HC Deb 08 September 2003 vol 410 cc10-1
13. Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton)

If he will make a statement on the security situation in Afghanistan. [128430]

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

We and our allies in NATO, in the coalition and more widely, continue to work to help the Afghan people bring greater security to their country. The United Kingdom's contribution to that effort is significant. We are an important troop contributor to the international security assistance force in Kabul. We lead the provincial reconstruction team in Mazar-e-Sharif and we are active in support for security sector reform.

Linda Gilroy

Given the tragic death of the two American soldiers in August, and given the attacks on non-governmental organisations such as Save the Children, may I press my right hon. Friend to say more about how the provincial reconstruction teams can be enabled to provide security throughout Afghanistan?

Mr. Hoon

I share my hon. Friend's concern about the deaths of not just members of the armed forces but of those working for NGOs—working hard to reconstruct Afghanistan. The whole point of the provincial reconstruction teams, however, is not just to provide a degree of military security but to bring together representatives of the Department for International Development and the Foreign Office so that they can unite in development work, and enable people in places such as Mazar-e-Sharif to feel reasonably confident that there is an international interest in development—and, crucially, that there is a central Government in Kabul who are responsible for the entire country.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)

Does the Secretary of State think it fair to say that the interim Government in Afghanistan have a reasonable amount of control over the metropolitan areas, but no influence or authority in the south-east? If that is so, does he accept that, while NATO has control at present—which I personally welcome—it is essential that the United States forces remain part of that NATO force?

Mr. Hoon

The hon. Gentleman's description of the situation in Afghanistan might have been accurate six months ago, when there was concern about the inability of the Government in Kabul to extend their authority elsewhere in the country. During those six months, however, the situation has improved steadily, and there are now clear signs that the Government in Kabul are extending their authority around the country. I accept that the south-east is experiencing some of the problems that are the most difficult to overcome—remnants of the Taliban remain in parts of the area—but there has been significant progress during those six months.

Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley)

Does my right hon. Friend believe that the position of women in Afghanistan and their human rights are now better than they were before the confrontation with the country?

Mr. Hoon

Their position is undoubtedly better than it was in the days of the Taliban. Schools have opened, women are being educated, and a much fairer, more tolerant society is developing. That is not to deny that there is still considerable progress to be made.

Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon)

What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the Pakistani and Afghan Governments' continuing concern about the number of al-Qaeda terrorists who are allegedly operating from Pakistan back into Afghanistan? Has he been asked to provide any extra special forces, and will he support the Americans in their endeavours to deal with this acute problem?

Mr. Hoon

The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight a particular area of difficulty. The border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan has been a source of difficulty not just since this particular conflict, but for hundreds of years. It provides a safe haven for terrorists who move from one country to the other to escape the security authorities on both sides of the border. What we need, and what we have been encouraging, is action by the two Governments working closely together, and working closely with coalition forces. We continue to try to bring that about.

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