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Volume 638: debated on Tuesday 27 March 2018

The security situation in Afghanistan remains challenging as recent terrorist attacks have highlighted. It is clear that a political and diplomatic settlement is the only way to achieve lasting, sustainable peace. We warmly welcome President Ghani’s recent offer to the Taliban of talks without preconditions. As I made clear at the UN Security Council in January, the UK’s enduring commitment to Afghanistan is unwavering.

Bearing in mind the extraordinary sacrifices that our country has made over many years in terms of the lost lives of our military personnel and the billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money that have been spent trying to bring peace to this country, we are clearly very interested in ongoing political developments. What additional help is my right hon. Friend giving to the Afghanistan Government to bring about a political settlement in that country?

As I have said, the Taliban cannot win militarily and therefore a political settlement is the only way to achieve that sustainable peace. Through the Prime Minister’s own special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, we have participated in a range of meetings. Any peace process will, inevitably, take time. One thing that I have been particularly encouraged by is the sense that a number of central Asian states—Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan—are looking to play an important part in economic development in Afghanistan. Without that economic development, there will not be the progress that we so dearly want.

I very much welcome the additional money that is going to the Foreign Office and congratulate the Foreign Secretary on achieving that. Can he explain why the number of posts in Afghanistan will be falling? Will he reverse the decision that was initially set out? Why is he setting out priorities that put Chad over other places? Will he explain the prioritisation that he is intending to use for these additional missions?

Obviously, when we had thousands of troops in Afghanistan there was a very, very large diplomatic presence. Yes, it is true to say that that presence has reduced somewhat, although having visited Kabul myself last October, it is very evident that we have a lot of very hard-working diplomats on the ground. The other point, as my hon. Friend will be well aware, is that inevitably, because we are ensconced in Kabul rather than having a presence in parts of Helmand region, there is perhaps less need for the overall numbers within Afghanistan. It is also important to point out that we are looking across the globe. I look particularly, in the region for which I have ministerial responsibility, at places such as the Pacific islands, where we work very closely with Australia and New Zealand to try to increase our head count, and at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.