I wish to inform the House that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, together with the Ministry of Defence and the Department for International Development, is today publishing the 24th progress report on developments in Afghanistan since November 2010.
Foreign Office Senior Minister of State Baroness Warsi made her second visit to Afghanistan on 4-6 March. Key themes of the visit were emphasising the UK’s enduring commitment to Afghanistan and protecting the gains in human rights, particularly women’s rights, Afghanistan has seen since the fall of the Taleban.
In a speech on 4 March the International Development Secretary pledged to step up UK support for women and girls in the world’s poorest countries. This pledge included a commitment to making tackling violence against women and girls in Afghanistan a priority in the next DFID country plan.
The Afghan special case tribunal announced its verdict on the Kabul bank fraud trial on 5 March. The former chief executive and chairman of the Kabul bank, were each convicted of breach of trust and sentenced to five years in prison. In addition, the individuals received fines equivalent to the value of the assets they are deemed to have stolen from the bank. Other defendants were given shorter prison sentences. The Afghan Attorney-General has lodged an appeal against the entirety of the verdict seeking stronger sentences.
On 6 March the Prime Minister hosted an investors forum with the Afghan Minister of Mines at No. 10 Downing street. The event provided an opportunity to demonstrate Afghanistan’s natural resource potential. At the forum the Prime Minister and International Development Secretary announced a new DFID programme of £10 million over the next three years, which will support the Ministry’s work to negotiate, grant, manage and monitor contracts, appoint experts to key posts and develop the mineral and hydrocarbon sector.
The UK continues to support an Afghan-led peace and reconciliation process. Now is the time for all Afghans to sit down together to help shape a peaceful and prosperous future for their country. This process must be inclusive. The Taliban has an opportunity to engage in dialogue about Afghanistan’s future by opening an office in Doha.
The Afghan national security forces are progressing well. A total of 21 out of 26 brigades are now operating either independently, or with ISAF only in an advisory role. ISAF forces continue work to build and train the key military enabling capabilities that the ANSF need to operate. By way of example, the Afghan air force achieved a major milestone in their combined strategic flight plan, with the first combined training exercise including multiple aircraft and supporting capabilities.
I am placing the report in the Library of the House. It will also be published on the gov.uk website: www.gov.uk/government/publications/afghanistan-progress-reports.