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Volume 128: debated on Wednesday 2 March 1988

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To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations he made to the Soviet Government in the course of his recent visit on their policy towards Afghanistan.

My right hon. and learned Friend recalled our long-held objective of a neutral, non-aligned and independent Afghanistan and welcomed the announcement by Mr. Gorbachev of a date for a withdrawal of Soviet troops.

Will my hon. Friend please take note of overwhelming world opinion, which is that the Soviet Union should withdraw its army of occupation immediately and that it would be in its best interests to do so? [Interruption.]

I agree with my hon. Friend. I find the reaction of Opposition Members extraordinary. They seem to be so pleased with the Russian withdrawal that they forget that the Russians marched in in the first place.

Is it not the case that the Afghan Government have done everything possible to secure peace and reconciliation within the country? Indeed, is it not important that the Government understand that to install a bunch of ayatollahs in Kabul will do nothing for the West and will create further disaster, as we have seen in Iran?

I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern about recent developments in Afghanistan. It may be that a future regime will not be as free with its hospitality to him as the last regime was. I suggest to him that he is as quick to be photographed on Russian tanks leaving Afghanistan as he was when they were in Kabul.

Will my hon. Friend ensure that Her Majesty's Government lose no opportunity to remind the Russians that when they leave Afghanistan they do so with bloody hands, having slaughtered and maimed hundreds of thousands of people, and left 5 million refugees in Pakistan? Should they not leave with shame rather than with their heads held high?

I fully understand the thoughts behind what my hon. Friend says, and naturally it is important that the Russians stick to their commitment to withdraw.

Does the Minister agree that although Pakistan has justified anxieties, there would be a heavy responsibility on Pakistan if the talks beginning today were to fail? Does he agree that both the Soviet Union, to a much greater extent, and the Americans, to a lesser extent, have poured vast sums into the armouries of both sides of the conflict? Will he now use his good offices to ensure that a similar amount of money is used by the super powers for the immense task of the reconstruction of the shattered infrastructure of Afghanistan?

Obviously, we hope that the talks which started today in Geneva will reach a suitable conclusion, and I hear what the hon. Gentleman says about Pakistan. I agree with him about aid within Afghanistan in the light of a settlement. Recently, I returned from a visit to the Afghan border. There is a major problem ahead of the world international community, and it is important that the reaction today, assuming there is a settlement, is a coordinated one involving all the major countries.