I will expand on what Mr. Moffett said and try to reply to all the interesting questions. Today is a great opportunity to bring the situation in Afghanistan to the attention of members. I am not sure how much comes through the media or through different stakeholders.
The situation in Afghanistan is as bad as we are describing. What are we doing and where is all the money going? That is the big question organisations such as Christian Aid are asking themselves. It is a matter of legitimacy, and this relates to the extent of support for the Government. It has to do with people who are disappointed and frustrated because they see all this aid coming to their country, but their lives are not changing. Afghan people to whom we talk wonder where the money is going. It has to do with accountability. For us, accountability is essential, not just towards the people we help, but also towards those who support our work. We must make sure the majority of every euro sent to us goes to the poorest of the poor. Our approach is not to have a large structure of experts, paying overheads and running costs, but to make sure the funding we have goes towards helping the poor. This is possible through local NGOs, which, in a way, are better value for money because they have greater expertise and access to certain areas, particularly those in which international organisations cannot travel due to security concerns. They also have better links with different stakeholders. Together with them, we manage to ensure that the needs of the poorest of the poor are addressed.
On the subject of the Afghan Government, we all know how Mr. Karzai was elected during the last elections. I can definitely say there is a big question over the legitimacy of this Government and whether people really believe that the Government will do something for them. Mr. Karzai has been called a number of things, including the mayor of Kabul, because his legitimacy does not go beyond the capital. At the moment, I would say he does not have legitimacy even in Kabul, and he is losing ground. In the eyes of the Afghans he is seen as someone whose interest is really in the international donor community rather than in his own people. There is a perception among the Afghan people we work with that they have been neglected and forgotten. Thus, there is a question mark over the legitimacy of the Government and its accountability to the people.
We must always bear in mind what we want to achieve in Afghanistan. Organisations such as Christian Aid want to tackle grinding poverty. Other actors might have different agendas, but we believe poverty can only leave Afghans with fewer options to earn money: corruption, the opium trade, or joining the Taliban and fighting with the insurgency. Thus, if we do not try to tackle poverty, there will be no development and no peace. We want to go to the root causes; we do not want to tackle poverty just to stabilise areas, which is the approach taken by the military. Organisations such as ours have concerns about this because, for us, long-term development goes beyond quick-impact projects or reaching stability within a counter-insurgency strategy. Our purpose is to make sure that poor Afghans get a better living. They are not as poor as they used to be; they have access to basic services and resources and they are able to stand on their own feet. We want to promote systems that do not create a permanent dependency on our services, and that is why it is important to work with these people - with the communities themselves - to empower them. When we talk about empowerment, it is not just about rights; it is about income, health, education and everything else.
It will be interesting to understand where all this money is going. I am sure the Irish Government, within the European Union, has the authority and right to ask where it is going. We have a sense of responsibility because of the support that people such as the committee give to organisations such as ours and towards the development of Afghanistan. We are particularly concerned about the financial crisis and budget cuts, so it is important that every cent we spend goes to the right people and in the right direction.
Ethnic groups are an important issue. The majority ethnic group is the Pashtun, and then we have the Uzbek, the Tajik and the Hazara, which are minorities. The bottom line is that the conflict has ethnic roots. This is why the initiation of a dialogue that brings everyone around the table is important in achieving long-term peace. This peace needs to be inclusive of all ethnic groups, not only the majority but also minorities such as the Hazara and the Shia, as well as marginalised social groups such as women. It needs to be as broad as possible to be legitimate and sustainable.
There is much concern among women about where the reconciliation and peace process will lead. They are afraid that if insurgency or Talib elements rejoin the Government they might lose the possibility of raising their voice. The little that has been achieved so far might be lost, and they might go back to their previous condition. We all saw the photo of the lady on the cover ofTime a few months ago. Not even a year ago, this woman had her ears and nose cut off because she was trying to run away from home and an abusive marriage. If this was done to a woman by her own husband only a year ago, I do not think we are making much progress in human rights and development.
I was asked how serious we are about what we are doing in Afghanistan, how much we want to take stock of what we have done since 2001, almost ten years ago, and to say what we have achieved. What we have achieved is probably not sufficient so we must ask how we can review our approach and do better to ensure that the people live better. If almost 40% of the population remains food-insecure and unable to meet their food security needs, the situation is appalling despite the billions of euro, dollar, pounds, whatever, that are thrown into the country.
Do we have the right to change people's lives? I do not believe we are there to do that; this is not what Christian Aid wants to do. We want to help the people have better lives and to create better living conditions and access to food, water, sanitation and medical aid at a time when the Government is not able to provide such services. We do not believe we are there to find solutions for them and this is why we try to advocate for Afghan-led solutions and processes. As members noted, perhaps the way we decided to act was valid but did not bring the results we expected. Perhaps it is time to listen to what the Afghans have to say, see what kind of solutions they may propose and leave them the choice as to how they want to proceed in their own country and with their own future. If they want the Talibs back that will be their choice. It is not up to us to say who should rule the country. This is why we do not aim to change their lives. We are only there to support them. For Christian Aid it is not a matter of who will be in power. We will work for the Afghan people whoever may be in charge and hold power. We are not going to enter into political discussions as to who is the good guy and who the bad guy. It is a matter of legitimacy and about what the Afghan people want.
I was asked about co-ordination. Of course, there is a level of co-ordination among human rights agencies and non-governmental organisations. That can always be improved in order to avoid overlapping and duplication and to try to address the gaps or the needs of the people.
How do we help the people and are they happy to see us? They are extremely happy but they fear that if the international community leaves they may go back to the disastrous past of deprivation, poverty, abuses and miserable lives. They are very happy we are there helping but are not happy when such support does not help them to have a better life, affects civilians or causes deaths through military operations. Of course, there have been a number of actions which do not help our presence but, looking at the big picture, the people are definitely happy that the international community is there to help.
There was a question about the Afghanistan reconstruction trust fund. Every donor contributes money to the trust fund for different priorities. In the main, the trust fund is there to support the Afghan Government and so is part of what is supposed to be Afghan ownership in identifying priorities in how the funding is spent. In a way, therefore, it is a system that empowers the Afghan institutions to manage budgets and decide how they should be spent.
There have been a number of discussions on the Afghanistan reconstruction trust funds and whether the Government has the capacity to manage the fund budgets in a way that is accountable to the donors and also to the people to ensure their needs are addressed. A number of donors have recognised the trust fund is a way to go but that they must be prepared to accept that the Government's capacities are still weak and there may be shortfalls or problems of transparency as to how the money is spent. That discussion is ongoing but the trust fund is where all the major donors contribute and is used to pay, for example, salaries of Government officials and police officers and, in particular, to support the Government for salaries and institutional purposes.
I hope I did not miss any question. The military forces are doing an excellent or, at very least, a very important job because they support the Government in providing security. A problem can occur when security forces do development work or claim to do such work but which is not development, rather reconstruction of infrastructure. We recognise they have a very important role in helping the Government to provide security but we do not believe they are in a position to help development in a sustainable way in the long term because their purpose is not about the eradication of poverty but about stabilisation, clearing areas of insurgency and winning the hearts and minds of the people by trying to provide the security in areas where there is insurgency.