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Volume 554: debated on Monday 26 November 2012

Transition of security to Afghan control, as agreed at the Lisbon conference in 2010, remains on track to be achieved by the end of 2014. The Afghan national security forces are taking an ever greater role in their domestic security. They now have lead responsibility in areas that are home to three quarters of the population, including all 34 provincial capitals and the three districts that make up Task Force Helmand’s area of operations. We expect that by mid-2013 all parts of the country will have entered the process and that Afghan security forces will be in the lead for security nationwide. The progress of security transition will allow ISAF, gradually and responsibly, to draw down its forces to complete its combat mission by 31 December 2014.

I thank the Secretary of State for that response. He will know that, to date, not one senior official or political figure in Afghanistan has been successfully prosecuted for corruption or other abuses, despite the many major scandals that have taken place. Does he agree that governance and the rule of law will be more, rather than less, critical to progress in Afghanistan after the security transition, and how does he propose to ensure that it is at the heart of our engagement post-2014?

I am glad to be able to say that I absolutely endorse the hon. Gentleman’s view. As I said a moment ago, what happens in the military space is only one part of the overall equation. There needs to be political reconciliation, progress on building good governance, particularly on the eradication of the extreme corruption that is still prevalent in Afghanistan, and progress on developing relationships with Afghanistan’s neighbours.

Given the limited capacity of the RAF airbridge and the difficulty of transporting stuff overland to seaports in Pakistan, how much equipment do we expect to leave behind when we finally exit Afghanistan?

Our intention is to extract all equipment whose value to the armed forces is greater than the cost of extraction and recuperation. We hope to be able to use the southern route overland via Pakistan and we are also negotiating northern lines of communication through Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Russia, but in extremis we have the capacity to bring equipment out by air.

One of the key factors in ensuring a secure Afghanistan is, of course, the position of Pakistan, whose security services have given help to the insurgents and the Taliban over recent years. Will the Secretary of State update the House on what he thinks the latest position is with regard to the help and support given to the Taliban and insurgents by Pakistan’s intelligence services?

I am glad to say that relationships between Afghanistan and Pakistan are improving significantly. The recent visit of the High Peace Council to Islamabad marked an important step forward in building collaborative relationships in the region. Both countries understand the threat that the Taliban and other insurgent organisations pose to their security, as well as the benefits of collaboration in dealing with that threat. We are making significant progress, but the hon. Gentleman will know that Pakistan is not a simple country, that the situation is complex and that the issue will require a lot of effort for many years to come.

The Secretary of State will be aware that British troops preparing for deployment to Afghanistan undertake important training at the British base in Laikipia in Kenya. Will he join me in paying tribute to those who make sure that those troops receive the necessary training for Afghanistan? Will he also look into the absence of navigation aids at Laikipia air base, which means that British troops are prevented from flying directly to the training area and instead have to travel the long route via Nairobi?

I will indeed join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to those who make possible that valuable training facility in Kenya. He has raised an issue that I was not previously aware of; I will look into it and write to him.