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Volume 482: debated on Tuesday 11 November 2008

7. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Defence and the Secretary of State for International Development on co-ordination of policies relating to Afghanistan. (234534)

Ministers in all three Departments regularly discuss and co-ordinate our strategy and policies on Afghanistan. To complement ministerial-level working, the cross-departmental Afghanistan senior officials group and the Afghanistan strategy group also meet regularly.

In reviewing the co-ordination efforts, will the Minister examine the US model, in which the army is able to undertake aid and reconstruction efforts? Military victories become hearts and minds victories, because local people can see positive evidence on the ground that a victory means that they get something worth while in the way of aid and reconstruction.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s underlying comment that there needs to be a multifaceted approach in Afghanistan. Although that has a military component, it also contains political, economic, aid and other elements. There needs to be a follow-on from military activities, and we are very much engaged in that area.

When the Foreign Secretary meets President Karzai, will he take the opportunity to address the issue of the number of people in Afghanistan awaiting the death sentence? I understand that the judges have dramatically increased that number, to 125 or so. Can he make specific approaches to Afghanistan not to go down a route that would bring such international opprobrium?

I know that my hon. Friend takes a real interest in these issues, and we have been consistent in articulating our policy on the death penalty. We have also raised specific concerns, for example about the case of the journalists, and we will continue to put forward our view to President Karzai and other members of his Government.

Given that the British Army is already nearly at breaking point, will the Government resist any pressure from President-elect Obama to commit more troops to the morass of Afghanistan?

Let me be clear: we need greater burden-sharing by all our partners and allies and we are not anticipating further British troop commitments at the moment. Part of the longer term solution is the development of capacity in the Afghan national army, and therefore the recent agreement by the Afghan Government to expand the army’s capacity from 80,000 to 122,000 troops is very welcome.

The British remain in the lead on drugs interdiction. Is there any better news about our ability to bear down on that awful trade?

As I recall, the most recent United Nations survey shows a reduction of roughly 19 per cent. reduction in poppy cultivation, and the number of poppy-free provinces has increased from 13 to 18. I do not deny that we and the Afghan authorities continue to face a significant challenge, but it is fundamentally in our national interest to address it, given that 95 per cent. of the heroin that ends up on British streets derives from Afghanistan.

The co-ordination of policy in Afghanistan is a vital issue. For example, which Department will be responsible for the security of the transmission cables from the Kajaki dam once the third turbine is up and running?

There is effective co-ordination on the ground between all the relevant Government Departments. There are regular meetings and liaison, and we will ensure that those issues are addressed.

Following the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew), is it not extraordinary that the EU is making grants and encouraging people to grow poppies in this country when we are bearing down on people growing poppies in Afghanistan? Is that not most illogical?

I will come back to my hon. Friend on the details of that question. What I can say with conviction is that tackling poppy cultivation in Afghanistan remains a fundamental priority that we are taking forward with vigour.