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Volume 697: debated on Wednesday 12 December 2007

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. The Statement is as follows:

“With the support, I know, of the whole House, I start by paying tribute to our Armed Forces, both in Afghanistan and elsewhere. They are doing vital work, giving so much every day in dangerous places in the service of our country. Let me particularly pay tribute to the 86 British servicemen and women who have lost their lives in Afghanistan, 42 of them this year alone. I know the whole House will join me in honouring the memory of the fallen and saluting the courage of our military and our civilian personnel.

“Let me, on the morning of the capture of Musa Qaleh, praise the professionalism and resolve of our forces in recent days. They have helped defeat the insurgents and, in a vital district of Afghanistan, restored peace. Let me make it clear at the outset that as part of a coalition we are winning the battle against the Taliban insurgency. We are isolating and eliminating the leadership of the Taliban. We are not negotiating with them.

“For six years, 38 countries have come together with the people and Government of Afghanistan to rebuild the failed state, to prevent the return of the Taliban and to root out al-Qaeda. I can tell the House that Britain will continue to meet our obligations and honour our commitments, discharging our duties to this task and to the people of Afghanistan.

“Having been reviewing our strategy since July, I now want to announce the next stage. It is a long-term and comprehensive framework for security, political, social and economic development for Afghanistan. This long-term comprehensive framework entails, first, more Afghan ownership: the Afghan army, police and Government building on NATO military achievements and taking over more responsibility for their own security. Secondly, we support localisation and then reconciliation: Afghans building on the creation of a democratic constitution by developing and strengthening their institutions, not just at national but at provincial and local level, as we support their search for political reconciliation.

“The third aspect is reconstruction. In what is still one of the poorest countries on earth, where only one in three has clean drinking water, where life expectancy is just 43, and where 80 per cent of women cannot yet read, we will help to ensure, through reconstruction and development, that more Afghan people have an economic stake in their future.

“Fourthly, and to underpin this great burden-sharing by all partners and allies, each of us playing our part, as hard-headed realists not idealists, in the long haul to help the Afghans themselves govern and secure their own land—together, shifting our emphasis from short-term stabilisation to long-term development.

“The foundation, now and in the future for our comprehensive framework of support for Afghanistan, is military support for the Afghan Government and denying al-Qaeda a base from which to launch attacks on the world. Throughout last winter, Taliban propagandists repeatedly promised a spring offensive. Instead, it is the British and other NATO forces, together with the Afghan army, who have taken the initiative. We have been driving the insurgents and extremists out of their hiding places, preventing them regrouping and attacking the areas around the provincial capitals where stability is now taking hold.

“It is this military success that has preserved Afghanistan’s emerging democracy. It is a constitution fragile but still intact, a free media and a changing society where unlike six years ago, when women were banned from education, work and virtually all of public life, now there is a higher proportion of women MPs than in many western countries; and 5 million children are at school—2 million of them girls once denied an education.

“We need to hold and to reinforce what together we have achieved. So Britain will maintain a strong military force in Afghanistan, of around today’s figure of 7,800. It is a contribution, second in size only to America. We will increase support for our forces. I can announce today, fully funded from the reserve, 150 new protected patrol vehicles specially procured for Afghanistan, bringing to 400 the total of new protected vehicles bought in the past 18 months for Iraq and Afghanistan together. We will combine this with an increasing number of Sea King helicopters in Afghanistan and through NATO negotiating new contracts for hiring commercial helicopters to move routine freight, freeing up military helicopters for military tasks.

“However, because we know that military success is only one part of the framework—a necessary but not sufficient condition for progress—we will train Afghan forces to take ownership of their own security. Next year, we will aim for 70,000 trained Afghan soldiers, 20,000 more than now, supported by a rising number of British trainers and mentors—340—part of an overall NATO training force of more than 6,000. Already the Afghan army is proving itself in Musa Qaleh.

“But the challenge of supporting an Afghan lead on security goes wider than the armed forces. It includes the police, courts and prisons. Here we are dealing with decades of failure and corruption. Progress has been slow. By March 2008, there will be more than 800 international police trainers, including 65 police from Britain. This must be matched with a wider effort across civil society, which we will continue to support, on judges, courts and prisons—working with the grain of Afghan traditions but within international norms. One way forward is to increase our support for community defence initiatives, where local volunteers are recruited to defend homes and families modelled on traditional Afghan arbakai.

“To ensure that longer term political and economic objectives are the guiding force behind the security campaign, we have brought the British civilian and military personnel together into a co-located headquarters. We will continue to strengthen their integration and at the same time we will recruit and deploy more specialists who speak the local languages and understand the tribal dynamics.

“But again the Afghans themselves must be persuaded to take the lead in improving local and national government. On my recent visit, I saw the scale of the challenge but also the opportunity and the importance of our support. I can announce today that, from our Afghan aid programme, which has already spent £490 million in six years, Britain will fund two additional programmes for local government. The first will help the Afghans to create stronger provincial and local governance, including building the capacity of the Directorate of Local Governance and supporting civil society groups to hold local government to account. The second will offer more support for the national solidarity programme, which builds the capacity of local communities to run their own development projects. As a measure of the importance that we attach to stability in building local capacity, we will immediately move infrastructure projects forward in Musa Qaleh, which we have recaptured and on which we wish to build from firmer foundations. They will include a cash-for-work programme for up to 10,000 people and plans to rebuild and refurbish the district centre, the main high school and four mosques.

“Our objective is to defeat the insurgency by isolating and eliminating its leadership. I make it clear that we will not enter any negotiations with those people. I have also made it clear on countless occasions, most recently in Afghanistan, that our objective is to root out those who preach and practise violence and murder in support of men and women of peace. President Karzai’s message to former insurgents is that if they are prepared to renounce violence, abide by the constitution and respect human rights, there is a place for them in the legitimate society and economy of Afghanistan. He and his Ministers told me this week that some 5,000 fighters have already laid down their arms. We will support President Karzai and his Government in their efforts to reconcile all parties to Afghanistan’s democratic constitution.

“We know also that Afghanistan will never be stable without the constructive engagement of its neighbours. During my visit, President Karzai agreed on the need for greater regional co-operation. We continue to work with the Afghan and Pakistan Governments, the G8 and others, to help bring stability across the Afghan-Pakistan border. Iran, too, must start to play a more constructive role. I urged President Karzai to turn the current ad hoc meetings and structures that he has with Pakistan and other countries into more substantive mechanisms to bring stability and security to the region.

“The third priority is reconstruction and development, always at its most challenging where poverty is combined with insecurity and insurgency, but a strong long-term commitment to which is vital for the Afghan Government if they are to take responsibility successfully for the future of their country. I can announce to the House today that, in total, Britain will make available £450 million in development and stabilisation assistance for Afghanistan between 2009 and 2012. This money will cover both short-term priorities and long-term objectives.

“When I was in Afghanistan and met local business leaders, President Karzai and I agreed a comprehensive plan, to be taken forward jointly by the Afghan and British Governments and the Aga Khan Development Network, to attract private sector investment into the country and stimulate new businesses. A new growth fund, starting with an initial £30 million, will kick-start the development of basic legal and regulatory frameworks, build government capacity to involve the private sector in providing public services, and pilot business training programmes. This will be led by a council of Ministers, business representatives and other experts, who will build contacts with the private sector inside and outside Afghanistan. They will advise the Government on how to increase investment and economic growth, and monitor the progress being made. We will also provide an additional £10 million for small loans that will be of special help particularly to women to start up or expand businesses. Seventy per cent of the initial applicants have been women.

“Our long-term objective is to support Afghanistan’s own national development strategy by channelling our aid through the Afghan Government and what we believe is the best route to achieving sustainable progress as well as the best value for money. We shall do so on a long-term basis, helping the Afghans plan ahead and, with good governance, focus on their own priorities: economic growth, health and education, and rural livelihoods.

“However, we also recognise the need for short-term and high-impact stabilisation projects—better roads, more reliable power supplies, clean water and sanitation—which make an immediate difference to the lives of ordinary Afghan citizens and show them the benefits of improved security and governance. So part of the £450 million I announce today will help to fund Britain’s new cross-government unit, which has Afghanistan as its first priority. A global budget of £260 million will drive forward reconstruction projects over the next three years, and provide expert civilian support to rebuild basic services.

“Afghans cannot hope for stability while the poison of the narcotics trade continues to flourish, so Britain, Afghanistan’s lead partner-nation in tackling narcotics, continues to support the Afghan authorities, providing £90 million this year to help in their long-term efforts against the drugs trade. While the situation with the poppy crop in Helmand is difficult, it must be our aim to match the progress achieved in the rest of Afghanistan, where the number of poppy-free provinces has increased from six to 13 through a combination of stronger governance, targeted eradication, which I urged President Karzai to move forward, disruption of traffickers, strengthening the justice system and promoting legitimate agriculture.

“We will continue to work with our partners who have proved steadfast in Afghanistan. I welcome the recent announcements from Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Germany and Estonia that they will maintain or increase their troop numbers. This progress must now be matched by contributions from other countries in NATO, the European Union and beyond. We are talking to all our partners to address the immediate need for more training teams for the Afghan security forces, especially the police. We are having detailed talks with a number of countries on more support helicopters, which are needed. Where countries are unable to deploy their own troops or equipment, we are urging them to look at innovative ways to burden share and help fund those countries which can provide troops and equipment.

“Having described the challenges we face in Afghanistan, I have set out our long-term commitment. It is to build on the military progress made so far by helping the Afghans take greater leadership across security, governance and economic development. Because this priority and the need for a more consistent, integrated and co-ordinated international approach are now recognised across our partners, Britain continues to push for the next step in this process: the appointment of a strong UN envoy to bring greater coherence across the international effort in security, governance and development—and to relationships with the Afghan Government.

“Britain will continue to fulfil its obligations to the Afghan people and the international community. We will support the Afghan army, police and Government as they progressively take over greater responsibility for their own security. We will work with our international partners and help the Afghans themselves strengthen stability, foster democracy and build prosperity. At all times we will support the hard work, dedication, professionalism and courage of our Armed Forces who are doing everything in their power to defeat terrorism and to lay the foundations of a stable and secure future for Afghanistan. I commend this Statement to the House”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for repeating this Statement. We share the deep sense of condolence for all those who have died and with their families.

One of the great differences between this House and another place is that many noble Lords have served in the Armed Forces. A significant number have seen active service. This House has little illusion about the ugliness of war. These are very taxing operations against a determined and astute enemy. Can the noble Baroness convey to the forces involved the support of the whole House, our admiration for their efforts in Musa Qaleh and our prayers for their safe and honoured return? When the noble Baroness replies, perhaps she could set out the full cost of the Afghan operation, not only in the 86 lives so far lost, but in other casualties and in money spent and committed.

We welcome the latest successes against the Taliban. We note that the Prime Minister says that we are winning the war, so can the noble Baroness set out, in the plainest possible terms, the strategic purpose of our long-term presence in Afghanistan? When will we have succeeded and how will we measure that success? The country and our forces need to understand that very clearly.

The Statement talks of this being a long-term commitment. How long-term will that be? Are we ready to stay there for years, perhaps decades, if need be? As I recall, before the Iraq imbroglio, we joined a coalition attack on Afghanistan as the first phase of a war on terror after the shocking atrocity at the World Trade Centre. Our declared objectives then were to root out al-Qaeda, capture bin Laden and remove the Taliban from power. I will first ask about al-Qaeda. Are we still involved in a war on terror? Will that phrase pass the noble Baroness's lips as it used to pass Mr Blair’s? If this is a war on terror—and given the plans for diminishing civil liberties here at home coming from this Government, one assumes that it is—what further deployments beyond the Afghan theatre are we prepared to consider in fighting al-Qaeda? What have our Armed Forces the capacity to consider?

Yesterday, al-Qaeda boasted of a new murderous outrage in Algiers. Our sincere sympathies go to the Algerian people and to the United Nations. Where, in the Government’s assessment, is al-Qaeda now training? Is all training in Afghanistan now eliminated? What about the impact of Pakistan on Afghan operations? Is there not still evidence of heavy al-Qaeda activity there? Is Pakistan still serving as a base for equipping, recruiting and supporting terrorists against Her Majesty's Armed Forces? If so, how can the Government ensure that the Afghan arm of the war will be won given the current instability in Pakistan?

Will the noble Baroness tell the House if there is evidence of Iran supporting terrorist activities in Afghanistan? Where in Africa is it thought that al-Qaeda is now training? Are the Government prepared to join in action against training bases in that continent—after all, if in Afghanistan then why not there? Where is the benefit of winning the battle in Afghanistan only to renounce the challenge elsewhere?

Turning to bin Laden and the al-Qaeda leadership, is there any prospect that they will be apprehended? On the final original objective in Afghanistan, the removal of the Taliban, how far are we succeeding in that? The House will have noted and welcomed the optimistic assessment by the Prime Minister, but how many provinces in Afghanistan are considered safe for NGOs to operate in? How does that compare with the situation after the initial securing of the Karzai Government? How many provinces, particularly in Pashtun areas, are under the effective control of the Karzai Government? How many are not? Is our aim to help the Afghan Government to secure total control of the country? If not, how will we judge success?

In Helmand province, our troops have been doing a miraculous job; sometimes with a scandalous lack of helicopters and other equipment. The announcements of extra equipment in the Statement today are of course extremely welcome, but are they not years too late?

Is it the intention to garrison Musa Qaleh after the battles of recent days? We welcome the role of United States and Estonian forces alongside our troops, but how many other NATO countries are in war-fighting operations? Although I agree entirely with the Prime Minister that others need to do more, what prospect realistically is there of securing any help from the unwilling? Perhaps we can expect some good news out of the EU summit this weekend and the Prime Minister will no doubt be able to report back on that on Monday afternoon.

We welcome some of the proposals for reconstruction announced today, but how can we be assured that this generous support from the British people will not be wasted in corruption? The Statement mentioned opium production, but what proportion of the world’s opium still comes from Afghanistan, and how much is produced in Helmand province? It was staggering to read in the press this morning that we were now going to talk to the Taliban. That has now been categorically denied by the Prime Minister, but what was the origin of that report? Will there be a searching inquiry? Such confusing messages and foolish spin in wartime can literally be deadly to our troops.

There is much that is welcome in the Statement—some that is, frankly, too late and some perhaps quite optimistic—but we wish the programme well. The House and the world must know what is our long-term strategic objective and how that fits into the worldwide battle against terrorism. Without that unremitting focus, all the heroism and sacrifice of our troops could end in failure and that would be the greatest betrayal of all.

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said, there is a thread of optimism running through the Prime Minister’s Statement. It is sobering to think that Gladstone would probably have recognised most of the analysis and problems, for the history of Afghanistan has been one of sucking in, involving and frustrating great empires. Nevertheless, I thank the noble Baroness the Lord President for the Statement. I associate myself with the tributes paid by noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, both to the dead and to those returning from war zones with injuries that they will carry for the rest of their lives. The Prime Minister’s frontline visit is also extremely welcome. We all pay tribute to the professionalism, courage and bravery of British service personnel.

The strategy and the length of time are worrying. It is very brave to say that we are isolating and eliminating, and not negotiating, but how much has changed since the Defence Select Committee’s scathing analysis of the military situation in Afghanistan? I echo the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde: one of the problems in winning the hearts and minds of the British people to this venture is the puzzlement that if we are fighting a just cause against a monstrous enemy—and anybody who looks at the Taliban’s record as is spelt out in the Statement would share that analysis—then why are so few of our allies willing to come to the sharp end with us and fight the battle? It is damaging to the whole cause. The Prime Minister’s statement in the other place that he will raise the question at the NATO meeting in Romania at Easter lacks urgency. I welcome the suggestion from the Conservative Benches and hope that the Prime Minister raises the prospect of greater EU co-operation at the EU summit. More enthusiasm from him about defence co-operation might help.

Have we really got a hearts-and-minds strategy that is fully co-ordinated and targeted? That will be important, if we are going to stick with this for any length of time. We are told that the problem of the poppy crop is difficult. There is some element of being dammed if we do and damned if we don’t deal with it ruthlessly. The Statement does not offer any direct solutions, other than that Helmand is particularly difficult. It is not just the overall level of defence spending that has been raised, but also the question of whether we are concentrating that spending in the right areas to guarantee the equipment for fighting this type of war.

Finally, the Statement underlines the need to involve neighbours. We know of the problems in Pakistan. This also raises the issue of Iran. Is Iran part of the problem, as the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, seemed to suggest, or is it part of the solution? We certainly need to explore what can be done with Iran. I am not optimistic. When such Statements are made, there is always a temptation for the House to rally around the flag and the troops. However, when we in Parliament send troops into such a dangerous and bleak land with such a dangerous and bleak history, we have a duty to be absolutely sure that we know how long we are sending them for and what we are asking them to do. As my noble friend Lord Ashdown has repeatedly pointed out, there is the need for a policy directed towards hearts and minds that matches the military effort, because the military effort alone cannot solve this problem.

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to both noble Lords for their intelligent interrogation of the Statement. I agree with everything that they have said in paying tribute not only to those who have lost their lives and to their families but also to those who have been wounded in Afghanistan.

I do not believe that the objectives that we set out with in 2001 have changed. We are trying to ensure that the Taliban cannot be returned to power and that we deny al-Qaeda a physical base in Afghanistan. The good news is that the people of Afghanistan have voted in their democratic elections and that there will be more national and provincial elections in the future. We see a fledgling democracy at work in that country, which is very important.

We are realistic about what we are seeking to do. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, is right to ensure that we have a calm perspective on what we are seeking to achieve in Afghanistan. I pay tribute to all 38 countries that are working with us and undertaking a variety of different tasks. Some, like Canada, have troops on the ground and others have provided expertise and back-up support in a headquarters focus. We are working as a team but that does not mean, as both noble Lords have indicated, that we should not do more to try to ensure that other partners play their part in the work in Afghanistan.

I also agree with what has been said about Pakistan where we hope that the situation is improving. There are 2,600 miles of border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, which raises huge issues about the practicalities of policing the border. There are perhaps even more important issues about the way in which neighbours have to work together on the border issues, directly for the national governments and directly for the localities near the borders. It is true that Iran needs to play its part. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence is optimistic—that has been made clear to me in my discussions with him—about how far the Afghan national army has come since his last visit and certainly since his very first visit some 18 months ago. He described it to me as being rather like night and day, but that does not mean that there is not a lot more to do. The development of the Afghan national army is extremely important to the future.

I agree with much of what has been said about ensuring that we are working effectively in that country. I hope we will all agree that it is important to continue with that project. Over time, we must evaluate how long we will need to be there.

On a very specific area, the model that we are following for the eradication of the narcotics trade is based on experience, particularly in countries such as Thailand, where noble Lords will be aware that it took 15 years to ensure that that trade was eradicated. That feels like a long time in some ways but in other ways it seems like a very short time. There is the eight-pronged approach by the Afghan Government to try to tackle the narcotics trade, which ranges from high-profile moves towards bringing to justice those who take part in the trade through to the programme of eradication on the ground and the opportunities for alternatives.

In Helmand province, for example, which is an incredibly fertile area, it is very important to try to ensure that farmers grow other crops. That needs to be done in a diverse way rather than simply thinking about one alternative. It is also very important to provide the security for the future that will enable people to make real choices about their lives.

As for the money being spent, the overall defence budget is 2.3 per cent of GDP by 2010. That does not include the spending on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Treasury reserve has provided £6.6 billion since 2001. I do not have with me the breakdown between the two countries. I am more than happy to supply that to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and to put a copy in the Library, but it is being funded from the reserve.

It is important, too, that we look at the moves that have been made forward since 2001 in a country that had 30 years of Soviet occupation and Taliban rule, both in terms of democratic elections and the importance of the military presence, and also in terms of trying to work with civil society to develop health, education and economic growth. The successes outlined in the Statement, not least for the women and children of Afghanistan, point to that. Some of the practical points in the Statement about the loans and grants that can be made available to support fledgling enterprise in all of the provinces of Afghanistan will be very important too.

It is important that we try to increase security to deal with the insurgents—the Taliban is a generic name that covers people who, for a whole variety of reasons, are involved in violence—and to ensure that, as President Karzai has made clear, those who renounce violence and support the constitution can move into a more normal form of life within Afghan society. We must provide the underpinning to enable economic growth to take place. Those are the factors that will lead to success in Afghanistan but we must realise that this is difficult and that we have a longer term commitment. We cannot put a timescale on it for obvious reasons but we must provide the support for the people that noble Lords would wish to see.

My Lords, I am sure that these Benches would wish to add to the tributes that have already been paid to those who have been killed and injured in the conflict in Afghanistan. Earlier this week I, together with other Members of your Lordships’ House, met a team of officials from the Ministry of Counternarcotics in Afghanistan. They spoke very frankly. I was astonished at what they said about the degree, the depth and the spread of corruption in that country. They apparently have extremely hard evidence, including video evidence, of certain warlords who are now drug lords and who are dealing in drugs and are involved in corruption. However, they cannot be brought to court simply because they are so close to the Government. There is also evidence that those who were in the pay of various donors during the Cold War—the mujaheddin, the warlords—are themselves becoming drug lords and are still being paid by donors. So the corruption is not merely within the country; it also stretches outside the country and may well involve the donors. I have heard from several sources of a particular individual who has bought up a large amount of land in the south and will allow only poppies to be cultivated on that land when he gives it out to various villagers. I have also heard that if the leader of a village—or “khan”—is prepared to forbid poppy cultivation, then poppy cultivation will cease. Can the Minister say something about any new ideas the Government may have about dealing with the disease of corruption rather than the symptom of poppy cultivation and what kind of collaboration are they pursuing with Europe and America?

My Lords, I am very interested in what the noble Baroness says. She will know from meeting those involved in counternarcotics that 13 provinces are poppy-free—an increase from six in 2006, so some progress is being made. The noble Baroness’s points about corruption in Afghanistan are well made. There are serious difficulties. One piece of work within the EU, initially led by the Italians, looked at how one can deal with corruption. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said in his Statement, we need to look carefully at the role of the courts and seek to bring to justice high-profile drug dealers. We need to send the kind of messages that we have spurred on our colleagues in other parts of the world to send, not only to make the point but to ensure that people can see that those who deserve it are brought to justice. The noble Baroness is right to say that this area of work will take some time and we are working closely with European Union colleagues and the United States to ensure that we can achieve our aims. We are also giving support in this area to the police forces and the courts system.

My Lords, the Leader of the House has repeated an important Statement on Afghanistan which provides a,

“long-term and comprehensive framework for security, political, social and economic development”.

Can the noble Baroness tell us whether, in light of the scope of the Statement, the Government will publish a paper setting out in greater detail the strategy that they envisage under the four headings, or, at least, provide a debate in the House on some of those issues? Many people have said that some of those are optimistic, while some are certainly controversial and relatively untested. My concern is with the increase in support for community defence initiatives. Will the noble Baroness reassure the House that, while community initiatives are very much to be welcomed, community defence initiatives are what in a feudal, male-dominated, authoritarian society led to the rise of the Taliban in the first place? I am sure the noble Baroness is aware that the Taliban first arose as students, pupils and teachers of the “righteous path” to civic organisation. This kind of initiative would just give that back in the absence of the entrenchment of the rule of law.

My Lords, the noble Baroness is quite right. On community defence initiatives, it is, indeed, important to remember from whence the Taliban came and to be aware of the kind of justice that they offer—albeit quick and not always appropriate. It is also important, in thinking through how we work with the Afghan people, to bear in mind the cultural and religious framework in which the society of Afghanistan operates, to make sure that we mesh with that very appropriately and to be aware of what people are seeking and how they look for it. As for publishing a paper, it is beyond my pay grade to answer that properly, but I will seek an answer. As for a debate, it is more than my life is worth with my Chief Whip to offer anything, but the noble Baroness makes her point and I am sure that the usual channels will be willing to consider that.

My Lords, I very much welcome the announcement of increased provision of equipment and armoured vehicles for our Armed Forces and, indeed, helicopters, which, as my noble friend will know, has been an issue of some concern. I want to ask my noble friend about a quite different issue—women in Afghanistan. Under the Taliban women particularly suffered from a lack of education and from being denied access to jobs. I was pleased to hear in the Statement about the opportunities for microfinancing for women and other parts of the community. Can my noble friend tell us any more about what is being done to help women to re-enter the workforce in Afghanistan and to help them become doctors and teachers? Women were denied access and suffered under the Taliban in those spheres. What provision is being made for widows or those who live without the protection of a male member of the family, who have also had an extraordinarily rough time under the Taliban?

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for raising the very important issue of the role of women in the development of civic society within Afghanistan. A number of initiatives are taking place. I described the microfinance one, but we are also providing interpreters where possible to support women in the local communities. In addition, are seeking to involve women in their communities through the NGO framework and to provide support with education and training. I do not have to hand the specific information on doctors but I shall ensure that my noble friend gets an answer and that it is placed in the Library of the House, together with information on teachers. I understand that initiatives are taking place but I do not have the details with me. In relation to widows, one important factor in supporting women is recognising the circumstances that apply, particularly in the rural communities in Afghanistan. I am happy to report to the House the details of the work that is going on in that regard.

My Lords, I welcome the Statement very warmly. It is a comfort to see on the Front Bench noble Lords from all three of the departments concerned. It shows that there is true commitment in this House. A metaphor comes to mind: if Tony Blair had Iraq on his back as an albatross, perhaps we should hope that the new Prime Minister is being guided by a swan into the calmer waters of Afghanistan. I shall not give him all the credit because our new ambassador has shown a remarkable enthusiasm for hearts and minds, as the noble Lord, Lord McNally, said. This is a new direction. Given that the Statement was 15 minutes long, I hope that we will have the opportunity of a full debate. This is an exceptionally important subject for the whole country and we want to explore all the aspects beyond defence.

Perhaps I may take up one point by way of a question and by way of a warning. There is a new enthusiasm for administrative reform in strengthening institutions in Afghanistan, but we should beware of a new level of bureaucracy. There are many effective channels of development at the moment, in which, naturally, because of my own background, I include the NGOs. We must ensure that the local and provincial elements, including the governors, are properly supported and we must not overlay a new level of bureaucracy that may lead to corruption.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl. My colleagues on the Front Bench are here specifically to demonstrate to the House that the Government are working across the different departments to ensure that we deliver appropriately in the way that I described. There is a need to build military capacity and to support the Afghan army, civil society, economic development and growth, and democracy. All those things need to fit together and that requires the Government to think strategically with regard to themselves as well as in their approach to the country. I agree with what the noble Earl said about bureaucracy. It is important to get this right. In our aid programmes, we work directly through the Afghan Government, who work directly with local communities. One facet of that is to ensure that the NGO civic society on the ground is able to hold its own Government to account. That is a very important check and balance on the way that governments operate. I make no apologies for the Statement lasting for 15 minutes because, as the noble Earl said, this is an important matter.

My Lords, perhaps I may bring up the question of co-operation with Pakistan. The town that was mentioned was freed some months ago. The Taliban ran back across the border to their hideout in Pakistan and then they came back, and they will do the same again. It appears to me that, until we get military co-operation with Pakistan’s forces, any battles that are won will be negative as long as the Taliban have a safe place to go and come back from.

My Lords, the noble Lord makes an important point about trying to get Pakistan’s co-operation. There have been recent meetings between Pakistan and Afghanistan to discuss a number of issues. The border between the countries is huge and one must bear in mind the difficulties that that in itself creates. It is a question of trying to build confidence on both sides so as to deal effectively with the broader issues. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary would be the first to say that we continue to make efforts to ensure that Pakistan is able to support the work going on in Afghanistan. When thinking of Afghanistan, it is important to think of the neighbourhood and to ensure that we are working with partners in it.

My Lords, like many other noble Lords, I welcome this additional contribution to the means to help Afghanistan obtain the end that we want and, like the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, I welcome in particular the military commitment and the additional equipment and helicopters, which are as welcome to the Afghan army as they are to anyone else. However, I shall repeat a question I asked during the debate on defence we had some two weeks ago. Will these additional resources include equipment required by our forces to train before they go to Afghanistan, rather than merely receiving the equipment when they get there? Without practicing on it, their effectiveness is unnecessarily delayed at the moment that they arrive.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. We try to strike a balance. We want to get people out to Afghanistan as quickly as possible and where we can we make sure that we provide the training that we think is necessary before they go and, if not, we support them in theatre.

My Lords, I salute the statesmanship of the Prime Minister in this regard and accept that there will be no talking to or negotiating with the Taliban, but bearing in mind that it is not a unified, integrated, disciplined structure, is it not obvious that there will be some communication at some level with various elements of it? In those circumstances, will Her Majesty’s Government bear in mind the dictum attributed to Metternich that diplomacy is at its best when it is silent?

My Lords, the noble Lord recognised that I have already indicated that there are no negotiations with the Taliban. I made clear in the Statement that the Afghan Government and president have made it clear that those who renounce and come across and support democracy, human rights and the constitution of Afghanistan are in a different position. However, it is absolutely clear that there will be no negotiations with the Taliban.

My Lords, can the noble Baroness explain where the helicopters are coming from considering that we could not provide any for Darfur? Was it a question of either Darfur or Afghanistan?

My Lords, my understanding is that they are European rentals. They are not being moved from a different theatre but are commercial. We are in the process of deploying Sea King helicopters to Afghanistan with new state-of-the-art rotor blades.