HC Deb 17 June 2002 vol 387 c18
15. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)

Whether the international security assistance force has helped with humanitarian aid missions in Afghanistan; and if he will make a statement. [58685]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon)

The primary role of the international security assistance force—ISAF—is to help the Interim Administration to maintain security in Kabul and its surrounding areas, but national contingents within ISAF have also been involved in a number of humanitarian projects. United Kingdom service personnel, in conjunction with the Department for International Development, have contributed to the rebuilding of Kabul's education system through helping with repairs to its schools. ISAF has also on occasion responded to critical emergencies to help to save lives. There has been no expansion in ISAF's mission as defined in the authorising United Nations Security Council resolutions.

Ann Clwyd

As my right hon. Friend knows, the security situation inside the country is worrying many people, especially as reports from Human Rights Watch and others say that troops attached to the warlords are running wild around the country, creating a climate of fear and instability. As peace is very tenuous in Afghanistan, many people believe that it is important that disarmament take place as soon as possible and that ISAF's capability be expanded. That was the view of the Government, and they argued in favour of it. Is it still possible that ISAF's role can be extended outside Kabul into the rest of the country so that the peace that exists there now, slight though it is, can be strengthened?

Mr. Hoon

It is important to present a balanced picture of what is happening in Afghanistan. Although my hon. Friend is right to draw attention to tensions caused by the continuing existence of well-armed rival factions, it is equally important to put into the balance the fact that there is an extremely successful Loya Jirga process that has built on efforts right across the country—that is, regional meetings ultimately leading to the present meeting in Kabul. Informed observers tell me that that demonstrates the Afghan people's determination to rebuild their country and to take the opportunity that has been provided to them.

I do not particularly recognise my hon. Friend's description of the situation around the country, but she is right to draw attention to the need to continue to have regard to it. I gave examples of where ISAF has, through its national contingents, operated outside Kabul, and I am sure that in such humanitarian circumstances that will continue.

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