HL Deb 25 April 1984 vol 451 cc95-120

8.52 p.m.

The Earl of Selkirk rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what progress has been made towards an international solution on Afghanistan, and what assistance they are providing for refugees fleeing the Soviet occupation.

The noble Earl said: I raise this Question because I think we should examine whether we are being complacent about what is happening in Afghanistan. All of us have read this morning about a great victory which has apparently been won by the Government troops. We have to remember, on reading reports from Afghanistan, that it is a place where there are no war correspondents and that the information we receive is that communicated by the Government in Kabul to Delhi. It is then reproduced in the media in this country. No doubt, many of your Lordships saw a picture of Russian tanks not in Afghanistan but, I presume, in the plains of the Ukraine, or some such place, to give an indication at least of what Russian tanks look like.

This war is a conflict between the great body of people in Afghanistan and a puppet of the Russian Government who differs only from the tyrant Timerlane in that Timerlane did his work in public while Mr. Karmal does it in private. We do not know exactly therefore what he is doing. One feature that can be learnt is that the Russians today have lost faith in the strength of their ideology. They are no longer convinced that the Marxist-Leninist creed will win the hearts of people. They have thrown their weight on the strength of the Russian Army. This takes us a step further. There are now three wars taking place between the Mediterranean and the Indus river or, shall I say, the Pakistan frontier. Wars are not too difficult to start but they are very difficult to stop. It is completely impossible to prevent them spreading. If three wars are taking place in states of moderate stability it will only be a matter of years before the Straits of Hormuz are closed. What effect that has on the economy I do not know, but probably less today than 10 years ago.

I should like now to mention the refugees. Twenty-five years ago there were about 1.25 million refugees in the world. There are now 10 million, half of them refugees from Afghanistan. That figure does not take account of refugees inside Afghanistan. Whether in the Horn of Africa, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, or anywhere else, there are people running away from communism. Inevitably, we are paying for this. It is a world problem. I should mention especially Pakistan, which is paying for at least half of the cost of the refugees. It is true, of course, that the High Commissioner for Refugees is probably meeting some of the costs, as are the voluntary societies.

I must also mention the work of the United Nations. For five years, the United Nations General Assembly, by a large majority—at least two-thirds—has called upon the Soviet Union to retire from Afghanistan. This call has been completely ignored. Russia is now of course in complete disagreement—or should I say revolt—from its undertaking as a member of the United Nations. The punishment for those who do not tell the truth or who do not fulfill their obligations is that no one believes them in the future. That is, I fear, a great complication in the wider and perhaps more important negotiations that have been taking place in Europe. I have seen it reported that the World Council of Churches is in favour of Russian action. That may not be true. If, however, it is, I feel aggrieved that it should be so. We should pay full tribute to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Perez de Cuellar, and his deputy, Mr. Cordovez, for the work that they have done. They have stretched themselves to the limit, year by year, to try to make some impact, with I fear little effect on the Russians.

The reign of terror that has lasted more or less since the revolution of 1978 has been almost entirely due to the formation of communist parties in Afghanistan. The party was started in about 1965 and has since been quarrelling within itself. Like so many communist parties, it has divided into at least four branches. The question that most people ask is whether Russia has stumbled and then fallen into a bog or have they followed, perhaps more accurately, the testament of Peter the Great—the testament which says, "Go South"? There is certainly some strong evidence that it is towards the South that the Soviets have been moving. Their explanation for what they are doing is wholly unsatisfactory. The Soviet ambassador at the United Nations said it was an internal affair for Afghanistan. Twelve divisions of Russian troops hardly make it look like a purely internal affair. Mr. Brezhnev complained about outside interference. Yet at present no evidence has been satisfactorily produced of outside interference. The leader writer, Mr. Bonin of Izvestia, said that there were fears of religious extremism. If anything has created religious extremism, it is the conduct of the Russians at present.

It is clear that there was considerable preparation in the Soviet organisation of the Army before this adventure took place. They proceeded, as has been the usual practice in recent years in Afghanistan by assassinating the Prime Minister as the man in charge. It was a well organised scheme. A special party that might be described as similar to the SAS was sent to the palace with the strictest order that no one should escape. We do not know therefore what happened inside. All we know is that no one escaped and that following a fight about 2,000 people were destroyed. It is not without interest that the Russian commander accidentally walked outside and was immediately shot by his own side. Thereafter a recorded television broadcast of Mr. Karmal was shown in Kabul a week before he turned up himself. He is believed to be a member of the KGB.

It is important to give some idea of what is happening in Afghanistan at present. It is said that the Russians are confined to the towns and that the country is unaffected. Ruthless brutality is being conducted; and I am bound to say that neither the Afghans nor the Russians have a particularly good record in the treatment of prisoners. I would not pretend that they have. It is quite clear that the towns are not very safe places for Russians to walk about in. Kandahar has been extremely badly bombed and I am told that at present the Government have lost control of it. A large part of Western Herat has been destroyed by bombs; and what is more significant, it is stated that half the hospitals and schools in Afghanistan have already been destroyed. Villages have been destroyed continuously and any stragglers promptly executed. What is perhaps more damnable, if I may say so, is the invention by chemical engineers, no doubt in Moscow, of scatter bombs, some of which resemble toys or maybe watches. One only has to touch them and one has lost a limb. This is the way in which it is being conducted. It is important to remember that the opposition, the Mujahadin, are unpaid. It is a voluntary war on their side. They are the "warriors of god", and it is basically a union of religious antagonism to what they call a godless civilisation from Russia. It seems to me that the Russians are showing no sign of using what we call the "heart and mind", or indeed of promoting their ideology. They are using exclusively force.

What can we do? This is the question which I am asking my noble friend. Are we being complacent or are we taking any part in this? The first action that we took was to ask my noble friend Lord Carrington to go to Moscow. He went there representing all the Western powers of Europe. His proposal was the neutralisation of Afghanistan. That is clearly the proper course to take and there is no reason why Russia should not accept that. There is something of the story of Little Red Riding Hood about this, because for many years relations between Afghanistan and Russia were good. The Russians did a lot to help the Afghans. Suddenly it has turned sour, to the bitterest and most brutal of wars. It is unlikely that the Russians can ever be pushed out. What they may do is to stay there for 20 years and, to use the famous words of Tacitus, "make a desert and call it peace". That is probably the only course which they can take.

What we can do is to ensure that what is happening there receives the widest possible publicity so that no-one should be in doubt as to what the Russians are capable of doing or are doing. We should recognise what Pakistan has done—so far as I can gather, with a remarkable amount of harmony—in taking on 3 million refugees. It is not an easy task and not one which can easily be paid for by Pakistan, which is not a very rich country. Certainly we should support to the utmost the secretary general in all he does. I believe that in every way he has put his heart and soul into trying to find a solution there. Voluntary organisations can help to see that medicine, clothes, food and other requirements are brought in, and we should do that.

I should particularly like to mention a very fine French organisation called "Medicine Sans Frontières"—"Doctors to all parts of the World". From all I have learnt they are doing a first-class job. There is information now coming through to Russia. People who are wounded are more trouble than people who are dead. The information is now spreading. A number of reports are coming out bit by bit in the Russian papers. It is possible that the Russians may be willing to compromise. This is a course we should exploit. I am not prepared to say that we should not pay something or be prepared to agree to something of a compromise. I am quite certain that there are the strongest possible reasons why this must stop. If it does not stop then we should leave Russia in no doubt whatever that their conduct is a disgrace to civilisation and that what they are doing will neither be forgotten nor forgiven.

9.6 p.m.

Lord Gladwyn

My Lords, we must express our thanks to the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, for raising this question at this moment. We have not debated it for some time and it is a very good thing that we should debate it now. I think I can agree with everything the noble Earl has said. I doubt that we are being unduly complacent; perhaps we are, but I should like to think that perhaps we are not. I am going to make certain suggestions later on as to what we might do; otherwise I agree entirely with what the noble Earl has said.

Unless I am wrong, the present situation is that the Russians hold most of the towns, at least by day, and that the greater part of the extremely mountainous country is now, after four years of occupation, still substantially in revolt. The total population, thanks to this enormous emigration of 4 million people, has been reduced by anything up to 30 per cent. and the fall in agricultural production, so I am told, is absolutely catastrophic. There is general misery, therefore, as a result of the appalling action taken by the Soviet Government, to which the noble Earl drew attention.

Nobody knows whether the latest offensive against the Panjshir will be successful. I am told that the tactics of the Russian army are now considerably better than they were, unfortunately, and it may be that this time it will be successful in occupying the Panjshir Valley. After all, they have claimed success in that two or three times before and it has not worked out that way. When the tanks come back down the valley the freedom fighters come down from the mountain tops and the situation is much as before.

I would like to peer for a moment into the future and consider how this awful situation may eventually work out. Can Soviet occupation go on indefinitely? That is a question which was raised by the noble Earl. As I understood it, his answer was, "Yes, it could". I agree that it could do so, provided that there is no failure of will on the part of the Politburo to pursue a war which, besides being very expensive, is becoming more and more unpopular in Russia itself. I think that the Politburo could do that—in spite of what I have said—if it wants to do so, and provided that the freedom fighters of various kinds, the Mujahidin, continue their guerrilla operations of some kind and are not forced, by one means or another—and notably by starvation in the long run—to abandon the struggle altogether.

What can we do about it?—and by "we" I mean the West generally. I think that the general line should be, in the first place, by one means or another to encourage the insurgents to go on with their resistance and to this end to provide them, if we can, with small but efficient anti-helicopter weapons which can be operated by one man. I am told by local experts that that is what they really want. If they can get such weapons then the helicopters cannot come in low, but will have to keep up high and thus their destructive capability is that much less and the morale of the insurgents is therefore enormously increased. I do not know whether these weapons, which are not very large, could be got in somehow or other, but I sincerely hope so. I also hope that by one means or another—and I do not know quite where—certain members of the resistance could be trained in their use. If the West is capable of that kind of action it would have a very good effect on prolonging the resistance of the Mujahidin.

Secondly, the West could provide through the United Nations—which I agree is doing wonders—funds to see to it that at least the 3 million refugees in Pakistan (and I think that they are nearly all Pashtuns; they come and go, but broadly speaking 3 million are still there) are kept alive with their families. Thirdly—and this is perhaps more debatable—we should maintain by constant propaganda and by other means, pressure on the Soviet Union to arrive at some agreement with the rebels which might perhaps in the long run save face on both sides. I believe that it is noteworthy that even the so-called "uncommitted nations" have not lately been seeking to excuse the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, which of course is quite inexcusable in itself. Indeed, I feel that it might be possible to enlist a good many of the non-committed nations in a movement to induce the Russians to consider a solution broadly speaking similar to the third aim which I have put forward.

The whole situation is most unstable and hence dangerous from the general international point of view. Nobody seems to be quite certain what the future policy of Pakistan is likely to be; nobody can be quite certain—as was hinted by the noble Earl—that the Russians might not profit by events in Baluchistan in order effectively to reach the Persian Gulf. If that happened there is no concealing the fact that the danger of World War III would loom. Perhaps, therefore, in the long run, the best hope—and I only say that it is the best hope—is that the two super powers, conscious of the undoubted fact that a real clash between them could only result in the destruc-tion of both—might arrange, in the context of some new policy of detente, that Afghanistan should, in effect, revert to its original status of a "buffer state", each super power giving guarantees, if they be necessary, that the new buffer state would in no case be used as a pawn to be advanced in some fearful "power play" against the other.

The advantages of such a solution from the point of view of both super powers are, on the face of it, so obvious that one need not despair, perhaps, of its ultimate achievement even if, human nature being what it is, there is no occasion to be particularly optimistic in this respect. Nor would such an arrange-ment necessarily come about in the context of what is now known geographically as Afgahnistan. The essential thing about the buffer state is that it should at least comprise all the tough warring elements between the Hindu Kush and the Durand Line, under the loose control of some central administration of a neutral character in Kabul.

This is perhaps the stuff that dreams are made of, but unless the Afghan rebels completely despair of any real support from the outside world—who knows?—dreams might, after all, come true. We must now maintain the morale of the freedom fighters by means that I have suggested, and perhaps by some other means, and at the same time persuade the Soviet Government that the continuance of the present struggle is not in their own interests, as indeed it is not in the interests of anybody else.

9.14 p.m.

Lord Caccia

My Lords, like other noble Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, for raising this timely Question. I hope that it will be equally welcome to the Government, for it is in our national interest that the Soviet leaders should not be persuaded by silence to entertain the belief that the rest of the free and third world have, by a mere effluxion of time, begun to forget, let alone to condone, the occupation of Afghanistan. Of course, no one here would imagine that the Soviet Government would be ready to withdraw because of mere words alone. But, equally, we should not altogether forget that there have been rare instances since 1945 when the Soviet Union have been ready—even under Stalin and Khrushchev—to retreat from areas which they might claim to be within their cordon sanitaire—namely, Finland, the north of Persia and Austria.

What were the basic factors which persuaded them to do so in those cases? Basically, surely, there was the realisation that the game of occupation was not worth the candle in the light of the continuing hostility of the local population and of world opinion, which was then led by the United States, ourselves and France. That was on certain conditions: the so-called "Finlandisation" in the case of Finland, and neutrality and reparation in the case of Austria.

How might these factors apply to Afghanistan? The peoples of Afghanistan have certainly shown that they have no wish to succumb to Russian occupation now any more than on previous occasions. But, as others have mentioned—and it has been reported in the press—the tribal structure of Afghanistan has so far impeded the formation of the degree of political and military unity which can be recognised as an alterna-tive government to the Soviet puppet regime which is established in Kabul. Added to this, new weapons—for instance, the ruthless use of cannon helicopters, missiles and other weapons—have made a radical difference to the terms of warfare which in the last century in the mountains depended so largely on small arms against small arms; in other words, the bravery of the Afghans and their resistance is not likely of itself to be sufficient in terms of military resources expended and casualties suffered to force the Soviet Union to seek some means of terminating its military occupation.

However, equally, I trust that it does not mean that all the same we can be helpless bystanders. After all, we should be warned. When Stalin was asked whether he was not well satisfied that the Soviet Army had captured Berlin, he said, perhaps half in jest, but it was a jest of some seriousness, "Yes, but under the Czars we reached Paris". In the case of Afghanistan, the Soviet Government may claim some satisfaction in occupying a country which the Czars never achieved, and maybe is counting on the fact that early in its history the Soviet army had fought an unhurried 10-year war against the Bismachi in central Asia—the lessons learned then, now apparently being applied 50 years later in Afghanistan.

What, then, can the free world do? It was surely understandable that the initial reaction was against participation in such international gatherings as the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow and for the tightening of restrictions on exports of goods of high technology, including those needed for the completion of the gas pipeline to western Europe. But, foreseeably, such measures were not sufficiently effective to persuade the Russians to seek a way out of Afghanistan—and that despite various repeated efforts to reach an adjustment which would give the Soviet Union certain guarantees.

It is here important to know whether Her Majesty's Government are prepared to seek what pressure can still be kept up by other means, and to show the Soviet leaders that they will not be allowed to impose their will scot-free. For instance, these are the questions which I trust the noble Baroness will welcome the opportunity to answer. What can be done to furnish arms to those who still have the courage to fight for their freedom? Would the proposals put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, find an echo? What continuing aid will we be prepared to provide on our own account or internationally to the refugees who have preferred exile to submission? We have already heard of what Pakistan herself is prepared to do. Can we match this? What efforts are we making or do we intend to make to secure a European front in the Community to show that the EEC is not unconcerned with a small, far-off country and to follow up the initiative taken by a previous British Foreign Secretary, Lord Carrington, which has already been mentioned today? What more can be done to ensure that the United Nations continues to support its Secretary-General and that the nub of the matter is kept in mind—that is, the withdrawal of Soviet troops?

What also can Her Majesty's Government do to ensure that the British public know, with the example of Afghanistan before them, what kind of regime they are dealing with? I use the phrase advisedly, for was it not the one used by Kadar in attempting to warn Dubcek before the invasion of Czechoslovakia? "Don't you know", he asked him, "the kind of people you are dealing with?" There may be no exact parallels with Finland nor Persia nor Austria—the latest country so successfully to shake off Russian occupation—but I cannot myself altogether forget the remark dropped by my Russian colleague when I was High Commissioner in Austria during the seemingly endless negotiations for a state treaty. He was himself a Soviet general who had fought his way to Vienna against the Nazis. He was thus, he said, in a position to assure me that where the Soviet army had won its way at great sacrifice there could be no question of retreat. I am ready to accept that he believed that, yet, in the course of a few years and at the end of protracted negotiations, the state treaty was achieved and the Russians did go. Let this perhaps be some encouragement, although the parallel is not, as I said, exact.

One of the vital factors is present in Afghanistan; the will to resist despite the odds. I hope that the noble Baroness in replying to this Question will be able to assure us and others that, as far as lies within our power, we shall be ready to show an equal determination and a calm persistence in opposing continued occupation of this suffering country.

9.23 p.m.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, no one could say that the first three speeches this evening have been full of blatant optimism. Yet I find myself rather more pessimistic than any of the three speakers who have preceded me, in so far as the possibility might exist of a successful outcome either of the efforts of the Secretary-General of the United Nations (which have been rightly commended) or of any other international movement towards a settlement of this issue. My reasons for this pessimism relate to my belief that we constantly underestimate, in discussing Soviet moves in Afghanistan or indeed in other parts of the world, the ability of the Soviet Union to plan for a long time ahead, to carry though its plans and to stick to the commitment that it has made—although, as the noble Lord, Lord Caccia, has reminded us, there may be circumstances—although I find them difficult to see in the present case—when they have beaten a retreat.

In the case of Afghanistan, as I think the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, pointed out, this is an area, a country, which was coveted as the rounding off of the Russian conquest of Moslem Central Asia for a very long time. The balance was held and Afghanistan retained its independence—as the other ancient principalities of that area did not—for one very simple reason written in our own military annals, the presence to the south of the British Raj and the Indian Army. We did, after all, fight a number of wars to prevent this precise thing coming about. It was the balance of power that preserved the buffer state. And buffer states are normally only preserved by a balance of power. The main difficulty is that, since 1947, with the partition of the Indian sub-continent, that balance has been removed and Pakistan, in a way, has inherited our position and is clearly much to be praised for what it has done for the refugees, but is obviously in no position to do more.

The Soviet preparations for what is now going on in Afghanistan go back to 1954, 30 years ago, when they began a programme of assistance with the country's infrastructure, the roads, airstrips and its connections to the Soviet communication network, which has been of such great assistance to the Soviets in their invasion and in supporting their troops in the country. That complete, it was followed by a period in which the Soviet Union made itself the principal arms supplier and—perhaps more important—the principal source of training for Afghan officers. In the mid-1970s, as I think the noble Earl reminded us, political activity began with the gathering together of people discontented, no doubt, for one reason or another, beneath the banner of communism.

The events whch precipitated the present situation arose with the murder of President Daoud in 1978 followed by the setting up of a pro-Soviet régime—and the pattern could be repeated elsewhere—which, in turn, invited in civil and military advisers to strengthen its hand. These were at that time ineffective. There was large-scale rebellion, the replacement of one communist ruler of the country by another and then an invasion—and I do not know whether it took the intelligence services of the West at large by surprise—which in retrospect was certainly very carefully prepared and which contrasts pehaps with some operations that western countries have improvised in recent decades.

Therefore, it seems to be highly improbable that this long-term investment—30 years to bring about the present position—is something which the Soviet Union undertook lightly or would abandon except on some very powerful consideration. Again, the noble Earl reminded us that our sources of information are not of the best; but we are told by people who claim to know these things that by now there may be in the country as many as 200,000 troops—which is a very large force for a country which, though mountainous and difficult, is still a small country in world terms. We know what the immediate advantages and threats are, and this does increase the pressure on Pakistan and particularly on Baluchistan. It brings the Soviet power closer to the Gulf and, as the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, reminded us, that is in itself a serious matter.

However, it seems to me that there is another and even greater danger, though one which may not emerge for decades; and this is where we ought to be directing much more of our attention than we are. That is the threat to India. The Indian Government—and here I think I must disagree, if I may, with the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, about the uncommitted world because in the so-called uncommitted world India is the largest and most important country—has shown great reluctance, at least publicly, to regard Soviet control of Afghanistan as in any way a threat in itself. Yet when one reads that the Indian Government is increasingly looking to the Soviet Union as a principal supplier of arms, one must wonder whether there is not the beginning—and, as I say, it may be decades—of a Soviet attempt to push India off the uncommitted fence and on to its own side. The fact that Marshal Ustinov's visit to India, though postponed by the death of Mr. Andropov, was not postponed for very long, suggests to me that it is India to which the Soviet Union attaches most importance. The only prospect I can see of a change in the balance of power or of a change in the political climate which whould be sufficient to make the Soviet Union re-think its position would be a change in the attitude of the Indian Government.

Meanwhile, my noble friend the Minister has, not unreasonably, been asked what Her Majesty's Government propose to do. I am sure that on assistance to the refugees there is general agreement and that we can expect continued assistance to be given to the Government of Pakistan, upon whom inevitably, for geographical reasons, the main burden of maintaining and of finding some kind of livelihood for these people rests.

I am a bit more doubtful, I must admit, perhaps on—I do not like to say "on moral grounds"— moral-prudential grounds, about the idea that we ought to give armed assistance to the dissidents. If we thought either that they were capable of military victory or if we believed (and I am more doubtful, I think, than some noble Lords) that the effect of Soviet losses would have so great an impact on the Soviet public that it might affect the issue, in those two cases there seems to me to be at any rate a reasonable argument for giving military assistance in the form of the weapons described by the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, or in any other form that we thought appropriate.

But if one believes, as I do, that there is very little chance of either of these, ought we to give weapons which will encourage more brave men to go out and be killed without affecting the ultimate result? It is rather different from a government making a commitment with its own forces. One is making a commitment with other people's lives, and that is a commitment which I think one ought not to undertake unless one is fairly certain that the advantages outweigh the sacrifices one is being asked for.

This may not be the position of Her Majesty's Government. I am sure that they will wish, as the noble Lord, Lord Caccia, said, to continue to make it clear that this occupation is unacceptable, and, in particular, perhaps to make it clear that Soviet conduct in respect of Afghanistan will help to mould our judgments about the activities of the Soviet Union and its client states in other parts of the world.

I began by saying that one advantage which the Soviet Union had was the capacity for long-term planning without the problems of Congress or even of your Lordships' House to face. There is another advantage, which is that in geopolitical and psychological terms it holds the middle line. It is at the centre and looks at the world as a whole. It does not distinguish—though it may in terms of urgency—between the spreading of its regime or its friends or its clients in one part of the world and another; whereas our tendency, fortified perhaps by the way in which our Foreign Offices are normally constructed, is to treat each case in isolation and not to look to the lessons which could be learned from Soviet activity in one country about Soviet activity halfway across the world. We have to try to take at least as global a view of Soviet activity as the Soviet Union does of ours. If that, too, is a lesson learned, the sacrifices will not altogether, in the very long run perhaps, have been in vain.

9.37 p.m.

Lord Greenhill of Harrow

My Lords, I have no profound past knowledge of Afghanistan on which to draw and must rely, like the rest of us, on the unreliable press reports and on occasional contacts with those who have been nearer the scene of the crime. Fortunately, the Minister herself has recently travelled in those parts and I hope, therefore, that we shall have from her her authoritative impressions of the situation in the Afghanistan area.

Like other speakers, I should like to thank the noble Earl for directing our attention to these deplorable events in Afghanistan. It has long been the purpose of the Soviet Union and its associates to keep the limelight off this situation; to allow it to become a forgotten war and to permit the conscience of the world to forget it, if not forgive it. It is essential, therefore, that the international interest should be maintained and, indeed, greatly increased.

It so happens that the press today contains items referring to this situation—the news, correct or incorrect, of the guerrilla reverses in Afghanistan, the problems set out in an interesting article in The Times, about the difficulties of organising unity among the guerrillas, and also tonight, which because of this debate we are missing, there is a film on the BBC made by somebody who has recently been inside the Afghanistan border.

Members of the House will recall that the USSR has been roundly condemned by large majorities in the United Nations, including the great majority of the non-aligned countries to whom the Russians usually look, if not for support at least for silence. Yet many people in this country continue to avert their eyes, or to equate events in Afghanistan with events elsewhere—even, for example, the liberation of Grenada. Those who draw that particular parallel seem readily to forget that the Russians promptly murdered the man who, they alleged, had invited them in.

The noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, asks two questions: how can the refugees be helped, and how can the war be brought to an end? As for the refugees, it is incredible to think that the war has added at least 4 million to the world's tragic total of persons driven from their homeland. It is a staggering figure, representing a greater number than the population of very many respected individual members of the United Nations. The noble Baroness has seen the situation for herself and we are anxious to hear about her impressions.

I believe, however, that we must draw some small consolation from the fact that the plight of these wretched people is less heartrending than that of their counterparts in many other areas of the world. This is due to the international generosity of many countries, including our own, and in particular to the generosity of the Pakistan Government and some of the Moslem countries of the Middle East. The United Nations Refugee Organisation has played an admirable part, and in the last few hours we have learned that delegates to the UNICEF conference are making a special effort to deal with the problems of the children affected by the war. This international effort obviously should be maintained and increased.

There is one small but important way in which we can help and I believe that the Home Office has taken, on the whole, an enlightened view. That is, we should permit a few individual refugees to continue their professional training—I do not mean military training —in this country before returning to their homeland. Members of the House will remember that some years ago there was great pressure to help the refugees from Chile. And we did help them. We could do the same thing, perhaps on a smaller scale, for the Afghans.

In this debate it would also be right to pay particular tribute to the voluntary organisations in this country which have given help, notably the Afghan Support Committee, which is now, I understand, renamed. They have done well to help the refugee situation in the face of a public opinion which is not particularly responsive to the plight of the Afghans. However, the real, urgent need would appear to be to help the Mujahadin within the borders of Afghanistan—the victims of the policy of terror which the Russians and the puppet government pursue.

Some of your Lordships may have seen a recent striking article on foreign affairs by Dr. Claude Malhuret, the director of the French organisation to which the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, referred, which sends doctors within Afghanistan. I should like to quote what he says: The Russians believe that a war involving guerrillas and anti-guerrillas would never be won if the emphasis was placed on being in the good graces of the population. On the contrary, the war would be won by the side that succeeded in making terror reign. That is exactly what they are trying to do in Afghanistan—no nonsense about winning the hearts and minds of the people. In pursuit of this policy, they lay waste the countryside, burning the crops, destroying the farms, shooting up herds and dropping, as the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, related to your Lordships, anti-personnel mines which are particularly designed to attract the attention of the children who tend the flocks. These are the Afghan people who certainly need humanitarian help. If there are any young, unemployed doctors in this country, there is certainly work to do in Afghanistan. In this respect, the French have set a splendid example.

Would it also be unfair to suggest that Western journalists (with some notable exceptions) have shown less enterprise in Afghanistan than they have in areas where they believe it is possible to point a finger at the other super power? I am very glad that the BBC are, as I have said, showing tonight a film on events within Afghanistan.

What should be done about arms for the Mujahadin? Like the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, I would hesitate to advocate that Her Majesty's Government should directly supply. But equally, they should certainly not obstruct the sale of arms nor obstruct the transport of arms. There is some doubt as to whether there is really a shortage of equipment. I am led to believe that there is not. Arms are coming from many sources—not least from the captures made by the guerrillas. But, as other speakers have said, there is certainly as yet no effective answer to the helicopters which are the main instruments of the terror policy to which I have referred. There is also a need for the training of personnel, and I see no reason why friendly countries should not put training facilities at the disposal of the Afghanistan guerrilla forces.

How is the war to be ended? At the moment, military defeat of the puppet regime by the guerrillas in the short or medium term is highly unlikely if not impossible. Is there any alternative to accepting that, in the long term, Afghanistan will find itself a part of the USSR? It is only realistic to admit that this is a possibility, and indeed a probability, with all the consequences which the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, indicated.

In this divided and unsettled world, the Soviet Union, I am sure, feels that it has legitimate policy reasons for the invasion; reasons both defensive and offensive. First, to protect its homeland, not least from disturbing Islamic trends; secondly, to provide a jumping-off point for the historic policy of penetration to the warm waters of the Gulf. These old Russian Imperial policies persist in much of current Soviet policy.

The Russians no doubt anticipated a quick victory and short international memories. Instead, they are bogged down in a savage and costly struggle. Actual Russian war casualties are said to be comparatively light; some few thousands killed. But the figures for sickness and disease are high. As other speakers have said, we must assume that these facts are gradually becoming known within the Soviet Union. Although the Soviet Government do not have to worry about vociferous public opinion, they cannot be comfortable about the situation, which suits neither the Politburo nor the people.

Are there any policies which the international community can jointly follow and which have some small chance of bringing the war to an end? I suggest that like-minded countries in the international community could profitably co-operate in the following four ways. First, by focusing the maximum international attention upon events in Afghanistan. This can be effectively done through United Nations, and the media of the free world have an inescapable responsibility to do this. The BBC Overseas Service has the important role of reminding its listeners of Afghanistan. My impression as a devoted listener is that it has not paid sufficient attention to events there.

Secondly, the international community could continue to lend material support to the refugees outside Afghanistan and give military, humanitarian and organisational assistance to those struggling within the country. The third course of action, I suggest, might be to encourage the existing erratic negotiations under United Nations initiative. There is always an outside chance that events will unexpectedly combine to assist them. Fourthly, the international community could work ceaselessly to diminish tension in the Middle East area and to bring reconciliation to the warring nations in the Gulf.

It may take a long time, but the Afghans have always shown a strong and stubborn national Islamic consciousness. If the international community can work together on these points, each country concentrating on what it can do best, there may be some hope. Above all, if there can be a reduction of tension between the super powers I would not despair of reaching a situation in which a genuinely non-aligned Afghan Government and a repatriation of refugees would meet with acceptance by the USSR and by the other neighbours, including China.

9.52 p.m.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan is deplorable on all counts. It is bad for the people in that it kills them, causes them suffering, terrifies them, and turns them into refugees. It is bad for the world as a whole because the world is worse when it has to put up with this kind of unrectified injustice. It is also bad for super-power relations, to which I shall come in a moment.

It is the most glaring of a class of actions which now exist in the world; that is, the action of militarily occupying or dominating a country which does not want to be occupied, or to which the actions are so far-fetched as to be irrelevant or absurd. There is a list of rogue countries—pariah countries, almost. We all know the list. The justification for using those hard words is one of common sense, which is also generally broadly reflected in United Nations' resolutions and in the decisions of the International Court of Justice. Countries which are in this class lower their moral credit in the world by occupying other countries against their will. It is as simple as that.

Russia is, of course, and has been for a long time, the obvious leader of this group. That stands out a mile. In 1914 there were 11 European empires. The Russian empire is the only one left. In origin it was not very different from the other 10, but somehow it never got withdrawn from, as did the rest. Russia accumulated the Baltic states just before the Second World War, and it accumulated Northern Japanese territories just after. It accumulated military dominion over Eastern Europe just after, and the noble Lord, Lord Caccia, was right to remind us that it subsequently evacuated Finland, Persia, and Austria. Since then it has invaded Czechoslovakia twice, Hungary once, and, despite prolonged and brutal guerrilla resistance, invaded and held on to the subject of our debate this evening, Afghanistan.

This is the example which has been followed to a much lesser degree—but we must remember that it has been followed—by certain other countries. I shall name several. There is Israel—since 1967—which at present stands by right of invasion in military occupation of territory belonging to Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon, and has achieved peace only with one of its four neighbours, Egypt. Then there is South Africa, which for many years, against the opinion of the United Nations and the world community, has occupied Namibia. Maybe here there is hope. In recent weeks there has been obscure news—so obscure that it is perhaps permissible to believe that it may be sheltering better moves than we know have taken place; or it may all be a snare and a deception. We have to wait and see.

Closely linked with the South African occupation of Namibia and a part of Angola is the Cuban military presence. I would not go quite so far as to call it occupation, but it is certainly unwarranted and absurd in Angola, and even more so in the Horn of Africa. That is the fourth of my list of rogue countries. The fifth is very obvious indeed; it is Vietnam, an ally of the Soviet Union, which has remained in extraordinarily brutal military occupation of an already brutalised country, Cambodia, for several years now.

I have run through the list in order to raise in a minor key the worry which I have, and which perhaps many people in this country have, although we do not yet talk about it much, about our closest and most powerful friend in the world, the United States. The noble Lord, Lord Beloff, praised those journalists who get in somewhere difficult and point the finger at the real villain, as in Afghanistan, as opposed to getting into easy places and pointing the finger at an alleged villain, the United States. I agree, but if any finger pointing is to be done, it is more useful to do it before things go wrong, rather than after. That is what I hope your Lordships will understand that I am doing this evening.

It is not very long since the United States got out of a dreadful situation of military occupation and oppression in Vietnam. It got out without credit after terrible loss to itself and after inflicting even more terrible loss on that very small and backward country. We recently debated vivaciously—I think more vivaciously than some of us look back to with much pleasure in this House—the United States invasion of Grenada. It was a small thing indeed compared with the list of four countries through which I have run. It turned out to be all for the best. It turned out to be desired by the people of Grenada, and it put an end to an atrocious and ridiculous tyranny that had come about. The noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, was right to point out the difference in the fact that the Americans did not do away with Sir Paul Scoon when they got there, as the Russians had done away with the apparently legal authority in Afghanistan when they got there. There is however a nagging similarity. As Lord Greenhill reminded us, the predecessor of Babrak Karmal is alleged to have invited the Russians in, but they never produced the text of the invitation. Sir Paul Scoon is alleged to have invited the Americans in, but nobody has ever produced the text of the invitation. He invited the Organisation of East Caribbean States to help him. He "asked for help", in his own words, but there is no extant invitation to the United States to land 5,000 men on that little island.

I mention this because around the world it is a difficult point to answer. When you say to countries which are in the Soviet camp, or are teetering on the edge of the Soviet camp, "Why can't you condemn the Soviet Union about Afghanistan?" they always come back with Grenada. To us it is ridiculous. To a balanced eye it is ridiculous to come back with such a small thing against such a big thing, but they do it and it is worth remembering that they do it.

The Central American situation is more worrying. Nothing has yet occurred on the scale that we are talking about in the case of the other four or five countries that I mentioned. But yesterday it was reported that one year ago there were 150 United States military advisers in Salvador and Honduras and that today there are 1,800 permanently there—a figure which rises to 2,600 at exercise time. We know that in the exercises called "Big Pine I and II" the United States lands 10,000 of its troops—they are not military advisers of course; they are just United States troops— in Honduras on the six military airfields it has built for 50 million dollars. We know that in a few weeks there is to be an exercise called, "Ocean Venture I", which will deploy 350 United States ships off the coasts of Central America and will engage 30,000 United States servicemen.

This is not invasion; it is not occupation. But it certainly threatens invasion. It looks as though invasion is being rehearsed, and the whole world knows the country the invasion of which is being rehearsed. There is also to the south of those countries a considerable, permanent and forgotten American presence, by agreement, in the independent state of Panama.

We are not in this country one of the list of four. We have not been for a generation, nor is anybody else in Western Europe, and we are not likely to be. If the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan does any good in the world, which seems most unlikely, it will be perhaps to hold up to the world the continuing image—and I agree with other noble Lords who have spoken that it is our duty to shed light on that continuing image and to keep it perpetually before the eyes of mankind—of how one's relations with other countries should not be conducted. The Soviet Union so often appears as the kind of super-power which cannot tolerate a government of another kind on its frontiers, or sometimes even within two or three frontiers of its frontiers, as in Eastern Europe. It is a standing example of how not to behave.

Besides our major duty to throw light on that continuing bad example, I believe that there is also a minor duty which falls upon the shoulders of those countries which do not do that kind of thing and would not dream of it, such as ourselves and the rest of the Ten, to make sure that we do not forget that other countries are doing it, that our own closest friend is sometimes tempted in that direction, and that the very closeness of our friendship imposes a special duty on this country—on us—to distance ourselves if and when we think it right.

10.3 p.m.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, I want to speak only about the situation in Afghanistan. Although he is not present at the moment, I should like very sincerely to thank the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, for having introduced the debate. I do not think that either this House or the other place spends anything like enough time on this issue. I am extremely grateful to him for giving us this opportunity. Although accidentally he chose the week of a massive Soviet attack on the Panjshir Valley in which the Russians, using high altitude heavy bombers against guerrilla fighters, proved not only the topicality of today's debate but their determination, as one can see at the moment, to remain in Afghanistan, which they have sought to control for over four years.

Reports that one has seen suggest that this massive attack this week involved roughly 20,000 Soviet and Afghan troops and more than 500 tanks and armoured personnel carriers. It is too early to know what the conclusions are, because the Russians have been successful, as they thought, in capturing or controlling that valley before and have been driven out. These events also show something else—namely, the guts and the courage of the Mujahadin who still deny to the Soviet forces and the dwindling Afghan army, which the Soviet forces themselves seem so much to despise, control of most of the country's terrain, and this in spite of the presence of what seems to about 105,000 Soviet troops.

Reference has been made to Soviet casualties. The figures that seem to be available, though the noble Baroness may have more up-to-date ones, are that there have been between 15,000 and 20,000 Soviet troops dead and wounded during the course of the past four years or so. Many of those involved in this week's fighting are said to be fresh reinforcements, no doubt deluded (as have those who arrived from the Soviet Union into Afghanistan before) by the belief that they are fighting against oppression and to protect the downtrodden Afghan people, when nothing could be further from the truth. The people of Afghanistan quite clearly do not want the Soviet Union or Soviet forces on their territory. These new Russian recruits, these new arrivals will soon learn that they are pitting their armed might against tough resisters who will fight to the end to preserve their religious, political and social traditions. If one asks oneself whether one is hopeful or not hopeful, a great deal depends on the absolute determination of the Afghan people themselves.

On two visits to Pakistan in the past four years, I have met many of these fine people, not only some of the 3 million refugees in their camps, but, in Pakistan, some of the religious and political leaders now in temporary exile who have given a great deal of information about the internal situation.

Perhaps I may say just a few words—but only a few— about the problem of the refugees. As was said by the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, they are the largest group of refugees in the world with another million or so in Iran. I certainly pay very warm tribute to the commitment, planning, and efficiency of both the Pakistan Government and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. As I have said, I have on two occasions seen them working together in close harmony, together with the voluntary organisations, and I think they have done a fine job. One recognises that to have this sort of number on the territory of Pakistan is a huge drain on the Pakistan economy. The UNHCR has also again distinguished itself in helping to ensure that the conditions of the refugees are as good as it is possible for refugees to be in. I appreciate the aid from the United Kingdom Government and the EEC aid. As chairman of one of the voluntary refugee organisations, the Ockenden Venture, I am glad that the ODA is supporting a project which was worked out while I was there between the Pakistan Government, the UNHCR and the organisation of which I am chairman.

The one thing that is distinctive about the Afghan refugees—and I say this particularly, having heard the words of the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill—is that hardly any of them want to seek asylum in third world countries. While there are some who are here and are in training and should be allowed by the British Government to remain here in training, those who are there—unlike refugees almost in any other part of the world—are not looking for some refuge in an opulent country. Their hope, their determination, is to go back to Afghanistan.

I also, as others have done, give credit to the United Nations special representative, Mr. Diego Cordovez, who has tried with skill and determination to achieve a settlement. It seemed about a year ago that he thought that he was almost there. He said he was 95 per cent. there. But 5 per cent. is often the most difficult part of a negotiation. But certainly his task is by no means ended, and I believe that he should continue with his mission and I had the opportunity of exchanging views with the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Perez de Cuellar on his recent visit to London.

Certainly the conduct of the Russians is totally, but totally, to be condemned. It has been so condemned by the United Nations General Assembly by over-whelming majorities, including the vast majority of the non-aligned states and, of course, by the Islamic Conference led by Pakistan. At this stage, I would pay particular tribute to the way that Pakistan, as the country with the main frontier with Afghanistan, has led the Islamic Conference as well as having accepted responsibility for the refugees on its territory. All the reports available to noble Lords, to myself in personal accounts given to me when I was there, and the report that was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill of Harrow—the article by Claude Malhuret—point out, as I heard from many, the terrible things that the Russians have done in dropping anti-personnel mines. They are mines often designed as much to affect animals as they are to affect human beings. The Russians often aim not so much to kill but to wound and to maim. A human being who is wounded may spend a long time and cause much trouble and consternation in the course of being treated or, as is often the case, if they suffer from gangrene, streptococci or septicaemia, die in atrocious pain.

The evidence I had from people coming over the frontier seeing their little plastic pens and small red trucks, designed to be picked up by children, shows a degree of cynicism and calculated cruelty that it is difficult for any of us to accept. Many of those in the Soviet Union itself, if they really knew the truth, would, I believe, be horrified by what is being done in their name.

I have also heard descriptions of the scorched earth policy. The Russians have burnt villages with bombs and with flames. They have shot at from the air and killed herds of sheep and goats. They have dropped anti-personnel mines. They have machine gunned villages. They have burnt the crops. They have made villages totally impossible to live in. They have made them virtually no-go areas. This means that the freedom fighters are unable to have the food and to use that area to continue their battle. As stated by other speakers, this has led to hundreds of thousands of internal refugees. One of the Afghan people to whom I was talking said that the internal problem of the refugees, although numerically they are not so great, is more tragic than the problem of those in the refugee camps.

What support for these heroic people is being given by Her Majesty's Government? Help for the refugees, yes. I welcomed the last announcement made of additional contributions partly through the EC and partly directly. Votes at the United Nations, yes, I welcome them. The statement of the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary on the occasion of the fourth anniversary of the Soviet invasion was as good a statement as any Foreign Office official could draft. Having been a Foreign Office Minister, I have seen statements drafted by Foreign Office officials. And jolly good they are. However, they are words. What about action?

The noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, asked whether we are being complacent. The noble Earl, like other noble Lords, referred to the French who have sent over 160 doctors and nurses. They have equipped hospitals in the areas controlled by the Mujahadin. There is, as we know, a growing need for food and medical supplies in the many parts of Afghanistan that are still held by the Mujahadin. I am not arguing the case for arms and equipment. I shall simply say that at a very large meeting at one of the refugee camps where questions had been asked of me, as I had been asking them of others, one of my questions was, "What is your greatest need?". They said with one voice, "Arms". "Give us arms", they said. I have not got anything to offer them and I am not going to make any comment on that at this stage. But those who are fighting for their freedom are entitled to expect of us more than mere words, more than resolutions. If they think that they are on their own then their cause is lost, and it is part of the responsibility of this House, this Government, to see that they are upheld in their belief, in their conviction, that their cause is not lost, that their courage is not simply being wasted, because the sacrifices they face are very great.

A Prime Minister who tried to stop athletes from going to the Moscow Olympics ought to show more determination to help the people themselves. I have been concentrating not so much on the refugees but on those who are in Afghanistan now. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, has had her own experiences and I am looking forward intensely to hearing what she has to say. She has heard the strong feelings from all sides of the House this evening. I look forward to hearing from her some positive indications of the policies of Her Majesty's Government as well as her impressions from her recent visit.

I do not believe that it is enough simply for us to pass resolutions and make pious statements. Those people are fighting for their country, their very survival, their existence, their freedom. When I say "freedom" I do not mean democracy; I mean freedom to live as they have lived, with their own religion and their own social and political customs. They are entitled to expect from us some sort of support which shows they are not left alone in an isolated world.

10.17 p.m.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Young)

My Lords, I am sure we are all grateful to my noble friend Lord Selkirk for asking this Unstarred Question this evening. There has been a quite remarkable unanimity of view among all those who have taken part in the debate. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, will understand if I do not follow him in his arguments this evening, because the question before the House is on Afghanistan. We have had a most interesting analysis of possible future events from my noble friend Lord Beloff and a number of constructive ideas for possible diplomatic solutions.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Selkirk when he says that the issues at stake in Afghanistan should be of urgent concern to everyone in the free world. What is taking place in Afghanistan is not only a crime against international law, but a crime against humanity. For over four years now Afghanistan has been illegally occupied by Soviet troops, now numbering well over 100,000 men. These troops are inflicting untold devastation and suffering on the Afghan people. They have killed or injured tens of thousands of Afghans in increasingly brutal and indiscriminate attacks. They have rendered millions more homeless by destroying their crops and villages, driving them abroad as refugees. They have installed a client regime which remains wholly dependent on Soviet military might for its survival, and which pursues a viciously repressive policy against the very people it purports to represent.

In the last few days we have learnt that the Russians have stepped up their brutal campaign even further. Yesterday one of the Afghan resistance leaders was quoted as describing Soviet policy in Afghanistan as genocide, saying that the Russians had intensified their assaults on towns and villages in an attempt to terrorise the civilian population.

The latest news is that the Russians have launched a seventh major offensive against the people of the Panjshir Valley north of Kabul, who have provided some of the most stalwart resistance to the invader. Indeed, it appears that this latest offensive has included high-altitude bombing, a particularly indiscriminate and terrifying tactic. Kabul Radio has reported that the valley has been captured but the resistance have denied this. I have no information about the fighting; nor have I any information about the scale of the casualties among the brave Afghan resistance and civilians or the whereabouts of Ahmed Shah Masood, the young resistance commander who has become a symbol of his people's fight to regain their country.

One might have expected the Afghan people to have been subdued by this relentless brutality. No doubt the Soviet leaders entertained such expectations when in December 1979 they took the foolhardy and callous decision to invade. How wrong they were. The Afghan people have refused to be cowed. Their spirit remains unbroken. Indeed, despite their appalling suffering, their determination to defend their way of life against an invader and an alien ŕegime has, if anything, increased. Their spontaneous resistance now extends throughout the country, and even into the heart of the capital, Kabul.

Of course, the resistance lacks the capacity to drive Soviet forces out of their country. But what they achieve against such overwhelming odds and in face of such massively superior fire-power is indeed remarkable. They have learnt over the years to avoid large-scale pitched battles, which would only cause them heavy casualties. They have learnt also to co-ordinate their operations and to co-operate between local groups in the interests of a particular objective. Through their attacks on Soviet convoys, on regime installations and on army out-posts, the resistance have succeeded in denying the invaders control of all but a fraction of the country. In some provincial towns which the regime claims to control, that control extends to little more than the ground within range of their own weapons.

A number of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, the noble Lord, Lord Caccia, the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill of Harrow, and the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, have asked about the supply of arms. I am sure that they will understand when I say that it is clear from the continued resistance activity that arms are getting through and that really it would be helpful not to discuss this matter any further.

The Soviet Union's client régime is thus no nearer to controlling Afghanistan now than it was when Babrak Karmal was installed in December 1979. Indeed, the campaign of repression may even have increased the Afghan people's resolve not to accept it. The regime remains riven by factional feuding between the minority Parcham faction headed by Karmal himself and the dissaffected majority Khalq faction. Its failure to win domestic support is matched by its failure to win international credibility and recognition. The unreliable and demoralised Afghan army continues to be depleted by desertions and defections to the resistance, and is now estimated to number only about 40,000 men. half its strength before the Soviet invasion. The regime has attempted to stem the tide of desertions by draconian conscription drives. But like the fruitless attempts to bludgeon the Afghan people into submission, these measures have had the opposite effect, and have served only to demoralise the army even further. The Soviet Union's claim that it now provides only logistical support to Karmal's troops is a travesty of the facts. It is the Soviet army that carries the brunt of the fighting. Without Soviet support, the Karmal regime could not survive.

Nearly all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate have asked: What can we do? First, we can look at how the international community has responded to this deplorable state of affairs. The outcry at the Emergency Session of the General Assembly in January 1980 has not died away. The General Assembly has adopted a total of five resolutions calling for the immediate withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan, the preservation of Afghanistan's independence and non-aligned status, self-determination for the Afghan people, and the voluntary return of the refugees. All have been adopted with overwhelming majorities with the nations of the third world joining those of the West in almost unanimous condemnation of the Soviet invasion. Indeed, the most recent resolution, in November 1983, was adopted by a record majority of 96. Other international fora, such as the Non-Aligned Movement—and the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, asked what part they had played in this—the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, and the meetings of Commonwealth Heads of Government, have reaffirmed the urgent need for an internationally acceptable political settlement based on the principles set out in the United Nations resolutions. It remains clear that the international community will not accept as a fait accompli this blatant act of unprovoked aggression against a non-aligned third world country For their part, the nations of the European Community have repeatedly called for the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan, and it was the noble Lord, Lord Caccia, who particularly asked about the Community. On the fourth anniversary of the Soviet invasion on 27th December 1983, the Greeks issued a statement on behalf of the Ten stressing the urgent need for the withdrawal of Soviet troops as the key to any lasting settlement. On the same day, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs issued a parallel British statement calling upon the Soviet leaders to honour their international obligations under the United Nations charter and to withdraw their troops from Afghanistan, so that the suffering of the Afghan people could be brought to an end. I was glad to hear the support of the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, for this statement.

We have also contributed directly to the search for a political settlement through the proposals for an international conference on Afghanistan launched by my noble friend Lord Carrington on behalf of the Ten in June 1981. These proposals gained the support of some 70 non-EC countries. We continue to regard them as a realistic and practicable means towards promoting a political settlement, and they remain on the table.

The Ten have also given their firm and consistent support to the efforts of the United Nations secretary-general to find a solution to the problems. These efforts date from early 1981, when the then secretary-general, Mr. Kurt Waldheim, appointed Mr. Perez de Cuellar as his personal representative with the task of promoting a political settlement. When Mr. Perez de Cuellar himself became secretary-general, he appointed Mr. Diego Cordovez to take over the task. Since then Mr. Cordovez has succeeded in arranging for three rounds of indirect talks to be held in Geneva between the Foreign Ministers of Pakistan and the Karmal regime. A draft package has been drawn up setting out the four elements of an integrated settlement: troop withdrawal, non-interference in Afghanistan, international guarantees of the final settlement, and consultation of the refugees. Mr. Cordovez has recently completed a further tour of the area in an attempt to carry his initiative forward, and I had an opportunity to discuss the outcome with the secretary-general when he visited London last week.

Mr. Cordovez's efforts are welcome. They offer the only prospect of movement. But despite Mr. Cordovez's painstaking work, there are no signs of a breakthrough. For, of the four elements of the package drawn up by Mr. Cordovez, the most crucial one is surely the withdrawal of the Soviet troops, whose presence in the country has given rise to the conflict in the first place. And on this crucial issue the Russians appear to remain intransigent. They have refused to give any firm undertaking to withdraw within a specific time-frame agreeable to all the parties involved. Instead, they have sought to brand the spontaneous resistance of the Afghan people as the source of the trouble, arguing that this "external interference", as they misleadingly call it, must end before they can consider withdrawing their troops. They then go on to argue that this troop withdrawal is a bilateral matter for themselves and the Karmal ŕegime.

This is patently unrealistic. The Afghan people are not going to give up their struggle so long as the Russians refuse to commit themselves to withdrawing. Nor are the refugees going to agree to return on this basis. The international guarantors of a settlement, so far unidentified, cannot be expected to underwrite a settlement which effectively legitimises the status quo. These elements of the settlement, vital as they are, will only fall into place when the Russians agree to withdraw. Unfortunately there is no sign that the Soviet leadership is about to give such an undertaking. Our recent talks in London with the Soviet First Deputy Foreign Minister, Mr. Kornienko, showed that the Russians are as intransigent as ever. I need hardly say that we made our views clear to Mr. Kornienko, as we have done consistently at other meetings with Soviet Ministers.

The Pakistan Government, with whom I had talks in March, are committed for their part to the United Nations process. They have co-operated with the secretary-general and his personal representative throughout the difficult negotiations so far and rightly insist that any settlement must be in line with the basic principles of the resolutions adopted with such resounding majorities by the General Assembly. Their firm and principled stand deserves our full support.

One vital element of a settlement is of course that it should allow the refugees to return to their homes. Soviet actions in Afghanistan have now driven over one-fifth of the population into exile as refugees. There are up to 3 million refugees in Pakistan alone, where the camps administered by the Pakistan Government and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees form the largest concentration of refugees in the world. I saw some of those camps last month when I visited Pakistan. One of the most tragic sights I shall always remember was to see the camp specially set aside for widows and orphans; a stark reminder of the tragic suffering of the Afghan people. Pakistan's generous and skilful handling of this immense humanitarian problem deserves our wholehearted admiration and support.

The British Government have played their part in the international relief effort to alleviate the sufferings of these unfortunate people. Our total aid since January 1980 now amounts to £21.6 million of cash and food aid, including some £7.6 million channelled through the European Community. This includes the recent allocation of £1.6 million, of which I was pleased to tell the refugees when I visited one of their camps on 10th March. The bulk of our aid goes to UNHCR; but we have also contributed to the work of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the League of Red Cross Societies, the British Red Cross, Christian Aid, Oxfam, the Save the Children Fund, and the Afghanistan Support Committee. Of our aid to UNHCR, £1 million has been allocated specifically to a scheme launched by the World Bank and UNHCR to set up income-generating projects for the refugees, including activities in agriculture, forestry, and irrigation. We have also set up a scheme to provide scholarships for Afghan refugees to come to the United Kingdom for training, mainly at university level. I was glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill of Harrow, refer to this. Since its inception in 1982, this scheme has proved successful, and there are 25 further awards available in 1984–85.

We attach great importance to the assistance we provide for these people, but the real need is of course for peace in their country so that they can return home. So once again we come back to the need for the withdrawal of the Soviet forces whose actions have driven them out. The fighting, destruction and suffering have gone on too long already. The secretary-general has provided the means for a political settlement which will bring them to an end, and we wish him success. The call from the international community is clear: The Soviet Union must honour its obligations under the United Nations Charter, withdraw its troops immediately, and allow the Afghans to determine their own future.

The Earl of Selkirk

My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, may I ask whether we recognise the Karmal Government?

Baroness Young

Yes, my Lords, we recognise the State of Afghanistan.