HC Deb 12 March 1980 vol 980 cc1309-11
1. Mr. Stoddart

asked the Lord Privy Seal what action he is taking to develop further his proposal to make Afghanistan into a neutral State.

3. Mr. David Atkinson

asked the Lord Privy Seal if he will make a further statement on proposals for the neutralisation of Afghanistan.

The Lord Privy Seal (Sir Ian Gilmour)

We believe that a declaration by an independent Afghan Government that Afghanistan should be neutral and nonaligned would be in accordance with that country's traditional role; with the needs of the present situation; and with the desire of people of the region for peace.

Since the concept of neutrality was put forward on 19 February, we and other members of the Nine have commended the proposal to the Soviet Government. We are speaking also to other countries.

Mr. Stoddart

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for that reply. Does he not agree that a constructive initiative of the sort undertaken by the Secretary of State is far preferable to trading insults across the world? If there is a significant response or gesture from the Soviet Union, will this influence the Government's position on sending a team of British athletes to the Olympic Games?

Sir I. Gilmour

I very much agree with the first part of the hon. Member's question. Of course an initiative of this sort is better than trading insults. However, I think the whole House will agree that it is for the Soviet Union to create conditions which are suitable for athletes to take part in the Olympic Games, and that means the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.

Mr. Atkinson

How confident is my hon. Friend that his proposal for a neutral, non-aligned Afghanistan is in accordance with the wishes of the people of that country? Is he aware that the only terms for neutrality that the Soviet Union will accept are likely to amount to the "Findlandisation" of Afghanistan, rather than neutralisation?

Sir I. Gilmour

I am not clear about the exact meanings of the terms that my hon. Friend has used. The suggested neutrality is the best way out of the present serious situation. As my hon. Friend appreciates, there is nothing new about neutrality for Afghanistan. It is very much in the traditions of that country.

Mr. Spriggs

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the autonomous Government of Afghanistan has the independent right to invite any State it wishes to come to its aid in the event of danger within its borders? What right have Britain and America to interfere in the affairs of Afghanistan, bearing in mind that a greeat deal of blood has dripped from the hands of both countries way back in history?

Sir I. Gilmour

What an extraordinary question. For one thing, it is not clear that the Government of Afghanistan are autonomous or that they asked the Soviet troops to come in. The only people who are interfering in Afghanistan at present are the 70,000 to 80,000 Soviet troops there.

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

What hope does my right hon. Friend have of the erection of an independent Afghanistan Government of whom he spoke in his original answer? Are there any signs at all that the Soviet Union will co-opreate in setting up such a Government?

Sir I. Gilmour

So far statements from the Soviet Union have expressed neither a willingness to carry matters forward nor a rejection of the proposal. If the Soviet forces withdraw, the sort of Government that we have in mind will be likely to appear in Afghanistan.

Mr. Shore

I see nothing but advance in the concept of a neutralised or nonaligned Afghanistan and I hope that this idea will prosper. Will the right hon. Gentleman say more about how the people of Afghanistan will be able to get a Government of their own choice in Kabul, if this proposal gathers momentum?

Sir I. Gilmour

There is a distinction, as the right hon. Gentleman will realise, between a neutralised Afghanistan and a neutral Afghanistan. The first indicates that this would be imposed. The second indicates that it would be voluntary, and that is what we have in mind.

As to the second part of the right hon. Gentleman's question, he will be aware that the democratic processes in Afghanistan are not exactly the same as they are in this country. It is, therefore, difficult to lay down in advance the exact procedures that would take place. Nevertheless, the fact that there are difficulties, to which he has drawn attention, and which I concede, do not invalidate the proposal in itself.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. This matter comes up on later questions.

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