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10 July 2008 : Column 532WH—continued

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister told the House in December:

The UK is committed to Afghanistan for the long term.

The hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk asked about new money. I can tell him that, at the Paris conference on 12 June, more donors pledged more support to Afghanistan than ever before, with pledges totalling $21 billion. The UK pledged a further £613 million up to 2012-13, in addition to its 2006 London conference pledge of £500 million.

I will ensure that all suggestions made by hon. Members during the debate—there were some very interesting ones—are fed into the process. A consultation draft of the country assistance plan is published on the DFID website, and we welcome comments by hon. Members and their constituents by 31 July. Our aim is to consult as widely as possible. Ministers will take decisions in the autumn.

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There were many questions about Helmand, although the debate was not specifically on Helmand; it was on Afghanistan across the board. Last week, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development travelled to Helmand and saw at first hand the impact of military operations setting the conditions for stabilisation, reconstruction and development to begin. He talked of the need for

Well, we now have a joint civilian-military plan for Helmand—the Helmand road map—backed by the stabilisation aid fund, and a senior civil servant arrived last month as the new UK senior representative for Helmand. The provincial reconstruction team is co-located with the military headquarters of the taskforce in Helmand. Of course, success depends not only on an increasingly effective civil-military effect, but on the involvement of the Afghan Government and the Helmand governor. We always need to remember that our aim is to help the Afghans to secure and govern Helmand and the wider country themselves, not to do it for them.

I know that the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex did not mean to be unkind at the beginning of his contribution. I am sure that he will respect it when I say that I am very pleased that he bothered to speak and make a contribution today, rather than sniggering from the sidelines as we witnessed yesterday, but that is where my pleasure ends with his comments. I disagreed with much of what he said. He probably inadvertently used a phrase that I might have used for much of his contribution.

Joined-up civilian and military planning and implementation have enabled the UK to extend the reach of stabilisation activities beyond Lashkar Gah to Gereshk, Sangin, Musa Qala and, most recently, Garmsir. Last week, the Secretary of State visited Garmsir—a town taken back from Taliban insurgents in May. The market had reopened faster than many had expected, but the school was an empty shell and had not seen children or teachers in months. Only now is life reverting to normal. A doctor was trying to operate in a clinic stripped of all its equipment, and there are plans to refurbish the school. The challenge is, of course, huge.

Mr. Ellwood: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Malik: I will not.

However, we are in the business of stabilisation. In the refurbished school in nearby Lashkar Gar, there are now 1,300 children, many of them girls. One of them, 11-year-old Ehsanullah, proudly declared, “I’m the first girl in my family to go to school. Now I’ll get a job instead of staying at home. I want to be a teacher or doctor, things I never thought possible.” The challenge is great, but we are making progress.

Mr. Ellwood: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Malik: The hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir Robert Smith) asked about the school in Sangin. I do not have a detailed answer to hand, but I will include in my follow-up letter a response to him.

Many commentators focus only on Helmand, but the IDC report went across Afghanistan. Our aid programme supports the Afghan Government’s own objectives, helping
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them to build effective state institutions, improving economic management, aid effectiveness and the livelihoods of rural people. There is little point in winning the battle for Helmand today if we are not building the Afghan state for tomorrow.

Mr. Ellwood: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Malik: I am afraid that in the spirit of consultation, I will not be giving way; I will continue through to the end.

What evidence is there of DFID impact in Afghanistan?

Mr. Ellwood: On a point of order, Mr. Jones. Could you guide us? Many of us have worked very hard to understand what is going on and want to hold the Government to account. That applies not least, I am sure, to the Chairman of the Select Committee, who has put this important paper together. The Minister is denying us the opportunity to cross-examine him or even pose questions. He is hiding behind a prepared speech, which is not helpful after what has been a fantastic debate.

Mr. Martyn Jones (in the Chair): That is not a point of order: it is up to the Minister whether he gives way.

Mr. Malik: Of course I reject that nonsense.

What evidence is there of DFID impact in Afghanistan? DFID funding contributes to the salaries of more than 100,000 teachers and health workers across Afghanistan, helping to improve access to education and health care for the whole population—a point emphasised by my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Dr. Blackman-Woods). In that respect, DFID’s funding is more flexible than that of most donors—the Afghans build the schools and we pay for the teachers. DFID has helped the Afghan Government to increase their tax revenues by $100 million each year since 2001, helping to reduce Afghanistan’s dependence on overseas aid over the long term. In that way, the Afghans can pay for their own security forces—something that many donors will not do.

DFID is providing £50 million to the national solidarity programme, which has established more than 20,000 elected community development councils across Afghanistan, with more than 36,000 local development projects under way or completed. That issue was raised by the hon. Members for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine and for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood).

With regard to Pakistan and the federally administered tribal areas, we are encouraging Pakistan and Afghanistan to intensify their dialogue and to agree further measures to combat the Taliban and other insurgent groups that oppose Afghanistan’s peaceful reconstruction. The UK is helping the Afghan Government to organise the next good neighbourly relations declaration meeting with Pakistan, which is due to take place in the autumn.

We agree with the IDC on the need for improved donor co-ordination and aid effectiveness. The best way to achieve the Afghanistan national development strategy is by supporting Afghans to help themselves. That is why the UK channels 80 per cent. of its assistance through the Government of Afghanistan and why 90 per cent. of UK aid to Afghanistan is spent in Afghanistan.
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That helps the local economy, and it helps sustainability, the growth of jobs and the improvement of skills in Afghanistan.

I was asked about the USA. It has indicated that it will put more of its aid programme on-budget, including directly to two Afghan Ministries. I can provide further details in a written answer if the House wishes.

The IDC rightly highlighted the importance of sub-national governance, and it welcomed DFID’s support for the independent directorate of local governance—or IDLG. The IDC praised the role of community development councils, created under the national solidarity programme, as a vehicle for empowering communities and involving women in decision making.

DFID is providing £1.3 million for the IDLG this year and supporting municipal and community governance in Helmand, using CDCs. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) asked what we are doing to support local government. I hope that, at least in part, my response answers his question.

On counter-narcotics, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (John Battle) asked what is meant by holistic and how the strategy works. It includes extending microfinance to rural areas, so that farmers can buy seeds. It is about restoring and improving irrigation and drainage systems, so that farmers get increased crop yields, and improving roads, so that farmers can get their crops to market. I would be happy for DFID and the Afghan drugs interdepartmental unit to write to my right hon. Friend in more detail than I have time for now.

Corruption was one of the key themes raised by the right hon. Member for Gordon, the Chairman of the Select Committee. I agree with him and with the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield that corruption is a major concern in Afghanistan. Surveys suggest that Afghans perceive corruption as being widespread, particularly in the justice, police and security sectors. We are deeply concerned about narcotics-related corruption, and we are helping the Afghan Government to address the problem through building their rule-of-law and justice sectors.

The Committee impressed on President Karzai the importance of dealing with the problem, but it does not mean that aid cannot be spent effectively and accountably through government systems. We are confident that UK funds are not being misused. Most of our assistance goes through the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund, which is managed by the World Bank and audited
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by PricewaterhouseCoopers. The fund reimburses the Afghan Government upon proof of legitimate expenditure. I hope that I have clarified matters for the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield.

I am glad to hear hon. Members pressing Her Majesty’s Government to take greater action. The wider international community is pressing President Karzai and the Afghan Government to do just that—a point that the Secretary of State reinforced during his meeting with the President just under a week ago.

The issue of women was one of the central themes raised by the right hon. Member for Gordon. The IDC recommended that the Afghan Government and donors should prioritise women’s rights. We agree with the Committee that further analysis should be carried out, and we will address women’s rights in our new country assistance plan. The right hon. Gentleman was right to say that it is a great disappointment that the number of women in government and in Parliament is decreasing. That is not helpful.

Women are not there to represent women, although it is true to say that they understand women better than men. The truth is that we want a Parliament that reflects society, which means that it should be composed half of men and half of women, and we would want that also at governmental level. We will continue to consider the matter. However, we should recognise the scale of the challenge. Gender inequality is deeply imbedded. It is a long-term problem that requires a strategic Afghan-led approach.

DFID works towards gender equality in three ways—through policy engagement with the Afghan Government, through support for national programmes and services that benefit women and through bilateral programmes. For example, DFID has funded the NGO Womankind with just under £500,000 over four years, to ensure that gender equality in schools and in the political sphere is taken seriously.

One of the main themes of the report was security and policing. The right hon. Member for Gordon pointed out that the EU is leading in the building up of an effective and legitimate Afghan national police force. Of the 68 UK personnel working in Afghanistan, the UK has seconded 11 to the EUPOL mission, including the deputy head of mission for operations. The UK plans to increase that to about 20. The Afghan Ministry of the Interior estimates that there are 160 female police officers, as against 73,000 male officers.

The sitting having continued for three hours, it was adjourned without Question put.

Adjourned at twenty-five minutes to Six o’clock.

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