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David Miliband: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. However, one of the worst things we can do is to be smug and self-satisfied about our performance and recommend that other countries “copy” us. However, his point that our experience of promoting
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development of the legal economy, especially agriculture, in Afghanistan will be of widespread interest is absolutely right.

As it happens, I talked to Ambassador Holbrooke this morning about the wheat distribution programme that has been developed by Governor Mangal in Helmand, which I saw for myself when I visited Garmsir last year. That programme is helping farmers to choose legal production rather than opium production, which is significant. I also spoke to Secretary Clinton, who has bold ideas about how she wants to reconfigure the US aid effort. I think that I am right in saying that there are a large number of funding streams to Afghanistan from the US development effort, and we certainly want to work closely with the US as it reviews that matter.

Mr. Adam Holloway (Gravesham) (Con): Did Secretary Clinton mention anything about reconciliation and bringing the Taliban and organisations such as Hizb-e-Islami into the political process? Is it true that President Karzai called for a jihad against us in a Cabinet meeting recently?

David Miliband: I have seen no report to that effect, and whenever I meet President Karzai he tells me that he is very committed to the partnership between Britain and Afghanistan. However, one must acknowledge that although he rightly has a fair degree of anger about civilian deaths, that sometimes spills over into rather more generalised attacks on the role of coalition forces that could give a different impression. The hon. Gentleman asks about reconciliation. I shall certainly address it, as it is an important part of the agenda. I assure him that I will come to that, and if he does not feel that I have covered it, he should intervene again.

Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab): The civilian deaths have been a formidable obstacle to our attempts to win hearts and minds. We have heard of a British officer being brought home for allegedly giving information to Human Rights Watch about the extent of civilian deaths. Human Rights Watch claims that there were about 1,600 such deaths last year, and the United Nations Association puts the figure at more than 2,000. What is the Foreign Secretary’s estimate of the number of civilian deaths that were caused last year?

David Miliband: I am not going to make an estimate today, but I am happy to write to my hon. Friend with the best estimate that we have. He is right to say that civilian deaths are a major cause of disaffection among the local population. I hope that he will be reassured that one thing that we are working actively on with NATO command and our American and other coalition partners is how to minimise coalition deaths and promote openness and transparency with the Afghan Government when such tragedies occur.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con): I am a little startled that the Foreign Secretary has not used this opportunity to put on record how much we regret causing civilian deaths in Afghanistan. Will he do that?

David Miliband: Of course. In response to the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn), it is obvious that when one describes
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civilian deaths as a tragedy, one is saying that one does not just regret them but regrets them deeply, both for the sake of the individuals concerned and for the message that they send more widely. One of the first principles of British action anywhere in the world is the need to minimise civilian deaths, not just because it is a legal obligation but because there is a moral obligation. It is also a material factor in whether the coalition effort succeeds.

Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South) (Lab): Does not much of the problem with civilian deaths arise from the fact that part of the American force is not part of the NATO operation? Those forces do not appear to co-operate. That part of the American force is careless about what it gets up to. Three times, it has bombed wedding parties.

David Miliband: It is for that reason that General McKiernan is now in charge of both the NATO operation and Operation Enduring Freedom. That is an important step forward and speaks to the need for co-operation between the two forces.

As for Pakistan, the £7.6 billion International Monetary Fund loan that it secured last November has helped to plug the hole in its balance of payments, and it is making progress in implementing the accompanying economic reform programme. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I, along with many others, have urged faster and further action against those associated with the Mumbai attacks, and prosecution and then punishment for those found guilty. Clearly, however, the fight cannot be won by military means alone. Military action needs to be backed by a comprehensive political and economic plan, and that is the prospect that is now held out in the Holbrooke review.

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made clear in his statement to the House on Afghanistan in December 2007, and again a year later, the key to our policy is helping the Afghans stabilise and govern their country. Let me highlight today three important issues for the future, including reconciliation, which the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Holloway) mentioned.

The first principle of our policy is to build the capacity of the Afghan state to root out the insurgency and provide basic security and justice for its citizens. By building up the Afghan national army—now around 60,000 or 65,000 strong—and creating an Afghan national police force worthy of its name, we are working to strengthen indigenous Afghan capacity for the long term. In creating systems of governance and of justice, at district, provincial and national level, we are trying to ensure sustainability by working with the grain of Afghan tradition.

The Department for International Development’s work to reform the civil service and ensure transparent allocation of Government funds will help make the state more credible and more effective at delivering basic services. By supporting 18,000 community development councils, and providing small business loans to more than 280,000 Afghan women, the Department is empowering some of the poorest communities to take more responsibility for their security and development.

The second element that I want to highlight is political reconciliation. Al-Qaeda draws its support from being part of a wider insurgency that seeks to usurp the authority of the state. However, the insurgents are
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neither strong nor united. They have different motivations and come from different backgrounds: ideological Taliban, $10-a-day Taliban, fighters from beyond the region, criminals and narco-traffickers, warlords and wannabe local power brokers.

The insurgents are not popular. In poll after poll, the people say that they have tried Taliban rule and detested the experience. However, they dread their return, and doubt the local authorities’ ability to resist them, so they hedge their bets. They support them out of fear rather than free will.

Our strategy is to help the Afghan Government divide the insurgency, and co-opt those who are prepared to renounce al-Qaeda, obey the laws and accept the principles of the Afghan constitution. Equipping the Afghan authorities with the means and the authority to conduct such reconciliation activity both nationally and—critically, in my view, locally—is key to the future.

Thirdly, there is military force. By pressurising those who refuse to co-operate with the Afghan state, and protecting those who do, it can directly support political reconciliation. By enabling the Afghans to secure and stabilise their territory, then delivering aid and promoting development, the military show not only that the insurgents can be defeated, but what is possible once they have gone.

There is no purely military solution to the problems of insurgency and disorder in Helmand or across Afghanistan generally. However, equally, there is no non-military solution. That is why our approach—creating a combined civil-military mission in Helmand, staffed by some 65 civilians and some 55 military officers, and led by a civilian—has been so important, and, I believe, right. It is also why, when I say that Britain is in Afghanistan as part of an international effort, I refer not only to the NATO-led military force of some 41 nations, but the civil alliance, which encompasses some 60 nations and international organisations.

Paul Flynn: My right hon. Friend is being generous in giving way. Does he recall that we had a military surge in Helmand province, as a result of which the number of British deaths increased from seven in 2006 to 143 now? Will not any military surge by NATO be met by an even bigger surge by the Taliban?

David Miliband: It depends. If my hon. Friend is saying that a military surge must be accompanied by a political and an economic surge if it is to succeed, he is right. That is the essence of what we are trying to do. Before we went there, Helmand was ungoverned space—certainly, it was not governed by the Kabul authorities. Although my hon. Friend is right to point to the high number of deaths on the British side, it is also right to say that, for the first time, more than half the province is being properly governed—not by us, but by Governor Mangal. That must be a step forward.

The Government are determined to improve donor co-ordination, and to strengthen the role of the excellent UN special representative of the Secretary-General and his mission. We talk a lot about improving Afghan governance, and it is important to put on record our commitment to improving international governance, too. The Afghan authorities are right when they say that too much of the international effort is confused or confusing, and too much of it fails to get maximum, optimum benefit—

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Mr. Jenkin: At last!

David Miliband: I know that the hon. Gentleman believes that a sinner that repenteth is worth double, but I do not believe that the Government have sinned in the matter, because of our arguments for reforming the international system, not least since before the appointment of the new special representative and all that went with that about a year ago, and our placing the need to improve the international effort at the centre of our activities. That is also why we have been active in promoting better burden sharing, not only among the military allies, but in the civilian coalition, through the UK-French helicopter initiative, for example.

Mr. Jenkin rose—

David Miliband: I want to turn to the Pakistani side of the border, but I will let the hon. Gentleman have his last go.

Mr. Jenkin: I am most grateful to the Foreign Secretary—I will make best use of it. As we are putting the international house in order, may I suggest that the Government put their house in order and open up the discussion that is needed between the military and DFID about how our military forces can use cash instead of military force to achieve the effects that they want? At the moment, our forces do not have access to nearly enough cash. The result is that they resort to military force instead, which is not only much more destructive, but much more expensive.

David Miliband: I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point, which is an important one. It is not fair to say that our military “resort to force” because they have no alternative. They resort to force when they need to. They are the first to say that their success depends on close work with DFID and Foreign Office diplomats. The civilian-military mission, and in particular the way that it brings together the British Government’s different resources in the south, points the way forward.

I think that the hon. Gentleman is referring to the experience of how the American forces work, in contrast with ours. We will go into our discussions with the Americans not just keen for them to learn from our experience, but keen to learn from theirs, too. I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point, but I would say that the caricature of the right hand of the military not knowing what the left hand of DFID is doing is indeed a caricature, and is not accurate.

Mr. Holloway: Will the Foreign Secretary give way?

David Miliband: I have already given way to the hon. Gentleman and we have only three hours for this debate, so in the interests of time, I should probably press on. However, let us see how I get on. If I can get to the end of my speech, I shall try to bring him in.

Let me say a word about Pakistan, a nation of 170 million people faced with growing disorder, which is spreading slowly from the tribal areas. When I visited Islamabad last month, it was clear that both the civilian and the military leadership now recognised the severity of the threat from violent extremism. It is vital that we and other members of the international community support the democratic Government at this time, because a sustained focus on the terrorist threat requires Pakistan to take ownership of the struggle against violent extremism.
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It also requires determined action to root out existing terrorist networks across the country and prevent new ones from emerging. That means a comprehensive plan to increase security, improve governance and promote economic development in the federally administered tribal areas, FATA—60 years after the creation of the state of Pakistan, the female literacy rate there is below 3 per cent.—in order to complement the military actions being taken there. A sustained focus on the terrorist threat also means working with the Government of Afghanistan on a joint plan to address the insurgency on both sides of the border.

To support that work, the UK is providing extensive bilateral counter-terrorism assistance. As well as providing training to build the Pakistani Government’s counter-terrorism capacity, we have an active campaign to counter the ideology of extremism that feeds support for terrorism. International moderate Islamic scholars and ordinary British Muslims have taken part in the efforts to tackle al-Qaeda’s distorted and divisive message, through public meetings and multi-media campaigns.

We are also providing long-term development assistance, with bilateral aid of some £480 million to help poor and vulnerable people in Pakistan. Over the next three years, Pakistan will become one of the UK’s largest aid recipients, because we believe that tackling poverty and exclusion are key to addressing the underlying causes of the conflict and insecurity in that country. DFID is expanding its assistance in education, for example. We will be increasing our development work in the areas bordering Afghanistan and we recently began work to strengthen the police in Pakistan’s most troubled North West Frontier province. We are also supporting the Pakistani Government’s attempt to stabilise and reform their economy. It is also vital that we mobilise practical and political support for Pakistan from across the international community, for example through the international Friends of Democratic Pakistan group.

I mentioned international co-operation and want to say a word about the regional context of our work in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Stability and development in both countries requires the active co-operation and engagement of neighbours and the broader region. A strong relationship is being built between Presidents Karzai and Zardari; there is Iranian investment in western Afghanistan and infrastructure development linking central and southern Asia. The countries of the region have a clear stake. The narcotics trade has hit Iran and Russia particularly hard, and conflict and instability are undermining the trade relationships that could strengthen regional economies and help lift people out of poverty.

The challenge is to build on existing links and turn political will into real change for ordinary people. Afghanistan and Pakistan should use the new excellent relations between their Presidents to build a broader working structure that can deliver concrete progress. Iran must decide that it will focus on positive engagement, rather than using Afghanistan as another opportunity for confrontation with the west. Pakistan needs to show its neighbours that it is determined to address the terrorist threat, and Afghanistan must secure the engagement of the broader region, involving Chinese investment, Indian development assistance and increased Russian engagement.

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The people of Afghanistan and Pakistan face immense challenges. Our choice, at great cost, has been to help them to meet them. We do so out of a clear view of our national interest in working with other countries to address terrorism at root. This is the rationale of our mission and, with the majority of terrorist plots against the UK linked back to Pakistan alone, no one believes that the threat is not real.

Mr. Holloway: Does the Foreign Secretary not feel, particularly after his conversations with the Americans, that we can now either go left or go right? We can go the way that we have gone so far, which is leading us to disaster, or we can be a bit more intelligent and work very hard for a political settlement, backed up by force if necessary.

David Miliband: The hon. Gentleman would expect me to say that it is always better to be more intelligent than less intelligent in the way we approach these problems. The burden of my speech today has been to say that there is an opportunity to review what is going right and what is not, and to change what is going wrong and reinforce what is going right. A regional focus is now emerging, which includes Pakistan and not just Afghanistan. That is something that Britain has urged for a long time. There is also a stress on Afghanisation, which was a feature of the Prime Minister’s statement here in December 2007, and an emphasis on civilianisation and localisation. These form a package that can unite not only the coalition but, critically, Afghans and Pakistanis on this difficult and long-term issue.

Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): Will the Foreign Secretary give way?

David Miliband: No, sorry.

Our tactics are not static. In the coming months, the organisation of the international effort, its focus and its balance will be renewed. The military and civil approach will be addressed, and international co-operation with the Afghan and Pakistani Governments and people will also be reviewed. However, the strategic commitment to build the capacity of the Afghan state will remain, and strengthening counter-terrorism in Pakistan will be essential. That is the only way to tackle the insurgency. The UK will enter the discussions in the months ahead with clarity about our insights from the past and determination to see a coherent and focused international effort for the future. On that basis, I look forward to taking into these discussions the ideas and views expressed today.

3.22 pm

Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks) (Con): May I begin by welcoming the Government’s decision to hold this all too short debate on one of the most pressing and intractable foreign policy challenges of our time? The Foreign Secretary has spoken of the decisions and reviews that will take place over the coming months. When we come to look back in future years, we are likely to find that the decisions that are made in the coming weeks will have been of decisive importance to the war raging in parts of Afghanistan and in Pakistan’s tribal areas. The strategy now being worked on by General Petraeus and the Obama Administration is likely to be the one that leads either to eventual success—however we define that—or to the failure of our hopes for this deeply troubled part of the world.

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