3. What assessment he has made of the outcome of the International Conference on Afghanistan in Bonn; and if he will make a statement. (89807)
The Bonn conference, which I attended last month, reaffirmed the international community’s long-term commitment to Afghanistan after 2014, through economic support, a plan for funding the Afghan national security forces and a clear set of principles for reconciliation. The Afghan Government committed themselves to progressing their development priorities and upholding their human rights obligations.
I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for his response. Can he tell us what steps the Government are taking to ensure that women’s human rights are maintained when UK and US troops are drawn down?
We gave a great deal of attention to that at the Bonn conference. The ministerial champion for tackling violence against women and girls overseas attended the civil society events, and I am pleased to say that 50% of the Afghan delegation to the civil society forum were female and a leading female civil society representative presented views at the main conference. The importance of the rights of women and their involvement was centre stage at the Bonn conference, and we assisted in that process.
The Government’s stated policy objective in Afghanistan is to deny al-Qaeda and other extremists bases from which they can attack the UK and other British interests. In a letter to me of 6 December, copied to the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister, the Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, referring to the threat from al-Qaeda, said that
“while the threat is not on the scale it once was…it does nevertheless remain a serious concern.”
Does that, which can only be interpreted as a downgrading of the threat in Afghanistan, have any impact on the timetable for withdrawal?
We hope all the time that we are making progress against the threat in Afghanistan, and there is no doubt that in recent times al-Qaeda has suffered very serious damage and setbacks in Afghanistan and its vicinity. That threat is not over, as my hon. Friend was saying, but our efforts to improve security in Afghanistan continue, and it is a combination of our assessment of that threat and the need for continued political progress in Afghanistan to stabilise its regions. It is our assessment of a combination of all those factors that leads to our decisions on troop levels, with a decision for 2012, which we recently announced.
The developmental teams that will remain after the British military ceases operations in Afghanistan are in danger of becoming top targets for insurgents. Did my right hon. Friend receive any indication from his American counterparts that they envisaged retaining some military capability in strategic bases in Afghanistan after 2014?
The military position after 2014 is under discussion. Indeed, I discussed it this morning with General Allen, commander of the international security assistance force, and important decisions will be made at the NATO summit in Chicago in May next year. We do not envisage that development work in Afghanistan will be without security after 2014. As my hon. Friend knows, we are building up Afghan forces, which are several hundred thousand-strong, in addition to the potential for military co-operation from other states. The position on that will become clearer after the NATO meeting in Chicago.
The threat from al-Qaeda and the training that takes place in Pakistan is high. What discussions has the Foreign Secretary had with the Pakistani authorities to reduce the threat of al-Qaeda crossing the border into Afghanistan?
We are always in discussion with Pakistan about that subject, and I have many discussions with the Pakistani Foreign Minister about it. We have regular contact at military level, as well as between the Prime Minister of our country and the Prime Minister of Pakistan. Pakistan’s own long struggle against terrorism is always high on that agenda, and we should recognise the efforts that it has made in that regard: huge numbers—perhaps 30,000 people—have died as a result of terrorist activity in Pakistan over the past 10 years. We look to Pakistan to maintain those efforts.