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David Cameron: Terrorism and extremism must be confronted

There are many things in this statement that we agree with.

Above all what we can agree about is that the professionalism, the dedication and the courage of our armed forces in Afghanistan is incredibly impressive.

I've been three times in the last three years, and whether you go up the Helmand Valley to Sangin; whether you are in Lashkar Gah; whether you are back in base in Camp Bastion - they are people we can be incredibly proud of.

They have that 'can do' attitude.  But I have to say to the Prime Minister:  we must always be careful as politicians not to take too much advantage of the fact that the Army and our other Armed Services are always there and ready to serve.  

Can I ask the Prime Minister about three areas?

First, our overall strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Second, the situation in Afghanistan, particularly with respect to the elections.

And finally the deteriorating current situation in Pakistan

Last month, President Obama set out a new US strategy. He summed it up in a single sentence: " to disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future".

Isn't it essential that our strategy is as tightly defined, as hard-headed and as realistic as that? We are not in the business of trying to create a new Switzerland in the Hindu Kush.  We want to help provide security and deny Al Qaeda those training bases.

President Obama also stressed that they would not just press on blindly with their strategy, but would regularly assess whether they were making real progress against clear benchmarks, and hold themselves accountable.

Given we have been in Afghanistan now for almost eight years, what plans does the Prime Minister have to do the same here in Britain?

Next, preparations for the August elections and the planned increase in troop numbers.

We have said that we would be ready to support an increase for the elections - as long as it was clearly justified, backed up by extra equipment, such as helicopters and adequate force protection.

The Prime Minister in his statement gave some figures for helicopter hours and helicopter capacity up to now.
Can he give figures for the future that will accompany those increased troops for the election?

The Prime Minister talked about our NATO allies sharing a fairer burden in Afghanistan, that was announced at the recent NATO Summit.

Can he tell us:  when will this commitment be delivered and how many of these extra troops will be based in southern Afghanistan?  I believe in his statement he said "many" of them would be in south Afghanistan.  Can he tell us how many?

The US has announced a substantial troop reinforcement, of 21,000 troops, including another 8,000 for Helmand Province.

Can the Prime Minister tell the House, in some detail if possible, how the US forces will fit into the command chain in Helmand and Regional Command South, and what implications their arrival will have for the combined British effort in Helmand?

No Afghan really likes the presence of foreign soldiers on Afghan soil, and the sooner we can safely reduce that number, clearly the better.

So, it is right that we press ahead with the 'Afghanisation' of the effort to bring security to that country.

The Prime Minister is absolutely right that the Afghan National Police have been seen as the weakest link in the security chain. 

Does he really believe progress is now being made?  The stories you still hear when you are there are pretty horrific.

In terms of the Army, where clearly progress is much better, it is still reported though that there is serious under-representation of Pashtuns in the Army. Can the Prime Minister tell us what is being done about that?

Turning to the elections, clearly it's going to be difficult for these to be free and fair.

Can the Prime Minister tell us about progress on electoral registration, and does the Government expect that it will be possible for proper independent monitoring of these elections to take place?

Next, Pakistan.

What happens in Pakistan is clearly as important for our security as what happens in Afghanistan.

So, for the purposes of our strategy, we should treat them as one.

If we think of the plotters of 9/11, the killers of Benazir Bhutto, the men who bombed London and many others involved in many plots against our country, they either came from or were trained in Western Pakistan, in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas extending all the way down to Baluchistan.

This is where Al Qaeda remains active. 

Pakistan, as we all know, has an enormous standing army but it's configured for a conventional battle against a perceived external threat.

It is not designed to deal with the sort of existential threat Pakistan now faces from within.

The Prime Minister talked about providing the assistance Pakistan needs to train and equip its forces to deal with this threat.
Did he meet with the heads of the army on this visit?

As things stand, what is the Prime Minister's assessment of the Pakistan armed forces' ability to come to grips with the Taliban's continuing advance, frankly towards Islamabad?

Are reports accurate that the Taliban is setting up militant training camps in the areas it currently occupies, like the Swat Valley, and that many young people are joining these camps?

Could the Prime Minister also comment on what is being done to disrupt the activities of the Quetta Shura, which by all accounts exerts such a malign and controlling influence on both sides of the border? Can he comment on specific reports that the Quetta Shura actually holds meetings around Pakistan -recently including one in Karachi?

We all welcome the increase in UK aid which the Prime Minister has announced. How will that aid be linked to Pakistan's performance in fighting terrorism?

In particular, what help will the Government offer Pakistan to deal with extremist propaganda? Ambassador Holbrooke was in Britain recently and has drawn attention to the scores of low wattage radio stations operating in the Swat Valley. Apparently night after night they broadcast lists of people who are going to be executed.   What are we doing to help the Pakistanis jam these radio stations?

Terrorism and extremism must be confronted. 

But we must do so by working with the Government of Pakistan, and drawing on our long history and knowledge of that country to help them deal with the mortal threat they now face.

Doesn't that require patient, steady work, building up the relationships with Pakistan and close ties?  Isn't that the vital role for Britain, both now and in the future?

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