The UK and Afghanistan Contents

Summary of conclusions and recommendations

The UK and Afghanistan from 2014

1.In 2001, following the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington DC, master-minded by al-Qaeda, which was based in Afghanistan and enjoyed the protection of the Taliban administration, the country became a top UK foreign, defence and development policy priority. From 2010 its relative prioritisation as a national security issue slipped, partly in response to external factors, such as the increasingly disruptive international role played by Russia (including its activity in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine from 2014) and the rise of ISIS. The protracted and intractable nature of the Afghan conflict and a lack of public support for an ongoing combat mission were also factors. (Paragraph 28)

2.While the priority afforded by the UK to Afghanistan has fallen since 2014, the scale of the challenges facing the country, and their potential impact on UK interests, have not diminished significantly. Terrorist groups including al-Qaeda and Islamic State Khorasan Province operate in Afghanistan. The country is the source of 95% of the heroin in the UK. The Afghan state remains very fragile, with limited control of territory, and the Taliban’s insurgency continues. (Paragraph 36)

3.The Government wishes to safeguard what it describes as the UK’s legacy in Afghanistan since 2001. It wishes to strengthen the gains made in this period, and defines its legacy in terms of improvements in human rights, particularly of women and girls, and the strengthening of the Afghan state since the fall of the Taliban administration. (Paragraph 37)

4.There is a real risk that the principal national security challenges still posed by Afghanistan, namely terrorism, narcotics and regional instability, could worsen, and the gains made since 2001 could be lost. (Paragraph 38)

5.We regret the further delay to the Integrated Review, and the Government’s decision to announce commitments on defence spending and official development assistance in advance of the publication of the review. It is essential that the final document demonstrates how Afghanistan fits into the UK’s long-term strategic aims for national security and foreign policy. (Paragraph 41)

6.We ask the Government to provide us with a detailed breakdown of how its new commitments on defence spending will be allocated. (Paragraph 42)

7.The UK’s interests in Afghanistan are not unique and distinct: they are bound up with those of its allies, led by the US. The UK has had limited opportunities, and has shown little inclination, to exert an independent voice and, along with other NATO Allies, has followed the US’s lead. This is regrettable, not least in view of the UK’s very substantial commitment to Afghanistan, both financially and militarily. The Government should seek to reinforce the need for a multinational approach, and be precise about its aims, including regional stability, counter-terrorism and countering narcotics production and trafficking. (Paragraph 46)

8.The UK Government should ensure that all Afghan interpreters who worked for the UK military, including those now resident in third countries, are aware of, and able to access the provisions of, the ex-gratia scheme. (Paragraph 49)

The Afghan state and government

9.Power in Afghanistan remains personalised, factionalised and mired in corruption, despite some moderate improvements in recent years. Government appointments are regarded as a source of spoils, and warlords and militia leaders retain roles inside the state. Many are involved in the illicit economy, leveraging their access to state resources. (Paragraph 61)

10.We request that the Government provides us with information on the support it has given to strengthen Afghanistan’s democratic processes, particularly its elections. (Paragraph 62)

11.Afghanistan’s system of government is highly centralised, but in practice there are regional and ethnic loyalties. Whether amendments to the constitution are required to address this important matter will be a matter for the Afghans themselves to decide, whether in the peace talks in Doha or thereafter. (Paragraph 66)

12.Ethnicity remains a potent political factor in Afghanistan, particularly at a local level, although its significance can be overstated. The Pashtun majority is largely dominant in politics, while the Hazara community and other minorities remain marginalised. (Paragraph 73)

13.Corruption remains endemic in Afghanistan. It has been significantly exacerbated by foreign funding. While the Afghan government under President Ghani has committed to tacking corruption and taken some steps, little progress appears to have been made. (Paragraph 83)

14.The Afghan government’s accountability to its citizens is limited by its reliance on international military spending and aid, and very low reliance on taxation. This insulates the elite. (Paragraph 84)

15.We welcome the UK Government’s efforts to combat corruption in Afghanistan, including work with the EU in Kabul on this agenda. As a major donor of on-budget support to the Afghan state, the UK should be willing, with its international partners, to call out the corrupt practices of individuals within the government and others in positions of influence. (Paragraph 85)

16.There has been significant improvement in human rights in Afghanistan in the past two decades, particularly in Kabul and other urban areas. Witnesses highlighted improvements in women’s rights, freedom of speech, freedom of association and access to information. (Paragraph 99)

17.Our witnesses said the expectations of Afghan citizens about human rights and participation in governance had changed for the better, making any future attempt to roll back these freedoms more difficult. (Paragraph 100)

18.However, significant human rights challenges remain as a result of weakness in the rule of law and a lack of political will to enforce legislation which protects human rights. We are particularly concerned by reports of the lack of accountability, and sometimes impunity, of senior officials, militias and security forces, and ongoing threats to minorities, journalists and human rights defenders. (Paragraph 101)

19.We welcome the UK’s support for civil society and human rights institutions in Afghanistan, which have contributed to fostering a more open society and greater media freedom. (Paragraph 111)

20.We welcome the BBC World Service’s provision of impartial news and information in three languages in Afghanistan. (Paragraph 112)

21.We regret that UK efforts to improve the rule of law and judicial institutions appear to have had limited impact. We request that the Government provides its assessment of why this is, and how limited progress in Afghanistan compares with the output of similar UK programmes to support the rule of law in other countries. (Paragraph 113)

22.The UK must be willing to speak out on human rights abuses. We are concerned by reports that the UK has turned a blind eye to abuses by the Afghan security forces and militias. (Paragraph 114)

23.The UK should publicly champion the rights of minority communities, such as the Hazaras. (Paragraph 115)

24.There has been considerable improvement in the participation of women in Afghan society, politics and the economy since the fall of the Taliban administration in 2001, particularly in urban areas. Progress has been impeded by a range of factors including the security situation, the limited reach of the Afghan government into rural areas, the persistence of misogynist norms, unwillingness to enforce legislation protecting women and a culture of impunity for cases of violence against women. (Paragraph 142)

25.We were concerned to hear that the promotion of women’s rights appears to have become less of a priority for international donors to Afghanistan. We were reassured to hear from ministers that this remains a key UK priority. (Paragraph 143)

26.The increasing number of girls in education is often cited as a success for the US-led coalition’s engagement in Afghanistan. There has undoubtedly been a large increase in the number of girls enrolled in school, but we are concerned at the disparity between enrolment figures and both the number of girls who complete their schooling and the female literacy rate, which is just 16%. (Paragraph 144)

27.We recommend that the Government undertakes greater consultation with Afghan communities over its provision of education for girls and maternal health programmes, to ensure these are driven by grassroots priorities. (Paragraph 145)

28.The UK should put particular emphasis on funding women’s health programmes across Afghanistan. (Paragraph 146)

29.We would welcome further information on the UK’s work to challenge early and forced marriages across Afghanistan, and their effect on the education and future of Afghan girls and women. (Paragraph 147)

30.While providing services in Taliban-controlled areas presents considerable challenges, improving the lives of women and girls in rural areas is critical to achieving development in Afghanistan. We would welcome further information on the UK’s policy on such support. (Paragraph 148)

31.Depending on the outcome of the Doha talks and the prospects for peace and stability in Afghanistan, the UK Government may need to recognise that the circumstances permitting returning asylum seekers to Afghanistan no longer exist. (Paragraph 160)

32.Decades of war and instability have resulted in large Afghan refugee populations in Iran and Pakistan, and one of the largest numbers of internally displaced persons in the world. Ongoing violence and poverty pose a significant challenge to safe and sustainable returns. (Paragraph 161)

33.As one of the core group of states supporting the Solutions Strategy for Afghan Refugees to Support Voluntary Repatriation, Sustainable Reintegration and Assistance to Host Countries, the UK should consider what further influence it can bring to bear on Pakistan and Iran on the protection of Afghan refugees’ rights. We would be interested to receive further information on what role the UK’s significant aid programme to Pakistan might play in facilitating resettlement. (Paragraph 162)

The Afghan economy

34.Afghanistan depends on international aid for around 60% of its budget. There are few prospects for domestic revenues to increase. Around 75% of the Afghan population work in agriculture, which accounts for just 25% of GDP. While Afghanistan has significant mineral resources, the poor security situation hampers access, and the sector is largely unregulated and beset by corruption and rent-seeking. (Paragraph 172)

35.As a result of poor security and regional tensions, Afghanistan has missed opportunities to benefit from the trade and connectivity potential of its geographical position at the crossroads between the Middle East, Central Asia and South Asia. It should be an objective of the Government’s aid and other policies to help Afghanistan to overcome these obstacles. (Paragraph 177)

36.Afghanistan is the largest source of heroin in the world. It is also a source of hashish, methamphetamines and ephedrine. (Paragraph 187)

37.The drug economy is a crucial part of Afghanistan’s power dynamics: warlords, border officials, security forces, the police and the Taliban are engaged in the trade. (Paragraph 188)

38.Opium poppies are a high-return cash crop, and many rural jobs and livelihoods depend on their cultivation. It is estimated that three million Afghans benefit directly or indirectly from the drugs economy. Reducing dependence on the drugs economy is a long-term development issue. (Paragraph 189)

39.The UK has devoted significant efforts to combating the Afghan drugs economy. Most recently, this has included work to develop the intelligence and investigative capability of the Afghan authorities. (Paragraph 201)

40.UK and international counter-narcotics efforts in Afghanistan have ultimately failed. The level of cultivation of opium poppies has not fallen, and Afghanistan remains the source of 95% of heroin on UK streets. (Paragraph 202)

41.The UK’s presence in and funding for Afghanistan appears to contribute little to the UK’s identified national security interest of countering the narcotics trade. The problem is seemingly intractable, in the context of ongoing conflict and insecurity, the dependence of millions of rural Afghans on opium poppies for their livelihoods and the involvement of multiple powerful actors in the drug economy. (Paragraph 203)

42.Nonetheless, addressing the cultivation and trafficking of narcotics must be a priority for the UK’s engagement on Afghanistan’s agricultural, economic and rural development, and UK public safety. Effective action will only be possible once a greater degree of security in the country is achieved. It should be an objective of UK Government policy that any post-Doha Afghan government is committed to reducing and eliminating this trade, to help that government to achieve those aims, and to co-operate with Afghanistan’s neighbours, particularly Pakistan and Iran, in enforcement action against this illicit trade. (Paragraph 204)

43.Afghanistan is the most aid-dependent country in the world. Sixty percent of its budget is provided by international donors. Without this funding, the state cannot provide basic services. (Paragraph 210)

44.Reducing Afghanistan’s aid dependence in a sustainable way, which does not damage an already fragile state or increase deprivation, will be a long-term process. (Paragraph 211)

45.The UK is a major donor to the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF), which provides on-budget support to the Afghan government. This funding accounts for half of UK official development assistance (ODA) to Afghanistan. (Paragraph 222)

46.As the ARTF is provided as on-budget support (directly to the Afghan government), the UK is reliant on the financial management of the Afghan government for the delivery of 50% of its ODA. While the UK participates actively in World Bank oversight mechanisms for the ARTF, this situation nonetheless poses challenges to achieving the UK’s development outcomes, given the weakness of the Afghan government and widespread corruption. Therefore, further consideration should be given to the allocation of ODA directly to NGOs and other recipients, rather than to the Afghan government via the ARTF. (Paragraph 223)

47.The UK is also a major humanitarian donor, including through the Afghanistan Humanitarian Fund (AHF). Ongoing UK funding for the AHF will be required, given the scale of the humanitarian challenges facing Afghanistan, particularly the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Paragraph 224)

48.We welcome the Government’s decision to maintain the level of aid to Afghanistan in the present financial year (2020–21), and its commitment at the recent Geneva conference to sustaining a substantial aid programme in the future. The Government should explore ways of funding smaller, locally-led programmes, particularly those devoted to health and education. (Paragraph 225)

49.Improving agricultural productivity is essential to Afghanistan’s economic development (see paragraphs 166-8). The UK should maintain and improve its provision of official development assistance for agricultural development. (Paragraph 226)

50.The cost of remitting money from the UK to Afghanistan, 12.7%, is unacceptably high. The Government should consider what actions it could take to lower the cost of remitting money from the UK to Afghanistan. (Paragraph 229)

51.The COVID-19 pandemic has compounded Afghanistan’s serious economic challenges. The country faces a humanitarian crisis, with alarmingly high levels of food insecurity. The poverty rate is expected to rise to 72% of the population, and it will struggle to meet a number of the Sustainable Development Goals. (Paragraph 236)

52.Afghanistan will need further humanitarian aid as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. We welcome the UK’s recent commitments to increase humanitarian provision in this regard. Rigorous oversight will be needed to ensure that UK resources reach their intended targets, represent value for money, and are not used to sustain warlords. (Paragraph 237)

The Taliban and other security issues

53.It is difficult accurately to assess the scale of the territory controlled by the Taliban. Experts differ in their assessments, and ongoing clashes between the Afghan National Security Forces and the Taliban suggest that the situation remains fluid. (Paragraph 241)

54.There are differences in outlook between the younger members of the Taliban, who do not remember its rule in the late 1990s, and veteran Taliban fighters. (Paragraph 245)

55.The Taliban reflects the views of a section of largely rural Afghan society on issues including women’s rights and human rights. Although still predominantly Pashtun, it has become more geographically diverse. (Paragraph 249)

56.The Taliban has adapted since 2001, but it has not necessarily become less conservative. The extent to which the Taliban has moved away from its previously ideologically hidebound agenda is unclear. (Paragraph 253)

57.The Taliban maintains close links with international partners, particularly Pakistan. However, it has shown itself to be unwilling to bend to external pressure, even from its allies. (Paragraph 258)

58.The Taliban is increasingly institutionalised, with a consultative system that reflects the diversity of the group. It can co-ordinate military actions and ceasefires. (Paragraph 263)

59.The Taliban has developed parallel government structures in the areas it controls, providing basic services to local communities and further undermining the institutions of the government in Kabul. (Paragraph 272)

60.The Taliban has demonstrated a degree of flexibility to local needs and demands in the areas it controls, but it remains highly authoritarian and parasitic. (Paragraph 273)

61.Opium remains the main source of income for the Taliban, accounting for up to 65%. The Taliban also profits from the taxation of economic activities, and other illicit trades, including illegal mining and logging. (Paragraph 278)

62.The Taliban has maintained relationships with a range of terrorist and militant groups. It is likely to prioritise its internal unity over US demands to denounce or target such groups. (Paragraph 283)

63.Public information on the different terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan, their size, and the links between them, is very limited. (Paragraph 287)

64.We are surprised that the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) is not included in the Home Office’s list of proscribed terrorist organisations. The UK is the only country among the ‘Five Eyes’ group not to proscribe ISKP. We recommend that this matter be reviewed urgently. (Paragraph 288)

65.The Taliban remains closely associated with the Haqqani Network, which is designated by the UK Government as a proscribed terrorist organisation. (Paragraph 295)

66.Al-Qaeda has retained a presence in Afghanistan, although it appears to be weaker than before 2001. It maintains close ties to the Taliban. (Paragraph 306)

67.Islamic State Khorasan Province poses a significant threat to the Afghan government and civilians. Its ability to recruit educated, urban Afghans is a particular concern. (Paragraph 315)

External actors

68.The agreement negotiated between the US and the Taliban was a withdrawal agreement not a peace agreement. The US was driven by its determination to withdraw its military forces from Afghanistan. (Paragraph 339)

69.The US appears not to have consulted NATO Allies when negotiating with the Taliban, although the final agreement covered NATO personnel. This has risked undermining NATO unity. (Paragraph 340)

70.The commitment by the Taliban in its February 2020 agreement with the US on terrorism is obscure, imprecise and fragile. It will be important that any settlement which emerges from the Doha talks firms up that commitment, and enlists the support of the whole international community and of Afghanistan’s neighbours in its enforcement. (Paragraph 341)

71.We regret President Trump plans to withdraw a further 2,500 troops from Afghanistan by 15 January 2021. The withdrawal of these troops has the potential to further destabilise the security situation in Afghanistan at a critical moment for the peace talks. We note that the requirements of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 are likely to constrain the Trump Administration’s ability to withdraw these troops before the end of his term. (Paragraph 342)

72.It will be important for the Government to engage with the incoming Biden Administration from the outset on the definition of its policy towards Afghanistan. One objective should be more collective management of policy on Afghanistan among NATO Allies; another should be to give more emphasis to the conditions-related implementation of commitments entered into by all parties to the conflict in Afghanistan. (Paragraph 343)

73.The incoming Biden Administration is expected to continue with plans to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan. There is a possibility, however, that it will give more weight to the conditions on the ground, and the impact of withdrawal on the Afghan peace talks than the Trump Administration. It is likely to consult NATO Allies more closely on the withdrawal. (Paragraph 350)

74.Pakistan is the most important external actor in Afghanistan. We welcome the Government’s engagement with Pakistan on Afghanistan and hope it will continue to press Pakistan to support a negotiated settlement. (Paragraph 366)

75.Pakistan appears to have considerable influence over the Taliban, even if the relationship has changed since 2001. However, it appears to be unwilling to use this influence. (Paragraph 367)

76.Pakistan’s policy on Afghanistan is driven by its tense and volatile relationship with India. (Paragraph 368)

77.India’s involvement in Afghanistan, particularly in respect of trade, is heavily dependent on the goodwill of Pakistan. India is, however, Afghanistan’s largest regional donor of development assistance. (Paragraph 381)

78.Iran has a highly flexible strategy when it comes to Afghanistan and appears to be willing to work with all actors to secure influence and achieve its aims, particularly stability on its border. (Paragraph 393)

79.The Government should engage more systematically with Iran on Afghanistan than has been the case in the past, recognising that on policies encouraging greater stability and security and on interdicting drug trafficking, UK and Iranian interests could coincide. (Paragraph 394)

80.The future security and stability of Afghanistan and the well-being of its citizens will depend crucially on reducing, and if possible eliminating, the intervention in its affairs of its neighbours. An objective of UK policy should therefore be to establish as binding as possible a commitment by its neighbours to non-interference and positive support for a stable Afghanistan, and to encouraging economic co-operation. This objective may be best pursued by discussions at the UN. (Paragraph 395)

81.The role and influence of the Gulf states in Afghanistan has changed. Saudi Arabia’s influence has waned, while Qatar’s has increased significantly. (Paragraph 400)

82.The stability of Afghanistan appears to be China’s main priority. Possible threats from Uighur militant groups based in Afghanistan are a concern to China. It is interested in exploring Afghanistan’s raw materials; however, this appears to have become secondary to its security concerns. (Paragraph 407)

83.Pakistan is an important regional ally for China. Beijing’s policy on Afghanistan is, to a large extent, a by-product of its relationship with Islamabad. (Paragraph 408)

84.Russia is no longer a major actor in Afghan affairs, but the US’s ongoing engagement means it retains an interest, and it has cultivated relations with the Taliban. (Paragraph 416)

The Afghan National Security Forces and NATO training

85.We welcome the valuable part the UK has played in NATO’s Resolute Support Mission since 2015. In particular, we welcome the UK’s long-term investment in training through the establishment of the Afghan National Army Officer Academy, which has been an important contribution. (Paragraph 434)

86.The Afghan National Security Forces have become increasingly effective. While they can operate more independently, ongoing US and NATO support is required if the Afghan government is not to lose further territory to the Taliban. (Paragraph 443)

87.Ongoing patronage ties within the Afghan National Security Forces are a concerning reflection of the level of influence of militias and strongmen across Afghan state institutions. (Paragraph 444)

88.Ongoing donor funding through the NATO Afghan National Army Trust Fund and the UN Law and Order Trust Fund for Afghanistan is essential to the viability of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). There is no short- or medium-term prospect that the Afghan state can generate additional revenue to replace international funding for the ANSF. (Paragraph 448)

89.We welcome the UK’s pledge of a further £70 million of funding for the Afghan National Security Forces for 2021. (Paragraph 449)

The peace talks in Doha and the future

90.A negotiated settlement is the only long-term solution to the conflict in Afghanistan. (Paragraph 454)

91.We regret that the US’s agreement with the Taliban was not conditional on the outcome of the peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. The US’s unilateral commitment to withdraw troops has undermined the Afghan government’s leverage in the talks. (Paragraph 458)

92.The violence perpetrated by the Taliban against the Afghan state and civilians is unacceptable. We regret that this violence has increased since the US–Taliban deal in February 2020. (Paragraph 459)

93.Afghan women should play a significant role in the peace negotiations in Doha. We commend the four women in the Afghan government-aligned delegation for their important work in very challenging circumstances. (Paragraph 465)

94.The UK Government should advocate for greater representation of women in the Afghan government-aligned delegation to the peace talks. (Paragraph 466)

95.The UK Government should support engagement between the negotiators and civil society groups to increase the representation of the range of Afghan society. (Paragraph 467)

96.The Afghan government appears to have developed a consensus for the negotiations. The possibility remains, however, that power brokers within, and associated with, the government may act as spoilers if they regard their economic or political interests to be threatened. (Paragraph 472)

97.The UK Government and its international partners should advocate for the Taliban delegation to include women. (Paragraph 475)

98.The Taliban has shown itself to be willing to engage in the peace talks, but its commitment to a negotiated settlement and to power-sharing remains unclear. The Taliban’s desired outcome from the talks, beyond the departure of foreign troops, is not known. (Paragraph 481)

99.The Taliban leadership appears to have significant control of its forces. However, its negotiators’ ability to compromise is likely to be limited by the group’s ideology, the narrative with which it has inspired its fighters and the risk of defections to other extremist groups. (Paragraph 487)

100.Achieving a negotiated settlement to the conflict in Afghanistan is likely to be a protracted and contentious process. The Government should encourage the parties, and regional and international actors, to remain engaged in the process, even if progress is slow. (Paragraph 493)

101.The ongoing engagement of the US is critical to the success of the Afghan peace talks. We are concerned that the US’s agreement with the Taliban risks critically undermining the Afghan government in the talks. (Paragraph 497)

102.The UK Government should make clear to the US that ongoing US military and diplomatic engagement is essential to achieving a successful negotiated settlement, and that further US and NATO troop withdrawals should be paused. (Paragraph 498)

103.We welcome the UK’s enduring commitment to human rights, particularly the rights of women and minorities, in Afghanistan. We regret that the UK is unlikely to have sufficient leverage to ensure these rights are protected. (Paragraph 506)

104.Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon said that the UK was emphasising to the Taliban the importance of “inclusivity”. We are not confident that the Taliban will embrace inclusivity, or develop respect for the rights of women and minorities, or fundamental principles of human rights. (Paragraph 507)

105.Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon said the Taliban’s “ideological philosophy” needed to be addressed. We were provided with no information by the Government on how it or its partners were seeking to influence the Taliban in this regard, or its assessment of how successful this might be. We request this information. (Paragraph 508)

106.We welcome the Government’s commitment to promoting freedom of religion and belief. There is an urgent need for moderate Islamic scholarship to become more widely known and celebrated. (Paragraph 509)

107.We would especially like to learn more about the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s Declaration of Humanity, referred to by Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, and the promotion of freedom of religion or belief (Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights), in the FCDO’s strategy. (Paragraph 510)

108.The Government should be giving careful consideration to how, in the event of the Doha talks resulting in an agreement, it will handle its future relationship with the Taliban, which will necessarily be part of any power-sharing arrangement, and how it will manage aid programmes in areas under Taliban control or influence. We request that the Government in due course shares its thinking on this issue with Parliament. (Paragraph 511)

109.The UK should continue to work with Pakistan in support of a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan. (Paragraph 514)

110.A successful outcome to the Afghan peace talks must include a ceasefire, the reconciliation and reintegration of armed groups, respect for the rights of all Afghan citizens and a commitment not to provide support for terrorist groups. It is likely to include some sort of power sharing with the Taliban. (Paragraph 520)

111.If a negotiated settlement is not reached between the Afghan government and the Taliban, the outcome is likely to be more violence and possibly a civil war. (Paragraph 521)

112.If the Taliban is brought into the Afghan government, it will expect to be given political and military roles. This may result in competition with existing power brokers. (Paragraph 526)

113.Human rights, particularly the rights of women and minorities, are in danger of being a casualty of the Afghan peace talks. The Taliban has not demonstrated that it has changed, and it is ideologically opposed to the progress made since 2001. (Paragraph 536)

114.The UK Government should continue to use its diplomatic influence to ensure that sufficient time is devoted to the discussion of human rights issues in Doha, and call for the involvement of a broad range of Afghans in the negotiations. It should provide financial support to enable civil society groups and rights advocates to participate in the talks. (Paragraph 537)

115.The UK should continue to make clear that its future financial support for Afghanistan is conditional on respect for human rights, including the rights of women and minorities and freedom of speech. (Paragraph 538)

116.Countering the threat from terrorist groups in Afghanistan will remain important to the UK. The Government will need to work with the US and other NATO Allies how best to address this challenge in the circumstances either of a negotiated settlement at Doha, or of a continuation of the current hostilities. (Paragraph 541)

117.We heard that the ongoing presence of US and NATO troops in Afghanistan is essential to the Afghan government’s military strength and negotiating position. Premature withdrawal by the US, likely to be matched by NATO partners, runs contrary to the UK’s objective of securing a durable negotiated settlement. (Paragraph 545)

118.The UK should emphasise to the US and its NATO Allies the importance of their ongoing presence in Afghanistan until a peace deal is reached (Paragraph 546)

119.The ongoing presence of UK troops in Afghanistan depends on the deployment decisions of the US. We were disappointed by the lack of analysis of the implications of the planned US withdrawal from Afghanistan provided by ministers in their evidence. We ask the Government to provide to us its assessment of the US’s policy. (Paragraph 547)

120.The evidence we received demonstrated the challenges facing the Government on future security assistance to Afghanistan:

We invite the Government to provide us with its assessment of these challenges. (Paragraph 552)

121.Afghanistan remains highly dependent on international aid. Cutting funding to the Afghan state would disrupt the provision of basic services. Cuts to humanitarian relief and development projects would have a disproportionate impact on the poorest and most vulnerable. (Paragraph 559)

122.We reiterate our opposition to the UK Government’s decision not to meet its statutory target to spend 0.7% of its Gross National Income (GNI) on official development assistance (ODA) from 2021. We accept that the COVID-19 pandemic has put considerable pressure on Government finances and that the UK’s aid budget would have fallen in cash terms as a result of the shrinking of the UK’s GNI. We call on the Government not to renege on the 0.7% commitment from 2021, which would undermine the UK’s standing in the world and will negatively affect some of the world’s poorest people, including in Afghanistan. There is not a case for cuts to UK aid to the Afghan people, and Afghanistan’s aid dependence makes it particularly vulnerable to future cuts in ODA provision. (Paragraph 560)

123.The UK and international donors face extraordinarily complex and sensitive problems when considering future aid to Afghanistan if the Taliban is brought into the government:

124.Insecurity and violence are two of the major obstacles to achieving development outcomes in Afghanistan. If the peace talks break down, the security situation would be likely to worsen. While the UK could continue to support the Afghan government, its ability to provide services, and the ability of Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office officials and NGOS to operate in the country, would be significantly undermined. (Paragraph 562)

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