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 33rd progress report on developments in Afghanistan since November 2013.
On 20 November, the Independent Election Commission (IEC) announced the final list of 11 candidates running in the 2014 presidential elections following the adjudication of complaints by the Independent Electoral Complaints Commission. The final candidates are Abdullah Abdullah, Qutbuddin Hilal, Abdurrab Rasoul Sayyaf, Zalmai Rassoul, Abdul Rahim Wardak, Qayyum Karzai, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, Daoud Sultanzoi, Gul Agha Sherzai, Mohammad Nader Naim and Hedayat Amin Arsala. There are three female second vice-presidential candidates in the final list. The campaign period will begin on 2 February.
On 21-25 November, the text of the US/Afghan bilateral security agreement (BSA) was put to a Loya Jirga (Grand Council) for agreement. The Loya Jirga discussed the text before approving it for President Karzai to sign. President Karzai announced at the closing of the Loya Jirga that he wanted more time to negotiate the text with the US before signing. To date the BSA has not been signed.
The UN Office on Drugs and Crime’s (UNODC) Annual Opium Survey for Afghanistan was published on Wednesday 13 November. The survey reported that poppy cultivation has increased for a third consecutive year, reaching 209,000 hectares. Cultivation in Helmand increased by 34% to 100,693 hectares.
The International Development Secretary visited Afghanistan in November and announced £18.5 million of new programme funding, some of which will be focused on promoting women’s rights. This funding includes £8 million additional support to support the 2014 presidential and provincial elections and 2015 parliamentary elections, bringing the total amount of UK aid for elections to £20 million. The UK is one of the leading donors supporting the electoral process and democracy organisations.
On 16 December, the Prime Minister visited Camp Bastion to thank troops for their continued efforts and to see first hand the progress in the performance of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and UK draw-down activity. While emphasising the challenges that Afghanistan still faces, the Prime Minister paid tribute to UK armed forces and stated that they can
“come home with their heads held high”.
The Prime Minister was also accompanied by the retired England international footballer, Michael Owen and announced a new UK/Afghan football partnership.
The Defence Secretary visited Afghanistan on 9 November. During his visit he met President Karzai, the Afghan Minister of Defence, Bismullah Mohammadi, and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) Commander, General Dunford. He was also joined by His Royal Highness the Duke of York on 10 November as part of a poignant Remembrance day service which was held in Camp Bastion to pay respects to all those who have been killed while on operations in Afghanistan.
On 5 November, Warrant Officer Ian Fisher of 3 Mercian Regiment was killed following a joint UK and Afghan national civil order police patrol, which was attacked by a suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (IED) on the main national highway, Route 611 near Nahr-e Saraj. A further four UK soldiers were wounded in action. On 23 December, Captain Richard Holloway of the Royal Engineers died after coming under enemy fire while on operations. Their deaths are a stark reminder of the incredible sacrifices made by our armed forces. The deaths of Warrant Officer Fisher and Captain Holloway bring the total number of British fatalities on operations in Afghanistan in 2013 to nine.
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).