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Volume 653: debated on Tuesday 22 January 2019

5. What diplomatic steps the Government are taking to help ensure the safety of the Hazara community in Afghanistan. (908698)

The UK remains committed to ensuring that the Afghan national defence and security forces improve their capability to protect all ethnic and religious groups in Afghanistan. British embassy officials regularly meet Hazara representatives to hear their specific concerns at first hand. As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, there have been positive recent developments in Afghanistan’s political and security situation, but the ongoing conflict means that significant challenges remain.

I thank the Minister for his reply. The Hazara community in Afghanistan is increasingly being targeted by not only the Taliban in Afghanistan, but Daesh infiltrating from Pakistan. What steps are the Government taking to talk to the Governments of both Pakistan and Afghanistan about stopping at source the violent approach from ISIS and other military groups?

I very much accept what the hon. Gentleman says. We work closely with our counterparts in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Peace efforts must focus on supporting attempts to start a credible process. To that end, we will work closely with partners—in particular, US Special Representative Khalilzad—to ensure that international forces that are a factor in the conflict properly address the issue.

In view of the ongoing security situation, will Ministers do more with Defence and Home Office Ministers to ensure that Afghan interpreters who came here alone under the redundancy scheme can be reunited here with their wives and families, as they clearly face great danger in Afghanistan?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. She is right; local staff, including interpreters, continue to play a vital role in supporting the objectives of the UK and our partners in Afghanistan. As well as paying generous redundancy packages in recognition of service, we will do our level best for those who have made such sacrifices on our behalf, and I will write to my counterparts in the Home Office and the Ministry of Defence to ensure that we do so.

I pay tribute to the work of the Foreign Office in Pakistan and particularly our high commissioner, Tom Drew. Will the Foreign Secretary lend all his support to the work that Tom is doing alongside Khalilzad on peace negotiations in Afghanistan, particularly to protect the Hazara population but also to stop foreign actors playing silly and dangerous games in Afghanistan, which we have seen for far too long?

I thank my hon. Friend for his wise words. He knows this issue well. We are lucky to have such a high-calibre high commissioner in Pakistan in Tom Drew, who is coming to the end of his time there, and in Sir Nicholas Kay and Giles Lever, the chargé d’affaires in Kabul. We have the highest calibre of trusted diplomats, who make a tremendous contribution not only to UK interests but to the interests of civilians in both countries.

What discussions has the Minister had with his American counterpart about US plans to reduce by half the number of troops in Afghanistan? Does he share my concern that that announcement might encourage the Taliban to play for time, rather than engage in meaningful peace talks with the Afghan Government?

That is always an issue. After the White House statement on 28 December that the President had not decided to draw down the US military presence in Afghanistan, we want to try to nail this issue down. Our collective long-term commitment to the objective remains unchanged. We have a long-term intention that NATO and its partners should not reduce their military presence unless conditions on the ground change.