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Following my visit last December, the Defence Secretary and I approved a temporary increase until August in the number of British troops deployed to Afghanistan, from just over 8,000 to around 8,300. Now, to strengthen security throughout the election period, I have authorised a further increase to 9,000 until the autumn. To ensure that our forces are properly protected, especially from the growing threat of mines and roadside bombs, we will be deploying permanent additional units for this purpose. Some are in the process of deploying now, with others joining them soon. After the election and through the autumn we plan to return our troop numbers to 8,300. As always, we will keep the situation under review based on the situation on the ground.
I am determined that Britain will fulfil its international commitments, but I believe thatwith a deployment of over 8,000 troops, concentrated in the Taliban heartland in the south; the additional costs from the reserve increased from £750 million in 2006-07 to £1.5 billion in 2007-08 and then to £2.6 billion in 2008-09; and an estimate in last weeks Budget of £3 billion for 2009-10we are shouldering our share of the burden in Afghanistan. As more NATO troops deploy to the south, we will be able to share that burden more fairly. At the NATO summit this year, allies offered another 5,000 additional troops in addition to the extra 21,000 combat and training troops that the US plans to deploy, many of whom are destined for the south. I also welcome the additional Australian deployment, announced this morning, of an additional 450 personnel, bringing total Australian troop commitments in Afghanistan to around 1,550.
We will continue to place the highest priority on the safety of our forces, providing the necessary funding, with over £1 billion in urgent operational requirements for vehicles in the last three years, including Mastiff patrol vehicles, which are among the best-protected in the world. We have increased helicopter numbers and flying hours by 60 per cent over the last two years.
It has become even clearer over the last year just how crucial Pakistan, especially its border areas with Afghanistan, has become, both to stability in Afghanistan and to our national security at home. These border areas are used by violent extremists as a base for launching attacks against coalition forces in Afghanistan. As President Obama has said, Al-Qaeda and its extremist allies are a cancer that risks killing Pakistan from within.
So while the problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan are different and require distinct approaches, we can no longer consider the terrorist threats arising in the two countries in isolation from each other. While in Pakistan, I met President Zardari, Prime Minister Gilani and former Prime Minister Sharif and we
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As Pakistan steps up the fight on terrorism, so we will focus greater attention on the basic human challenges Pakistan still faces in education, health and respect for human rights in each of which failure serves only to fuel radicalisation.
Britains development programme in Pakistan will become our second largest worldwide, and we will provide £665 million in assistance over the next four years, but we will refocus much of our aidincluding more than £125 million of education spendingto the border areas. We are working for the establishment of a World Bank trust fund for development in the border areas. We will press other countries to increase their contribution.
With UK support, the recent Friends of Democratic Pakistan meeting and the donor conference in Tokyo have already delivered pledges of $5 billion over the next two years. Next month President Zardari will visit the UK. We will take forward our shared efforts to tackle terrorism, support economic development and harness the international communitys assistance for Pakistan. We will continue our discussions to agree a concordat to strengthen our practical co-operation to meet these terrorist challenges.
With more than 40 countries showing the international communitys long-term commitment to Afghanistan, in December 2007 we led the way with our proposals to complement the brave action of our troops by building up the Afghan army, police and local government to give Afghans more control over their affairs.
Tackling terrorism in and from the borders of Afghanistan and Pakistan drives forward our new set of proposals today. We will complement the necessary military action with economic, social and political progress aimed at building stronger and more effective democracies and strengthening the ability of the Afghan and Pakistan authorities to take greater responsibility for action against terrorism and building the strength of security in Pakistan and Afghanistan, on which our security here in Britain ultimately depends. I commend this Statement to the House.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I am sure that I speak for the whole House when I thank the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement made by the Prime Minister. Of course I agree with her in her tribute to all those in our Armed Forces who have died on active service in
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On sacrifices not being in vain, how can the noble Baroness assure the British people that the work of our Armed Forces will be successful? Can she give the House three specific measures by which success will be measured? Take, for example, drugs, which were mentioned in the Statement. Can she tell us by what percentage Afghanistans contribution to world poppy production has been reduced since our intervention and what our target is?
There is much in the Statement that we can agree with. We support the further temporary deployment for the elections. Can the noble Baroness tell us for how long that will be? We also welcome news of a further commitment from our old and trusted friends in Australia, but can the noble Baroness spell out for the House, following the fine words at the recent NATO summit, exactly how many extra troops will be provided by other EU nations and where they will be deployed? More important than that, can she say whether there will be any restrictions on their rules of engagement?
In some ways, this Statement represents a laying to rest of the ambitions of the so-called Blair doctrine with its questionable ideal of armed intervention in foreign countries to impose western democracy at the point of a gun. A new, more realistic strategy is desirabledesirable for its sustainability so far as the burden of our Armed Forces is concerned and desirable, frankly, for the good name of Britain. Buried within the characteristically impenetrable verbiage of this Statement seemed to be just that: narrower and more focused objectives. The first is to help Islamic Governments on the ground to defeat al-Qaeda, to close its training bases and to remove the causes of its popular appeal to the misguided young in scores of nations right across the world. The second is to help those Governments to put in place the security and the stable infrastructure that enables successes over al-Qaeda to be sustained. Is that what I understand to be our strategy? If so, we can support it.
The bombastic folly that we have heard in recent years claiming that the US and UK could conquer and hold some of the toughest, most inhospitable and least strategic territory on earth and, failing that, remote-bomb al-Qaeda into oblivion seems now to have been abandoned. I hope that the noble Baroness can confirm that, too.
Whenever news of another British death comes home to our shores from the wastes of Helmand, we have to accept that the reaction of a vast number of British people is still Why?. Does the noble Baroness agree that clear and regular reporting to Parliament on these evolving objectives and benchmarks against
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I turn briefly to the situation in Pakistan, a country with which this country has profound and valued ties. Last May, Pakistan was readmitted to the Commonwealth but, amazingly, there is no mention of the Commonwealth in this Statement. What place does the Prime Minister see for the Commonwealth in its 60th year, with its enormous Muslim population, in helping in this crisis?
The old language of the axis of evil is out, but the Prime Minister now speaks of a crucible of terror or a chain of terror. Whatever we may think of the diplomatic nature of that new language, it does at least recognise what many of us have been saying for a long time. You can win tactical battles in Helmand, but you may face strategic defeat in the lawless borders of Afghanistan, western Pakistan and the tribal areas extending all the way down to Baluchistan, where al-Qaeda remains active.
Pakistan is a great and respected ally with nuclear power and a huge conventional army, but the challenge that it faces is diverse. What is the noble Baronesss assessment of the Pakistan armys ability to check Taliban advances and close militant training camps in the areas that it occupies, such as the Swat valley? What is being done by the Pakistan Government to disrupt the activities of the preachers of evil, the promoters of suicide and those who rejoice in the slaughter of people of all faiths and none? How, if at all, can we help in this? On the world wide web and on the airwaves, the propaganda effort of al-Qaeda and its hangers-on is as unceasing as it is repellent and intimidating. Will the noble Baroness tell the Houseafter all, this Government are obsessed with intercepting, monitoring and controlling the phone calls, e-mails and web use of the good people of Britainwhat the Government are doing to help in Afghanistan and Pakistan in the international e-war against al-Qaeda? I wonder whether it is enough.
Pakistan has grave problems to confront and we must help her as a genuine and respectful ally in public word and deed and in a way that is as tough-minded and candid as we may need to be in private. If the lesson of this Statement is that the British Government need to do a little less in the megaphone war on terror
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Baroness Falkner of Margravine: My Lords, we on these Benches, too, pay tribute to those serving in our Armed Forces in Afghanistan; I am sure that the whole country is united in recognising their sacrifice. We welcome the ongoing development of the Governments strategy on Afghanistan and Pakistan.
On Afghanistan, we welcome the additional troop numbers in advance of the elections on 20 August. We recognise how crucial the elections are to our long-term aims in stabilising the country, but we also see that the challenge of delivering the elections in a country where some 50 per cent of the districts are considered to be a security risk will require concerted co-operation among all the different partners operating there.
While we heard the Prime Minister say in the other place that everyone will be operating under ISAF guidance, we on these Benches reiterate the point made by my noble friend Lord Ashdown earlier today that we also need to work out clearer common positions among ourselves so that we are able to speak with one voice to the Afghan Government. Unity of purpose is sorely needed in our strategy there.
With the divisions inherent in the Afghan tribal systems, it is critical that the elections are seen to be credible, so we join the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, in questioning what arrangements are in place to ensure that election monitoring will be undertaken. Will the Leader of the House provide details of how we are moving forward on this, as 20 August is not too far away?
We also welcome the implicit recognition in the Statement that, when we do well in Afghanistan, a displacement effect occurs when the problem moves to Pakistan. We wish that this had been recognised in 2002 when we shifted our priorities away from Afghanistan and Pakistan to Iraq. As a result, we now expect to be engaged in both for some considerable time.
Turning to Pakistan, we welcome the increased resources, particularly those that are devoted to education. We would nevertheless caution on the emphasis in the Statement on doing work in the border areas. That is far too narrow. The border areas are where the greatest resistance to education is and where the challenges to all sorts of modernisation and governance are the greatest. We urge the Government to recognise that, while it is critical to develop those areas, it is probably too late to reverse the trend of radicalisation by simply concentrating efforts there. Radicalisation has moved from those areas into the heart of cities such as Lahore, Karachi and Quetta. If we neglect mainstream Pakistan at the expense of the tribal areas, we will simply displace al-Qaeda from where it is visible to those parts where it can melt into the crowd. We therefore urge the Government to have a multifaceted strategy to operate across the Pakistan spectrum.
The Prime Minister spoke about the weakness in the Afghan police forces but said little in the Statement about Pakistans needs in those areas. We know that some pockets of the Pakistani military and intelligence
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On our assistance to the Pakistan military, there has been a shift in US thinking to the view that asymmetrical techniques are now needed to counter the Pakistan Taliban and terrorism. Has that happened in our own strategic thinking in the UK? If so, are we backing this up with training and the supplies of necessary hardware in this changed scenario? On hardware, we understand that the export credit guarantee scheme does not underwrite security exports to Pakistan, as it is deemed too great a security risk. Can the Minister confirm that this is correct? If so, how does this fit the new strategy when we are giving aid with one hand yet denying our commercial exporters the ability to provide badly needed equipment with the other? Will the Government recognise that aid has an element of soft power?
The high-profile arrest, release and subsequent deportation of Pakistani students do not instil confidence in either our intelligence or our diplomacy. Can the noble Baroness confirm that the screening of student visas takes place through face-to-face interviews in Pakistan and not on the telephone from Dubai, as has been alleged?
President Obama has announced a reformalised contact group on Pakistan, which is to meet in Washington next month. Can the Minister assure us of the UKs engagement in this effort and will the Government keep us regularly updated on developments in this theatre in future?
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I am grateful to both the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, for their broad support of the Statement. It is good that we continue in this country to work on a multilateral basis to support our troops, especially when they are operating in theatre.
The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, is absolutely right that the sacrifice of our troops must never be forgotten or in vain. This Government have done an awful lot, especially in recent times, to ensure that our troops have the medical care, housing, education and all the other support that they need and deserve both when they come home healthy from operations and when they come home sick. I can provide noble Lords with chapter and verse on that in writing.
The noble Lord asked about the deployment of our troops and how long the increased deployment will last. As I said in the Statement, by November of this year the number of our troops will have reverted to 8,300. The increase to 9,000 is only for the period of the elections.
The strategy outlined in todays document is in many ways not new but a refreshed strategy building on that outlined by my right honourable friend the
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The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, asked about the extra troops that are being provided by our European friends and neighbours. We are encouraged that the election support force is fully resourced. It is important that the EU nations are doing what we can. Poland has recently announced the provision of additional troops and there is a Spanish battalion, as well as Italian, Lithuanian and Portuguese troops. I can also put that in writing.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, what I am particularly interested in is the rules of engagement for our NATO allies. I wholly accept that the noble Baroness may not have the answer now, but if she could write to me I would be grateful.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I understand the question posed by the noble Lord, but at this stage it would not be proper for me to report on the rules of engagement. However, I will certainly provide him with what information I can.
I turn to the position of women and their human rights under Sharia family law in Afghanistan. We believe that the law that was introduced was abhorrent and disgusting and we are pleased that the President has asked the justice ministry to review it.
The noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, mentioned the need to adopt common positions so that we can work on a more coherent basis. That is precisely what the refreshed strategy is all about. We are placing an emphasis on the border areas not because we are forgetting about our responsibilities to the rest of Pakistan but merely because we want to concentrate on the prospect of radicalisation in the border areas. As regards long-term assistance for the police, I believe that we are helping in police training and will continue to do so.
The noble Lord put an important question to me when he asked about the role of the Commonwealth in this key year. The prospect of Pakistans readmission to the Commonwealth in early 2008 was a key factor in Pakistans decision to lift martial law and hold elections. The Commonwealth has a real role to play in influencing what happens in Pakistan.
The elections in Afghanistan are an extremely important event this year. The process must be inclusive and credible, but it will be difficult to measure that credibility until we see the outcome. However, we believe that the newly elected Government and President must have a strong mandate and be willing and able to commit to the Afghan side of the international bargain. The turnout should be high enough, the elections must not be disrupted and, of course, the entire process must be fair.
I was also asked about poppy production for narcotics. Over half of the provinces in Afghanistan are now poppy free and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime
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We have concerns about the situation in the border areas of Pakistan, particularly in Swat. The peace agreement has not led to lasting security and it is clear that violent extremists are intent on pursuing death and destruction. This is not in the interests of the Pakistani people and we welcome the Pakistan Governments commitment to fight against it.
The noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, asked about the export credit guarantee scheme. I am not exactly sure about the situation, but I shall certainly find out and come back to her on it because it is extremely important both to people in this country who wish to trade and to the people of Pakistan.
The Lord Bishop of Rochester: My Lords, what are Her Majestys Government doing to build confidence between India and Pakistan, especially in relation to Kashmir, and between Afghanistan and Pakistan as this affects border security in the region? Can the Minister assure us that British aid policy for education will be effective this time in changing the syllabus in the madrassas, which are fuelling the international terrorism to which the Prime Minister refers?
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, the right reverend Prelate is right to draw our attention to the importance of the relationship between India and Pakistan. Since the atrocities in Mumbai, there have been discussions between India and Pakistan. The Government are working very closely on that issue.
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