HL Deb 13 October 2003 vol 653 cc607-9

3 p.m.

Lord Dubs

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What progress has been made in the reconstruction of Afghanistan and the creation of a stable and peaceful society.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, considerable progress has been made in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban in November 2001. A broad-based transitional administration has been established and President Karzai has been elected for a two-year period from June 2002. Progress has also been made in economic and social recovery. The economy grew by 30 per cent last year. Schools have reopened. But there remain major challenges ahead and we are committed to help Afghanistan to meet these now and over the long term.

Lord Dubs

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that Answer. Will she comment on the security situation in Afghanistan outside Kabul? In particular, will she comment on the difficulties posed by the estimated 4 million landmines in the country and the fact that an estimated 740 million square metres of the country are contaminated by landmines or unexploded shells or bombs?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, my noble friend is right to point out the difficult security situation outside Kabul. That is why the provincial reconstruction teams, including one in Mazar-e-Sharif headed by the UK, have been established. As regards unexploded ordnance and landmines, the United Nations mine action service is responsible for co-ordinating the NGOs working in this area. We have provided £5.3 million in funding. At the end of 2002, an estimated 850 square kilometres remained contaminated. However, we have overseen the training of 2.4 million people to identify and avoid mines and, in 2002 alone, the programme cleared mines and unexploded ordnance from about 111 square kilometres of land.

Baroness Northover

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that the US has spent 11 billion dollars on its military operations in Afghanistan but only 800 million dollars on reconstruction? Will she give the House the breakdown for military operations and reconstruction as regards UK expenditure?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, with respect to military expenditure I do not have the figures on that and I shall write to the noble Baroness. With respect to reconstruction, to date we have spent some £147 million and over the next three years will be spending some £300 million.

Lord Judd

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that if we are to win the peace in terms of establishing global stability and combating extremists, we must give the same priority and resources to reconstruction and peace-building as we give to the military operations themselves?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I agree that it is important to give priority to reconstruction and peace-building. My noble friend may recall that there was an international conference in Tokyo in January 2002 for the international community to pledge its support for Afghanistan. A needs assessment was undertaken by the World Bank, the UN and the Asian Development Bank and donors pledged some 4.5 billion dollars over a five-year period. That total has increased to 5.2 billion dollars.

There is an issue with respect to absorptive capacity. Noble Lords may be aware that at the margins of the World Bank meeting in Dubai there was a further meeting to look at the reconstruction needs of Afghanistan, which I attended. The point is very well recognised.

Lord Elton

My Lords, when will the elections be held in Afghanistan next year and will the security situation be sufficient for them to be effective?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the Bonn process set out a timetable which will see elections in, I think, July. I shall write to the noble Lord if I have the month wrong. There will be a Loya Jirgah in December to look at the constitutional issues, which will then lead into that process. We are working hard as an international community to improve the security situation. The Germans are leading on policing; the Americans are leading on reform of the Army; and the Italians are leading on reform of the justice sector. At present, we have no reason to believe that the security situation will prevent elections taking place.

The Earl of Sandwich

My Lords, does the Minister agree that elections have been postponed beyond the original date of June and that that was due in part to the donors not coming up with the funds—including, I am afraid, the United Kingdom Government?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I am not sure to what the noble Earl is referring. My understanding is that the constitutional Loya Jirgah, which was due to have been held earlier, will be held in December and that the proposed election date under the Bonn process will go ahead.