Oral statement to Parliament

Justine Greening: Quarterly parliamentary statement on Afghanistan

Quarterly parliamentary statement on our progress in Afghanistan

Quarterly parliamentary statement on our progress in Afghanistan from Development Secretary Justine Greening.

Mr Speaker with permission I will present a quarterly review of our progress in Afghanistan following the Prime Minister’s statement after the G8 and NATO Summits in May. This statement represents the combined assessment of the Department for International Development, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence.

I would like to begin by paying tribute to the brave men and women of our armed forces. Four hundred and twenty-seven British troops have lost their lives since the conflict began in 2001, 33 since the beginning of this year.

They have made sacrifices which this House and the British people acknowledge with the utmost gratitude and admiration. We all recognise the considerable challenges they continue to face protecting Britain’s national security and that of the Afghan people.

And I would also like to join the Foreign Secretary in condemning the brutal and senseless attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi yesterday. This only serves to highlight the risks that personnel face as they work for peace and stability in countries in transition.

In Afghanistan we have strict security regime in place to keep UK officials safe. Our arrangements are kept under constant review.

Our objectives in Afghanistan

We are in Afghanistan to protect our own National Security by helping the Afghans take control of theirs. Our objectives in Afghanistan, shared by our international partners, the Afghan Government and its people, remain the same - an Afghan state that is able to maintain its own security and prevent the country from being used as a safe haven by international terrorists.

In pursuit of this aim we are helping the Afghans develop their national security forces, make progress towards a sustainable political settlement, and build a viable Afghan state that can provide for its people.

Security transition remains on track. In May the Afghan Government announced the third of five tranches of areas to start the process. Once fully implemented, this will mean that all 34 provinces will have areas that have begun transition.

Significantly, with tranche three, Afghans will be taking lead security responsibility for 75% of the population - including in all three districts that make-up Task Force Helmand, the UK’s Area of Operations.

Our training efforts are delivering tangible results. The Afghan National Security Forces are increasingly moving to the fore in delivering security; their capability and confidence continues to improve.

By mid-2013 we expect the Afghans to be in the security lead across the country. They are deploying in formed units, carrying out their own operations and planning complex security arrangements.

After 2014 any residual insurgent threat will be tackled by capable Afghan Forces trained and equipped to manage effectively their own security. While the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) Coalition continues to play a key role it is right that this is increasingly a supporting one.

The increase in so-called insider threat attacks is of course concerning. We routinely assess and refine our force protection to meet mission requirements and best ensure the personal safety of our forces.

We are also working closely with ISAF and the Afghan Government to take concrete action to reduce as far as possible the potential for such incidents in the future.

Developing the Afghan National Security Forces is a key part of our strategy; they have an essential role in providing long-term security and governance in Afghanistan.

Partnering is not without risk but it is essential to success. These incidents are not representative of the overwhelming majority of Afghan security forces. Every day tens of thousands of coalition forces work successfully alongside their Afghan partners in a trusting relationship without incident.

Afghan-led political process

We continue to support an Afghan-led political process as the means to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan. We recognise the way forward will be challenging but we remain committed to supporting the Afghan Government’s efforts.

We also recognise that security and stability in Afghanistan is in the mutual interest of all its neighbours, who have, in different ways, suffered as a result of Afghanistan’s instability during the past 20 years.

In November 2011, Afghanistan and its neighbours agreed to take forward regional dialogue and cooperation through the Istanbul Process. As part of this process the Foreign Secretary attended the Heart of Asia Ministerial Conference in Kabul on 14 June, together with Foreign Ministers from the region and supporting countries.

The final Declaration reaffirmed participants’ support for sovereignty and regional cooperation. Participants also agreed to implement key ‘confidence building measures’; the UK has offered to provide assistance to develop Chambers of Commerce, tackle the narcotics trade, and to support Counter-Terrorism and Disaster Management activities. We will continue to engage with this process and the lead regional countries.

Further highlighting the UK’s commitment to Afghanistan, the Prime Minister visited Kabul and Camp Bastion in mid-July this year. In Kabul, the Prime Minister participated in a trilateral meeting between himself, President Karzai and Pakistani Prime Minister Ashraf, on the common goal of security and stability in the region.

Economic growth and opportunities for Afghan people

Nevertheless we know that transition to a stable, peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan will require significant economic growth and development, as well as progress on security and an Afghan-led political settlement supported by its neighbours.

With that in mind, we continue to promote growth and to help build up the private sector to provide opportunities for the Afghan people. For example, since the beginning of this year our assistance has provided more than 7,000 men and women in Helmand with technical and vocational education and training, tailored to the needs of the local private sector, enabling them to get jobs and start their own businesses. More than 80% of graduates are now employed, providing a better life for their families.

At the same time we continue to help the Afghan Government to increase tax revenues. In May, domestic revenue collection had increased to more than US$ 2 billion - a 23% year on year increase and more than eight times the level of revenue collected in 2004/05 when UK support began.

As the International Development Committee’s recent report on tax in developing countries has rightly highlighted, increasing revenue generation is absolutely vital for countries like Afghanistan, to help reduce their dependence on international assistance over time.

UK aid is also helping Afghan civil society organisations and local communities hold their Government to account. For example, through the ‘Tawanmandi’ civil society programme, Afghan women’s organisations are raising awareness of the Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW) law, holding government bodies to account for its implementation, and supporting female victims.

In addition, thanks to UK support, by the end of the year around 470 communities will be able to monitor Afghan Government public works programmes to make sure they deliver what they have promised.

As we progress towards full security transition at the end of 2014 it is vital that international assistance, including from the UK, continues to deliver these results so that ordinary Afghans can have faith in their Government to provide an alternative to the insurgency and a better life for their families.

In previous statements Members of this House have pointed out that Afghanistan faces an uncertain financial future which could put future peace and stability at risk.

With that in mind, my predecessor led the UK delegation at the Tokyo Conference in July. Partners committed $16 billion ($4 billion per annum) through to 2015 to meet Afghanistan’s essential development needs.

At that Conference, the UK announced that we will provide development assistance to Afghanistan at current levels (£178 million per annum) up to 2017, and will continue to support Afghanistan right through the ‘Transformation Decade’ from 2015 to 2024. Many other partners followed our lead.

Thanks to the efforts of the UK Government, the Conference declaration commits the international community to meet Afghanistan’s budget shortfall until at least 2017.

However, our continued support will require the Government of Afghanistan to implement the reform commitments set out in the Tokyo Mutual Accountability Framework (TMAF).

The framework acknowledges the importance of better governance, economic growth and regional cooperation, and calls on the Government of Afghanistan to deliver progress on elections, corruption, economic management and human rights.

It includes a strong and specific focus on the rights of women as a prerequisite for peace and prosperity. At the request of the Afghan Government, the UK agreed to co-chair the first ministerial review of progress against the Tokyo commitments in 2014. We therefore intend to play a major role in holding the Afghan Government and partners to account for their commitments to each other.

Since Tokyo, the Afghan Government has taken steps to demonstrate its intent. On 26 July, President Karzai issued a far-reaching decree on tackling corruption. The decree sets out 164 specific and time-bound instructions for almost all Government ministries.

We welcome the vision outlined in the decree and President Karzai’s personal commitment to this agenda. We now need to see the Government deliver and we will continue to support them as they take forward these reforms.

Taken as a package, the commitments made at Tokyo and NATO’s security focussed summit at Chicago in May send a powerful message to the Afghan people and the region that we are there for the long haul. They also send a clear message to the Taleban: you cannot wait us out and now is the time to participate in a peaceful political process.

Looking to the future

Afghanistan has enormous potential. The country’s vast mineral wealth could transform its long-term economic prospects. The UK Government is helping the Afghans to capitalise on this, accountably and transparently, for the benefit of its people.

Local Government institutions are beginning to have a transformative effect on the lives of urban and rural communities by delivering better public services and strengthening infrastructure, again supported by UK aid.

With the right amount of international support in place, and the commitment of the Afghan Government to take forward essential reforms, the Afghan people aspire to a peaceful and prosperous future, one which supports the UK’s national security interests as well.

I look forward to taking forward this work alongside my Rt Hon friends from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence in the months and years ahead.

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