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Volume 506: debated on Tuesday 2 March 2010

6. What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of co-operation between Government Departments in the formulation of policy on Afghanistan. (319387)

The Prime Minister set out in April 2009 the Government’s strategy on Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is a comprehensive approach that draws on the range of security, political and development levers in pursuit of our objectives and those of the international community as a whole. The test of effectiveness is on the ground, and it is widely recognised that the co-operation in the civilian-military mission in Helmand, which is led by the UK, is the best of its kind.

At the London conference, my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and for International Development worked very hard to ensure that human rights, particularly women’s rights, were high on the agenda. Can the Foreign Secretary tell us what progress has been made to ensure that human rights, and in particular women’s rights, are protected throughout Afghanistan?

My right hon. Friend makes a very important point. The only basis for guaranteeing human rights is first, decent security, and secondly, the rule of law according to the Afghan constitution. That is why I think that since the London conference the major effort in Helmand province, including in Marjah, has been a significant step towards that goal. However, the strengthening of the constitutional framework at the national level remains a priority for the new Government.

What terms of reference has the Foreign Secretary set for the latest review of the Helmand road map and, crucially, how do they differ from those used two years ago?

I will not try to dictate the terms of reference from memory, but I am happy to set them down and write to the hon. Gentleman.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is important that we continue to support the Afghans in order to improve their Government’s capacity? We are still undertaking a similar process in Iraq, so does he welcome the forthcoming Iraqi elections as the next stage in that?

I certainly welcome the democratic advance in Iraq as well as in Afghanistan. I am sure that everyone will recognise the significant role that my right hon. Friend has played in strengthening human rights in Iraq and the example that she has set for our work in Afghanistan too.

Last month, President Karzai signed a decree amending the electoral law to allow him to choose all five members of the Electoral Complaints Commission and exclude the three non-Afghan members. Is the Foreign Secretary not concerned that the impartiality of the commission will now be called into question? It was very important, given the issues that it raised, at the previous elections. Should we not be bringing all pressure to bear on President Karzai, because this is what our troops are fighting for—democracy in Afghanistan?

Yes, I am very concerned, to use the hon. Gentleman’s words, about the perception that might be raised about the impartiality of the Electoral Complaints Commission. The Electoral Complaints Commission, which sits alongside the so-called independent Electoral Commission, played a critical role in rooting out fraud in the presidential elections. The best way of making our views clear is to say the same thing in public as in private, which is that the people who are appointed to the panel will be scrutinised very carefully. If they are not to be internationals, they need to be people of the highest quality and integrity. I certainly hope that President Karzai chooses international representatives precisely to tackle the perception dangers raised by the hon. Gentleman.