HC Deb 27 June 1984 vol 62 cc984-5
9. Mr. Churchill

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the policy of Her Majesty's Government towards Afghanistan.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

We should like to see a lasting and peaceful settlement on the basis set out in successive United Nations General Assembly resolutions. We look to the Soviet Union to open the way to such a settlement by declaring its willingness to withdraw. The Soviet military presence has caused immense suffering and destruction. Meanwhile, we shall continue to provide humanitarian assistance to the Afghan refugees who are the unfortunate victims of this conflict.

Mr. Churchill

Is my right hon. and learned Friend fully aware of the scale of this crime against humanity, perpetrated by the Soviet Union in its occupation of Afghanistan over the past four years, which has forced 4 million people, or one in four of the Afghan population, to flee their homeland to seek sanctuary in Pakistan or Iran? Will my right hon. and learned Friend leave his Soviet hosts next week in no doubt whatever as to the sense of outrage that persists in this country on this subject? Furthermore, will my right hon. and learned Friend, on his return, take steps to see that British aid and, in consultation with our allies, Western aid to the Afghan nation in its hour of need is increased from its present abjectly abysmal level, including the provision of air defence equipment for the Afghan resistance?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

My hon. Friend rightly raised several important questions on this subject. I entirely agree about the tragic impact of the invasion. At least one fifth of the pre-invasion population of Afghanistan have fled their homeland. I entirely agree also about the scale of the Soviet operation there, involving well over 100,000 Soviet troops in that country. I entirely agree about the scale on which this action has been condemned year after year in the United Nations and elsewhere, with overwhelming resolution. I have great sympathy for the remarkable effort of the Afghan people to defend themselves against this foreign invasion. It is clear from the continuing resistance that they are receiving some help. I am not prepared to make any further comments.

Mr. Ron Brown

Is it not time that the Secretary of State explained the role of Stewart Bodman, the British agent who was shot last year in Afghanistan? Is it not an open secret that the British Government are shelling out £3 million per year to the so-called Mujtahidin and other irregular forces in that country?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I have nothing to add to what I said in answer to a question on 18 June, on the first point, and I am not prepared to add to what I have already said on the second.

Mr. Ashdown

Will the Secretary of State explain why the Russians, or anybody else for that matter, should pay much attention to condemnations of crimes against humanity, such as are being committed in Afghanistan, while this Government and British industry are reputed to be the second largest exporter of repressive technology in instruments of torture to tyrannous regimes around the world?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The intemperance of the premise to the hon. Gentleman's question illustrates how misleading it is. To introduce such a concept in this context is totally absurd. The House, the United Nations and the world know that for four years over 100,000 Soviet troops have been deployed in Afghanistan. Quite rightly, that is regarded as indefensible.

Mr. Anderson

When the Foreign Secretary is in Moscow next week, will he raise with the Soviet leaders the question of the outrageous behaviour of the Soviets in Afghanistan? If he does so, will they not throw back at him the policies of the United States in Central America, which the British Government seek to defend in every possible way? Is not the moral stance of the West in regard to areas such as Afghanistan mightily jeopardised by American policy in Central America?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

It may well be that that point will be thrown back at me, but neither my position, the position of the West, not any of the causes that we want to advance, will be helped by the hon. Gentleman's attempt, even unconsciously, to draw a parallel between those two questions. That is quite unacceptable.