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Afghanistan

Volume 518: debated on Tuesday 9 November 2010

9. What recent assessment he has made of the political situation in Afghanistan; and if he will make a statement. (22533)

We assess that steady progress has been made since the successful Kabul conference. The High Peace Council has been established, and it is working towards the political settlement. The UK is working with groups or individuals who are willing to accept the conditions that were laid down by President Karzai for a political settlement. Insurgents should cut ties with al-Qaeda, renounce violence and work within the constitutional framework.

I thank the Minister for that answer. There have, however, been some differences between recent statements made by President Obama and the Prime Minister on troop withdrawal dates for Afghanistan. Can the Minister confirm that President Obama and the Prime Minister are talking to one another about these important issues, given that any discrepancies give succour to the Taliban and expose our troops to greater risk?

I do not think there is any discrepancy. The interests of all the international forces—48 countries are now represented—are the same: to ensure that the Afghans have a stable and secure country, and self-governance without outside influence. The work to ensure that that happens will be carried out by combat troops from this country until 2015, but the necessary work of development and governance will continue after that. The international forces are working together on these plans and proposals, are constantly in contact with each other and are working towards a series of political and military objectives in Afghanistan, with the full co-operation and activity of the Afghan Government.

There are reports that in Kandahar the Taliban are infiltrating the city, while progress is being made in the rural area outside. What is the Minister’s assessment of the political situation in Kandahar, and does he think that overall we are still making progress?

We do believe that progress is being made. It is a cautious process everywhere, and my hon. Friend is right to draw a distinction between provinces. Last week, we had a successful visit from Governor Mangal of Helmand, who was able to report on two years of progress in the economy and on health, as well as security. He also paid a moving visit to the national memorial to show his debt of gratitude to our troops who have given their lives, and met the mother of one of the soldiers who gave their lives in defence of Helmand. It is a complex process, but Kandahar is making progress. It will always be patchy, but it reminds us of the debt we owe to those who are making life safe and more secure for those in Afghanistan.

Following the sad death of Linda Norgrove in Afghanistan, her family have started the Linda Norgrove Foundation—the website is lindanorgrovefoundation.org —in her memory to help to raise funding for women, families and children in Afghanistan so that they can access education, health care and child care, as well as scholarships for women so that they can go to university. Her family were heartened by the attendance of the Minister with responsibility for Afghanistan at her funeral. I know that we have both been struck by the—

Order. This is an extremely sensitive matter, and I was aware of the interest of the hon. Gentleman, but he must bring himself to a question straightaway.

Will the Minister support the setting up of the foundation and encourage and back its arrival on the public scene?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this issue. Attending Linda Norgrove’s funeral on the Isle of Lewis was one of the most moving and important things I have done as a Minister. I think we have all been struck by her family’s remarkable ability to respond to the situation without bitterness or rancour, but with deep appreciation of what that young woman achieved. It would be in the interests of the Foreign Office and all of us to support the aims and objectives of the foundation in memory of her and others who work so hard to bring development to the women and children of Afghanistan.

In June the Prime Minister indicated that he was planning troop withdrawals from July 2011, which is reinforced in the business plan. Will the Minister outline his current thinking on troop levels for the next 12 months?

The Prime Minister made it clear that that was only a possibility, and of course it depends on circumstances. The major commitment made is to ensure that troop withdrawals are completed by 2015, and in that time, as I indicated earlier, the objective is to ensure that Afghans themselves have the opportunity to ensure that their country is secure, through the Afghanisation of the police and the Afghan national army. That work and training are going ahead. Last week Governor Mangal said that the province was becoming more secure, and that the training was on track. I am sure that the timetable that the Prime Minister has laid out will be adhered to.