Date of Proceeding: 12.12.2007
Reference: 469 c318
Member: Lilley, Peter
Description: Can the Prime Minister confirm that the biggest single source of income, accounting for up to half of GDP in Afghanistan, is the opium trade, and is not therefore the central dilemma we face how to win the hearts and minds of people while promising to eradicate half their income without offering any concrete alternatives other than the following two words in the statement-“legitimate agriculture”? Does not the failure to face up realistically to this dilemma leave a black hole in the Prime Minister’s strategy?
The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman is right on his first point: an economy that is wholly dependent on the crop he mentions is an economy that
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will not work well in the future. However, he is wrong on his second point: I did, of course, mention alternatives in agriculture, but I also mentioned building the social and economic infrastructure of all the areas through the aid and development programme that we are practising. We find that there is in Afghanistan a desire for roads and infrastructure, and then for the building of schools and hospitals, of course, but also for the creation of small businesses. Many people are operating in Afghanistan-some people have come from Britain to do so-to create microcredit finance for small businesses.
I agree that it is necessary to have alternatives to agriculture, but I disagree with the right hon. Gentleman’s other point, as we are trying our best to do more to provide those alternatives; we are going beyond simply the offer that there is an alternative to agriculture by also making that possible through the initiatives that we have in place. I may also say that in Musa Qala we will move in very quickly with the offer of jobs, which is important, and the offer of new facilities, which will enable the local economy to start to flourish again.