Afghanistan: FCDO Update - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:24 pm on 7th September 2021.

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Photo of Lord Browne of Ladyton Lord Browne of Ladyton Labour 9:24 pm, 7th September 2021

My Lords, I was appointed Secretary of State for Defence at a very difficult time for our engagement in Afghanistan. I visited Afghanistan numerous times, in horrible circumstances sometimes, and I worked there with people who were devoted to the future of that country, both in our military and our diplomatic and development services. They know that I have the highest regard for all of them, because I told them so in these circumstances where they were doing the job. I shared those dangers with them, and sometimes was criticised for speaking in Parliament in glowing terms about them and what they were doing. I know what the military, the Diplomatic Service and others have done in the past few weeks, but they would think less of me—because I have many friends among them, and I lost friends among them—if I did not hold the Government to account, and those beyond the Government who have gotten them into this situation when it was a choice and not an inevitability.

The question in relation to this Statement is what, exactly, does its last page mean? It talks about using the

“levers at our disposal—political, economic and diplomatic” to deliver our four strategic objectives, which are very bland in one sense but also very challenging. They are set out in the other part of it. What exactly do we think our options are? We are powerless.

The Taliban have their international recognition; they are strutting the streets of cities in Afghanistan after 20 years of war with the most powerful armies in the world, wearing their uniforms and carrying their kit, flying their aircraft and driving their vehicles. The people of Afghanistan are terrified of them, because many of them have been alive long enough to know when they last ruled that country, and they know what they are capable of. They are masters of public relations and have given us the impression that we can engage with them and somehow, with options, lever them into being a civilised Government. That is what we are saying that we are doing, but we cannot do it—and we certainly cannot unless our Ministers can come to the Dispatch Box and tell us what those levers are, how they think they will deploy them and why we as the Parliament to which they are accountable should support them to do it.

The first question is not, “What is the one lever that they provide to us?”, which is their desire for recognition, but what levers do we actually control and which they do not pull, to get them not to deliver the sort of horrible, terrible, oppressive and dangerous Government that they were once before? Secondly, we have just had an integrated review in which the Government told us—and it should have terrified us—that their assessment was that we were going to suffer a successful CBRN terrorist attack by 2030 on these islands. Can we be assured that the Government are recalibrating that, because the situation is now much worse?