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Afghanistan Conference and Yemen Meeting

Volume 717: debated on Monday 1 February 2010


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall repeat a Statement made earlier today by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary in the other place on the Afghanistan conference that took place on 28 January, and the Yemen meeting the previous day.

“It is a grim but important feature of all discussion on Afghanistan to remember the loss of life, coalition and Afghan, in the past eight years. As I saw for myself again two weeks ago in Kandahar, Lashkar Gah and Kabul, British troops are showing fortitude beyond measure, and their families support beyond compare, that deserves the recognition of the whole nation.

The stakes are high, not just for those serving in Afghanistan, but for all the Afghan people, for the south Asian region, for the credibility of the NATO alliance and, ultimately, for our national security. As I explained when I spoke in this House on 14 January, 2010 will be a decisive year for Afghanistan. With a new Government, a refreshed counterinsurgency strategy and a commitment to increase international troops by 60,000, the Afghans and their allies now have the chance to reverse the momentum of the insurgency, if the military and civilian effort is directed towards a durable political settlement in Afghanistan. That was the impetus behind the decision taken by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister to convene the London conference. Our aim was to mobilise international resources, military and civilian, behind a clear political strategy to help deliver the ambitious agenda that President Karzai set out at his inauguration last November. Our goals are threefold: to win over the active support of more of the Afghan population; to split the insurgency; and to encourage Afghanistan’s neighbours to become part of the solution.

Following my consultations in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Washington, Istanbul and Brussels, representatives from over 70 countries and international organisations travelled to London to attend the conference. The communiqué, which was agreed among all conference participants, provides the detail of what was agreed. With respect to security, the focus was on the Afghan national security forces. The growth and development of the indigenous security forces is intended to give the Afghan population the confidence to resist Taliban bribery and intimidation. Afghanistan now has almost 200,000 soldiers and police, who are already assuming greater responsibility in military operations. But the London conference agreed new, more ambitious targets to increase the Afghan national security forces by over 50 per cent by October 2011 by training 70,000 additional members of the Afghan National Army and 38,000 more police.

The conference also marked the beginning of the transition process, agreeing the necessary conditions under which we can begin, district by district and province by province, the process for transferring responsibility for security from international to Afghan forces. The intention is for some provinces to transition by late 2010 or early 2011, on the road to meeting President Karzai’s target that within three years Afghans should have taken the lead and be conducting the majority of operations in insecure areas. With additional troops, Afghan and international, the insurgency will come under increasing military pressure. President Karzai is launching a peace and reintegration programme for those who can be persuaded to switch sides. The rest will face growing military danger. It is essential that all the ethnic groups of Afghanistan are given a route back into Afghan society, as long as they respect the Afghan constitution and break links with al-Qaeda. We support all efforts towards this goal. The peace and reintegration trust fund, announced last Thursday, is the vehicle through which the international community will provide financial assistance. Already $140 million has been pledged for the first year.

Governance and development were the second priority for the London conference. Local and provincial government in Afghanistan is chronically weak. Less than a quarter of Afghanistan’s 364 governors have electricity and some receive only $6 a month in expenses. That is why the conference agreed to provide additional support to train over the next two years 12,000 sub-national civil servants in core administrative functions. If the Afghan Government are to win the support of more of the population, they need to govern in their interests, so the commitments they made at the conference to take steps to end the culture of impunity are important. They have promised to strengthen the independent High Office of Oversight to investigate and sanction corrupt officials, to bring their laws in line with the UN Convention Against Corruption, and to invite a group of Afghan and international experts to develop benchmarks for progress and report regularly against those benchmarks. Their first visit will take place within the next three months.

These promises must now be translated into rapid action. The international community again pledged its support on Thursday, and for the first time it said that, once key conditions are met, it will increase the proportion of development assistance channelled through the Government, and will support the Government to meet those conditions.

Development assistance is important in its own right but it will also help to draw people away from the insurgency and the drugs trade. That is the significance of Thursday’s announcement that Afghanistan will receive up to $1.6 billion extra in debt relief from major creditors and that there will be a new IMF programme from June 2010. The legal economy, notably agriculture, needs substantial support. The progress in reducing drug production is also welcome in its own right.

The third element is relations between the countries of the region. The situation in Afghanistan is destabilising south Asia. Crime, drugs, terrorism and migration spill across its borders. There is a growing awareness within the region that the status quo in Afghanistan benefits no one. Afghanistan’s neighbours also increasingly accept that no country within the region, let alone the international community, will allow Afghanistan to become a client state.

In these twin changes—a recognition that a client state is out of reach for all, and that an unstable state is damaging for all—is the seed of our shared interest. This shared interest should be the basis for greater regional co-operation. Each neighbour needs to know that its restraint and co-operation will be reciprocated, so they need reassurances about each other’s behaviour and intentions. That is why last Tuesday I attended the regional summit in Istanbul to discuss how Afghanistan’s neighbours can support stability in Afghanistan and enhance regional co-operation. At the London conference, the Afghan Government requested that the relevant regional bodies develop a co-ordinated plan for Afghanistan’s regional engagement as soon as possible. The prize of regional co-operation is immense: Afghanistan’s neighbours cutting off the lines of funding, support and shelter that stretch across Afghanistan’s borders. This is why the regional element of a political strategy will be given greater emphasis over the coming year.

Mr Speaker, this political strategy and the agreements reached on Thursday need to be pursued with drive and determination and without delay. The Afghan Government will host a further conference in Kabul later this spring. By then, President Karzai will need to have made real progress on security, governance and development. The international community, too, has an important role to play in ensuring effective implementation. That is why three new international appointments are being made—at the UN, in the EU and in NATO, where the NATO Secretary-General has created a new NATO senior civilian representative to strengthen co-ordination of development and governance work, and our ambassador in Kabul, Mark Sedwill, took up this role on Thursday—to create greater unity of civilian command.

Afghanistan and Yemen are 2,000 miles apart; they have diverse histories and different cultures and are fighting different enemies. But there are common themes. In both cases the lack of development, weak governance and the absence of security provide a vacuum for extremists who threaten our shores. In both cases, these underlying, long-term causes must be addressed.

The purpose of the London meeting on Yemen on 27 January, as agreed with President Saleh, was threefold: to forge international consensus about the challenges that the country faces; to build impetus behind the economic and political reform agenda; and to improve the international co-ordination of support for the Yemeni people and Government.

The Government of Yemen were represented by Prime Minister Mujawar. The Foreign Ministers from the Gulf Cooperation Council countries and the key regional and international partner nations all participated, alongside representatives of the European Union, the United Nations, the IMF, the World Bank and other international institutions.

The Prime Minister gave an honest appraisal of the challenges his country faces—“brutally honest”, in the words of the US Secretary of State. The threat from al-Qaeda has put Yemen in the headlines, but it has long been the poorest country in the Arab world, with a growing population, fast dwindling oil and water reserves, an armed conflict in the north, and increasing instability in the south.

First, all present committed to support the Government of Yemen in the fight against al-Qaeda. The meeting welcomed the recent UN sanctions committee decisions on designation and called on all states to enforce the terms of the designation under UN Security Council Resolution 1267.

Secondly, the meeting agreed to engage in further helping Yemen to address its broader security challenges, including through increased international support for the Yemen coast-guard.

Thirdly, Prime Minister Mujawar confirmed that his Government would continue to pursue their reform agenda and start discussion of the IMF programme. The director of the IMF made a compelling case for the way in which economic reform could be supported by the IMF.

Fourthly, participants agreed concrete action to improve the disbursement of aid, and the GCC secretary-general called a meeting of Gulf and other international donors to share analysis on the barriers to effective aid disbursement and establish a joint dialogue with the Government of Yemen on their reform priorities. This meeting will take place on 27 and 28 February.

Fifthly, the 25 countries and organisations represented also agreed to establish a Friends of Yemen group to help the Government implement their national reform agenda. Two working groups—on economy and governance, and justice and law enforcement—will report to the first Friends of Yemen meeting.

Conferences and meetings can seem a long way from the daily dangers of IEDs in Lashkar Gah or the 40 per cent unemployed in Yemen, but neither problem will be resolved without coherent plans confidently advanced by sovereign Governments with huge support from the international community. As a result of last week’s efforts, there is a new confidence and clarity. The test is to turn these words into deeds. That is what we are now committed to doing”.

That concludes the Statement.

My Lords, I thank the Minister very much for repeating this admittedly pretty long Statement. I take the opportunity, once again, to offer condolences from this side of the House to the bereaved families of those brave soldiers who have been murdered in Afghanistan, and repeat our praise for the fortitude of our Armed Forces. I will take the issues raised by the Minister in reverse order.

First, on Yemen, we welcome the meeting and the plans for a follow-up meeting in Riyadh later this month. Obviously, addressing the problems in Yemen will require sustained support from the whole international community and from the Gulf states in particular. I ask straightaway what steps have been taken to involve neighbouring states directly, both in sponsoring internal peace in Yemen, which is lacking, and in accelerating financial and economic support for this desperately poor country. I understand that unemployment is over 40 per cent, if indeed that measure can be made at all.

At the meeting last week a new Friends of Yemen process was launched, as the Statement has told us. Can the noble Baroness tell the House what role the UK will play in this process, and exactly who the members of that group will be? What is her assessment of whether the Government of Yemen will now take the urgent and concrete action or the political and economic reform that they have pledged? It is a difficult question, I know, but may we have her judgment?

I now turn to the more preoccupying issue at the moment of Afghanistan, although things may change. After eight years and five major conferences, it is stating the obvious that the situation in Afghanistan remains an immense challenge. We hope that the timing and location of this London conference has helped to meet that challenge. We are all committed to ensuring sufficient stability in Afghanistan so that Afghans can look after their own security without presenting a danger to the rest of the world. Obviously, to that end, the new strategy set out by President Obama the other day must be given time and support to succeed and must be accompanied by a viable political process alongside the military efforts.

I want to deal with three main areas in my response: first, the military and security strategy, then the political strategy and, finally, the timetable for the transition to Afghan control. Indeed, I seek assurances that those three areas do not undermine each other and do reinforce one another. First, we welcome the decision by other countries to commit additional manpower, especially the announcement from Germany. How many of the 9,000 additional non-US forces announced will be stationed in Regional Command South, where the hardest fighting has been? Will every effort be made to ensure that the commanders’ use of these forces will not be hampered by restrictive rules of engagement? How many of the additional 10,000 Afghan troops for Helmand, which the Prime Minister announced back in November, are now in place and when will that deployment be complete? The conference communiqué also urges countries to give more support to the Afghan National Police. When will the detail of the support be made more specific? Can the Minister confirm that there is, alas, still no agreed national strategy for the reform of the police? When does she expect that that will finally be in place?

On the civilian aspects of the strategy in Afghanistan, we welcome the appointment of a new NATO civilian representative and a new UN special representative. I understand that there is to be a new EU special representative with strengthened powers, as announced by the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, in the conference. What has been done to ensure co-ordination of the work of these new officials to avoid the duplication of the past and give the unity and coherence to international efforts so often called for in this House by the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, and others?

On the political strategy, is the Minister confident that the postponed parliamentary elections will now go ahead in September? Does she agree that the fairness and credibility of those elections is of huge importance, given what happened in the previous presidential elections, and does she think it is the true intention of the Afghan authorities to run a seriously improved electoral process? How realistic is that aim given the unique tribal and cultural patterns of Afghan society?

The communiqué and report mentioned that President Karzai will host a grand assembly or Loya Jirgah within six weeks and that the invitation will be extended to the Taliban. Can the Minister say what the objectives of the assembly will be and how those tie in with NATO strategy? Can she assure us that there will be moves to involve the Pashtun tribes fully in this process, because there will be no progress without them?

A major focus of the conference was on the new peace and reintegration trust fund as well as a new IMF support programme. It has been reported that the fund will total $500 million. Is that right, and what contribution is our own country making to that fund? May we have a little more detail on how the money will be used, how its expenditure will be overseen and what mechanism will be in place to ensure that the funds will not be misappropriated? Who will be responsible for the distribution at regional level and how will oversight and follow-up be ensured? Can the noble Baroness update us on the poppy and drugs issue beyond what was in the original Statement? How will the large and welcome Japanese commitment of $5 billion over five years to Afghanistan be dovetailed with the other development strategies?

It is well known that Taliban elements operate in Pakistan’s border area as a threat to both Afghanistan and Pakistan—and the rest of us as well. Does the noble Baroness envisage any of these funds being channelled to the Pakistani Government for the same purposes? We understand that five Taliban leaders have been removed from the UN sanctions list as part of the reconciliation process. Is she confident that the security implications of that have been fully assessed? Are other removals planned?

Finally, on the handover plans, the communiqué says that the goal is for Afghan forces to take responsibility for physical security within five years. Meanwhile, President Karzai says that the training and equipping of Afghan security forces may take up to 10 years. I think I heard him say on the radio that they will need outside assistance for up to 15 years. Does the noble Baroness share those assessments? Above all, what specific steps has the conference achieved towards recognition that this is not just a western problem? Afghanistan’s near neighbours, such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and maybe even China, must be involved if progress can be made with them. I agree with the communiqué statement that the prize of regional co-operation is immense. One day, a less aggressive and negative Iran might be involved constructively. It could be said that the dewesternisation of this whole problem may be the only and best path to peace.

Many of the commitments made at the previous London conference on Afghanistan in 2006 have never been met. The British public are now waiting to see whether progress can really be made and to assess whether our military effort and high sacrifice are truly worth while. This time round, they must see a clear sense of direction, purpose and aims, and in this they must not be disappointed.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. We are all conscious this week that we are struggling to recover ground lost between 2002 and 2005 when we failed to concentrate, as we should have done, on Afghanistan. We are reminded in the Iraq inquiry at the present moment why we lost those years. We now find ourselves in difficult circumstances trying to make up the ground in economic development and political and social reconstruction. I note the Statement’s reference to the problem of corrupt officials and endemic corruption within Afghanistan.

On the peace and reintegration trust fund, I will repeat some of the questions of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and expand on them. What percentage of the peace and reintegration trust fund will the United Kingdom be providing? Which governments apart from the Government of Japan will be the other major contributors, given that Britain is making one of the largest military contributions to Afghanistan? I very much hope that others will provide other forms of support.

Throughout this engagement, my party has stressed that we cannot resolve the problems of Afghanistan without the broader regional context. That applies to both Pakistan and Yemen. Pakistan is intrinsically linked to this. Since the Indian conflict with Pakistan is so central to Pakistan’s existence, India has to be brought in closely, too. I am told that Iran presently provides useful support to the Karzai regime. We know that Iran is actively concerned with Dari speakers in western Afghanistan. In the complicated relationship we presently have with Iran, we need to remember that Iran is a potentially positive player in the future of Afghanistan. We should not allow other dimensions of our relationship with Iran to pull across that. Saudi Arabia also has a close relationship with Pakistan. I hope that the Minister can assure us that we are in active consultation with the Saudis on the role that they can play in bringing peace to the region.

The noble Lord, Lord Howell, mentioned Russia, China and the northern neighbours, as well as the Gulf states, which have contributed to the problems of Yemen by expelling the expatriate Yemeni workforce after the invasion of Iraq. Clearly, those states have to provide considerable contributions to dealing with the problems of Yemen. Yemen itself stresses that we are talking about the wider region. The radicalisation of Islam and the failure of Arab state regimes in political, social and economic development have been set out clearly in successive Arab Human Development Reports—this applies not just to Yemen but to a range of other countries. I note that the regional conference was held in Istanbul.

We are talking about the problems of the region, but the foreign fighters in both Yemen and Afghanistan come from west Africa, Indonesia and parts of the former Soviet Union, as well as from the United States and Europe; they travel out there to study and become radicalised. Will the Minister assure us that we are not overcommitting to the military support of the current regime in Yemen, which has been in power for a very long time, and to a military response alone? We also have problems with corrupt officials. I was told the other week that advanced weapons supplied to Somalia are being bought and sold, with end-user certificates provided, through Yemen and that the Yemeni army is involved in this trade.

Does the Minister accept that it is urgent that we address the wider Arab/Israel Middle East conflict as a major factor in the radicalisation of young men across the region? As part of that, we need to distinguish the British approach from that of the United States, which, sadly, continues under the Obama Administration to show a remarkable lack of understanding of the complex politics of the region. I am sorry that NATO and the EU have not agreed to support a common representative. Can the Minister say anything about the efforts of the British Government to agree a common NATO/EU representative in Afghanistan and why, sadly, we failed to achieve one? The Statement began by referring to how crucial the outcome in Afghanistan is to the future credibility of NATO, so will the Minister at least take back to the Foreign Office the question of how far, in discussing the future of NATO and the NATO strategic concept, we may find ourselves bound up with the future US position on the Middle East, which is one of the most delicate issues for the future of the alliance?

My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their questions and contributions to what is clearly an extremely important debate at this time. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, raised the issue of Yemen, where, of course, chronic poverty and unemployment contribute to the instability of that country. I can confirm that no cash promises were made at that meeting, which was well understood by the Yemeni representatives. However, there was a commitment to work with the IMF and an understanding from the states that were present and others that it would be necessary to work closely with Yemen.

The outcome of the London Yemen meeting consisted of five agreements. The first concerned Yemen and the IMF, which I have mentioned. Secondly, as was mentioned in the Foreign Secretary’s Statement, it was agreed that the Gulf Cooperation Council would meet to discuss the regional role that could be played in supporting Yemen. An international commitment was made to support Yemen in fighting against al-Qaeda and to help Yemen to address broader security issues. It was agreed that the Friends of Yemen group would be launched to offer targeted help in those areas. I am afraid that the detail of the group has not yet been worked out; it is being prepared, but the outcome is not clear.

On Afghanistan, the noble Lord, Lord Howell, raised the issue of security and asked how the transition of responsibility would work. The Afghan national security forces have already taken on the lead for providing security in Kabul. They also led the successful security operation that ensured that last August’s presidential election took place despite the insurgents’ stated aim to prevent it. As noble Lords will agree, transition is a gradual process, so setting timetables at this time is not possible. The pace of transition will vary from area to area, because it is based on conditions on the ground, the Afghan forces’ ability to provide security and the necessary agreement of both the Afghan Government and the international community—the UN, NATO, et cetera. As the Prime Minister has said, it will be necessary for the UK to remain until the job is done. The more the Afghan forces can take responsibility for security, as the Prime Minister said at the end of last year, the less the coalition forces will be needed and the sooner our troops can come home.

On the training of the security forces, 100,000 Afghan troops have been trained and there will be 134,000 Afghan troops and 109,000 Afghan police helping to protect the Afghan people. Last week, the Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board agreed to further increases in Afghan troop numbers, which will bring Afghan security forces to over 300,000. This is far bigger than our present coalition forces. UK troops run Afghan army mentoring, which is important—as is the mentoring of the police—throughout Helmand, including in US areas.

Over 90 per cent of ISAF operations are now conducted in conjunction with the Afghan army. That army is starting to take the lead in independent operations, which is a major step towards the goal of self-sufficiency and national security. President Karzai has promised that Helmand will be a priority for Afghan deployments, and I can reassure noble Lords that we are pressing him to honour that agreement. As to how many US troops will be deployed in the south, since President Obama announced the outcome of his review in December 2009, 40,000 additional troops have been pledged to ISAF, at least half to the south, and non-US contributors of 10,000 troops are deepening their deployment, where that is appropriate and possible.

On the issue of overcommitting in the Yemen, which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, insecurity and instability there will have a significant impact on regional security. It is important that all in the international community step forward to help the Yemeni Government, as I think the noble Lord would agree. We are not alone in providing support to Yemen and we believe that it is necessary to do so. Studies have shown that every one dollar spent on pre-conflict work saves four dollars in post-conflict rebuilding. If I have not answered all the many points made, I will do so in writing.

My Lords, I have questions on Afghanistan. Russia has been extremely helpful in terms of overflying rights. Has it made any more commitments to assist the effort in Afghanistan? Secondly, strategists increasingly think of Afghanistan and Pakistan together. To what extent has this been reflected in the new appointments which my noble friend mentioned? Finally, on the Afghan diaspora, over the past decades some of the brightest and best of the Afghani professionals—doctors, engineers and so on—have left that country for the West. Did the conference look at ways and means of attracting back to their country some of those members of the Afghan diaspora, many of whom will have now taken root and have family commitments in the West? Have we considered short-term contracts to facilitate the return of members of the diaspora back to Afghanistan?

I thank my noble friend. I understand that Russia has engaged seriously and consistently with the processes that have been taking place in relation to Afghanistan. I do not have any information on the Afghan diaspora; I can only presume that, as is the case for the Somali diaspora, for example, every effort is being made to draw those people into the process and ensure that they have a constructive and positive contribution to make to the efforts of others in their country.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement.

I raised this issue on 19 November and, unfortunately, the Government studiously avoided answering my point about the extra training that members of the new Afghan army would benefit from. I had the privilege of visiting our troops in Afghanistan a short time ago, and of meeting members of the new Afghan army. Perhaps it is the village schoolmaster coming out in me, but it struck me that the provision of education for young Afghan soldiers would attract them to join the army. Looking at army pay, they can earn as much money fighting for the Taliban. Is it not important that we increase the educational opportunities for Afghan troops, so that when they return to their own villages they have status and become exemplars for their communities? I would be grateful if the Minister could tell us how that might be accommodated. I received one Written Answer recently which suggested that they received one week’s educational training. That does not strike me as realistic. I hope that the noble Baroness will agree with me on that point.

I thank the noble Lord. As someone who is also an ex-teacher, I very much value his point about the importance of education and the contribution that it can make to creating an army that is able to deal more effectively, and with greater understanding, with the reasons why it is doing what it is doing. We know that from experience in our own country. I promise to look into the issue more fully. I do not remember signing an Answer to such a Question, but I promise that I will look closely at the noble Lord’s point, because it is very important.

As of December 2009, 100,000 Afghan troops have been trained. I imagine that a great deal of lengthy education was probably neither possible nor feasible. However, we ought to take into account the need to provide that extra effort to ensure that the troops are better able to protect the Afghan people.

My Lords, the Statement by the Foreign Secretary seemed to be a mixture of depressingly real facts and, equally depressingly, wholly unrealistic aspirations. I shall raise one aspect, of which the Minister ought to have some professional knowledge.

During Operation Panther’s Claw in July, parliamentary colleagues and I had the opportunity to visit Afghanistan. The Minister will remember that her right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary told the House of Commons, in the final debate before the House rose for the summer, that some 90,000 Afghan troops were already trained. However, he revealed that only 450 of them had been persuaded to join Panther’s Claw. Some 15,000 coalition troops were engaged in that ultimately unsuccessful operation. Why, therefore, do the Government have any confidence that, merely by training more relatively low-grade—as has been suggested—Afghan troops, they will be able to persuade them to confront the Taliban at a time when, to them, at least, the Taliban will appear to be winning?

Did the noble Baroness not feel some shame when she signed a Written Answer to me and, subsequently, a similar Written Answer to my noble friend Lord Lawson of Blaby, saying that the Government were unable to state the total cost of our military operations in Afghanistan because the MoD did not keep its books in that way? Will she take steps to ensure that the MoD sorts itself out, and will she provide that information, which must be crucial when judging what we can and cannot do?

I thank the noble Lord. I point out that answering Questions is often not possible, not because the MoD or anyone else does not keep its books properly, but perhaps because the nature of the Question made it very difficult to answer in the way that the noble Lord requested. Perhaps resubmitting a Question may be the easier way forward in terms of providing a clearer answer to the noble Lord.

On the security situation, we continue to work with the Afghan national security forces, and that is about improving security for the Afghan people. Many operations by ISAF and the Afghan security forces have been successful when they have been under the control of the Afghan Government. It is unfair and unsubstantiated to claim that there have been failures of the nature that have been described. What my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary was pointing out in the Statement was that in the London conference we sought more clarity on some of these issues and greater understanding that it is necessary for us, for instance, to talk to the Taliban. We need to work with the Afghan Government to separate people from the hard-line ideologues and draw them down into the domestic political processes. That was the objective of the London conference and it has been addressed very well. It makes not just the coalition forces but the Afghan leaders and people feel a lot more hopeful about their future. We should not underestimate that and should not have cynical views about what has been achieved.

Perhaps my noble friend would agree with me that the recent holding back of the attack on central Kabul was very successful and a good example of the progress being made by the Afghan army. On a wider issue, will she expand a little on what she said about Yemen? She referred directly to the rule of law or legal institutions. This is more than a regional problem. There is a belt of countries, from the Horn of Africa, through Yemen, the Middle East, Afghanistan and some of the central Asian republics, where the two central problems are the lack of any legal structures, other than very basic ones, and serious corruption. One can throw in democracy, but it is not always a stabilising force, as are the rule of law and battles against corruption. Can my noble friend say more about the European Union’s role whereby it could use its experience and resources to help those countries develop sophisticated efforts to deal with corruption and develop more structured forms of the rule of law?

I thank my noble friend. I am keen to state the extreme importance of the European Union in these matters. The high representative attended the London conference and was extremely interested in and supportive of the efforts that have been made to deal with Yemeni and Afghan issues at that conference. It is absolutely right to say that the resources of the European Union and its support for building regional integration and the efforts of the Yemeni Government to meet some of the chronic poverty, unemployment and other issues that they face would be very important. The Friends of Yemen group will offer targeted help, alongside the European Union and the coalition more generally, in areas of most need.

My Lords, it is good that we support the Afghan army, but there is a danger that we in the West rather overemphasise its operational capabilities and its leadership. To this extent, also, to hold the hand of friendship and parley with the aggressor, the Taliban, before we have it on one knee—or, preferably, two—is rather dangerous. We are dealing with a very proud people. Some will be attracted by land, money and jobs, but the talk in the coffee and tea shops of Quetta in Pakistan and elsewhere is very much that the Taliban is not losing but is in the ascendancy; that it is winning, and that the fact that we want to talk to it shows a weakness on our part.

I ask the Government, then, to beware. We are dealing with people who admire and respect power and strength, and we have to show that we have both. As a nation, we are actually fairly weak in some of those departments. I would be rather careful about meeting the Taliban and thinking it a friendly gesture when, at the time, it thinks that it is because we are weak. The reason that the President of Afghanistan asks for, and suggests that he will require, help for 10 to 15 years is entirely because of his weak government, and the fact that he does not get out among the tribes and realise that it is a tribal situation.

With the greatest respect to the noble Baroness, I believe that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office does not, in many ways, have the experience or the capability to know what the Taliban is really up to. We will find that it is like all guerrilla armies; it will go when it wants, leave when it wants and come when it wants, strengthened in purpose. It is a difficult situation and I do not mean to be depressed by it, but there is great work to be done and still a lot of fighting to get over.

I thank the noble Viscount, but I point out that our forces are in Afghanistan to prevent the return of al-Qaeda. The best way to achieve that is to create a secure and stable Afghan state. Our core strategy remains Afghanisation, which means training up Afghan security forces and getting them to take a lead role. We should continue with the mentoring partnering approach; I can assure the noble Viscount that that is creating improved opportunities for moving things forward. It is only when Afghan troops and police can secure Afghanistan for themselves that our troops will be able to come home.

As for the views of Afghan people, a BBC opinion poll of Afghans was released on 11 January where it is evident that the people of Afghanistan feel that they are benefiting from the clear progress being made in their country. It showed that the people of Afghanistan consistently rejected the Taliban, which, they clearly understand, only offers violence and destruction for them. Instead, they welcome the Government of Afghanistan, the international community and the initiatives that have been taken.

We are in Afghanistan militarily to prevent it becoming, once again, a safe haven for terrorists to threaten the UK and the rest of the world. That is a fine objective, and one which we all have to unite behind. By creating a stable and secure Afghanistan, the people of Afghanistan can also benefit from improved governance and a better social and economic situation. That has to be worth doing and is an imperative for us at this time.

My Lords, I shall follow on from the question of my noble friend Lord Marlesford. We know that the Afghan National Army is making far better progress than the Afghan National Police, but of course we will have to place great reliance on both forces. Is the Afghan National Army now able to undertake autonomous battalion-level operations at night?

Perhaps I may follow up an area of questioning from the noble Lord, Lord Howell, which—I say this in the nicest way—I do not think the Minister covered in her response. I refer to the whole area of responding to the more moderate Taliban elements, who we hope will come over to us. Can she say what planning or thought has gone into that? Will there be monitoring stations or similar receiving stations in each province? Who will handle the monitoring of individual Taliban who approach? Will they have to hand over their weapons? Has any thought been given to whether money will be paid out to them immediately or whether it will be phased over a period, and who will then be involved in the subsequent monitoring of the elements of the Taliban who have come over to us?

My Lords, all this will need to be led by the Afghan Government, because it is their initiative that will be funded by the trust fund. However, careful monitoring of the processes will take place. As I said earlier, it is about identifying those who are not the hard-liners and are far more likely to be enticed back into the domestic political processes. I think that we have to work with the Afghan Government in providing not “reconciliation and reintegration” but “reintegration and reconciliation”. The first process has to be building towards the reintegration of these individuals and then beginning a reconciliation process. It will involve exercises similar to those in other countries where the surrender of weapons, renunciation of violence and so on played a part. All those aspects of dealing with the transformation will be very important. Of course, the reintegration must be Afghan-led and inevitably it will be funded by the international community.