My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will join me in sending condolences to the family and friends of a British soldier from the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards who was killed in southern Afghanistan yesterday.
"With permission, Mr. Speaker, following my visits earlier this week, I should like to make a Statement on the Government's strategy in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. First, I am sure that the whole House will join me in paying tribute to all those serving in our Armed Forces and remembering with gratitude those who have given their lives in the service of our country. As I saw again on Monday, our Armed Forces are facing enormous challenges with great skill, determination and courage. They are the best in the world and we are immensely proud of them.
Our counterterrorist strategy published last month set out how we are working to tackle terrorism around the globe, but one priority, indeed the greatest international priority, is the border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan, which are the crucible for global terrorism, the breeding ground for international terrorists, and the source of a chain of terror that links the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan to the streets of Britain.
Pakistan and Afghanistan are, of course, different countries at different stages of development, but as the document we are publishing today emphasises, together they face the shared challenge of terrorism. In Afghanistan the Afghan Taliban are using mines and suicide bombs to carry out attacks on our troops and on innocent civilians. In Pakistan the army and security services are now dealing with the wider territorial ambitions of the Pakistan Taliban. Last year alone in Pakistan itself 2,000 civilians and security personnel were killed in terrorist attacks. Suicide bombs in Pakistan, once relatively rare, were used 60 times last year and are at the same level this year—an almost tenfold rise in just two years. We know that terrorist leaders orchestrate attacks around the world from the border areas. We also know that the stronger connections which now exist between the Afghan and Pakistan Taliban, and between them and al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups, now require us to take further more determined and concerted action.
In our December 2007 strategy, we made the right long-term decisions for Afghanistan, decisions reinforced in the conclusions of the US review last month. Now, following our review to identify what is working and where we need to go further, I want to set out an updated strategy for our actions in both Afghanistan and Pakistan and how we will mobilise our resources to do this.
In both countries we are working with the elected Governments, including through our commitments to support economic development, with combined development and stabilisation spending of £255 million, £256 million and £339 million in each of the last three years, a total of almost £1 billion over three years. In both cases our involvement is focused on the tasks that are necessary to enable these countries to counter the terrorist threats themselves.
For Afghanistan, our strategy is to ensure that the country is strong enough as a democracy to withstand and overcome the terrorist threat. Strengthening Afghan control and resilience will require us to intensify our work in the following areas. First, we will build up the Afghan army and police and the rule of law and we should now adopt the stated goal of enabling district-by-district, province-by-province handover to Afghan control. Secondly, we will strengthen Afghan democracy at all levels, including by ensuring credible and inclusive elections and improving security through that period. Thirdly, we will help to strengthen local government in Afghanistan, not least the role of traditional Afghan structures, such as the local shuras. Fourthly, we want to give people in Afghanistan a stake in their future, promoting economic development as the best way of helping the Afghan people to achieve not just stability but also prosperity.
In Pakistan, our strategy to tackle the same underlying problem of terrorism results in different proposals. First, we want to work with the elected Government and the army. While Afghanistan's forces are at an early stage, international forces will have to play a frontline role. By contrast, Pakistan has a large and well-funded army and we want to work with it to help it counter terrorism by taking more control of the border areas. Secondly, not least through our support for education and for development, we want to prevent young people falling under the sway of violent and extremist ideologies.
Let me address the proposals in turn. As I said to the House in December 2007, success in strengthening Afghanistan to withstand terrorism will ultimately depend on building the capacity of the Afghans to take control of their own security. So we will work to build up the Afghan national army from its current strength of over 80,000 to a total of 134,000 by late 2011. I believe we will need even more numbers than that in the future. Already 300 of our forces in Helmand are dedicated to training them. Nationally we are leading the training of non-commissioned officers and have trained over 18,000. Together with France we have also trained over 1,000 army officers.
Afghan army brigades, as many of you know, have fought bravely alongside our troops, as we saw in a major operation to drive insurgents out of Nad-e-ali earlier this year. Ninety per cent of the Afghan public see their army as an honest and fair institution. The same is not yet true of the police but it must be achieved if the Afghans are to spread the rule of law throughout their country. We already have 120 civilian and military advisers working with the police, and I can tell the House that as resources are freed from the south as the US moves in, we will over time shift the balance of our operations away from frontline combat and towards an enhanced contribution to the training of both the army and police in Afghanistan.
At its 60th anniversary summit earlier this month, the NATO alliance unanimously agreed that supporting the Afghans to build a stronger democratic Afghanistan was its highest priority. Afghanistan is about to hold its second presidential election: a safe, credible and inclusive election is essential. We are providing £15 million for election support and President Karzai has given me personal assurances about his determination to ensure credible, inclusive elections. I also reiterated to him the concerns that we have and which the whole world has over the Shia family law and I welcome his decision to review that draft Bill. I urged him to step up his Government's efforts to tackle the corruption that has discouraged Afghans from backing democracy against the Taliban. I made clear that we will back the Afghan Government as they take forward the process of reconciliation. Our aim is to divide, isolate and then remove the insurgents, offering to those prepared to renounce violence and accept the Afghan constitution the prospect of work and security. But those who refuse must prepare for a long and difficult battle in which there can be only one winner: democracy and a strong Afghan state.
Just as the Afghans need to take control of their own security, they also need to build legitimate governance. So we will strengthen our efforts on localisation, civilianisation and the promotion of economic development so that the Afghan people have a stake in their own future. Our local joint civilian and military teams are supporting the Afghan social outreach programme in Helmand. In key districts we are helping district governors to reach out to the traditional tribal system through shuras, which, as I saw on Monday, are now empowering local solutions to local problems. To support this we have doubled the number of deployed civilian experts. We are encouraging other countries to follow this example, and urging the United Nations to play a greater role in co-ordinating the civilian effort.
Last month the Secretary of State for International Development announced an additional £50 million for development assistance, and today he is publishing his Afghanistan country plan. Britain remains Afghanistan's third biggest donor, with more than £500 million committed over the next four years. In Helmand, this allows us to support the building of a road from Gereshk to Lashkar Gah and the refurbishment of the hydropower dam at Gereshk, from which up to 200,000 people will benefit. We are also investing £30 million over four years to work with the Government on a new programme of agricultural support that includes the wheat-seed programme in Helmand and gives farmers viable alternatives to poppy and, nationally, improved access to credit so that more Afghans can invest in their farms.
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 that—with 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 week's Budget of £3 billion for 2009-10—we 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 discussed stronger action against terrorism and violent extremism. We have agreed clear shared principles for our bilateral relationship: that terrorism and violent extremism present the most significant threat to both Britain and Pakistan; and that throughout Pakistan and especially in the border areas there must be long-term good governance and economic development to underpin progress on security. To deliver on these principles, we agreed on an enhanced strategic dialogue to bring together our senior diplomatic, military and intelligence teams on a more regular basis. We will support this closer co-operation through a £10 million programme of counterterrorism capacity-building working with Pakistan's police and security services.
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.
Britain's 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 aid—including more than £125 million of education spending—to 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 community's 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 community's 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".
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
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 Afghanistan and, I may add, to all those who have been wounded and who have risked their lives in this immensely dangerous theatre. The bravery of our troops is beyond question, as is their professionalism and skill. Each sacrifice to which we pay passing tribute is permanent; their families are entitled to ask that their sacrifice will not be forgotten and that it has not been in vain. Can the noble Baroness assure us that the Ministry of Defence will rise far above some of its past performances in caring for injured service men and women and the families of the bereaved?
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 Afghanistan's 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 desirable—desirable 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 which success can be measured is essential? What is being done to confront the venality and corruption that disfigure the Karzai Government? What progress is being made with the Afghan National Police, who are often seen as the weakest link in the security chain? What is a free and fair election in the Afghan context and how will that be monitored? While I welcome the work of our aid organisations—for example, building roads and hydroelectricity plants—what work is being done with the people of the country, particularly in developing leadership training so that they can take on many of these tasks themselves? Finally, we are now being told that we must pass a massive and intrusive Equality Bill in this House, but what is being said about the demeaning and inhuman treatment of women in some parts of these territories where our young men and women are being sent to fight?
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?
Is it not about time that Afghanistan recognised the border with Pakistan? Might that not be a good start to achieving the co-operation across the border that the Statement rightly commends?
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 Baroness's assessment of the Pakistan army's 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 House—after all, this Government are obsessed with intercepting, monitoring and controlling the phone calls, e-mails and web use of the good people of Britain—what 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 and a lot more in the patient, steady and often difficult and dangerous work of building up relationships and closer ties, that is a very good thing. Surely that is the vital role for Britain now and in the future.
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 Government's strategy on Afghanistan and Pakistan.
On Afghanistan, we welcome the additional troop numbers in advance of the elections on
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
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 Pakistan's needs in those areas. We know that some pockets of the Pakistani military and intelligence services are resistant to our efforts at counterterrorism. This will not resolve itself in the short term. Ultimately, root-and-branch reform of the military and security establishment is needed. However, in the immediate near term, we need to support that third pillar of law and order, the police. Currently, the expenditure on the police is 0.6 per cent of that on the military. Do we plan long-term training and assistance for the Pakistani police along similar lines to those envisaged for Afghanistan?
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 UK's engagement in this effort and will the Government keep us regularly updated on developments in this theatre in future?
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 today's document is in many ways not new but a refreshed strategy building on that outlined by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in December 2007. As noble Lords have said, it is an important step forward. While Pakistan and Afghanistan are very different countries, they have some common problems. We have to find some shared solutions, although in very different ways. I agree that it is important that the Government should continue to report on a regular basis to Parliament on the situation in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
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.
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.
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 Pakistan's readmission to the Commonwealth in early 2008 was a key factor in Pakistan's 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 2008 opium survey reported that Afghan opium production had continued to fall and that there was a reduction of 19 per cent in 2007.
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 Government's 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.
I am grateful for the broad support expressed for the new strategy and I hope that there will be more opportunities to update Parliament on it.
My Lords, what are Her Majesty's 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.
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.
In respect of the syllabus in the madrassas, the right reverend Prelate is again absolutely right that all too often what is taught in the madrassas has dreadful implications for the rest of the world. It is for Pakistan to determine what is taught in its country. However, we are working with educationalists in Pakistan, and with the Government, to try to ensure that what is taught is proper and right, and takes proper account of human rights and the needs of the rest of the world.
My Lords, would the noble Baroness mind some gentle criticism, which cannot be directed at her, of course, that the Statement that she read out would probably have been twice as effective if it had been less repetitive and half as long? Do the Government feel that, after much effort, the balance or the fusion between our civilian and military efforts in Afghanistan is now about right? Does she accept that, in practice, in an Afghan village after a security operation, this must often mean, as with the Americans, that it is the Army that has the main responsibility to produce the necessary clinic, school or emergency housing within hours or days?
My Lords, I note the comments of the noble Lord about the Statement.
He asked whether the Government think that the balance between our civilian and military efforts is correct. With this strategy, it will be correct. This strategy sees a rebalancing, as it were, in the tasks between the military and civilians. Indeed, it is boosting the capacity of civilians to work in Afghanistan. As I understand it, the strategy that is today being outlined by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development will deal with many of the civilian issues.
We are now trying to ensure that more and more of the many civilians who are specifically trained to go into areas that are rather insecure are going in to work immediately after the Army has provided the security. However, I would agree that, in many instances, it is the Army that first provides the schools and then it is up to the civilians to follow up on the work that has been embedded by the Army.
My Lords, can the Minister kindly clarify something that I am intrigued by. The Statement mentions something that I did not know existed. It says that we will be deploying permanent additional units for the purpose of properly protecting our forces from the growing threat of mines and roadside bombs. I did not know that such units existed. Can the Minister tell me who they are, what they are equipped with, how many there are and what "permanent" actually means?
My Lords, that is an excellent question. I have no in-depth knowledge of these units but I will certainly provide the information to the noble Lord in writing. What I can say is that "permanent" must mean that, while our troops are in theatre in Afghanistan, those specific units that are there to protect them will remain as long as the troops remain in Afghanistan.
My Lords, as someone who had a little to do with the decision by NATO to take on the ISAF in Afghanistan, I welcome the Statement, first, because it allows us an opportunity here to underline our support and sympathy for and congratulations to the troops who serve this country in Afghanistan and to recognise their sacrifice, underlined yet again today by another death of a British soldier, and, secondly, because it allows us to underline also the fact that a more regional strategy has now been adopted for the region that includes Afghanistan. That has been emphasised by the election of President Obama and it is a move in the right direction. Pakistan is certainly part of the solution to Afghanistan, but we should not forget that Afghanistan has other neighbours that also have a stake in the future stability of that country.
The fact is that we are at war in Afghanistan with an enemy that is 4,000 miles away but still threatens our daily lives in this country. That needs to be constantly emphasised. It is also battle of wills: the Taliban retreat each time that the resolve of NATO and NATO countries is on display. It is therefore important that we recognise that we are on a war footing and that we must give support not just to our troops but to the political leadership who are behind it.
Is it not also a fact that too few people in this country recognise what is at stake in this battle beyond the Hindu Kush? I ask my noble friend to ensure that the Government do more to publicise, and make the general public understand, what is at stake in Afghanistan so that they will give the support to the troops which, in the end, is the only way that we will prevail and make our country safe.
My Lords, I agree with everything that my noble friend has said. It is important that more people in our country understand the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan and what is at stake. It is the responsibility of Government but it is also our responsibility as parliamentarians to have a dialogue with the public about what is happening. Reporting to Parliament gives us a nail on which to hang this.
The point that my noble friend makes about regional relations is extremely important, not only regarding Afghanistan, Pakistan and India but also with regard to Iran. Both we and Iran suffer from drug-trafficking out of Afghanistan, and we hope that our two countries can increase our counter-narcotics co-operation.
My Lords, I am relieved to hear the Statement today. I said at the time that the section on Pakistan in the counterterrorism Statement on Monday 20b April when the House resumed was at best optimistic and at worst very complacent. The Statement today has somewhat made up for that. Although I do not expect her to reply today, will the Minister undertake to look into exactly what went on in relation to the advice from MI5 and the police on picking up what it now appears were innocent Pakistanis in the recent operation? Will she bear in mind the counterproductive nature of what may have occurred there?
My Lords, I will take what the noble Baroness has said back to my colleagues in the Home Office.
My Lords, this is an extremely long and complex saga. Does my noble friend agree that it is important to remember that in our approach to a solution? I often recall that my own uncle was killed on the north-west frontier in 1933.
In grappling with that long and complex saga and trying to find a lasting solution, the economic and social programmes that have followed to win hearts and minds are obviously crucial. Many of us were heartened by the emphasis given in the Statement to the importance of this work. A tribute should be paid to the armed services for their understanding of the relationship between military action and the campaign for hearts and minds and the understanding, which must be difficult with the intensity of the conflict, that is brought to this issue by the leadership of the armed services in the field.
Dos my noble friend accept that it is not only on the other side of the House that there is concern about rules of engagement? An ill-judged action can, in minutes, undo much of the progress that has been painstakingly made over months. Rules of engagement are crucial to the success of the operation.
My Lords, on the final point, yes, rules of engagement are extremely important, but the fact that we now have a more coherent policy and are working more closely in a coherent way with other countries means that the rules of engagement are much clearer and, therefore, much more easily respected. Yes, this is a very long and complex saga, if I might put it like that; winning hearts and minds is extremely important. I, too, pay tribute to way in which our Armed Forces have very much changed the way in which they work. As the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, suggested earlier, they are now building schools as well as providing security and fighting wars.
My Lords, will the noble Baroness bear in mind the very heavy casualties that Pakistan has sustained from terrorist attacks by the same enemy as ours in Afghanistan? Are we content with the co-operation with Pakistan on the part of President Karzai and his Government, and the co-operation on the part of NATO with Pakistan?
My Lords, the pressures and the violence in Pakistan are deeply regrettable. Are we content with the relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan? I guess one can never be content, but we are working to foster better relationships both between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and between all the partners within the region. I am sure this will be a matter for discussion when the Prime Minister meets President Zardari in London shortly.
My Lords, would the Minister be very kind and address a point that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, put to her in his earlier question, relating to the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan? Is it not really quite clear that there cannot be a stable and peaceful settlement in that region unless that international border is recognised by all concerned—particularly by the two countries which it divides? At the moment, as we all know, Afghanistan does not recognise that border, and that gives Pakistan both a feeling of insecurity and a temptation to interfere across it. What are the Government doing in the longer term? I am not suggesting that anything can be done by saying today that this has got to be settled within a few weeks, but what are the Government doing to work towards a situation in which that border is finally recognised by all concerned? What thought is being given to the possibility of finding a regional solution in which all the countries of the region recognise each other's borders and undertake to respect them? Without that, I do not believe there will be stability in that region.
My Lords, I must apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, for not having answered his earlier question. I completely agree that, until the border is recognised, the violence and unrest are going to continue, because people living on both sides of the border will feel great tensions and will not feel safe. I also agree that there should and must be a regional solution. The positive engagement between Presidents Karzai and Zardari is extremely important, and it will enable Pakistan and Afghanistan ultimately to reach an agreement. But, of course, they will need the support of their regional partners in this, and I am sure we will be doing whatever we can to nurture that agreement.
My Lords, I welcome the Statement and pay tribute to the maturity and flexibility of the military in the region. Yesterday in Dubai at an important security conference when the issue was being discussed, the Pakistani security authorities were bridling at the criticism from the West about the perceived lack of effect of their efforts. They made a fair point that one of the difficulties in the lack of co-ordination between the NATO allies and the Pakistan authorities was that whenever one of the authorities made a push against the Taliban the other side was usually unaware of it and was thus unable to provide what it called the anvil response to it.
I am very much aware of the sensitivities and difficulties of intelligence between the two bodies there, but it seems to me that the lack of co-ordination hinders the effectiveness of the military action by each side against the Taliban. Will the Minister consider what could be done to improve the effectiveness of the military?
My Lords, I will certainly consider that point. It is clear that wherever there is a lack of co-ordination, practice on the ground suffers. This strategy, which is all about coherence and co-ordination will assist, but I will certainly take back that specific point made by my noble friend.
My Lords, page 7 of the Statement asserts:
"We have agreed ... that terrorism and violent extremism present the most significant threat to both Britain and Pakistan".
It goes on to say that,
"we agreed on an enhanced strategic dialogue to bring together our senior diplomatic military and intelligence teams on a more regular basis".
Whenever such assertions are made in a communiqué or Statement, it generally means that there have been problems or shortcomings in the past. Otherwise, what is the point of meeting more regularly?
Can the Leader of the House share with us the nature of the shortcomings of the relationship between ourselves and the Pakistanis in respect of security, and what improvements can we expect in future?
My Lords, on matters of security, it would be imprudent for any member of the Government to discuss shortcomings that might or might not have happened. If I can share anything with the noble Lord confidentially I will certainly do so, but I am absolutely confident that this strategy, as outlined in the Statement, will enhance what I think has probably been a good relationship in the past. Of course, everything can be better and where there is terrorism and potential violence, it is extremely important to do everything possible to work with the Government of Afghanistan to eradicate these things.
My Lords, does the noble Baroness accept, following the comments of the noble Lords, Lord Roberts and Lord Hurd, that there is still confusion between the civil and the military? Somehow we still have to get over to the public that development assistance is also at the heart of this Statement, although it is apparently one about defence and anti-terrorism. The people of Afghanistan are not going to see very much result from this Statement. They will see resources going more into Pakistan than disappearing into the interior.
My Lords, the fact that the Secretary of State for International Development is also announcing his strategy for Afghanistan today will assist people who are perhaps more interested in the development of civilian rather than military aspects of the situation. That will ensure that they, too, are informed of the situation in Afghanistan.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that Pakistan should not be used as a means to our war on terror but that it should be made to realise that fighting the Taliban and al-Qaeda is in its own interest? If Pakistan is seen to be doing that as an instrument to our objectives, there would be a strong national reaction. That is to be avoided.
As for Afghanistan, I should have thought that our main concern is to ensure liberal institutions and some form of democracy. We should at all costs try to avoid shaping Afghanistan in our own image. This is the kind of thing that happened in the context of recent law, initially signed by President Karzai, about gender equality. Gender equality is a wonderful idea, but if we start to insist on these kinds of things we might provoke more opposition than is necessary, and that might turn out to be counterproductive.
My Lords, the strategy outlined today is not about imposing a British-made strategy. It is about Afghanisation, it is about civilianisation and it is about localisation. When I talked about my abhorrence for the family Sharia law, I was talking about it in human rights terms. This is not about gender; this is about human rights. Wherever we are in the world, we have a right to be concerned if people's human rights are being abused.