HL Deb 09 July 2003 vol 651 cc263-5

2.41 p.m.

The Earl of Sandwich asked Her Majesty's Government:

How they will respond to increasing concerns about security in Afghanistan.

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, we shall maintain our contribution to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which is helping to provide security in Kabul. Moreover, we intend to build on the deployment of the UK-led provincial reconstruction team in Mazar-e Sharif to help the Afghans to improve the security environment beyond Kabul. We are also supporting longer-term projects to develop Afghanistan's own security sector, including through the training of the Afghan National Army and police.

The Earl of Sandwich

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that Answer although it will not satisfy the people of Afghanistan who have been waiting ever since the war for a full programme of reconstruction. It is simply not enough to say that the provincial reconstruction teams will fill the task of ISAF outside Kabul. Does the noble Baroness accept that without security there can be no reconstruction outside Kabul? Now that the ISAF force is to be controlled by NATO, is it not time to extend ISAF's mandate outside Kabul to give that safety and security that the Afghani people are waiting for?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, I agree with the noble Earl that security remains a very serious concern for all involved and particularly for the people of Afghanistan. In addition to the attack on ISAF on 7th June, which resulted in the deaths of four German ISAF personnel, there have been sporadic attacks against coalition and transitional administration targets as well as NGOs. Those attacks increased in the spring, but it is the Government's view that they do not constitute an organised offensive. As I said in my original Answer to the noble Earl, we shall ensure that we support longer-term projects to develop Afghanistan's own security sector. We are endeavouring to ensure that funding continues for reconstruction. Overall UK funding has been of the order of £170 million since September 2001, and there are plans for a total of £320 million over five years.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, the Department for International Development has over the past few years published a number of studies and I can remember speeches by Clare Short saying that international development/nation-building is not possible unless order is first provided. One would have thought that the hard-learned lessons of the British would be shared with others in Afghanistan. Can the Minister explain why this appears to have been very much an American-led operation, with a rejection of the links as regards nation-building, and an operation in which British and other European experience has played so little part?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, we continue to learn the lessons of nation-building. Perhaps I may go into a little more detail on one aspect of my original Answer; namely, on the setting up of the provincial reconstruction teams. Today, UK personnel will be setting up the first UK-led provincial reconstruction team, which will be the beginning of coming to terms in a very serious way with the problems outside Kabul— problems not covered by the ISAF presence. As I said, we continue to learn the lessons of nation-building.

There are some good news stories from Afghanistan. We are inclined to hear constantly about the problems—obviously, that is what will come through in the media. But the good news stories are there. Building is starting in Kabul—buildings are going up all over the city. Kabul is now full of restaurants—and traffic jams. Two million refugees have returned to Afghanistan since January 2002, and 4 million children are now back at school. So there are a great number of achievements—and, of course, we still have a long way to go.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, the Foreign Secretary rather bravely went to Kandahar last week. Is it not true that he found that the Taliban were practically in control again and that there was a great deal of anxiety? Does not that reinforce the point indicated by the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, that the NATO-driven ISAF should consider extending its mandate and activities well outside Kabul? While the Minister is talking about good news, will she tell the House what has happened to the plan to try to restrict opium production in Afghanistan? It seems that the more money that we put in, the more opium they grow there. Surely, that is not what is intended.

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, on the noble Lord's last point, we have just agreed further funding so far as concerns the counter-narcotics situation. The Afghan Government are committed to eliminating opium cultivation over 10 years. But, obviously, we cannot do that alone. We need a sustained commitment by the international community, led by the UK, to build up Afghan drug law enforcement and to provide alternative livelihoods for opium poppy farmers.

On the noble Lord's point about extending ISAF into the regions, he will know that any change in ISAF's role or area of responsibility would require a new UN mandate. He will also know that there is little appetite among current contributing nations to alter the ISAF mission or to commit large numbers of additional troops to ISAF. There is, of course, no guarantee that what worked in Kabul would be effective in the rest of the country. That is why I referred in my original Answer to the building up of the provincial reconstruction teams and to the longer-term project to assist the Afghans to develop their own security through their own police and army.

Lord Ahmed

My Lords, is my noble friend the Minister aware of the claim in a Channel 5 documentary that there was a massacre of Taliban prisoners of war, who were held in containers and were then killed and buried in mass graves? Will Her Majesty's Government support an international investigation into that massacre?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, if the noble Lord is talking about the mass graves at Dasht-e-Leili, then I say to him that we support the UN's two-stage approach to the investigation. Forensic investigation and dignified reburials will take place. Then, when the security situation improves, more detailed witness interviews and investigations will continue. We stand ready to play a supportive role in any investigation if assistance is required.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick

My Lords—

The Lord President of the Council (Lord Williams of Mostyn)

My Lords, we are out of time now.