The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Mr William Hague: I wish to inform the House that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, together with the Ministry of Defence and the Department for International Development, is today publishing the thirty-sixth progress report on developments in Afghanistan since November 2010.
During March, three candidates withdrew from the presidential race. On 6 March, Qayyum Karzai, the President’s older brother, withdrew and threw his support behind Zalmai Rassoul. Similarly, Nader Naeem (who stepped down on 26 March) endorsed Rassoul’s campaign. However, Abdul Rahim Wardak chose not to endorse another candidate when he resigned from the race on 16 March.
First Vice President, Marshal Mohammed Qasim Fahim Khan, died on 9 March. President Karzai declared three days of national mourning in response to his death. On 18 March, President Karzai appointed Mohammad Younis Qanuni as First Vice President, to replace the late Marshal Fahim. Qanuni’s appointment was approved by Parliament, as required by the Constitution, on 25 March.
In March the Independent Commission for Aid Impact [ICAI] published its review into five of DFID Afghanistan’s bilateral programmes from the growth and livelihoods sectors. This included three projects in Helmand, two of which have now closed. DFID has welcomed the report and its recommendations as part of its post-2014 planning process. The Department is taking account of the issues raised by ICAI in its work to reduce poverty in Afghanistan over the long term.
On 20 March, insurgents attacked the Serena Hotel in Kabul, targeting guests celebrating Nowruz (New Year). Nine people were killed in the attack, including an Afghan journalist and his family. This killing and the murder of a dual-national Swedish/British journalist on 11 March, prompted the Afghan journalist community to enact a fifteen-day blackout on any reporting of insurgent messages, to extend over the election period.
On 20 March I announced the closure of the UK-led Helmand Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT). This is in line with President Karzai’s request that all PRTs across Afghanistan are to close by the end of 2014 in keeping with the process of transition to an Afghan lead. UK forces continued the redeployment of personnel and equipment in Central Helmand, with the closure of forward operating base PRICE on 15 March. This leaves just Camp Bastion and observation post STERGA 2 with a UK presence in the region. Task Force Helmand has begun the process of integration with HQ Regional Command (Southwest), and ceased to operate a separate HQ from 1 April.
I welcome the Presidential and Provincial elections that took place on 5 April. These will be covered in April’s Parliamentary report.
I am placing the report in the Library of the House. It will also be published on the gov.uk website.
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