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The right hon. Gentleman is right to point out that there is no way in the immediate future that the budget of the Government of Afghanistan will be able to support a security force of some 200,000, never mind 300,000. In that context, the answer to his question about the Afghan budget is that, no, its Government will not be able to cover it. It will need to be covered
from outside, but, obviously, the twin track of a military strategy and a civilian strategy, including an economic one, is very important. Certainly, current estimates are that we-at least, the international community-will have to support the Afghan security effort for some time to come.
In respect of NATO mentors and trainers, the most recent concern has been for Afghan troops to be delivered, mentored and trained. I am pleased about the way in which the NATO training effort is now working. The mentoring and partnering strategy takes us a long way forward.
In respect of the police, I will send the right hon. Gentleman the national strategy that was recently published by the Interior Ministry of the Government of Afghanistan. I commend the national strategy to him. He may have met Interior Minister Atmar-perhaps he has not-who has been responsible for the Afghan national police force for a year or 18 months and is doing an excellent job.
On EU representation, the proposal to replace two EU representatives, representing the Commission and the Council, with one is definitely a step forward of itself. On the relationship with the NATO and UN command, the right hon. Gentleman will know that the UN is superordinate in its role in any country-it is the apex of the international effort-but it will have a different role from that of the NATO Senior Civilian Representative, whose job is to combine military and civilian efforts.
On the elections, it is clear that, for reasons of both security and electoral reform, it was hard to see those elections taking place on 22 May, which was the first date suggested. Reform in the intervening months to September is essential. The Opposition parties want elections but those can take place only if progress is made on reform, and we are working on that.
On the peace and reintegration council, the right hon. Gentleman is right to point out that the detailed implementation of this policy will be critical to its effectiveness. The purposes of the fund, which are to provide employment, to provide security and to force the pace on the deradicalisation agenda, are the right outcomes. He asked who was the lead nation. The lead nation must be Afghanistan. The concept of lead nationhood was applied to G8 nations after the 2003 Bonn conference, but I think we have a much clearer method now of putting the Afghans in the lead and of ensuring the right balance between international and Afghan responsibility.
The right hon. Gentleman asked questions about the number of provinces that will be under Afghan security leadership. The timetable has not slipped. As the Prime Minister said in his speech on Thursday, he thinks that more progress will be made than people realise, but it is important that we do this on a conditions basis. The figure of five years that the right hon. Gentleman raised is President Karzai's figure from his inauguration speech. It is he who said that within five years the whole of Afghanistan, every province, should have Afghan security leadership. That does not mean the end of an international support role, but it is a very different role.
Finally, it is clear that the efforts that were made in 2006 at the London conference need to be supplemented. The Kabul conference will be able to renew the London compact, but it will do so on the basis of a strategy that
has not only far greater clarity and coherence, but far greater international support. That is something that we have to build on in this decisive year.
Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD): I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement, and for his courtesy in providing an advance copy. He was right to begin with a tribute to our British troops and their families. The whole House stands together in admiration and gratitude for their courage and sacrifice.
Although the true success of the London conference on Afghanistan can be known only a few years hence, may I begin by welcoming the communiqué wholeheartedly? Liberal Democrats have long argued for a coherent political strategy to sit alongside the military strategy, and the conference appeared to mark the first internationally agreed attempt to define that political strategy in detail. Does the Foreign Secretary recognise that for many people, success for Britain's involvement in this important mission rests crucially on deepening and strengthening this new political strategy as the only realistic way forward?
Given its significance, can the right hon. Gentleman say a little more about the international dimension of the political strategy, especially the engagement of all Afghanistan's immediate and near neighbours in a comprehensive approach to regional peace? In what forums will this aspect be pursued? Can he say a little more about what was discussed and planned at the regional summit in Istanbul, especially in relation to Saudi Arabia and India/Pakistan relations?
On the national elements of the new political strategy, I welcome the breadth of the proposals to tackle corruption, while sounding a sceptical note on delivery. Was it made clear to President Karzai that neither the international community nor his own people are likely to believe that the Afghan Government are serious about corruption until some of the more powerful warlords and their placemen are ejected from the top table?
I especially welcome the proposals for the Peace and Reintegration Trust Fund. The Foreign Secretary will know that Liberal Democrats were widely criticised for such ideas earlier last year, but I am delighted that he and his colleagues last week did not shy away from the controversy. Does he agree that planning the structure and implementation of any payments to former Taliban fighters is critical, to make sure not only that are there no perverse incentives, but that there is clear financial support for Afghans who did not co-operate with the Taliban? But does he also agree that it must make sense to hold out real prospects of employment and hope to insurgents who are often mercenaries and rarely Taliban ideologues?
Can the Foreign Secretary say what plans there are to provide the necessary security to former Taliban fighters-their families and villages-who decide to defect and switch sides? Given that some NGOs already report an upsurge in the assassination of local leaders whom the Taliban suspect of being ready to defect, does he accept that this is a pressing issue if the counter-insurgency strategy is to work?
On Yemen, I welcome what seems to have been a worthwhile exercise, especially in relation to domestic social, economic and political reform. The right hon. Gentleman reported to the House that the Gulf Co-operation Council is to meet later this month to review
what aid can be given from countries in the region. Can he say a little more about the help and support that is being offered Yemen from across the Arab world, not just the Gulf, and whether the wealthy members of the Arab League have offered their support?
David Miliband: I find myself in agreement-non-violent, I hasten to say-with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of the political strategy. The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) asked about Pakistan and international engagement, however, and I failed to answer him. He inquired about whether the reintegration fund would be available on the Pakistan side of the border, and the answer is no, because the situation involves Afghans who should be in the Afghan political system, not in the Pakistani political system.
The hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) asked which forums would be used for international engagement, and the region is debating that issue. There are already four or five different regional organisations, including the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation and others, and there is an issue about co-ordination. There is also an issue, which the Afghan Government must address, about whether there should be a specific effort on Afghanistan. I think that there is a strong case for it.
The hon. Gentleman is right that corruption afflicts many levels of the Afghan system. In a recent BBC poll, 95 per cent. of Afghans complained of corruption in local policing and governance. The importance of that was made clear not just to President Karzai but to all his Ministers who were at the conference, and they replied that it was important for them, too. However, implementation will be a key point, as the hon. Gentleman said, and the oversight board and other committees will be important in that respect. On local corruption, local police wages are important, and the way in which security is offered on the routes between major cities is an absolutely key point, so the security effort and the anti-corruption effort go together.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the implementation of the peace and reconciliation effort. The money that is available does not exist as pots of money to be paid to individuals; it exists to provide for jobs, for deradicalisation and for the security of those who return to their communities. He is right to emphasise the importance of security, because the intimidation that the Taliban apply to the local population applies in spades to their former comrades. On that point, the security effort is the key.
On Yemen, the hon. Gentleman will know that the Gulf countries have pledged large sums of money; we do not suffer from an absence of pledges on Yemen. We need them to be turned into reality, because of those made in London in 2006, only 7 per cent. have been delivered, notably those from the Gulf countries. An important part of the Gulf Co-operation Council's engagement will be not only Yemen's road to GCC membership or labour market issues, but aid issues.
Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op): I welcome the Foreign Secretary's statement on Yemen. On Afghanistan, I particularly welcome the appointment of our ambassador, Mark Sedwill, to the important NATO co-ordination post.
My right hon. Friend referred to a proposal whereby, once the relevant conditions are met, the proportion of development assistance that is channelled through the Afghan Government will increase. Will he give the House more information about that proportion? Will it also apply, as a coalition of non-governmental organisations has called for it to apply, to money that is currently disbursed by the military-both through the provincial reconstruction teams and, directly, by the US military in Afghanistan?
I am grateful for what my hon. Friend said about the importance of Mark Sedwill's upgraded role, and a vital part of his role will be to knit together the local counter-insurgency strategy with the local provincial reconstruction team effort. The transition to lead-security responsibility needs to be accompanied by political developments.
Mr. Speaker, I hope that you will permit me, while the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) is in his place, to correct something that I said earlier. I had been reliably informed that the Prime Minister was on his way to Belfast, but it now transpires that he is not-for various reasons that I shall not go into. I apologise for having got that wrong earlier.
Mr. Speaker: Order. Fifteen further Members are seeking to catch my eye. I want as always to accommodate everybody, if at all possible, but there is a motion to follow and then the Committee stage of a very important Bill, so brief questions and brief answers are required.
Sir Malcolm Rifkind (Kensington and Chelsea) (Con): The day before the Afghanistan conference, the Russian Foreign Minister said that his Government would consider an additional contribution to help the Afghan Government. Did the Russian Foreign Minister make any such announcement? What reasons did the Iranians give as to why, at the end of the day, they did not attend the conference?
David Miliband: The short answer is no, the Russian Prime Minister did not make such an announcement. He made a positive contribution to the conference about the Russian commitment to help in a range of ways, but he did not make a specific commitment. I am afraid that the Iranian authorities have not given any explanation, clear or otherwise, their non-attendance. Iran was the only country not to attend, despite repeated invitations and the extension of visas into Tehran, Istanbul and elsewhere. I made clear my regret to the Iranian Foreign Minister when I saw him in Davos on Friday.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for holding the conference with the Prime Minister and for sending the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, South (Mr. Lewis), to Yemen tomorrow. As the Foreign Secretary has told the House, only 7 per cent. of the £3 billion pledged in 2006 has been paid over to Yemen, and that is the problem-promises and no delivery. There would be one easy win
for the Government. We have today announced that body scanners are to be made available at Heathrow and Manchester. If Yemen had just one body scanner at Sana'a airport, it would be able to start its direct flights to London again. Such practical measures, to which I know my right hon. Friend is committed because he is a practical Foreign Secretary, can help that very poor country.
David Miliband: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. He will know that a comprehensive assessment of the travel needs is taking place at Sana'a airport. Yemeni airlines decided to suspend their flights to London pending the conclusion of the efforts to improve security. I will ensure that the Transport Secretary is aware of his suggestion about body scanners, but I think that a rather more comprehensive approach will be needed at Sana'a airport.
Mr. James Arbuthnot (North-East Hampshire) (Con): I welcome this statement. In the past, Britain has been the lead nation on counter-narcotics in Afghanistan, with the Germans leading on the police and the Italians on the judiciary. That concept has never really worked-was it abandoned last week?
David Miliband: I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the concept has not worked well. It was not formally buried at the meeting last week, but the emphasis that has been placed over the past two or three years on Afghan leadership and international support reflects a recognition of a different, and better, way of doing things.
David Miliband: As I said today and last Thursday, comparing the effort that is being made to ensure that there is security and employment for former Taliban who come into the political system in Afghanistan with the rental that is paid by the Taliban to attack their own communities, never mind our forces, is a comparison that I do not recognise. Nor do I recognise my hon. Friend's reference to corruption, certainly not-I am sure that he would not have been suggesting this-in respect of our own efforts. The equivalence that he seeks to suggest is one that I do not think is right.
Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD): I am sure that I do not have to persuade the Foreign Secretary that if al-Qaeda were to become established in Yemen, that would constitute a threat to the whole region, including some very important allies of this country. Does he therefore agree that if security in Yemen is to be enhanced, it will take something rather more than additional support for the Yemeni coastguard?
David Miliband: Yes. The communiqué issued after the meeting gave a rather wider range of factors. Obviously, the presence of al-Qaeda on the Arabian peninsula in Yemen is a recent sign that it is willing to launch attacks outside the region as within it, and that is very significant. However, I assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman that the security effort is not limited to coastal matters.
Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): In view of the recently released video and the Foreign Secretary's presence in the Chamber today, is there any more that he can say about attempts to secure the release of Paul and Rachel Chandler?
David Miliband: All Members will have felt heart-wrenched by the video that was released yesterday. As I said this morning, the political and diplomatic effort continues, in very close liaison with the family. That is the best thing to say at this stage. Everybody's heart goes out to the Chandlers, and we all continue to make every effort to help to resolve this very distressing case.
Mr. Jenkin: As a member of the Defence Committee who recently visited Afghanistan, I can attest to the new sense of political, civil and military direction there. However, may I draw the Foreign Secretary's attention to the fact that the Afghan national defence university cannot get off the ground for the lack of 15 British military officers whose presence would enable the United Kingdom to lead that hugely influential project? May I put that into his in-tray and ask him to look into it? It is worth lifting the military cap by just a few officers in order for us to be able to lead that enormously important project.
David Miliband: The hon. Gentleman has taken a long-standing interest in the Afghan conflict and he and I have had repeated and, I think, productive discussions about it. I will certainly take up his point. I know that there are Afghans at Sandhurst receiving training, and I will look into the return of officers to Afghanistan to make a difference at the national defence university.
Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): The Speaker of the Afghan Parliament told me last week that there are 107 political parties in Afghanistan. Was there any discussion at the conference about consolidating that number to make it more manageable? Is that realistic?
David Miliband: My hon. Friend makes an important point. I saw Speaker Qanuni in Kabul two weeks ago. It is fair to say that the definition of a party in the Afghan context is pretty loose, and not the same as we might recognise in this country. However, the amount of fragmentation and splintering reflects the sort of tribal society that it is, and also emphasises the importance of the parliamentary elections. A presidential system, by definition, elects one person, whereas a parliamentary system allows a broader range of interests to be represented. We did not take it upon ourselves to try to reform the Afghan political party system last Thursday, but the civil society representatives who spoke at the conference were insistent about the need to open up the political process to more people from community groups and civil society more generally.
Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): One thousand Scottish and Scottish-based service personnel are set to be deployed to Helmand in April. They and their families, to whom we all pay tribute, deserve to know when it is expected that violence will diminish and new deployments will not be necessary. When does the Foreign Secretary believe that military intervention will end?
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