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Volume 451: debated on Wednesday 1 November 2006

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs pursuant to the answer of 25 July 2006, Official Report, column 1271W, on Afghanistan, what assessment she has made of the effect of the UK’s counter-narcotics activities in Afghanistan. (96339)

As Afghanistan’s partner nation on counter-narcotics the UK is spending £270 million over three years in support of the Afghan National Drug Control Strategy. This year’s increase in opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan is very disappointing and reflects the difficult security situation and limited law enforcement capability in some provinces particularly in the south. However, the cultivation picture varies between, and within provinces, and in some areas where access to governance, security and development has improved, reductions achieved last year have been sustained and in some cases fallen. This is encouraging and shows that the strategy is working. Progress is also being made in other areas. Vital counter-narcotics legislation was passed last December; over 280 traffickers have been convicted to date; and a high security prison for serious drug offenders has been constructed in Kabul. To support alternative livelihoods over 12 million labour days have been provided; 8,800 km of roads rehabilitated, and US$187million in small grants and US$90 million in micro-finance loans have been disbursed.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what account she plans to take of the opium production reducing operations in the Golden Triangle in formulating counter-narcotics policy in Afghanistan. (96353)

Experience in the Golden Triangle demonstrates the need to adopt a comprehensive and long-term approach to counter narcotics in order to have a sustainable impact on the drugs trade. In developing its National Drug Control Strategy, the Afghan Government have had regular contact with the Thai authorities, whose holistic opium reduction strategy is considered to be one of the most successful in the world. The Thai strategy focuses on law enforcement, building infrastructure to support development, providing alternative livelihoods and demand reduction. Similarly the Afghan National Drug Control Strategy, which the UK supports, reflects these key priorities. However, sustainable drug elimination strategies take time, particularly when the challenges are as severe as they are in Afghanistan. In Thailand, where the problem was much less complex, cultivation increased before the strategy took effect and it took 30 years to achieve a sustainable solution.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what progress has been made by the Helmand Provincial Reconstruction Team in delivering political, development and military assistance to the province. (96355)

The UK's Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Helmand is focused on developing Afghan local capacity in development, security and governance, and is helping administer the £20 million the UK has pledged towards the province's reconstruction this financial year. Since the UK took over the PRT in May we have seen early progress on these three fronts, with PRT officials delivering valuable assistance in a challenging environment.

Development is necessarily a long-term activity. However, the PRT, in close co- ordination with local and national Government, is laying the foundations for lasting reconstruction. To this end, in the past six months the PRT has implemented a number of “quick impact projects”. These include construction of windmill powered wells in Lashkar Gah, Garmser and Nad-Ali; construction of schools in Nahri Sarj, Now Zad and Lashkar Gah; urgent water infrastructure works in Lashkar Gah; and emergency food distribution across southern Helmand. The Royal Engineer regiment based in the PRT is playing a key role in delivering this development assistance across the province.

On security, the PRT has undertaken projects to strengthen and reorganise the Helmand police force. In addition the Royal Engineers, at the request of the provincial Government, have undertaken projects aimed at strengthening the security infrastructure in Lashkar Gah. These include the construction of vehicle checkpoints and Afghan national police outposts around Lashkar Gah. On governance, PRT officials are working with Helmand's provincial Government to strengthen provincial-level democracy. The PRT have helped the Provincial Development Committee prioritise its efforts in line with national plans, enabling Afghan-led reconstruction efforts to get off the ground. The PRT continues to provide vital support to the Administration.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how many members of the Helmand Provincial Reconstruction Team have been deployed in the province in each quarter since 2005; how many are currently deployed in the province; and if she will make a statement. (96356)

The UK assumed command of the Helmand Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in May 2006. Since then the UK has had approximately 100 troops deployed to the PRT, in addition to 16 civilian staff from the UK and other partners. Exact quarterly figures are not available.

In addition, the UK also has a regional co-ordinator for its activity in southern Afghanistan based in Kandahar and a representative from the Department for International Development currently in Kabul with responsibility for Helmand. The latter is expected to rejoin the PRT in Lashkar Gah shortly.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what the role of the Counter Narcotics Trust Fund in Afghanistan is; and if she will make a statement. (96420)

The Counter Narcotics Trust Fund (CNTF) was created by the Afghan Government to mobilise international donor support for Afghan counter narcotics programmes. The fund is managed by the UN Development Programme. By bringing funding onto the Afghan budget the CNTF will build Afghan counter narcotics capacity, planning and resource transparency. At present, expenditure on alternative livelihoods, implemented through existing national development programmes, is a top priority for the CNTF. However, CNTF funding can also be channelled into other counter narcotics activities including law enforcement and criminal justice activity. A total of US$83.6 million has so far been raised for the CNTF. The UK will channel £30 million into the fund over a three-year period. Other contributors include Australia, Canada, Estonia, the European Commission, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Oman, Sweden and USA.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if she will make a statement on progress made by the Counter Narcotics Criminal Justice Task Force in Afghanistan. (96424)

The Counter Narcotics Criminal Justice Task Force (CJTF), consisting of Afghan investigators, prosecutors and judges, was established to work with the counter narcotics police of Afghanistan (CNPA) to conduct drugs prosecutions involving 2kg or more of heroin, morphine or cocaine; 10kg or more of opium; and 50kg of hashish or other controlled drugs. There are currently 84 specially trained members of the CJTF. According to CJTF figures, by the end of September 2006, they had arrested over 690 individuals and completed over 260 cases. This has so far resulted in over 280 convictions. The longest sentence conferred to date is 18 years.