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Volume 448: debated on Tuesday 27 June 2006

We all live in hope.

Afghanistan has made significant political progress since 2001. Parliamentary and provincial elections were successfully held in September 2005, and Parliament went into session in December. Most Cabinet Ministers have been approved and the budget endorsed. Afghan Government influence is increasing throughout the country with assistance from the international security assistance force and the United Nations. As part of our efforts in southern Afghanistan, we are working to support Afghan-led reconstruction.

I thank the Minister for his answer. Given that the two soldiers who were tragically killed today were, according to the Secretary of State for Defence, taking part in Operation Enduring Freedom, is the Minister confident that our efforts to achieve reconstruction, opium eradication and the elimination of the Taliban are adequately co-ordinated? Is not the proposal made by my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary worthy not just of consideration, but of urgent consideration?

The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) made a slightly different point about the need to co-ordinate the reconstruction and rebuilding effort, but I made it clear that it was worthy of consideration. The hon. Gentleman, however, is making a different argument about military co-ordination, and I am absolutely confident that there is effective co-ordination of the different kinds of military activity that take place in Afghanistan.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that there cannot be a stable political resolution in Afghanistan without our dealing effectively with the production of opium? What can he do to eliminate that vile trade?

I have made it clear that a determined effort is being made both to disrupt the activities of the criminal organisations that engage in the production and the smuggling of opium and to eliminate their sources of support. That work combines with an effort, primarily by officials from the Department for International Development, to offer alternative livelihoods and encourage the development of substitute crops. As my hon. Friend said, we accept that that should be central to our policy in Afghanistan, and we continue to pursue it vigorously.