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Many of the commitments made at the previous London conference on Afghanistan in 2006 have never been met. The British public are now waiting to see whether progress can really be made and to assess whether our military effort and high sacrifice are truly worth while. This time round, they must see a clear sense of direction, purpose and aims, and in this they must not be disappointed.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. We are all conscious this week that we are struggling to recover ground lost
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On the peace and reintegration trust fund, I will repeat some of the questions of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and expand on them. What percentage of the peace and reintegration trust fund will the United Kingdom be providing? Which governments apart from the Government of Japan will be the other major contributors, given that Britain is making one of the largest military contributions to Afghanistan? I very much hope that others will provide other forms of support.
Throughout this engagement, my party has stressed that we cannot resolve the problems of Afghanistan without the broader regional context. That applies to both Pakistan and Yemen. Pakistan is intrinsically linked to this. Since the Indian conflict with Pakistan is so central to Pakistan's existence, India has to be brought in closely, too. I am told that Iran presently provides useful support to the Karzai regime. We know that Iran is actively concerned with Dari speakers in western Afghanistan. In the complicated relationship we presently have with Iran, we need to remember that Iran is a potentially positive player in the future of Afghanistan. We should not allow other dimensions of our relationship with Iran to pull across that. Saudi Arabia also has a close relationship with Pakistan. I hope that the Minister can assure us that we are in active consultation with the Saudis on the role that they can play in bringing peace to the region.
The noble Lord, Lord Howell, mentioned Russia, China and the northern neighbours, as well as the Gulf states, which have contributed to the problems of Yemen by expelling the expatriate Yemeni workforce after the invasion of Iraq. Clearly, those states have to provide considerable contributions to dealing with the problems of Yemen. Yemen itself stresses that we are talking about the wider region. The radicalisation of Islam and the failure of Arab state regimes in political, social and economic development have been set out clearly in successive Arab Human Development Reports-this applies not just to Yemen but to a range of other countries. I note that the regional conference was held in Istanbul.
We are talking about the problems of the region, but the foreign fighters in both Yemen and Afghanistan come from west Africa, Indonesia and parts of the former Soviet Union, as well as from the United States and Europe; they travel out there to study and become radicalised. Will the Minister assure us that we are not overcommitting to the military support of the current regime in Yemen, which has been in power for a very long time, and to a military response alone? We also have problems with corrupt officials. I was told the other week that advanced weapons supplied to Somalia are being bought and sold, with end-user certificates provided, through Yemen and that the Yemeni army is involved in this trade.
Does the Minister accept that it is urgent that we address the wider Arab/Israel Middle East conflict as a major factor in the radicalisation of young men across the region? As part of that, we need to distinguish the British approach from that of the United States, which, sadly, continues under the Obama Administration to show a remarkable lack of understanding of the complex politics of the region. I am sorry that NATO and the EU have not agreed to support a common representative. Can the Minister say anything about the efforts of the British Government to agree a common NATO/EU representative in Afghanistan and why, sadly, we failed to achieve one? The Statement began by referring to how crucial the outcome in Afghanistan is to the future credibility of NATO, so will the Minister at least take back to the Foreign Office the question of how far, in discussing the future of NATO and the NATO strategic concept, we may find ourselves bound up with the future US position on the Middle East, which is one of the most delicate issues for the future of the alliance?
Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their questions and contributions to what is clearly an extremely important debate at this time. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, raised the issue of Yemen, where, of course, chronic poverty and unemployment contribute to the instability of that country. I can confirm that no cash promises were made at that meeting, which was well understood by the Yemeni representatives. However, there was a commitment to work with the IMF and an understanding from the states that were present and others that it would be necessary to work closely with Yemen.
The outcome of the London Yemen meeting consisted of five agreements. The first concerned Yemen and the IMF, which I have mentioned. Secondly, as was mentioned in the Foreign Secretary's Statement, it was agreed that the Gulf Cooperation Council would meet to discuss the regional role that could be played in supporting Yemen. An international commitment was made to support Yemen in fighting against al-Qaeda and to help Yemen to address broader security issues. It was agreed that the Friends of Yemen group would be launched to offer targeted help in those areas. I am afraid that the detail of the group has not yet been worked out; it is being prepared, but the outcome is not clear.
On Afghanistan, the noble Lord, Lord Howell, raised the issue of security and asked how the transition of responsibility would work. The Afghan national security forces have already taken on the lead for providing security in Kabul. They also led the successful security operation that ensured that last August's presidential election took place despite the insurgents' stated aim to prevent it. As noble Lords will agree, transition is a gradual process, so setting timetables at this time is not possible. The pace of transition will vary from area to area, because it is based on conditions on the ground, the Afghan forces' ability to provide security and the necessary agreement of both the Afghan Government and the international community-the UN, NATO, et cetera. As the Prime Minister has
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On the training of the security forces, 100,000 Afghan troops have been trained and there will be 134,000 Afghan troops and 109,000 Afghan police helping to protect the Afghan people. Last week, the Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board agreed to further increases in Afghan troop numbers, which will bring Afghan security forces to over 300,000. This is far bigger than our present coalition forces. UK troops run Afghan army mentoring, which is important-as is the mentoring of the police-throughout Helmand, including in US areas.
Over 90 per cent of ISAF operations are now conducted in conjunction with the Afghan army. That army is starting to take the lead in independent operations, which is a major step towards the goal of self-sufficiency and national security. President Karzai has promised that Helmand will be a priority for Afghan deployments, and I can reassure noble Lords that we are pressing him to honour that agreement. As to how many US troops will be deployed in the south, since President Obama announced the outcome of his review in December 2009, 40,000 additional troops have been pledged to ISAF, at least half to the south, and non-US contributors of 10,000 troops are deepening their deployment, where that is appropriate and possible.
On the issue of overcommitting in the Yemen, which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, insecurity and instability there will have a significant impact on regional security. It is important that all in the international community step forward to help the Yemeni Government, as I think the noble Lord would agree. We are not alone in providing support to Yemen and we believe that it is necessary to do so. Studies have shown that every one dollar spent on pre-conflict work saves four dollars in post-conflict rebuilding. If I have not answered all the many points made, I will do so in writing.
Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, I have questions on Afghanistan. Russia has been extremely helpful in terms of overflying rights. Has it made any more commitments to assist the effort in Afghanistan? Secondly, strategists increasingly think of Afghanistan and Pakistan together. To what extent has this been reflected in the new appointments which my noble friend mentioned? Finally, on the Afghan diaspora, over the past decades some of the brightest and best of the Afghani professionals-doctors, engineers and so on-have left that country for the West. Did the conference look at ways and means of attracting back to their country some of those members of the Afghan diaspora, many of whom will have now taken root and have family commitments in the West? Have we considered short-term contracts to facilitate the return of members of the diaspora back to Afghanistan?
Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: I thank my noble friend. I understand that Russia has engaged seriously and consistently with the processes that have been
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I raised this issue on 19 November and, unfortunately, the Government studiously avoided answering my point about the extra training that members of the new Afghan army would benefit from. I had the privilege of visiting our troops in Afghanistan a short time ago, and of meeting members of the new Afghan army. Perhaps it is the village schoolmaster coming out in me, but it struck me that the provision of education for young Afghan soldiers would attract them to join the army. Looking at army pay, they can earn as much money fighting for the Taliban. Is it not important that we increase the educational opportunities for Afghan troops, so that when they return to their own villages they have status and become exemplars for their communities? I would be grateful if the Minister could tell us how that might be accommodated. I received one Written Answer recently which suggested that they received one week's educational training. That does not strike me as realistic. I hope that the noble Baroness will agree with me on that point.
Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: I thank the noble Lord. As someone who is also an ex-teacher, I very much value his point about the importance of education and the contribution that it can make to creating an army that is able to deal more effectively, and with greater understanding, with the reasons why it is doing what it is doing. We know that from experience in our own country. I promise to look into the issue more fully. I do not remember signing an Answer to such a Question, but I promise that I will look closely at the noble Lord's point, because it is very important.
As of December 2009, 100,000 Afghan troops have been trained. I imagine that a great deal of lengthy education was probably neither possible nor feasible. However, we ought to take into account the need to provide that extra effort to ensure that the troops are better able to protect the Afghan people.
Lord Marlesford: My Lords, the Statement by the Foreign Secretary seemed to be a mixture of depressingly real facts and, equally depressingly, wholly unrealistic aspirations. I shall raise one aspect, of which the Minister ought to have some professional knowledge.
During Operation Panther's Claw in July, parliamentary colleagues and I had the opportunity to visit Afghanistan. The Minister will remember that her right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary told the House of Commons, in the final debate before the House rose for the summer, that some 90,000 Afghan troops were already trained. However, he revealed that only 450 of them had been persuaded to join Panther's Claw. Some 15,000 coalition troops were engaged in that ultimately unsuccessful operation. Why, therefore, do the Government have any confidence that, merely by training
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Did the noble Baroness not feel some shame when she signed a Written Answer to me and, subsequently, a similar Written Answer to my noble friend Lord Lawson of Blaby, saying that the Government were unable to state the total cost of our military operations in Afghanistan because the MoD did not keep its books in that way? Will she take steps to ensure that the MoD sorts itself out, and will she provide that information, which must be crucial when judging what we can and cannot do?
Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: I thank the noble Lord. I point out that answering Questions is often not possible, not because the MoD or anyone else does not keep its books properly, but perhaps because the nature of the Question made it very difficult to answer in the way that the noble Lord requested. Perhaps resubmitting a Question may be the easier way forward in terms of providing a clearer answer to the noble Lord.
On the security situation, we continue to work with the Afghan national security forces, and that is about improving security for the Afghan people. Many operations by ISAF and the Afghan security forces have been successful when they have been under the control of the Afghan Government. It is unfair and unsubstantiated to claim that there have been failures of the nature that have been described. What my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary was pointing out in the Statement was that in the London conference we sought more clarity on some of these issues and greater understanding that it is necessary for us, for instance, to talk to the Taliban. We need to work with the Afghan Government to separate people from the hard-line ideologues and draw them down into the domestic political processes. That was the objective of the London conference and it has been addressed very well. It makes not just the coalition forces but the Afghan leaders and people feel a lot more hopeful about their future. We should not underestimate that and should not have cynical views about what has been achieved.
Lord Soley: Perhaps my noble friend would agree with me that the recent holding back of the attack on central Kabul was very successful and a good example of the progress being made by the Afghan army. On a wider issue, will she expand a little on what she said about Yemen? She referred directly to the rule of law or legal institutions. This is more than a regional problem. There is a belt of countries, from the Horn of Africa, through Yemen, the Middle East, Afghanistan and some of the central Asian republics, where the two central problems are the lack of any legal structures, other than very basic ones, and serious corruption. One can throw in democracy, but it is not always a stabilising force, as are the rule of law and battles against corruption. Can my noble friend say more about the European Union's role whereby it could use its experience and resources to help those countries develop sophisticated efforts to deal with corruption and develop more structured forms of the rule of law?
Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: I thank my noble friend. I am keen to state the extreme importance of the European Union in these matters. The high representative attended the London conference and was extremely interested in and supportive of the efforts that have been made to deal with Yemeni and Afghan issues at that conference. It is absolutely right to say that the resources of the European Union and its support for building regional integration and the efforts of the Yemeni Government to meet some of the chronic poverty, unemployment and other issues that they face would be very important. The Friends of Yemen group will offer targeted help, alongside the European Union and the coalition more generally, in areas of most need.
Viscount Slim: My Lords, it is good that we support the Afghan army, but there is a danger that we in the West rather overemphasise its operational capabilities and its leadership. To this extent, also, to hold the hand of friendship and parley with the aggressor, the Taliban, before we have it on one knee-or, preferably, two-is rather dangerous. We are dealing with a very proud people. Some will be attracted by land, money and jobs, but the talk in the coffee and tea shops of Quetta in Pakistan and elsewhere is very much that the Taliban is not losing but is in the ascendancy; that it is winning, and that the fact that we want to talk to it shows a weakness on our part.
I ask the Government, then, to beware. We are dealing with people who admire and respect power and strength, and we have to show that we have both. As a nation, we are actually fairly weak in some of those departments. I would be rather careful about meeting the Taliban and thinking it a friendly gesture when, at the time, it thinks that it is because we are weak. The reason that the President of Afghanistan asks for, and suggests that he will require, help for 10 to 15 years is entirely because of his weak government, and the fact that he does not get out among the tribes and realise that it is a tribal situation.
With the greatest respect to the noble Baroness, I believe that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office does not, in many ways, have the experience or the capability to know what the Taliban is really up to. We will find that it is like all guerrilla armies; it will go when it wants, leave when it wants and come when it wants, strengthened in purpose. It is a difficult situation and I do not mean to be depressed by it, but there is great work to be done and still a lot of fighting to get over.
Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: I thank the noble Viscount, but I point out that our forces are in Afghanistan to prevent the return of al-Qaeda. The best way to achieve that is to create a secure and stable Afghan state. Our core strategy remains Afghanisation, which means training up Afghan security forces and getting them to take a lead role. We should continue with the mentoring partnering approach; I can assure the noble Viscount that that is creating improved opportunities for moving things forward. It is only when Afghan troops and police can secure Afghanistan for themselves that our troops will be able to come home.
As for the views of Afghan people, a BBC opinion poll of Afghans was released on 11 January where it is evident that the people of Afghanistan feel that they
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We are in Afghanistan militarily to prevent it becoming, once again, a safe haven for terrorists to threaten the UK and the rest of the world. That is a fine objective, and one which we all have to unite behind. By creating a stable and secure Afghanistan, the people of Afghanistan can also benefit from improved governance and a better social and economic situation. That has to be worth doing and is an imperative for us at this time.
Earl Attlee: My Lords, I shall follow on from the question of my noble friend Lord Marlesford. We know that the Afghan National Army is making far better progress than the Afghan National Police, but of course we will have to place great reliance on both forces. Is the Afghan National Army now able to undertake autonomous battalion-level operations at night?
Lord Lee of Trafford: Perhaps I may follow up an area of questioning from the noble Lord, Lord Howell, which-I say this in the nicest way-I do not think the Minister covered in her response. I refer to the whole area of responding to the more moderate Taliban elements, who we hope will come over to us. Can she say what planning or thought has gone into that? Will there be monitoring stations or similar receiving stations in each province? Who will handle the monitoring of individual Taliban who approach? Will they have to hand over their weapons? Has any thought been given to whether money will be paid out to them immediately or whether it will be phased over a period, and who will then be involved in the subsequent monitoring of the elements of the Taliban who have come over to us?
Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: My Lords, all this will need to be led by the Afghan Government, because it is their initiative that will be funded by the trust fund. However, careful monitoring of the processes will take place. As I said earlier, it is about identifying those who are not the hard-liners and are far more likely to be enticed back into the domestic political processes. I think that we have to work with the Afghan Government in providing not "reconciliation and reintegration" but "reintegration and reconciliation". The first process has to be building towards the reintegration of these individuals and then beginning a reconciliation process. It will involve exercises similar to those in other countries where the surrender of weapons, renunciation of violence and so on played a part. All those aspects of dealing with the transformation will be very important. Of course, the reintegration must be Afghan-led and inevitably it will be funded by the international community.
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