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Mrs. Caroline Spelman (Meriden): I welcome the statement and thank the Secretary of State for letting me have a copy of it in advance.
The £200 million announced in Tokyo to fund reconstruction in Afghanistan is extremely welcome. Many were quick to suggest that the west would bomb Afghanistan and then abandon it again. It is encouraging to see that that is not the case.
I share the right hon. Lady's belief that the people of Afghanistan now have a chance of a better future. We should pay tribute to all those who are engaged in liberating Afghanistan from the Taliban and al-Qaeda. I wish them success in completing that task.
When I was in Pakistan, local Afghan aid workers impressed on me the need to work with and through the new Administration. Does the Secretary of State accept that with the difficulties facing Afghanistan, reconstruction will fail unless the basic infrastructure of the new Government is in place? Given her high praise for Hamid Karzai, which I am sure is entirely justified, does she accept that reconstruction is something that is done with a country and not to a country?
Our key concern is that Afghanistan should see the pledges of reconstruction money turned into reality simply and effectively. Is the right hon. Lady satisfied that the reforms to EU development assistance are sufficiently well advanced to make that a good vehicle for a significant proportion of our aid giving?
We welcome the shift in emphasis in EU development assistance towards poor countries like Afghanistan. Learning the lessons from Kosovo, what assurances has the right hon. Lady received that this assistance will take on board the regional context? Many of the surrounding countries are poor and fragile. For example, only today, the entire regional government of Kurdistan resigned. Does she agree that intervening unilaterally in one country could destabilise others in the same area? The quality of co-ordination of the aid efforts will be key to the success of reconstruction. Can the Secretary of State reassure the House that DFID's staff deployment will be sufficiently senior to ensure prompt and effective decision making?
The Secretary of State will be aware that more than 4 million Afghan refugees are in Iran and Pakistan. Remarkably, since 1998, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has repatriated 4.6 million Afghan refugees. Could the Secretary of State confirm whether there is provision in the reconstruction package for the repatriation of refugees? Looking at the long-term rehabilitation of Afghanistan, the international community will need to consider debt relief. Even before 11 September, Afghanistan had substantial overhanging debt. Can she give assurances that she will look imaginatively at ways of helping the new Afghan Government to deal with debt relief? In that regard, I welcome the news that a trust fund is to be established.
The Secretary of State twice mentioned the need to stamp out opium production. Does she accept that getting proper irrigation systems in place should be prioritised so that alternative crops can be grown? As I am sure she is aware, I am determined to help land mine victims in Afghanistan. I welcome the news of the involvement of the UN mine action service in what she described as accelerated land mine clearance. However, I draw her attention to the problems of land mines in the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan; there is a real fear that as Afghan refugees return through those tribal areas, more may become land mine victims.
We welcome the commitment to women in the reconstruction process. What assistance could be given to Afghan women refugees in this country to encourage them to return and play an active part in restoring their country's fortunes? Finally, I welcome once again the Government's statement and the results of the Tokyo conference. If we can reconstruct Afghanistan properly, that will be another victory for the war on terrorism.
Clare Short: I am grateful to the hon. Lady, and agree with her. If she remembers, at the beginning of the crisis, there were some elements or loud voices in the United States, but not in the Administration, who said that nation building was none of our business. Anyone who took that position is now seeing the error of their ways. Terrorist groups, criminals, drug dealers and disorderly forces who want to be destructive and spread hate and violence in the world are nurtured by, and hide themselves in, failed states.
We always need the capacity to prevent such action and to build efficient modern states that are part of the international community so that it is not vulnerable to terrorist organisations such as those responsible for 11 September. In the case of Afghanistan, everyone should be haunted by the great error that was made after the Soviet withdrawal, when everyone left and armed groups took over the country; there was no order, leading to the rise of the Taliban and everything that has flowed from that. We owe it to ourselves and the people of Afghanistan not to make that error again.
The hon. Lady asked whether the reforms for which we have been working hard since 1997 in the European Union's development efforts are sufficiently advanced to trust that they will make a contribution in Afghanistan. A serious reform effort is in place, but it needs to be fully implemented. However, we were committed to a much bigger proportion of our funding going through the European Commission by the previous Administration. We therefore worked hard to get the Commission to commit to considerable spending in Afghanistan, as a proportion of our money had to go through it anyway and could well have been spent on less needy countries. The Commission is not the most efficient operator, but at least we should direct the money to the right sources. We should try to collaborate with the Commission to make sure that the money that has to be funnelled through it is spent well in Afghanistan; that is the task in which we will be engaged.
I agree with the hon. Lady very much that Kurdistan, Uzbekistan, Turkistanall the "Stans"are in enormously bad shape. Some of them are poor, highly indebted and full of instability. Just as we have got a chance in Afghanistan and Pakistan, we need to work with the "Stans" to try to lift that world region, overcome the
I promise the hon. Lady that my staff will be deployed at the right levels. I have said it before, but it really is true: they are respected and honoured throughout the international system and I am sure that they will make a leading contribution in Afghanistan. We shall try not just to introduce a UK programme, which we would do well, but get behind the Interim Authority and build up their capacity and work with the World Bank and the UN to get the co-ordination effort going properly, which is a more difficult but important task that must be carried out.
On refugees, the UN humanitarian agencies made a separate appeal for short-term help. We will have to assist refugees to return home, but they should not be forced. The big job is to build up the country. Living in refugee camps in Pakistan is a miserable life and I am sure that people will want to go home, but they must be supported until they are ready and then be helped with getting home and reconstructing their houses and agricultural lands.
I do not believe that Afghanistan has a large debt problem, but I shall look at that again. It has been so cut off from the international community for so long that it has not racked up lots of debts and the subject has not been mentioned by any international agency in preparing for reconstruction, but I shall consider the question and write to the hon. Lady.
Fields have already been planted with opium this year and we need to move quickly to ensure that the crop is not brought to market to carry on the corruption that drug dealing leads to. I agree with the hon. Lady that we need to restore irrigation. Lots of irrigation systems were destroyed during the bombing in the war against Soviet occupation, but destroying the irrigation alone is not enough, because that could lead to better poppy cultivation.
We must offer people alternative crops and a better legitimate life so that they do not want to be part of an illicit and corrupt drug-dealing life. These are very poor people who do not use drugs, which became the only alternative crop for them to keep their families alive. We must make them a better legitimate offer that they want to be part of.
Afghanistan was littered with land mines before the recent crisis and a high-quality UN operation was already working there. Now the conflict is over, it has a real chance to work throughout the country to clear up all the land mines. The operation assesses where the mines are and has programmes to warn refugeesa massive effort will be made. There is a genuine chance to clear the country of mines, if we can prevent it from returning to conflict.
The hon. Lady's last point was about helping skilled women refugees in this country to return to their country. The International Organisation for Migration has set up a register of all Afghansmost educated Afghans have left the country and are refugees across the worldto record