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Since 2004 the situation in Afghanistan has changed significantly. The capital city, Kabul, was, and still is, unsafe to walk in at any time of the day or night. Jalalabad had been relatively quiet but now it, too, is a battle ground, with suicide bombings increasing day by day and targeted increasingly at local and NATO forces. The Taliban is back but this time in tandem with al-Qaeda. International aid has not made the difference it should, with, according to the World Bank, an “aid juggernaut” operating outside the state economy. Afghan citizens and organisations were not allowed to bid for infrastructure projects such as roads and other public works. But some progress is being made on small road schemes, particularly in the rural areas, and that ridiculous situation is being addressed.

Progress is being made in teaching, with one in 10 teachers’ salaries paid by the United Kingdom taxpayer. The teachers do not see this as earmarked foreign aid because their salaries are paid directly by the Afghan education department, although, of course, Britain is picking up the bill. The number of teachers has increased sevenfold and 6 million children have returned to school. But in the same period more than 200 schools have been destroyed by insurgents and more than 100 teachers and students have been killed. Now insurgents have started ambushing and murdering children on their way to school. What is clear is that the good work of the PRTs on the back of effective security is at risk. It may in fact be overwhelmed if the security challenges facing our Armed Forces are not met rapidly and robustly and are not properly resourced.

8.09 pm

Lord Inge: My Lords, I, too, congratulate and thank the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, for securing this important debate. I welcome the noble Lord in his new appointment. I hope that he listens very closely to the words spoken tonight, not least those spoken by the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown.

The situation in Afghanistan is much worse than many people recognise. We need to face up to that issue, the consequences of strategic failure in Afghanistan and what that would mean for NATO.

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I will focus for a minute on the importance of the hearts and minds campaign, which is not just about PRTs or NGOs, but about putting the co-ordinated effort together. The newspapers and the media coverage inevitably tend to concentrate on the operational situation and not the overall situation. It is also difficult in a four-minute speech to pay full justice to the part played by the PRTs and the success that they have achieved. It is important to remember that the PRTs cannot work in isolation and nor can the NGOs. They must work within the overall campaign plan. They must be part of that plan. The importance of their role must be recognised, and in return they must be team players. In saying that, I am in no way criticising their bravery or their commitment. Indeed, it would make the whole thing much easier if the various NATO nations involved in Afghanistan had the same rules of engagement and did not have too many national caveats, which there are at the moment and which make the task of the general that much more difficult.

Having said that, I do not see how you can make any real progress in Afghanistan and have a credible hearts and minds campaign while we still do not know what to do about the poppy crop. Here, I share many of the views expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson. To me, this seems to be a very major weakness in our overall strategic plan. We need decisions and a comprehensive plan as a matter of the utmost urgency. It must involve all the key players, not only the military. Having said all that about the poppy crop, I also believe that we should look very closely at what the Senlis plan proposes and buy the poppy crop for medical purposes, because we seem to have no other option on the table at the moment. I recognise that this will not be easy, and it will be a major challenge both to police it and to administer it, but further delay will only increase our problems on the ground. I also know that it will mean challenging the warlords and the smugglers, which is bound to have security implications. It must involve intimately the Government in Kabul.

At present, I sense tension in the relationship between the security forces on one hand and the PRTs and NGOs on the other. If we do not put that relationship on a better footing, we will make our task in Afghanistan much more difficult. I stress the point that was made all too clearly by the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, that we need to recognise that the situation—in my view, and I have recently been in Afghanistan—is much, much more serious than people want to recognise.

8.13 pm

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, this is a short dinner-hour debate, which is a very unsatisfactory debate in which to welcome the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown. I say to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House that it signals a need for a much fuller debate on this as soon as we come back in October.

The general consensus is clear that we face a very serious and deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. It has become one of the major priorities of British

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foreign policy. I understand that we now have one of our biggest diplomatic missions in Afghanistan. We have nearly 8,000 soldiers there. We have a long-term commitment, which as we well know from Bosnia and Northern Ireland can be a matter of 10, 15 or 20 years or more before we are able to work ourselves fully out of the role; and it is a rising proportion of our aid budget. This is one of the central themes of British foreign policy and, as a number of noble Lords have said, it is the crucial issue for the future of NATO. When I was at NATO 18 months ago, I found myself talking to a succession of people in SHAPE who said that the future of NATO now depends on success in Afghanistan. If that is the case, we have some real questions to ask about the future of NATO.

The commitment of a great many British NGOs is evident in their efforts in Kabul and elsewhere. We all recognise that we lost that crucial early period of post-conflict reconstruction between 2002 and 2004, when the western community, in particular the Americans and the British, were distracted by Iraq and when we should have been putting much greater effort into Afghanistan. That is past; we now need to do the best with what we can. We suffer from divided command, with ISAF as well as the Americans working alongside, with differences over tactics, with the Americans, as in south-east Europe, sometimes preferring to bomb from a distance rather than be there on the ground. We are suffering from differing terms of engagement and differing attitudes towards nation-building roles for armed forces and, as the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, said, with the ambiguous roles of the provincial reconstruction teams, which are partly military and partly civilian. That makes things very difficult as the mission drifts from reconstruction towards security.

We need to try as hard as we can to get back towards reconstruction on the ground without drifting too far into a war on terror and the war on drugs, security being the main occupation. We recognise that as insecurity grows in the region, as we saw with the British commitment in Helmand, you do drift unavoidably from one to the other. We clearly need not just an approach to Afghanistan but also a regional approach. I am horrified by the way in which debate in Washington over policy towards Iran takes place in an entirely different context from the debate about what to do about Afghanistan. Iran is a neighbour; there are still half a million Afghan refugees in Iran, and people come backwards and forwards across the frontier all the time. We have to co-operate with the Government of Iran if we are going to manage the future of Afghanistan, just as we all recognise that we had to co-operate with the Government of Pakistan and with Iran’s rather difficult northern neighbours.

Here we are, with the future of NATO at stake, with a number of question marks about the quality of the American approach and about the analysis of American foreign policy towards the region, and with Britain—not for the first time by a very long way—attempting to hold the sceptical European partners together with sometimes misguided American leadership. That is not a comfortable role for the Government, or for the

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Minister to answer on, but we recognise that here we have at stake not just the future of Afghanistan but of south-west Asia, and the spill-over that any deterioration of the situation, particularly in Pakistan, would have on the streets of this country.

8.17 pm

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown, to the Dispatch Box and to his new appointment. I had an excellent working relationship with his predecessor, the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, who did a great job here, and I look forward to having the same constructive relationship with the Minister. As the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, said, supporting reconstruction in Afghanistan is a key objective for NATO and the wider international community. It is essential that we can demonstrate to the Afghan people that we are improving their lives.

The United Kingdom assumed control of the PRT in Lashkar Gah, Helmand province, in May 2006. How many Afghan police have been trained in Helmand since May 2006? Can the Minister update the House on the progress of the ESDP police mission? Can he also update the House on what progress has been made in eradicating corruption and establishing “sound provincial administration” in Helmand?

The Minister will be aware of the real concern that far too little reconstruction and development work has taken place in Helmand. Mohammed Daoud, who was governor of Helmand province until December last year, highlighted the importance of the need to make an impression in the minds of the Afghan people:

In the light of those comments, how many DfID officials are currently based in Helmand overseeing the DfID programme? Since 2001, DfID has spent over £490 million on reconstruction and development in Afghanistan. This country is Afghanistan’s second largest bilateral donor, spending over £100 million last year. Over the past three years, the size of DfID’s programme has grown substantially and further increases are planned. Given this, is the Minister concerned about comments from people such as the former governor? Might the Government need to look again at how funding is directed to the PRT through the central Afghan Government? We must have proper safeguards in place to ensure that resources for long-term development fully reach their intended recipients and are not caught up in needless bureaucracy.

The UK has been designated at the lead country in tackling the problem of opium in Afghanistan. Why, then, is poppy cultivation in Afghanistan on the increase again and rising fastest in areas under British control? The Independent on Sunday reported in April that the former Prime Minister had ordered a review of the UK’s counter-narcotics strategy. A Downing

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Street spokesman confirmed that Mr Blair was considering whether to back a pilot project that would allow some farmers to produce and sell their crops legally to drug companies. What were the results of that review? How much money has been set aside to support alternative livelihood programmes for poppy farmers?

One of the key challenges facing PRTs across the country is the threat from insurgents. The Taliban is renowned for targeting schools. In the past 13 months, 226 schools, many run from tents, have been burnt down by insurgents. A total of 110 teachers and students have been killed in incidents of indirect violence and another 52 wounded. What are the Government doing to provide assistance for schools and teachers to defend themselves from such attacks?

The new ambassador to Afghanistan, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, has said that Afghanistan is now,

Some would say that Afghanistan should have remained one of our top priorities since the events of 11 September 2001. Nevertheless, I wish the ambassador well in his formidable task and hope that he will be able to increase the pace of reconstruction in Afghanistan so that the people of that country can enjoy a more prosperous and hopeful future.

8.22 pm

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Malloch-Brown): My Lords, it is a great honour to speak for the first time in this House. This Chamber has a long reputation for wisdom and judgment and, on the basis of the interventions this evening, for early warning. We have seen in today’s debate the emergence of a collective view that it is incumbent on the Government to take very careful stock of the progress that we have and have not made in Afghanistan. It is an important first lesson for me to come to this House and receive that kind of guidance and advice.

Perhaps, first, I may say a word about my elevation to this House. My choice of provenance for my title takes me back to a boyhood in Sussex. St Leonard’s Forest is a magical spot. It is steeped in local lore and legend and, as a child, I spent many hours wandering through it. It takes its name from a forester, St Leonard, who fought and killed a dragon; where his blood spilled, lilies of the valley grew. There is also a long ride where a local smuggler, Mick Mills, challenged the devil to a race and won.

For a young boy and then a grown man many thousands of miles away, the forest has continually been a place of magic and imagination. It buoyed me up as I tended to famine, war and refugee crises, but that forest is perhaps also a proxy for this country of ours, which has so much to offer to the rest of the world—not just ideas but initiative, influence, imagination and history.

Because of where I have been, I have also seen, no less clearly, how the security and prosperity of this country is tied to the security and prosperity of the world as a whole. St Leonard’s Forest belonged in a wider ecosystem and so, too, does our country today.

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The challenges that we face of terrorism, poverty and climate change are global ones. No Government can meet them on their own. We will build a strong and thriving UK only if, at the same time, we work actively for a strong and effective international community. Our problems have gone global, yet too often we cannot reach beyond the old national answers.

For the United Kingdom, that means an active and engaged foreign policy that maximises the many benefits of globalisation, while minimising and mitigating the very real risks. We will need to reach towards real partnerships within the multilateral system—the EU and, for me, the United Nations in particular—because these bodies offer an opportunity to help us to manage today’s security challenges. We must go beyond them to new partnerships with countries that fall within my responsibility, such as India and China, and we must also reach out to civil society and other agents of change in this era of global issues before us.

Much of the effort to build new relationships and approach problems in a new way is, to an extent, on trial in terms of how we handle Afghanistan. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, for giving us the opportunity to debate the situation here. I confess to feeling some surprise not just at the speed of my elevation to this House; many years ago, the noble Baroness and I were friends and allies on many human rights and development situations around the world, and I still shake my head to find myself answering her in a debate. The same can be said for my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown. We saw a lot of each other in Sarajevo and New York as we worked together on the situation in Bosnia.

I say immediately to all who have spoken tonight that I recognise that Afghanistan is a very complicated country. It has weak bonds of nationhood but its people have very long memories. We have made tremendous tactical progress in terms of the number of girls whom we have in school, the improvements in the new constitution over the old, the success in individual development projects around the country, and in stepping up the size of our military commitment and that of NATO. However, we have to step back and wonder, as several noble Lords have said, whether that tactical success is matched by us achieving our strategic objectives. I take on board everything that has been said and will reflect closely with my colleagues in government on whether we are, indeed, attaining the objectives that must be attained for the sake of Afghanistan and for the sake of NATO, the UK’s own security interest and, I argue, the global interest.

We have certainly embarked on a comprehensive approach, and we have done it in partnership with others. To the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, I say that, although we may not have managed to marshal enough resources as an international community, the United Kingdom is the second largest bilateral contributor after the United States and, as has been mentioned, it is also a major troop contributor, providing some 8,000 troops. Therefore, I think that we are playing our part. Of course, we have also played it through the introduction of the Afghanistan compact, launched here in London as a follow-up to the Bonn process. We

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also made efforts to ensure that the international community came together with the Government of Afghanistan in a series of mutual commitments so that the Government could strengthen their capacity, improve their democratic reach and tackle internal issues, such as corruption. In return for that, as an international community, we pledged support to improve their economic means of supporting their people and improve their security issues.

The noble Lord, Lord Astor, asked for information on the number of DfID staff in Helmand and on our success on the training issues. I shall get back to him with the detailed answers.

This comprehensive approach on which we have embarked has won successes. Women now play a much more prominent role in different aspects of Afghan society—indeed, 28 per cent of the lower House of Parliament is female, which is more than in the other place. We can estimate that tens of thousands of babies there who have made it through early childhood without loss of life would not have done so if it were not for the economic assistance provided. Nevertheless, I state these successes in all humility and modesty because I recognise the broader point that has been made tonight.

I shall turn for a moment to the role of PRTs—provincial reconstruction teams—because they are the core of our discussion. I am on record before joining the Government as expressing some concern about the confusion of military and non-governmental elements in these teams, and the worry that this might compromise the humanitarian character of the assistance. We also have to be realistic. When a region of the country has graduated from being insecure to stable in allowing a fuller range of interventions, we are able in the north of Afghanistan to move to a model where non-governmental organisations, DfID and other development agencies can act independently of the military. Even more important is that the Government of Afghanistan can start providing government services, which they should be providing, and which over time is the only means for them to build legitimacy, authority, support and trust in the eyes of ordinary Afghans.

In the south of the country, in Helmand, as we are well aware, there remain heavy security difficulties. If we did not have PRTs, which combine military and non-military assistance, we would not be able to meet local needs. We must try to graduate from that model as we have done in the north as quickly as we can, and we have been encouraging the United Nations to deploy humanitarian and development workers in the south as that is critical in going forward. We can look at the successes in Lashkar Gah and elsewhere with improved access to healthcare, new water storage facilities, a new bus station and decent roads, all of which PRTs have helped with. Indeed, there have been 150 quick-impact projects, which have made a significant difference. However, I still take the point that these PRTs are a necessary but limited device in terms of building the kind of stability and development that we want.

I could not finish without saying a word on the counter-narcotics issue. I clearly heard the proposal

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of my noble friend. While there is nervousness about a movement to semi-legalise or legitimise the poppy crop, I understand that in the south, in particular, our success in turning back the growth of illicit drugs is one that means that we should not turn down any suggestion without considering it hard and seriously. We will do that.

Let me also say to the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, that it is extraordinarily important that we are not seduced by western-style government structures and constitutional arrangements at the expense of respect for traditional structures. We shall certainly make sure that we respect Afghan choices on all those issues. We shall follow them and support them, and will not substitute our own vision of priorities for theirs.

I conclude by saying that we see the UK doing a proud and important job in Afghanistan, working closely with international partners to deliver policies that we hope will prevail and make Afghanistan safer. By making Afghanistan safer, we shall make its sub-regions safer and, therefore, the United Kingdom safer. I have heard the message of tonight’s debate. I, too, would welcome a fuller debate in October, and hope that my noble friend the Leader of the House will arrange for that to happen. I look forward to joining your Lordships on that occasion to debate these issues more fully. I thank your Lordships very much for giving me a magnificent introduction in the form of a very thoughtful tutorial to what no doubt will be one of the more difficult responsibilities in my portfolio.

8.35 pm

Baroness D'Souza: My Lords, I beg the indulgence of the House to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown, on his inspiring maiden speech. As many in this House will know, his reputation goes before him, and we are indeed fortunate to have a Minister so distinguished on the international stage who has managed to cross and recross many different disciplines in the course of his career.

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