Afghanistan — Question

– in the House of Lords at 11:34 am on 30th October 2014.

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Photo of Lord Lee of Trafford Lord Lee of Trafford Liberal Democrat 11:34 am, 30th October 2014

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what arrangements they have made to review their continuing support for the promotion of security and development in Afghanistan.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, the National Security Council regularly reviews plans for support to Afghanistan, most recently on 21 October. Our plans focus on countering the terrorist threat, as well as promoting security, stability and prosperity. Our embassy in Kabul and a few hundred military mentors will support the new Afghan Government in furthering these priorities. We also plan to provide £70 million in security funding and £178 million in development funding per annum until at least 2017.

Photo of Lord Lee of Trafford Lord Lee of Trafford Liberal Democrat

My Lords, the military campaign in Afghanistan cost this country £37 billion, or £2,000 for every household. Sadly, we have lost 453 military personnel. Afghanistan faces a very uncertain and difficult future. Is it not vital that we and our allies give the appropriate level of financial support to Afghanistan? The figures that my noble friend quoted are, frankly, derisory. We give Ethiopia more than that—we give Ethiopia £400 million a year—and, if we do not finance Afghanistan properly, its future is going to be very uncertain, and would that not be a gross betrayal of all those who have given their lives in the cause?

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, at the Tokyo conference in 2012, a number of states and international organisations made pledges amounting to £16 billion for reconstruction in Afghanistan. On 3 and 4 December we will jointly host a conference in London with the Afghan Government, at which a number of other

Governments will be invited to recommit themselves to the development of Afghanistan as a collective effort over the next few years.

Photo of Lord Craig of Radley Lord Craig of Radley Crossbench

My Lords, a considerable number of the available Tornado GR4s are still deployed in Afghanistan. Now that combat operations have ceased, what future plans do the Government have for that force in Afghanistan?

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I will have to write to the noble and gallant Lord about that. I am not entirely up to date on where all the Tornados are.

Photo of Lord Davies of Stamford Lord Davies of Stamford Labour

My Lords, when we give educational aid to Afghanistan, is it the Government’s policy to insist that a fair portion of it—half of it—is spent on the education of girls? Will the noble Lord tell us about the progress of extending education to girls in Afghanistan?

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, there are now 2 million girls in education in Afghanistan, and 4 million boys. That is remarkable progress from where we were 10 years ago. We are very much committed to improving the status of women and girls throughout Afghanistan, and that is part of what our priorities represent.

Photo of Lord Collins of Highbury Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development)

My Lords, in announcing next month’s London conference on Afghanistan, the Prime Minister said:

“We will bring together all our partners to assist this National Unity Government as they embark on vital reforms to revitalise Afghanistan’s economy”.

What steps have been taken to ensure that the voices of civic society, in particular those of women, are heard at this event?

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, there will be an associated event for representatives of civil society at the London conference, and another associated event for private sector investors. We are very much aware of how much effort we need to make to strengthen relatively weak civil society organisations in Afghanistan.

Photo of Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon Liberal Democrat

My Lords, 450 British soldiers dead; thousands of Afghans lying alongside them; probably £100 billion overall spent on this campaign; a “short war” that lasted 13 years, during which we have written the textbook on how not to conduct these kinds of operations—surely my noble friend will agree that the case is made for a proper inquiry into the conduct of the Afghan war and the lessons we should learn from it?

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, it may well be the case that we need a proper inquiry, although I am not sure that we need one of the length of the Chilcot inquiry.

Photo of The Earl of Listowel The Earl of Listowel Crossbench

My Lords, I draw the Minister’s attention to the report from the Children’s Commissioner for England, What’s Going to Happen

Tomorrow?

”—

Unaccompanied Children Refused Asylum

, and its recommendation that we should see the boys and girls who arrive unaccompanied in this country from Afghanistan as a potential asset, who will speak English and can be helped to speak their home language, who can receive a good education from us, for instance in engineering, and who can return to Afghanistan to lead in the rebuilding of that country.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, that is a very complicated question. We are conscious of the extent to which people smuggling and human trafficking are associated with asylum seeking. It is not at all an easy subject.

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Labour

My Lords, in answering a question, the Minister mentioned the possibility of a private sector donors conference, as well as a conference involving civil society. Can he give the House any further information about that? Is it likely to happen in association with the main conference or at a different time? There are many people who are extremely interested in that possibility, so it would be very useful to know about it in good time, in order to gather proper support for it.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I understand that it is already being publicised and it will indeed be in parallel with the London conference at the beginning of December. I think we all understand that it is mainly natural resources and mining that will attract private sector investors to Afghanistan at the present moment, but that at least is a start.

Photo of Lord Ahmed Lord Ahmed Non-affiliated

My Lords, the Pakistan Government and the generals said yesterday that Tehrik-i-Taliban, based in Afghanistan, is launching attacks inside Pakistan and against the Pakistan military. Have Her Majesty’s Government made any representation to the Afghanistan Government to stop Tehrik-i-Taliban from doing that?

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

The noble Lord knows better than I do the very complicated links between Pakistan and Afghanistan and between the Pakistani military and what happens in Afghanistan. I will not go into that at the present moment; I would welcome a discussion with him about how Pakistan developments and Afghan developments interconnect.

Photo of Baroness Hodgson of Abinger Baroness Hodgson of Abinger Conservative

My Lords, can the Minister reassure me that the voices of Afghan women are actually going to be heard at the conference, not just at an associate conference? In all the previous conferences, they have not been allowed to participate fully, so I would like the Minister’s reassurance that this will not happen at this London conference.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I cannot entirely give that assurance. Afghanistan is not the only country in which the voices of women are not easy to get through, particularly when Governments are involved. I can think of a number of other Middle Eastern countries. I would simply remark that, at President Ghani’s inauguration, as noble Lords might know, his wife appeared for the first time as part of the inauguration. These are small but useful steps forward.

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Liberal Democrat

My Lords, further to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, what action will my noble friend and the Government take to encourage joint action by the Governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan against the terrorists, who are a threat to both their countries?

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, we are in regular and constant touch with the Pakistani Government precisely to encourage a constructive relationship with developments in Afghanistan. I am sure that my noble friend, like me, will be well aware of the very complicated relationships between India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, which is part of the problem that we face.

Photo of Lord Dannatt Lord Dannatt Crossbench

My Lords, following the end of military operations in Afghanistan, can the Minister give an assurance that we will factor in very carefully that, over the last 20 years or so, the West has let Afghanistan down in a considerably damaging way? Can he confirm that the reassurances that have been given about the amount of inward investment will be taken seriously and that we will not in any way at all run the risk of abandoning Afghanistan for a third time, after all the effort and investment in blood and treasure that has been made over the last 13 years?

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I think one has to say that the entire international community has an interest in the future development of Afghanistan. I have not mentioned the complicated Iranian set of interests in western Afghanistan and elsewhere; I have not mentioned the possibility of Chinese private sector investment in north-eastern Afghanistan. Afghanistan, as noble Lords know, has a great many attractive mineral resources. We and others, including the World Bank and a number of other international institutions, will be working to ensure that the Afghan economy develops steadily over the next few years.