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House of Commons Hansard
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22 February 2010
Volume 506
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8. What steps he plans to take to persuade Afghan citizens who have taken up arms on behalf of the Taliban to withdraw that military support. [317444]

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The UK, alongside the rest of the international community, supports the Afghan Government in their plans to reintegrate disaffected Afghans into mainstream society, providing that they pursue their goals peacefully, within the constitutional framework, and have no ties to terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda.

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I am sure that the Secretary of State agrees with me that, in dealing with conflicts, one can learn a lot from history. What historical precedents are the Government using to guide their strategy in Afghanistan, and how do those precedents serve to lead the Government to their conclusions?

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In operations such as that in which we are involved in Afghanistan, reintegration of at least parts of the insurgency is a legitimate and appropriate way to proceed. It is not only a case of building up the Afghan national capability so that the Afghans are able to protect their own country from the insurgency. There are also parts of that insurgency that do not share all the goals of some of the leadership, and we ought to recognise that and work to peel off those people where that is appropriate, such as where they are involved in their activities for money or because of local grievances. We therefore encourage the Afghan Government to do precisely that.

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My right hon. Friend will realise that the one big difficulty that former farmers who became Taliban fighters would have is that if they were to go back over to the side of the Afghan Government, they would want assurances that the Afghan forces will guarantee their safety and that of their family, and that the Taliban will not return and take retribution. Does he understand that that is the crucial part in building confidence among the Afghan people?

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Providing safety for insurgents who are prepared to lay down their weapons and behave peacefully is an important part of reintegration. If that is what they are prepared to do, this is about providing safety from our own forces in terms of giving them reassurance, and being able to protect them from insurgents who continue to present a problem. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that that will be a key concern of anybody who is preparing to turn away from the Taliban insurgency.

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One of the contributions of the Dutch in Afghanistan has been working effectively with civilians in the areas in which they have been operating. If the Dutch pull out of Afghanistan, how will that work be compensated for? What are the Government doing to ensure that there are no further pull-outs from the NATO coalition, as they would be so damaging to the prospects in Afghanistan?

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We need to see this issue in the light of the overall picture. Some 43 nations are now involved in the coalition, so it has widened over the years. Separate from the American uplift announced in response to General McChrystal’s report, we have managed to secure 9,000 non-American additional forces. So there have been moves in the right direction on the international effort in Afghanistan, but we will need to replace the Dutch leadership in Uruzgan province if the Dutch go ahead with their pull-out from Afghanistan.

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But does the Secretary of State not accept that this is a matter not just of numbers, but of the quality of commitment and effectiveness, and that in those regards the Dutch forces have been exemplary? If they pull out, that will inevitably have a consequence for the overall capability of NATO in Afghanistan.

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The Dutch forces have been superb in terms of both numbers and capability over a period of time. We have done everything we can to encourage the Dutch to continue to make whatever contribution they are prepared to make. However, their commitment was time-limited and we have seen what has happened in terms of Dutch political decisions. I can only repeat that while we have seen these decisions being taken, other nations have been prepared to increase their contributions and new nations have joined the international security assistance force. We need to have balance in our views on this, because there has been a huge increase in troop commitments across the board.