I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his answer. I hope that he will take the opportunity to convey both our thanks to the Secretary of State for the work of General Petraeus and our full confidence that General Allen will take that forward in the coming period. Will he discuss with the Secretary of State the way in which we can involve women more in the future of Afghanistan?
I have conveyed those thanks. In fact, I will meet General Petraeus later this week, and will once again convey them to him. Women have a very important role, in our view, in the future of Afghanistan. I have met women students at Herat university, and a conference for women who could play a leading role in bringing peace to Afghanistan was held at the same time as the Kabul conference last year. That is an agenda that the United States and the United Kingdom want to push. Secretary Clinton is foremost in doing so, and we will support her.
As the draw-down of troops begins in Afghanistan, will my right hon. Friend confirm that it remains the policy of Her Majesty’s Government to withdraw combat forces from 2014? Is that still the collective policy of NATO and most particularly, from the United Kingdom’s point of view, is it the policy of the United States?
It is our United Kingdom policy that by 2015, after the transition of security control to Afghan forces across Afghanistan, United Kingdom forces will not be engaged in combat operations or be present in anything like the numbers in which they are today. That, we believe, is consistent with the approach taken by NATO and by the United States which will lead, following the agreement at Lisbon last autumn, to a full transition in 2014. I can assure my right hon. and learned Friend that that remains our policy, and it is consistent with that of our allies.
The Secretary of State will know that a recurring theme for me is the protection of women in any talks with perhaps the more extreme part of the Taliban. Can we ensure that the progress achieved for women in Afghanistan will be protected and that they do not return to the home and can go to school, take up a profession and participate in the country’s political life?
I very much hope so. We cannot foresee the whole future of Afghanistan but, as the right hon. Lady knows, enormous progress has been made regarding the involvement of women and the education of girls in Afghanistan. That should bring about profound changes in Afghan society in future. Concepts of human rights, including women’s rights, are written into the Afghan constitution. One of the requirements that President Karzai has set out for future reconciliation is acceptance of the constitution and of a democratic way of life. We will always insist that that is an important part of Afghanistan’s future.
May I join in the tributes to General Petraeus, who has done a difficult job in Afghanistan? We have been there for 10 years, and some say that we are trying to tiptoe out of the country, suffering from Afghan fatigue. Is the Secretary of State reconsidering the Bonn accord and the constitution in line with what the Afghan people want, which is a less centralised and more regionalised approach to governance in Afghanistan?
There is certainly no tiptoeing here. Our involvement in Afghanistan will remain very, very strong over the coming years—both the military effort over the next few years and our long-term commitment to Afghanistan through economic co-operation, development aid, governmental expertise and so on. My hon. Friend refers to local governance and devolved decision making, which are important issues in Afghanistan and must be considered as part of the whole debate on reconciliation by the High Peace Council and in meetings between the Afghan and Pakistani Governments as they discuss the matter. Ultimately, that is for them to determine.