A majority of people in Britain (58 per cent) say they are not clear what Britain is trying to achieve in Afghanistan and only one in four (26 per cent) think the current approach is working well, according to an opinion poll commissioned by a new campaign coalition, Together Afghanistan, released while the UN has been voting on renewing the mandate for its mission in Afghanistan.
Coinciding with the Afghan New Year last week, a new joint campaign calling for a ‘new approach’ to Afghanistan says that we need to be focusing squarely on what Afghans need to build a better, more peaceful future – and what the international community needs to do to support them.
Backed by seven organisations, including Oxfam, Christian Aid and Afghanaid, the campaign calls for Britain and the international community to:
• Better protect Afghan civilians caught up in the conflict and ensure there is full transparency on civilian casualties - including that proper investigations are carried out.
• Ensure aid is focused on Afghan needs and long-term development and that donors are open and accountable about how aid is spent.
• Push now for a comprehensive process to end the conflict that involves all the main parties inside and outside Afghanistan, and supports practical opportunities for ordinary Afghan women and men to have a meaningful say in any political dialogue or eventual peace agreement.
Manohar Shenoy, Country Director of Oxfam in Afghanistan commented: "Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries on earth. Only half of children go to school and just 12 per cent of women over 15 in Afghanistan can read. Every half an hour, one Afghan woman dies in pregnancy and another of tuberculosis. Aid is desperately needed, but at the moment far too much is given to areas where troops are rather than distributed according to need. Afghans have put up with decades of grinding poverty and deserve better."
The launch took place on the day after President Karzai announced a handover from international to Afghan security forces in seven areas, including Lashkar Gah in Helmand, and on the day the UN votes on renewing its annual mandate for its operations in Afghanistan.
But the poll commissioned by Together Afghanistan shows that 83 per cent of people in Britain believe Afghanistan will still be at war in 2014, when British combat troops are due to leave and the process of transition to Afghan security forces is supposed to be complete.
Serena Di Matteo, Country Director for Afghanistan for Christian Aid, said: "Afghanistan’s development is being undermined by the current conflict. More and more civilians are being killed in the fighting. The UK government must now give its backing to a comprehensive peace process which helps bring an end to the conflict. Any peace agreement must respect the rights of all Afghan citizens, especially those of women. The UN Secretary-General should support the international community in its search for peace."
The launch also follows the release of new UN figures showing that the number of civilians killed in Afghanistan rose to over 2,700 in 2010, the deadliest year since the start of the current conflict, particularly due to escalating Taliban attacks.
Chris Langdon, managing director of the respected Oxford Research Group, added: "Many Afghans have little trust in the forces that are meant to protect them. That trust erodes further every time Afghan civilians are killed and injured in air strikes or night raids, and every time there are allegations that internationally-backed Afghan security forces have abused their positions of power. International and Afghan forces must ensure there is full transparency in the recording of civilian casualties and that all allegations of misconduct, harm or loss of innocent life of civilians are thoroughly and transparently investigated."
Together Afghanistan (http://www.togetherafghanistan.org/ ) brings together many different organisations around a broad objective to demand that the international community takes a new approach towards Afghanistan. Each organisation has joined in order to contribute to this collective effort. In doing so, each organisation maintains their specific objectives, demands and goals in the context of this global action and does not necessarily endorse all of the specific demands raised by other organisations.
The Together Afghanistan partners are:
Afghanaid: http://www.afghanaid.org.uk/ 
CARE International UK: http://www.careinternational.org.uk/ 
Christian Aid: http://www.christianaid.org.uk/whatwedo/asia/afghanistan.aspx 
Oxfam: http://www.oxfam.org.uk/oxfam_in_action/where_we_work/afghanistan.html 
Oxford Research Group: http://www.oxfordresearchgroup.org.uk/ 
Save the Children UK: http://www.savethechildren.org.uk/ 
Tearfund: http://www.tearfund.org/ 
War Child UK: http://www.warchild.org.uk/