10 Feb 2011

Minister defends work of NZ team in Bamyan

3:53 pm on 10 February 2011

The Minister of Defence has rejected suggestions New Zealand's provincial reconstruction team in Afghanistan might be hindering local government.

Speaking to the BBC, Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai said the provincial reconstruction teams throughout the country are hindering the development of home-grown institutions.

Mr Karzai said the teams are like an alternative system of government and threaten to undermine stability in Afghanistan.

There are 125 Defence Force personnel with New Zealand's Provincial Reconstruction Team in Bamyan province in central Afghanistan.

The team has been based there since 2003 running regular security patrols and working with local companies to build bridges, schools and police stations.

However, not everyone welcomes their presence. In August last year, New Zealander Lieutenant Tim O'Donnell was killed and two other soldiers injured when their convoy was attacked by gunmen with rocket-propelled grenades.

Defence Minister Wayne Mapp says New Zealand troops have been doing good work in Bamyan province.

"Certainly, whenever I've been to Afghanistan or to the NATO ISAF meetings invariably the Minister of Defence of Afghanistan is of high praise of the role of our provincial reconstruction team.

"But both Afghanistan and indeed we are looking forward to progressive transfer of responsibility in Bamyan province."

Australian Defence Minister Stephen Smith says he sympathises with Mr Karzai wanting to take control of Afghanistan.

Mr Smith, who held talks with Dr Mapp in New Zealand on Thursday, says no country wants to be in Afghanistan longer than necessary.

"Neither Australia nor New Zealand want to be in Afghanistan forever and neither does the Afghan government, the Afghan people or the Afghan nation want the international community to be in Afghanistan forever.

"We've all committed ourselves to a transition process predicated on giving the Afghan security forces and the Afghan nation the capacity to manage and lead its own security arrangements."

In early February, Prime Minister John Key announced that a reduced team of elite SAS troops would stay Kabul for another 12 months from April, and a decision on the future of the Provincial Reconstruction Team would be made in a few months.

The Defence Force has declined to comment on Mr Karzai's claims.

Oxfam backs president's call

Charity organisation Oxfam New Zealand has joined calls for the New Zealand Defence Force to pull out of development work in Afghanistan.

Oxfam New Zealand executive director Barry Coates says the New Zealand team has done good work, but has failed to build up local capacity.

He says the blurring of civilian aid and military objectives makes communities and aid workers targets for violence.

Afghanistan Association of New Zealand spokesperson Siraj Salarzi says if central government is weak there is a risk that other groups will take advantage and spread instability.

He says there are more effective and much cheaper ways in which the New Zealand Government could help Afghanistan such as training health workers or sending computers to build local capacity.