the tendency persisted to view the country as a series of compartmentalized problems—narcotics, terrorism or refugees.[20]

Taliban and al-Qaeda

2.12      For some time, the UN Security Council had been voicing its concern about terrorists using Afghan territory under Taliban control to shelter and train.[21] It condemned the fact that the Taliban continued to provide a safe haven for Osama bin Laden that allowed him and his al-Qaeda associates to operate a network of terrorist training camps and to use Taliban territory as a base from which to sponsor international terrorist operations.[22] The United States (US) had already indicted Osama bin Laden and his supporters for, among other things, the bombings of the United States embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and for conspiring to kill American nationals outside the United States.[23]

2.13      In December 2000, the Security Council demanded that the Taliban cease providing sanctuary and training for international terrorists and their organisations. It called on the Taliban to 'turn over Usama bin Laden to appropriate authorities in a country where he had been indicted...or to appropriate authorities in a country where he will be arrested and effectively brought to justice'.[24]

Terrorist attack on US soil

2.14      The international mood changed dramatically with the terrorist attack on US soil on 11 September 2001, including the assault on the World Trade Center in New York. Within days, the US Congress had passed a joint resolution authorising the US to use armed forces against those responsible for the recent attacks on America. In brief the resolution authorised the President 'to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed or aided the terrorist attacks'...or 'harboured such organizations or persons'.[25]

2.15      Osama bin Laden was the key suspect. The Taliban, however, refused to help the US apprehend him or to break up his al-Qaeda network. In the face of the Taliban's resistance, the US launched military operations in Afghanistan on 7 October 2001 against the terrorist groups responsible for the attacks on American soil. Australia joined the international coalition against terrorism led by the United States.[26] Initially, over 1,550 ADF personnel were deployed to combined operations to support US forces and other coalition partners in the campaign against the terrorist groups, and to provide protection for key coalition forward bases.[27]

2.16      In support of the Northern Alliance forces, the US-led coalition concentrated its efforts on air strikes against the Taliban.[28] The combined effort succeeded in defeating the Taliban and, by late November 2001, the Northern Alliance, having routed the Taliban on the battlefield, occupied the city of Kabul.[29]

Interim Administration

2.17      The military victory over the Taliban paved the way for an ambitious reconstruction plan for Afghanistan, worked out during a meeting in Bonn on 5 December 2001.[30] Under the agreement reached at this meeting, an Interim Administration was established comprising a chair, Mr Hamid Karzai, five vice chairs and 24 other members.[31] On the official transfer of power to the Interim Administration, all mujahedeen, Afghan armed forces and armed groups in the country came under the new administration's command and control.[32]

2.18      The arrangements were intended as a first step toward establishing 'a broad-based, gender-sensitive, multi-ethnic and fully representative government'.[33] According to the UN Secretary-General, few could have imagined that the collapse of the Taliban regime would be followed so quickly by the installation of an internationally recognised provisional administration.[34]

Transitional Authority

2.19      Six months after the Bonn agreement and in accordance with its terms, an emergency loya jirga (Grand Council), held from 11 to 19 June 2002, established a Transitional Authority to replace the Interim Administration.[35] The Authority was to govern Afghanistan until a fully representative government could be elected through free and fair elections to be held no later than two years after the date of the convening of the loya jirga.[36] Consistent with the undertaking, the Transitional Authority governed Afghanistan for 2 years, after which another loya jirga was convened to draft a new constitution and hold elections.

2.20      The UN Secretary-General regarded the Bonn Agreement, where the Afghan parties pledged to engage in a process of transition to a freely elected constitutional and democratic Government, as 'the best chance to put an end to 23 years of war in Afghanistan'.[37] From its inception, however, the new administration faced a range of difficult tasks including restoring order and coherence to a fractured and decentralized system of government. Indeed, during the previous years of conflict, numerous armed factions with vested economic and political interests had secured a firm foothold in the areas under their control. The Secretary-General noted that:

As a result, a pattern of fragmented military rule under various commanders from different political and ethnic backgrounds filled much of the vacant political space created by the fall of the Taliban. These commanders publicly endorsed the Bonn Agreement and the Interim Administration, but at the same time kept their options open, having much to lose by ceding their economic and political power to the central authorities. Some were loyal to members of the Interim Administration, but this did not necessarily make them loyal to the Administration itself.[38]

2.21      Due to the sudden downfall of the Taliban and ongoing operations against Taliban and al-Qaeda remnants, this fragmentation was 'particularly evident in the Pashtun-populated areas of the south and east'.[39] Two researchers noted that the expectation that the Agreement 'could somehow surgically remove warlords and their militias from Afghanistan's fundamental culture and power base was and remains unrealistic'.[40]

International Security Assistance Force (ISAF)

2.22      To help maintain security in Kabul and its surrounding areas, the parties to the Bonn Agreement called for the deployment of an international security force. They envisaged that the force could be expanded progressively to other urban centres and districts.[41] On 20 December 2001, the Security Council adopted resolution 1386 (2001), which authorized the establishment for 6 months of an International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). This force was to assist the Afghan Interim Authority keep Kabul and its neighbouring districts safe, so that the Authority and UN personnel could operate in a secure environment.[42] The Council also called on Member States to contribute personnel, equipment and other resources to ISAF.[43]

2.23      This force and its respective lead nations were successful in improving security conditions in and around Kabul.[44] On 27 November 2002, the Security Council adopted a resolution extending the mandate of ISAF until 20 December 2003. It welcomed the decision of Germany and the Netherlands to assume joint command of ISAF from Turkey.[45]

2.24      On 16 April 2003, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) announced that, at the request of three leading ISAF nations—Germany, the Netherlands and Canada, it had decided to increase its already substantial involvement in ISAF. It would deploy a composite headquarters in theatre and exercise strategic command, control and coordination of ISAF. The commander would be selected from contributing allied nations.[46] In August 2003, NATO assumed command of ISAF from Germany and the Netherlands.[47] Mr Hamid Karzai, President of the Transitional Islamic State of Afghanistan, welcomed NATO's action in taking responsibility for the international security forces in Afghanistan.[48]

2.25      The NATO-led ISAF continued to assist the Government of Afghanistan to maintain security and create the conditions for stabilization and reconstruction in Kabul and the northern, north-eastern and western regions. On 8 December 2005, NATO formally adopted a revised ISAF operational plan providing for an expansion to the south.[49] Security, however, remained a serious challenge for Afghanistan with the Taliban targeting attacks against international and local humanitarian workers, coalition forces, ISAF and the Afghan administration.[50]

United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA)

2.26      During the period immediately after 2001, the international community was also endeavouring to help Afghanistan rebuild after years of war.

2.27      On 14 September 2001 and before their defeat, Taliban authorities ordered the expulsion of foreigners from the country. During this month, the UN withdrew its international personnel from Afghanistan for security reasons. The immediate and serious threat to safety also severely curtailed the efforts of NGOs in Afghanistan to provide much needed help. For many years, aid agencies had been delivering vital assistance to the Afghan people, even during periods of intense fighting.[51]

2.28      As the security situation began to improve from mid November 2001 and with the fall of the Taliban, the aid community was able to return to continue its work. The UN was once again prepared to resume its aid mission to Afghanistan. For example, in December 2001 alone the World Food Program was able to deliver 115,000 tons of food to Afghans in need.[52]

2.29      On 14 November 2001, the Security Council adopted resolution 1378 (2001) in which Council members expressed strong support for the efforts of the Afghan people 'to establish a new and transitional administration leading to the formation of a government'. The Council called on Member States to provide:

2.30      Member States were also urged to support efforts to ensure the safety and security of areas of Afghanistan no longer under Taliban control, and especially to protect civilians, transitional authorities, United Nations and associated personnel, as well as personnel of humanitarian organisations.[53]

2.31      The task ahead for Afghanistan and the international community was enormous. According to a UN report, a humanitarian disaster of immense proportions was unfolding owing to 'the combined effects of chronic poverty, hunger, war, drought, displacement, and abuse of civilians'.[54] Millions of Afghans were unable to exercise their fundamental right to adequate food, housing, health and physical security. In 2001, about 7.5 million Afghans lived in areas where almost no health services were available to them. The UN reported that up to an estimated 6 million people, one fourth of the whole population, were vulnerable and in need of assistance.[55] The safety and well-being of more than 1 million internally displaced people was of major concern.[56]

2.32      Disarmament, mine clearance, the removal of cluster bomb remnants and the reconstruction of the country’s infrastructure were needed for the country to recover and rebuild. This task was daunting considering, for example, that in 2000, Afghanistan was held to be one of the most severely landmine-contaminated countries in the world with 720 square kilometres of territory (estimated 10 million mines scattered across the country) known to contain mines. Moreover, the people of Afghanistan were heavily traumatised, particularly those living in front-line communities where people had been subjected 'to summary executions and arbitrary detention on a routine basis'.[57]

2.33      Discrimination against women and minority groups had been a wide spread practice.[58] In this regard, Care Australia noted that as a result of the Taliban's domination of the country from the mid 1990s and their imposition of a strict ban on girls attending school and females teaching, an entire generation of girls had been denied formal schooling.[59] In 2001, there were only around 5,000 girls in school.[60] Overall, at this time, Afghanistan barely rated above the lowest possible score for voice and accountability; political stability and absence of violence; government effectiveness; regulatory quality; rule of law and control of corruption.[61] The UN Secretary-General, described Afghanistan as a 'shattered society'.[62]

2.34      After the 2001 meeting in Bonn, the 'entire United Nations system' engaged in extensive consultations on proposals for the structure and form of its presence in Afghanistan. The Secretary-General suggested that a proposed mission, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), should be a unified, integrated structure under the authority and leadership of the Special Representative for Afghanistan. The mission's objective should be to provide support for the implementation of the Bonn Agreement processes, including:

...the stabilization of the emerging structures of the Afghan Interim Authority, while recognizing that the responsibility for the Agreement's implementation ultimately rests with the Afghans themselves.[63] 

2.35      On 28 March 2002, the Security Council adopted resolution 1401 which endorsed the establishment of the UNAMA.[64] The mission's mandate was extended on a number of occasions.[65] Australia became part of the international donor community pledged to assist Afghanistan with its recovery.[66]


2.36      After two decades of civil war, the government of Afghanistan faced the daunting task of creating an environment that would enable its people to start the process of rebuilding their country's economy, its vital infrastructure and state institutions. In 2001, many people needed to be resettled, the injured to be rehabilitated, farmers returned to their land and children to school.

2.37      The timely and generous support of the international community was needed to help Afghanistan achieve this goal.[67] The Bonn agreement in December 2001 provided the first stepping stone that would allow international donors, including Australia, to help Afghanistan toward recovery. In the following chapter, the committee looks at how the international community mobilised to help Afghanistan and, within this context, Australia's contribution to that effort.

Dilapidated building

Dilapidated buildings

The legacy of war

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