My Lords, DfID is committed to maintaining development assistance to Afghanistan of £178 million per annum until at least 2017. Our assistance will be focused on supporting peace, security and political stability, improving lives and opportunities for women and girls, promoting economic stability, growth and jobs, and helping the state to deliver improved services.
I thank the Minister for that reply. He will know that violence against women in Afghanistan is continuing unabated. Only last weekend Mrs Shukria Barakzai, a prominent woman MP, survived a suicide attack. Will the London conference that is coming up signal a new emphasis on women’s rights and the economic empowerment of women, and will DfID also put more resources into the elimination of violence against women, which has become our national strategic priority?
The noble Earl is quite right to draw attention to the importance of the situation regarding violence against women in Afghanistan and to the importance of the London conference on Afghanistan, which will be opened by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister on 3 December. It certainly will be looking at that issue. The attempt on the life of Shukria Barakzai was awful. She was not badly hurt—just minor injuries. It is worth noting that progress is being made in relation to women. She is one of 69 women MPs.
My Lords, following on from the comment made by the noble Earl, will the Minister tell us what other plans there are for dealing with the security, protection and support of women human rights defenders, who of course have a huge role to play in the transition period in the future in Afghanistan? Does he agree with Amnesty International that a lot more could and should be done in Afghanistan on that point? For example, is the Minister able to confirm that DfID and the FCO have developed, as recommended in EU guidelines, a country-specific plan designed to improve the protection offered to human rights defenders in Afghanistan?
First, I congratulate the noble Baroness on the work that she does in this field. It is well acknowledged. She will be aware that there is a programme, which is jointly funded by Australia and the United Kingdom, dealing with violence against women. That is a very welcome development. This country should be very proud of what we do in relation to aid. We are committing, and spending, 0.7% of GNP, which is well above other nations. We should take pride in that as a Government and as a country. As I say, this issue will be addressed at the London conference: it is clearly a very important one.
Does my noble friend agree that the best thing we can do is to help build capacity and effectiveness in the parliamentary and presidential institutions in Afghanistan? To that end, will he look favourably at any programmes over the next four or five years that support the work of women in elective offices in Afghanistan? They are struggling to have their voices heard but they do have a very important role to play in the future development of their country.
My noble friend is absolutely right in that. It is of great significance that both President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah are set on a programme of democratisation in Afghanistan and improving civil institutions. It is worth noting that there are 69 women MPs in Afghanistan. Many of them will be at the London conference. It is also worth noting that there are now women in senior roles in business, public service, the police and, indeed, the army in Afghanistan. Progress is being made.
The noble and gallant Lord raises an important issue. This is about not just development but ensuring that the defence forces within Afghanistan are properly trained. There is a commitment of £70 million a year going forward towards that. We are training officers and the defence forces are now substantially Afghan led. We are not part of the defence forces as such but we send defence advisers and, as I say, people to assist with training at the defence academy there, which is run on Sandhurst lines and is known sometimes as Sandhurst in the sand. It is an important part of what we are doing out there.
My Lords, perhaps I may return to the London conference as I asked a supplementary question on it last week. Can we be assured that women will have a full role in the London conference and that the Government will take every possible step to ensure that they are able to participate by allowing them proper visa access?
I thank the noble Lord for that question. I do not think that anybody can doubt the Government’s commitment on this. There will be full participation by women. Anybody who doubts that has only to look at what the Secretary of State, my right honourable friend Justine Greening, is doing in that regard.
My noble friend is absolutely right to raise that key issue, which relates to education, antenatal care and health services for women. Substantial progress has been made. Currently, 6.7 million people are receiving education in Afghanistan, of whom 3 million are girls. Much still needs to be done but that is significant progress over the past decade.
The noble Lord raises a key point regarding the future development of Afghanistan and the seemingly intractable problem of dealing with the drugs trade. This demands a long-term solution not just in Afghanistan but on the streets of London and elsewhere in the West. Often noble Lords and others may think that Afghanistan is not a country rich in natural resources but it is worth noting that there are other sources of income. There are $2 trillion worth of minerals in Afghanistan. The challenge is to ensure that we develop that and ensure that the people of Afghanistan are the beneficiaries of it.
My noble friend is right that this is a key issue in Afghanistan. It is being addressed by the UK Government, not least in the way that the aid budget is handled. We can see that in Afghanistan with particular problems relating to the empowerment of women and to ensuring that violence against women is dealt with.