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Volume 982: debated on Wednesday 16 April 1980

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asked the Lord Privy Seal what is his latest assessment of the situation in Afghanistan; and if the Russian Government have yet replied to Her Majesty's Government's proposals for the neutralisation of Afghanistan.

In Afghanistan the Babrak Karmal regime lacks support. There is widespread popular resistance to the Government and the Soviet occupying forces, which could number as many as 100,000.

Our proposals, endorsed by the European Nine, are for a neutral and nonaligned Afghanistan. This is different from "neutralisation", which implies an imposed solution. We have put our thinking to the Soviet authorities. We are studying their reply and will decide later whether to continue the exchange and, if so, how.

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is wide support for the Government's proposals, and will they push ahead with them? Does he also agree that this is about the only hope of getting the Soviet Union and its leadership off the hook on which they put themselves with this colonial aggression?

This is a serious proposal which has been put to the Soviet Union and to many other Governments in a serious vein.

We know who guaranteed the neutrality of Belgium and how that guarantee was implemented. Which countries would guarantee the neutrality of Afghanistan, and how would they implement it?

As I said in answer to the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), I shall not today go into the details of a plan which is still being discussed and is still evolving. The three parts of it are clear: first, Soviet withdrawal; secondly, a declaration by the Afghans, repeating one that they have often made before, in favour of neutral and non-aligned status; and, thirdly, support for that declaration by their neighbours and other countries.

Is it not true that many countries have retaind their neutral status satisfactorily without external military guarantees? In those circumstances, is it not in the interests of the free world and of peace that neutrality should prevail in Afghanistan, and that this would be in the interests of the Great Power balance?

Yes. One of the encouraging things about our proposal is the degree of interest and support which has been expressed for it by many countries in the free world, and in particular the Islamic world.

Does the Minister accept that evidence of that took place in Oslo last week at the parliamentary assembly of the International Parliamentary Union, when an overwhelming majority of nations condemned the incursion into Afghanistan by the USSR and strongly called for its withdrawal? It appeared to be the general hope of the Assembly that the initiative being taken by her Majesty's Government, with a large amount of backing from the Opposition, would be successful?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments. We certainly intend to proceed in that spirit.