I beg to move,
That this House has considered the matter of the Middle East, North Africa, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Our security and prosperity in Britain are indivisible from those of other countries. We cannot seal ourselves off from dangers in other countries or prosper fully alone, and it is against our values—as, indeed, it is against our interests—to stand by while conflict and instability develop. That has been shown to be true time and again in the regions that we are debating today.
Britain could not turn a blind eye when Colonel Gaddafi turned his forces against innocent civilians in Libya, shelling crowds of peaceful protesters and even hospitals crammed with victims, and launching a ferocious campaign of arbitrary detentions, torture and summary executions. This is a country on Europe’s southern edge, and a regime that threatened to “exterminate like rats” the people who had risen against it. The Arab League clearly called for help and intervention, which is one of the reasons why we have taken a strong lead in calling for, securing and implementing UN Security Council resolutions 1970 and 1973. Other reasons include the effect on Libya’s neighbours and the consequences for migration, terrorism and our own national interest if a pariah state had emerged in north Africa. Our action in Libya has a compelling legal and moral basis, strong regional and international support and a clear objective, and it continues to make progress.
The Secretary of State is aware that a great many people view it as very important that this has been a UN-mandated mission from the start. Will he update us on developments within the United Nations to ensure the maximum protection for civilians in Libya and to bring hostilities to the earliest possible end?
Yes, the hon. Gentleman is quite right. The fact that we are acting on a United Nations resolution made an enormous difference to the scale of the vote in this House in favour of the action we have taken and, of course, to the maintenance of international support. The UN Secretary-General attended the London conference that I hosted at the end of March and a meeting of the contact group. The UN continues to be represented at those contract groups. The UN special envoy, Mr al-Khatib, visited Tripoli yesterday, and we are waiting to hear what he found on that visit. The UN remains fully engaged and has offered to lead the stabilisation effort that will follow the conflict in Libya; support across the UN for the implementation of the resolutions remains very strong.
There is evidence that NATO’s insistence that Gaddafi be removed is prolonging the civil war, and that civilian casualties are mounting as a result. Would the Foreign Secretary consider asking a third party—someone independent, such as Kofi Annan—to mediate, without preconditions, for the purpose of a desperately needed ceasefire, if this is after all an intervention based on humanitarian need?
The United Nations envoy to whom I referred is such a third party, and he has just been to Tripoli. Other third parties have made efforts as well, some of them on the basis suggested by my hon. Friend. A high-level African Union delegation visited Tripoli, without the insistence that the Libyan opposition and we have on the departure of Gaddafi, but that did not lead to a successful mediation. Indeed, however one looks at it, it is impossible to see a peaceful or viable future for Libya without the departure of Gaddafi.
Does the Secretary of State agree with the comments made at the weekend by the Chief of the Defence Staff about increasing the number of targets that we can hit, with specific reference to infrastructure? What discussions has he had with NATO colleagues about the apparent change of focus to regime change rather than the protection of civilians?
I do agree with the comments of the Chief of the Defence Staff, but they did not relate to regime change; they related to implementation of the UN Security Council resolutions. It will be evident to the House that over the last few weeks the regime forces have tried to adapt to what we have done to implement the resolutions. They have made themselves look like the forces of the other side, and have fought in a more asymmetric way. In such circumstances it is legitimate for NATO to increase the proportion of targets that are the command and control systems of the regime forces who are harassing and threatening the civilian population. That is what the Chief of the Defence Staff was referring to.
The Foreign Secretary will, of course, appreciate that there is a desire for conflict resolution that will lead to a democratic opportunity for Libya. Will he accept from one who represents many people from north Africa, and many from the Arab and Muslim world, that the intervention that we made is extremely respected and appreciated by those communities here? They want us to continue to uphold the transformation in the Arab world to more democratic countries, because one of their reasons for being here is their inability to exercise their freedoms fully in the countries from which they have come.
That is absolutely true. We responded to the call from the Arab League, and I discussed the situation in Cairo two weeks ago with its secretary-general, who remains supportive of what we are doing. As my right hon. Friend rightly says, that is representative of opinion not just across the region but among many people in this country.
On previous occasions the Foreign Secretary has told us that the Attorney-General is giving advice to the Cabinet. Can he assure us that if there is an increase in the scope and range of the targets that we will hit, that advice will be made available to the House?
I cannot give an assurance that we will provide a running commentary on legal advice, but I can give the assurance that the Attorney-General is always included in such discussions. He is always included in the decisions about targeting, and indeed in our general discussions about policies. The National Security Council on Libya met earlier today to discuss the increased tempo of the military campaign, and the Attorney-General took part in that discussion. Retaining what we have had from the beginning—a clear legal authority to do what we are doing—is very important. However, although the Government can give it consideration, I cannot undertake to give a running commentary on legal advice.
The Foreign Secretary said that General Richards had been referring to the command and control structure, not the infrastructure. It seems to be agreed that command and control is an acceptable target. However, General Richards said in The Sunday Telegraph that he
“wanted the rules of engagement changed so that direct attacks can be launched against the infrastructure propping up Gaddafi's regime.”
That suggests that he was calling for a change of policy, and I should be grateful if the Foreign Secretary could say whether he has a legal opinion that would support that change of policy.
That would, of course, have to be discussed with our colleagues, partners and other members of NATO, as all targeting is discussed in NATO. But certainly it is our opinion that it comes within the scope of United Nations Security Council resolution 1973 that if particular items of infrastructure are particularly supporting the military effort and the regime’s effort to make war against civilians, those would also be legitimate targets.
The Gaddafi regime is now isolated and on the defensive. It has lost control of large swathes of Libya already. The regime’s military capability has been significantly degraded and £12 billion of its assets have been frozen in this country alone. NATO has conducted more than 6,600 sorties and more than 2,600 strike sorties since 31 March, destroying ammunition stores, armoured and other vehicles and surface-to-air missile launchers, while at sea 20 ships are now patrolling the central Mediterranean under NATO command to enforce the arms embargo.
Scores of senior figures have abandoned their positions in the regime, including Ministers, generals, ambassadors, bankers and senior officials. Many of these defectors are actively supporting the opposition national transitional council. We welcome the announcement today by the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court that he has requested judges to issue arrest warrants for Colonel Gaddafi and two other members of the regime wanted for the deliberate killing of unarmed civilians. This should leave the regime in no doubt that crimes will not go unpunished and that the reach of international justice will be long.
May I say that in recent weeks the Foreign Secretary has conducted his part of the campaign with exemplary skill and force? As the International Criminal Court seeks the arraignment of Colonel Gaddafi for all the things he has done, what difference is there between those and the terrible cruelty, killings and torture by President Bashar al-Assad in Syria? Does the Foreign Secretary agree with the Minister for the Armed Forces, who said in Defence questions an hour ago that he believed that Syria’s President should also be put before the International Criminal Court?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for, unusually, paying me a compliment. There are important differences, of course, in the level of international support and concern about Syria. I spoke a moment ago about the importance of our legal and international authority. So far, the Arab League position on Libya has been different from its position on Syria. Our ability to pass a resolution at the United Nations Security Council is very different on Syria from what it is on Libya, so if we believe that it is important to operate with legal and international authority, we must recognise that we are in a different situation in respect of Syria than we are in respect of Libya. I will return to Syria in the course of my remarks.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us are worried about what the Chief of the Defence Staff said at the weekend, because he seemed to be implying that in order to resolve a stalemate that we ourselves have created, we should constantly widen the envelope of what we attack? We want a firm assurance that we will attack only military targets that directly target civilians, and that our mission is humanitarian and designed to achieve a ceasefire and peace.
My hon. Friend can certainly be assured that we will stay within the scope of the UN resolution, with legal advice, but he must bear it in mind that as the situation changes, what is targeted and the methods necessary to achieve our objectives will sometimes have to change. It would not be effective to say that we are only ever going to target the same things. Many different parts of the apparatus of the regime in Libya that are engaged in prosecuting a war against its own civilians have not actually been targeted yet.
Will my right hon. Friend reassure us that there will be no change in the mission—no mission creep? A no-fly zone can be successful in preventing civilians from being massacred—that is why I voted for it—but what would the Government do if it became clear that the air raids have succeeded in preventing that and that Gaddafi is desisting from threatening to massacre whole swathes of his own people, but that he is staying in place? Would we then call off the campaign because the threat of massacre had been reduced to the point that it did not need to concern us any more, or would we say, “As long as Gaddafi is in place, the campaign goes on”? That is where we might find ourselves in legal difficulties?
Of course it is open to Colonel Gaddafi to comply with resolution 1973, to end violence against civilians and to have a genuine ceasefire. President Obama and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made it clear at the beginning what he would need to do in order to do that; he would need to disengage from battles in places such as Misrata, to cease using his forces against civilians who try to protest in Tripoli, and so on. So it is open to him to do this. It would certainly not bring to an end the enforcement of a no-fly zone, the arms embargo and so many parts of the UN resolution, but in that situation the position—the need to protect civilians from attack—would be different. However, Colonel Gaddafi does not do this, presumably because if he did he would no longer be able to maintain himself in power, as he relies entirely on force to keep himself in power. That is why the question of his being there and remaining in power is, in practical terms, intimately bound up with resolving the conflict.
Any innocent person listening to the Foreign Secretary’s speech would assume that the whole policy that has been conducted by NATO, with the support of the UK, is one of regime change, and that they are just hiding under this fig leaf of its not being regime change. When does this become regime change in fact? Would he do the same in Bahrain, Syria or any other country? Clearly, that is the direction of travel at the moment.
Those countries are all in different situations. I wish to discuss those different countries later, but Libya’s is the one case where we are dealing with a clear call from the Arab League and a United Nations Security Council resolution, and that makes it very different from all the other situations that we are dealing with. The hon. Gentleman should support the fact that Britain is acting on that basis, with that international authority. The purposes of our military action are exactly as set out in the resolution but, for the reasons that I have just been explaining, it is hard to see us achieving those objectives, or any peaceful solution being arrived at among the people of Libya, while Colonel Gaddafi remains in power. We have to recognise that, and it is why most of the world, including people across north Africa and in the Arab world, want him to go.
This House and our country should be confident that time is not on the side of Gaddafi; it is on our side, provided that we continue to intensify the diplomatic, economic and military pressure on his regime. The tempo of military operations, which some of my hon. Friends have been asking about, has increased significantly in recent weeks, and we are now targeting not just deployed military assets, but the fixed military command and control facilities which the regime uses to threaten the civilian population. That action is within the constraints of the Security Council resolutions, and we are increasing the regime’s diplomatic and economic isolation at the same time.
At the contact group meeting in Rome on 5 May, which I attended, all members agreed to reject diplomatic emissaries from Tripoli unless the regime shows serious willingness to implement a real ceasefire. We also agreed to explore action to prevent the regime from exporting crude oil and importing refined products for non-humanitarian use, and to clamp down on states and entities supplying arms and mercenaries to the regime. We are also working with our partners to stop satellite or state support for the broadcasting of Libyan state television, and the whole House will welcome the Arab League’s decision yesterday to request a ban on Libyan state-owned TV from broadcasting on the Arabsat satellites. We also welcome the mediation role of the UN special envoy, as I have said.
In parallel with that pressure, we are increasing our support for the Libyan national transitional council, which we regard at this moment as the legitimate representative of the people of Libya. In Rome, the contact group agreed terms of reference for a temporary financial mechanism that will aid the provision of basic services in eastern Libya, as well as efforts to stabilise its economy. The first meeting of the steering board for the mechanism is due to take place today in Doha, and up to $180 million has already been pledged by the Gulf states.
The British Government were also one of the first to provide humanitarian support to Libya, including medical supplies for 30,000 people and basic necessities for more than 100,000. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development will want to expand on this subject when he winds up the debate.
On the subject of the national transitional council, on a recent visit to the US the Select Committee on Defence was told at a high level that we do not know who the rebels are. Is the Secretary of State confident that it is appropriate to give them official recognition when we do not really know the details of where they are coming from?
We have not given them official recognition; we recognise states, not Governments. We recognise the state of Libya. We say for now—at this moment—that they are the legitimate representatives, as Gaddafi has lost legitimacy, and we have invited them to open an office but not an embassy here in London. We know a lot about who they are—after all, we have met a lot them. I have met their principal leaders and we have a diplomatic mission in Benghazi that is working with them daily. They have published their vision of a democratic Libya and, as I shall explain, have gone on to set out their own transition plan for Libya, which tells us quite a lot about what they intend.
The hon. Lady brings me naturally to what I was going to say next. Last Thursday, during a visit to London by its chairman Abdul-Jalil, the Prime Minister invited the council to open a mission in London. That will enable closer consultation. We welcome the road map for a democratic transition published by the council. It pledges the establishment of an interim Government after the departure of Gaddafi and a ceasefire—an interim Government including council figures as well as technocratic figures from the regime—the convening of a national congress with balanced representation from across the country, the drafting of a new constitution and internationally supervised parliamentary and presidential elections within six months. Those are laudable objectives that show the right way forward, as proposed by the national council.
The Prime Minister also announced new support for the protection of Libyan civilians, including communications equipment, bullet proof vests and uniforms for the civilian police authorities of the NTC as well as support to improve the public broadcasting capacity. That assistance is designed to help ensure that the NTC administers territory under its control to international standards. In the coming weeks we will also increase our diplomatic presence in Benghazi. We have appointed a permanent special representative to the national transitional council based there, and we are sending development specialists who will form the core of an international team to advise the council on longer-term planning.
Is the Foreign Secretary not glossing over the significance of what the Chief of the Defence Staff said? I think that the Chief of Defence Staff is worried about stalemate. We are doing enough to keep the operation going but not enough to finish it off, and we are turning our backs on the opportunities for negotiation, to the extent that they exist, yet we are not going far enough to finish this. He is worried about war and misery without end as well as ongoing cost and stretch. He is saying something different from the Government, is he not?
No. I have called at successive meetings of the contact group and in this House for a steady intensification of the military, diplomatic and economic pressure on the regime. We have always been clear that it would require intensification and the Chief of the Defence Staff is certainly talking about the next stage of that intensification. That is not at variance with what the Government have said. It might contain more detail than what we have said before, but it does not vary from the approach the Government have taken. We have always been clear that such intensification is necessary to avoid a stalemate, but we need diplomatic and economic, as well as military, intensification.
We are doing all we can to implement the UN Security Council resolutions on Libya. We should be fortified by the knowledge that our action has already saved countless people from the risk of death, injury or certain repression. I hope the House will join me in paying tribute to the brave men and women of the armed forces and to British diplomats and aid workers on the ground in Libya. The contact group will meet again in Abu Dhabi in early June, a meeting that I will attend, and I will keep the House closely informed of developments. The Gaddafi regime’s efforts to cling to power are in stark contrast with the largely peaceful transition that has taken place in Libya’s neighbours, Egypt and Tunisia. Tunisia continues to lead the way in the transition to Arab democracy. Despite many complex challenges, a great deal of progress has been made since the revolution in January. A new broad-based interim Government including independent figures and opposition parties has been formed, media censorship has been removed, formerly banned parties have been legalised and an election date has been set. The challenge now is to ensure that reforms are fully implemented and that all arrangements are in place for free and fair elections. I spoke to Tunisia’s Foreign Minister last week to discuss those things. Through our Arab partnership initiative, we are helping to produce the first media code of conduct for Tunisia’s elections, to build domestic observation capacity for Assembly elections in July and to strengthen legislation protecting freedom of expression. Further British support for political and economic reform is being agreed and we are also working at the EU and with other international bodies to look at assistance for Tunisia as part of a broader approach to democratic reform in north Africa.
I visited Cairo at the beginning of the month. Egypt has many challenges to overcome before democratic reform is assured, including the need to stabilise the economy and create confidence for investors. I met senior members of the transitional authorities and representatives from across the spectrum of groups of Egyptian activists who participated in the revolution. Such engagement is vital if we are to understand and influence decisions by such groups in the future. In my meetings with Field Marshal Tantawi and Prime Minister Sharaf, as well as welcoming the progress that has been made so far, I raised Britain’s concerns about the Egyptian authorities’ current use of military courts, rather than civil legal mechanisms, and about the rise of sectarian tensions in Egypt, which is gravely concerning.
Violent clashes between Salafi Muslims and Coptic Christians left up to 15 dead and more than 250 injured in Cairo earlier this month. Peaceful demonstrations about those events were attacked by gunmen on Sunday and 78 people were injured. We condemn that violence and call on both sides to find a peaceful resolution to their differences in the spirit of the unity shown in Tahrir square. The rights of Christian minorities in Egypt and across the middle east must be protected and we welcome the fact that many in Egypt are clearly appalled by those actions. Many in the House will be deeply concerned if we begin to see in Egypt signs of the dreadful attacks against Christians or any other minorities that have taken place in Iraq and elsewhere in the region.
None of us should be under any illusion about the scale of the transition still required in Egypt. The success of the Arab spring will largely be judged on what happens in the Arab world’s largest nation. The UK is offering technical assistance ahead of crucial elections in September. Last week, we hosted the Egyptian team who are responsible for the elections and gave them an overview of the electoral process in Britain. We are also discussing what assistance Britain can offer through our Arab partnership initiative to strengthen political participation and the rule of law, including anti-corruption efforts, but the international community must rapidly accelerate its assistance to Egypt.
We are arguing in the European Union, the United Nations, the G8 and international financial institutions for a transformative new relationship with the countries of the middle east and north Africa. We have put forward our proposals in Europe for a reformed neighbourhood policy that offers market access and trade in return for reform, leading eventually to a customs union and free trade area. We hope that the G8 summit in Deauville next week will mark the start of a new approach to the region and to co-ordinated and expanded financial assistance. Offering a new hand of friendship and a new partnership is the right response to the aspirations of the people in the region, but it is also manifestly in our own long-term interests. The response of Europe in particular must be as bold, ambitious and historic in its scale and nature as these events themselves.
I hope that the situation in Yemen will also be raised during those discussions because, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, a mass demonstration is planned for tomorrow at which thousands and thousands of people will be marching on the presidential palace. Ways in which we can help are through mediation, by trying to persuade the sides to come together, and by giving the financial assistance that is absolutely vital because Yemen is facing a humanitarian problem.
I shall come to Yemen in a moment, if the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to keep a semblance of order to my remarks, but he is quite right to raise that important issue.
The experiences of Egypt and Tunisia reveal an important lesson from the Arab spring—that an immense economic challenge goes hand in hand with the political opening up of those societies. Two other lessons should act as a warning in the region to those who might be tempted to think that legitimate aspirations can be ignored.
The first is that demands for political and economic freedom will spread more widely and by themselves, not because western nations advocate these things, but because they are the natural aspirations of all people everywhere. The second is that Governments who set their face against reform altogether are doomed to failure. Simply refusing to address legitimate grievances or attempting to stamp them out will fail. Reform is not a threat to stability; it is the guarantor of it over the long term. It is not credible or acceptable for any country in the region to repress now and suggest that reform will only follow later, nor is it sustainable to promise economic reform without steady political development.
This is our message to Syria, alongside our utter condemnation of the violence. Only meaningful reform that meets the aspirations of the Syrian people can provide peace and stability for Syria in the long term. The alternative—ever more violent repression—simply stokes up anger and frustration that will spill over in the future. On the point raised by the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane), the European Union has already imposed a travel ban and assets freeze on 13 individuals in the Syrian regime, and on Friday we informed the Syrian ambassador to London that if the violence does not stop immediately, the EU will take further measures, including sanctions targeted at the highest levels of the Syrian Government.
Alongside this action in the EU we are seeking a response from the UN Security Council in New York, where we are working to convince others that the Security Council must send an unequivocal message of condemnation of the situation and call for urgent political reform.
The Foreign Secretary is making a perfectly correct and robust case, but does he agree that the emergence of protest right across the middle east changes the dynamics of the middle east peace process and the mood of the Palestinians, and that we need to ensure that the international community secures a response and that they do not feel that they are stuck in a time warp when things are changing all around them?
My right hon. Friend is right. That is changing the dynamics and it is important for all to understand that this increases the urgency of the middle east peace process, rather than meaning that it can be put off. The remaining opportunity to breathe new life into it must now be taken. I shall say more about that in a moment.
What steps is the Foreign Secretary taking to encourage Turkey to take a democratic lead in the region, which would also include ending the persecution of legitimately and democratically elected Kurdish politicians? That would give great succour to Kurdish people in Syria, who are the subject of murderous repression by their own Government.
Turkey is taking a lead in the region, in particular in trying to persuade the Syrian authorities to go down the route of reform, rather than the route of repression. We very much welcome the highly active role—not yet a successful role, but a highly active role —played by the Turkish Government in that regard. Of course, we look to Turkey, particularly as an aspirant nation for membership of the European Union, always to set a strong example itself.
While condemning so many things that have happened in some countries, we should welcome the fact that in some other countries of the Arab world Governments are setting out plans for reform. In March, the King of Morocco announced a package of reforms, including putting the national human rights body on an independent footing and constitutional changes that will be put to a referendum. Jordan has announced committees on national dialogue and constitutional and economic reform, and we look forward to those reforms being agreed and implemented.
In Yemen, the economic, security and humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate. More protesters were killed only last week by Government forces, in violence that the whole House will deplore. The United Kingdom supports the Gulf Co-operation Council’s initiative to resolve the deadlock, which requires the President to step aside and a new Government to be formed who include members of the Opposition. We are in close contact with the GCC about the progress of negotiations, we have supported those negotiations, and we are in close contact with the United States and our partners in Europe about our wider approach to the country.
Instability in Yemen has serious implications for the terrorist threat from that country, and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has demonstrated the intent and capability to attack western targets inside and outside Yemen. Britain and our allies are working around the clock to counter this threat and we will continue to do so. The arguments about the need for reform and dialogue apply to all countries in the region. Although each country is different, we will make the case to all that steps to reverse freedoms and curtail human rights are wrong and counter-productive.
We welcome the announcement in Bahrain that the state of national emergency will be lifted on 1 June and look forward to this commitment being met. We remain very concerned by the restrictions on freedom of speech and the reports of human rights abuses, including the widespread arrest of political activists and the severe charges brought against a number of doctors and nurses by a Bahraini tribunal. The Government of Bahrain must meet their human rights obligations and uphold political freedom, dialogue, equal access to justice and the rule of law. We also call on opposition groups in Bahrain to be prepared to enter into genuine dialogue.
That is very kind; I look forward to making many more interventions on that basis. Does the Secretary of State share the concern that Bahraini opposition activists will not receive fair trials and, if he does, does he think there is a role for the UK mission to send observers to witness those trials?
We certainly expect and will demand fair trials, and I have discussed that situation with Bahrain’s Foreign Minister in recent weeks, so it is very clear where the UK stands. We will send observers as necessary. Our embassy in Bahrain has been highly active for years in raising human rights concerns there, before the recent trouble, and in maintaining contact with opposition groups and good relations with the Government. We will keep that going.
Serious challenges also remain in Iraq. The formation of a national unity Government between Iraq’s major political blocs remains incomplete, the security situation is fragile and political tensions have risen. In recent months there have been a number of high-profile attacks and targeted assassinations by al-Qaeda and insurgent groups, but we judge the Iraqi security forces to have the necessary capabilities to prevent a wholesale return to violence. With its young democracy, oil reserves and economic potential, Iraq can become an important stabilising influence in the region and a key contributor to global energy security. Compromises must be made to end the stalemate and tackle the many grave problems the country faces.
The Arab spring remains in its early stages, in my view, and has caused uncertainty as well as optimism, but the middle east peace process must not be allowed to become a victim of that uncertainty. Delay leaves a vacuum of leadership which can be exploited by extremists or lead to increased violence. We are deeply concerned by emerging reports that up to 17 people were killed and many more injured over the weekend in violence in Israel and the occupied territories. We call on all parties to exercise restraint and protect civilian life.
The House will join me in paying tribute to the efforts of the UN special envoy, Senator Mitchell, who will step down from that position this week after two years of tireless efforts to restart talks. We believe that the parties must return to direct negotiations as soon as possible, on the basis of clear parameters for a two-state solution. We hope that the announcement of reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas will lead to a Government who reject violence and pursue a negotiated peace. President Abbas has reaffirmed his commitment to a negotiated two-state solution based on 1967 borders. A new Government have yet to be formed, but when that happens we will judge them by their actions and their readiness to work for peace.
Today, when hon. Members from both sides of the House have joined in celebrating the 63rd anniversary of the independence of Israel, will the Foreign Secretary offer an assurance that the Government will not provide any support for organisations such as Hamas, which threatens not only Israel’s independence, but its very existence?
Further to that point, will the Foreign Secretary make clear the central importance that the Government place on the Quartet principles and state that no organisation, particularly Hamas in this instance, may genuinely be part of the peace process while it remains committed to Israel’s destruction?
Securing peace in the middle east must of course be done on the basis of the Quartet principles, which is why we will judge any Palestinian Administration by the conditions I have set out. As I have often said, we look to Hamas to make concrete movement towards the Quartet principles, which remain of central importance.
I have lost count of the number of Foreign Secretaries who have told us that every effort would be made to bring about a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Time and again that promise has been made, and I am sure with every genuine wish that it should be brought about, but it has not been. The situation of the Palestinians remains precisely what it has been since the occupied territories were taken in 1967. Is there any possibility that the United States—to a large extent it is the United States alone that will decide this—will move more than it has done so far, which in fact has not been much?
It is no discredit to my predecessors that they have worked hard on this, and it would be wrong to desist from doing so just because we have not been successful so far. I believe that President Obama will make a major speech this week on these matters, including the middle east peace process. The United States of course plays a central role in pushing this forward.
Could the Foreign Secretary explain how negotiations can take place and be successful in the new situation of a reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, which is exceptionally important, if Hamas is to be excluded in some way from peace making? Does he not remember Abba Eban, the former Israeli Foreign Minister, saying that one makes peace by talking to one’s enemies?
In this situation the interlocutor for Israel remains President Abbas. He insists, I understand, that he is available to negotiate with Israel on the same basis as before, that the Government he has formed will be ready to do that and that Hamas will not have changed the Government’s policy. I hope that a return to negotiations will be possible, notwithstanding all the difficulties the House can see.
I thank my right hon. Friend for being generous in giving way. On the point made by the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock), does my right hon. Friend recognise the concern shared by many Members that until Hamas repudiates its stated position, which is that the state of Israel should not exist, it cannot come to the table? Furthermore, does he agree that unilateral declarations of statehood, rather than round-table discussions without conditions, are not the best way forward and that the latter are?
Negotiations on statehood are certainly the best way forward, but it is when those negotiations get nowhere that discussions about unilateral recognition get going in the world. That has to be recognised by all concerned. Yes, it is of course important for any peace in the future that all concerned recognise Israel’s right to exist, forswear violence and recognise previous agreements.
I am conscious that at this rate of progress mine might be the only speech in this debate and that I am yet to touch on Pakistan and Afghanistan, so I am going to be a little less generous in giving way and I will shorten what I was going to say about Iran.
The same urgency must apply to our efforts to address Iran’s nuclear programme, which remains a vital international issue. Tackling Iranian nuclear proliferation will remain at the centre of our approach to the region. We are seeking to intensify, including through the EU, the impact of existing sanctions in order to slow down Iran’s acquisition of material and finance for its nuclear programme and press the Iranian Government to reconsider their position. The people of the middle east aspire to a better future. Iran’s nuclear ambitions are a threat to that future, as are the continued efforts of terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
No country has suffered more from the scourge of terrorism than Pakistan. In the 10 years since 9/11, more than 30,000 of its civilians have been killed and many more maimed or injured, including the 80 people killed in a suicide attack last week. Osama bin Laden’s death is therefore a blow against the forces undermining the Pakistani state and an opportunity for Pakistan, working with Britain and its allies, to redouble the fight against violent extremism. Pakistan should certainly address the many serious questions surrounding bin Laden’s likely support network in Pakistan. We welcome Prime Minister Gilani’s announcement of an investigation, which must be credible and thorough, but it is right that we support the Government of Pakistan in their efforts to defeat terrorism. More than 1 million people of Pakistani origin live in the UK and what happens in Pakistan directly affects us. As we help Pakistan today, we are also investing in our future security. The enhanced strategic dialogue that our Prime Minister launched with Pakistan last month strengthens our co-operation on many shared interests and supports that long-term goal.
We want the people of Pakistan to know that the UK seeks a long-term partnership with Pakistan for generations ahead. British development support is helping to tackle inequalities in Pakistani society, to get more children into school and to build communities that are more resistant to radicalisation. Whatever its concerns about sovereignty, Pakistan should use the opportunity of bin Laden’s death to side unconditionally with all those aiming to defeat al-Qaeda, including Muslim countries. We hope that Pakistan will decide not to turn its back in any way on the west, but to take up the offer of partnership from us and the Americans and to use this moment in order to build long-term strategic partnerships.
Neighbouring Afghanistan remains at the top of the Government’s priorities in foreign affairs.
Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm the very welcome report last week that the Prime Minister intends to make an announcement this month on the repatriation of 450 British troops—a report that gave great hope to the loved ones of those soldiers?
I am coming on to Afghanistan, and I will talk briefly about troop levels, but I will leave any such announcement for my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.
We have received news in the past 24 hours—the hon. Gentleman’s remarks relate to this topic—of the death of a Royal Marine from 42 Commando Royal Marines, and the whole House will join me in paying tribute to that officer and in expressing our sincere condolences to his family.
Osama bin Laden’s death will not mean the end of the security threat posed by the insurgency, or of the need to build up the capacity of Afghans to take charge of their own affairs. We remain committed to building a stable and secure Afghanistan that is able to prevent international terrorist groups from operating from its territory. Bin Laden’s death presents a clear opportunity for the Taliban to break decisively from al-Qaeda and to participate in a peaceful political process.
I wish to spend the remaining few minutes of my speech—so that others can speak—updating the House on recent developments and on the Government’s overall strategy, treating these remarks as our quarterly report to Parliament on progress in Afghanistan. At the close of this debate, the Secretary of State for International Development will inform the House of development progress.
The next four years in Afghanistan will be decisive. The Prime Minister has made it clear that by 2015 our troops will no longer have a combat role or be there in the numbers they are in now. President Karzai and the international security assistance force coalition have confirmed that, by then, Afghanistan will be in charge of its own security. That process of security transfer is already under way, and President Karzai announced in March the first group of provinces and districts where the transition will begin. Lashkar Gah district in Helmand is in that first group, confirming the progress that we have made in improving security in central Helmand. The National Security Council has approved our strategy that will support this transition over the next four years.
The momentum of the insurgency has been halted and, in many areas, reversed. Afghan and ISAF forces are now working to consolidate gains, which are not yet irreversible, and levels of violence have been relatively low in recent months, although a little higher than in the same period last year. In April there were a number of insurgent attacks, including the barbaric assault on a UN compound in Mazar-e-Sharif and an attack on the Defence Ministry in Kabul, and there was the escape of a large number of insurgent detainees from prison in Kandahar. Those incidents underline the need to continue pursuing our counter-insurgency strategy and our efforts to build Afghan security capacity, but they should also be seen as of limited wider impact when placed in the context of the campaign. In early May, Taliban leaders announced the start of their spring offensive, and we must therefore be prepared for such attacks to continue.
The UK’s overall military contribution is well over 10,000 troops. In task force Helmand’s area of operation, our focus is on maintaining momentum and retaining the tactical initiative in preparation for the end of the poppy harvest, when Helmand’s fighting-age males, many of whom have in previous years turned to the insurgency for employment, must be encouraged not to do so again. We keep our force levels under constant review, and some reductions this year may be possible, to answer the question from the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn), dependent upon conditions on the ground and the implementation of the security transition.
If the transition of security responsibilities to the Afghans is to succeed and endure, we have to build up Afghan capacity, and we are making progress on that. Afghan security forces responded capably to the Taliban’s co-ordinated assault on Kandahar city on 7 May. The numbers in the Afghan security forces continue to grow ahead of schedule, but just as important are the improvements being made in their capability and professionalism.
Some 95% of ISAF operations are conducted side by side with Afghan forces, and about 74% of Afghan national army kandaks and 75% of Afghan national police are now rated as effective with advisers or effective with assistance. Eleven out of 12 planned ANA branch schools are now open, teaching the soldiers the skills they will need to move from an infantry-centric force to a more self-supporting organisation.
Literacy rates in the army continue to improve, with 80,000 members of the security forces having now completed a period of literacy training and a further 60,000 in training at any one time. The NATO training mission estimates that in nine months more than half the Afghan security force will have completed basic literacy training, compared with just 15% today.
We continue to work with the Afghan Government and our international partners to support reconciliation in Afghanistan and to make progress towards a political settlement. We want a durable and inclusive settlement that respects the interests and rights of all Afghans. I agree with Secretary Clinton, who said on 18 February that we must intensify our efforts on a political process. We need to take advantage of military and civilian gains to make 2011 a year of reconciliation and transformation in Afghanistan. We will work with anyone who genuinely shares the goal of a secure, stable and prosperous Afghanistan that is not threatening to its neighbours and who are not threatened by it, and we look to the Bonn conference later this year as an important opportunity for progress.
In all the countries and regions that I have discussed today, we have a strong national interest in both democracy and stability, and our country is playing a major role bilaterally through the European Union, the United Nations and NATO, including in Afghanistan, where we are the second largest contributor of international forces.
This year already stands out as a momentous year in foreign affairs—one that not only gives rise to great optimism about the potential for greater economic and political freedom in a part of the world that has known little of either, but that generates risks to the United Kingdom which we will work to anticipate and address, working with our allies to protect our nation’s interests while standing up for the highest values of our society.
This debate certainly covers a vast number of countries of interest, but it does not include China, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mr Alexander), the shadow Foreign Secretary, is visiting today, as he mentioned in last week’s exchanges. It is also unfortunate that so much other business has been put on today’s agenda, given what is clearly a timely, popular and well-supported debate.
I accept that we are in somewhat uncharted territory, and we recognise the difficulty for the Government of making decisions in response to rapidly changing circumstances, but it is nevertheless necessary that those decisions are taken speedily and coherently and that they are implemented effectively. For Parliament to scrutinise the Government’s performance properly, it is important that the Government share their thinking and the evolution of their doctrine in assessing options and that they ensure a firm grip on delivery.
I know that a considerable number of Members wish to speak, that they have an interest and considerable expertise in the subjects covered by the debate and that there is a time limit, so without more ado I will cover some, although not all, of the countries involved. Inevitably, given the dramatic death of Osama bin Laden, we must start with Afghanistan.
At the outset, let me make it clear that we believe that the allied forces were right to go into Afghanistan in response to 9/11, and that the UN was right to set up ISAF with the following mandate, which we should remind ourselves of today:
“Stressing that all Afghan forces must adhere strictly to their obligations under human rights law, including respect for the rights of women, and under international humanitarian law,
Reaffirming its strong commitment to the sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and national unity of Afghanistan,
Determining that the situation in Afghanistan still constitutes a threat to international peace and security,
Determined to ensure the full implementation of the mandate of the International Security Assistance Force, in consultation with the Afghan Interim Authority established by the Bonn Agreement”.
That mandate, in its essence, remains relevant today.
The UK took the lead in the initial phase of ISAF, and our forces have played a prominent and—I am sure that hon. Members in all parts of the House recognise this—distinguished role since then. They show great skill, courage and determination in their operations, and some have made the ultimate sacrifice, including the Royal Marines sergeant mentioned by the Foreign Secretary. Others have suffered serious injuries that will affect their whole lives, as was highlighted in the statement made earlier. Because my constituency is very close to Birmingham, I recently talked to a nurse there who works at Queen Elizabeth hospital in Birmingham, who described how heartbreaking it is to see these once-fit young men who have desperate injuries but who remain enormously positive and resolute. We owe them a huge debt. The nation must honour the military covenant, and today’s statement is an important step in that process. I also join the Foreign Secretary in his tribute to aid workers in Afghanistan, a number of whom have died in trying to bring help to the people of Afghanistan. They have shown enormous dedication and courage.
We must look to the manner and timing of the handover of the governance of Afghanistan to the Afghan authorities, army and police. One of our key objectives was to prevent al-Qaeda from using Taliban-run Afghanistan as a base from which to launch terrorist attacks around the world. While Osama bin Laden’s death has not finished al-Qaeda, it has certainly dealt it a serious blow. It also confirms previous intelligence suggesting that nearly all of al-Qaeda has left Afghanistan. That probably means that Washington will start phased troop withdrawals in the next couple of months. We must be clear that the process is determined by the situation on the ground, not by the calendar, but also that it will start to happen shortly.
It is clear that intense internal discussions are going on in Washington, and some elements of those discussions are starting to emerge. Senator John Kerry, the chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, last week described as “fundamentally unsustainable” the US’s current expenditure of $10 billion a month on what he called a massive military operation with no end in sight. He made it clear that he was not advocating a “unilateral precipitous withdrawal”, but that the US ought to be working towards achieving what he described as the “smallest footprint possible”. The ranking Republican Senator, Richard Lugar, who also has huge experience on that committee, reinforced the message, saying:
“The question before us is whether Afghanistan is important enough to justify the lives and massive resources that are being spent there, especially given our nation’s debt crisis.”
The atmosphere in Washington shows that people feel that the death of bin Laden will have a significant effect on the setting of milestones and the pace and slope of the US troop withdrawal.
I hope that in his reply the Secretary of State for International Development will outline, as far as is prudent and possible, our plans in this regard and the considerations that will shape the progress of the draw-down. Will he also, without being definitive, indicate the intended completion date, although we recognise that that will, of its essence, be tentative and might be varied in either direction? We all know that the British public are realistic and resolute, but it is also clear that they now want to see our boys, and increasingly our girls, starting to come home.
Will the Minister indicate what role he sees for the neighbouring powers—obviously Pakistan, but also Iran, Russia, China, India and possibly Turkey, as well as the various “stans”—in this process of a resolution for Afghanistan? They all have significant interests, which are not entirely geopolitical, and many also have kinship with ethnic groups within Afghanistan. However, their interests are not necessarily coincidental and will have to be carefully handled. It is in no one’s interests, neither in the wider world nor in the neighbouring powers, for Afghanistan once again to be a centre of instability and a haven for international terrorism. We need to decide what outcome is desirable and practicable and, together with the United States and the international community, move resolutely towards it.
In that context, what should be the basis of a settlement? First, there should be a new and more inclusive internal political arrangement in which enough Afghan citizens have a stake and the central Government have enough power and legitimacy to protect the country from threats within and without. Secondly, on which the first depends, there should be a new external settlement that commits Afghanistan’s neighbours to respecting its sovereign integrity, as outlined in the UN resolution that I have mentioned, and carries enough force and support to ensure that they abide by that commitment.
In the UN’s words, the internal settlement will require
“a process by which the ex combatants acquire civilian status and gain sustainable employment and income”.
It will then require reconciliation, including ensuring that tribal, ethnic and other groups are represented and recognised. Parliament and parliamentarians should also be recognised and encouraged. Several Members of Parliament participated in the sessions with the group of Afghan parliamentarians who were over here last month and who are developing a vibrant approach to their democracy. That event was extremely welcome, and we congratulate the organisers, but a lot more needs to be done by us and by the international community to sustain the process. As has been self-evident in many exchanges about this in the Chamber, there must also be a sustained drive to cut corruption.
In many ways, we have been looking from the wrong end of the telescope at events in what I will describe, in historical terms, as the north-west frontier region. We are considering events in Pakistan in the light of their impact on Afghanistan, whereas the crucial issue is how Afghanistan will affect Pakistan, which is a country of 160 million people—it is the second largest Muslim country—with a significant military, including nuclear, capability. It is also, as the Foreign Secretary has rightly acknowledged on behalf of Britain, a country that has suffered considerable losses from fundamentalist terrorism, and it continues to do so even in recent days. We need to think very seriously about Pakistan’s concerns and prospects. This is not helped by some of the knee-jerk responses to the death of bin Laden that we have seen in the media, with too many people making facile assertions regarding subjects about which they do not have, and may well never have, the full picture. Idle speculation on this matter is not helpful in forming an effective, considered judgment, and it is certainly not helpful in the internal politics of the region.
I therefore welcome the fact that the United States appears determined to continue to support Pakistan rather than to repeat the mistake that it made following the end of the Soviet invasion by cutting aid substantially and drastically. I note the welcome news in today’s Financial Times that Senator Kerry is about to visit Pakistan. However, there is also a clear obligation on Pakistan, in terms of good governance, to improve its administration, especially in relation to tax collection; to improve educational opportunities, particularly in taking education away from fundamentalist madrassahs and thereby ensuring proper education for its young people; to enable and sustain a more pluralist society; and to engage in dialogue significantly to reduce tension with India, which occupies so much attention and resources in both countries.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that commentators in the British press who attack aid support for Pakistan and Afghanistan are missing the point in that if we do not deliver education, hope and livelihoods to those countries, the chances of reducing terrorism and disintegration are lower, not higher?
I certainly do. This is an argument that needs to be had right across the world. Recently in Australia, there was a big attack on the aid programme to Indonesia—again, it is substantial—which is designed to ensure proper secular, state-run education, so that youngsters do not only get their education in fundamentalist organisations. It is enormously important that we sustain that programme for the future of that country, the largest Muslim country, as it is for the future of Pakistan, the second largest Muslim country. That is essential not only for the long-term security of the region but for international security. I was encouraged by the comments of the Foreign Secretary on that subject, and I hope that the Secretary of State for International Development will enlarge on them in his response.
Turning to the middle east and north Africa, it has been rightly said that the death of bin Laden was a serious setback for al-Qaeda, but the most telling blow has been the Arab spring, with its demands for democracy and more open societies, and certainly not for al-Qaeda’s dream of a return to mediaeval brutality. We should be realistic about the various elements that are involved in that movement and the possible course of developments.
I congratulate the Foreign Secretary on his Mansion House speech. I notice that he recycled quite a bit of it in his speech this evening. That is obviously part of the Government’s commitment to be greener. However, the speech bears repetition. As he rightly said:
“Demands for open government, action against corruption and greater political participation will spread by themselves over time, not because Western nations are advocating them but because they are the natural aspirations of all people everywhere.”
In that context, we should recognise that the events in the middle east and north Africa are not isolated. A tide has been sweeping around the world.
In spite of some disappointments, we should reflect on how much progress has been made around the world over the past couple of decades. Most countries in south America have emerged from military dictatorship, are overcoming their ruthless, destructive guerrilla groups and are building a better future. Interestingly, in his famous Chicago speech in 1999, Tony Blair referred to the need for
“more effective ways of resolving crises, like that in Brazil.”
Brazil is now a roaring economic power, and it has just celebrated the election of a new successive social democratic President. The countries of eastern Europe have returned to their European home, having thrown off the shackles of their corrupt, vicious, incompetent communist leaderships and the Warsaw pact. They have willingly joined NATO and the EU. Indonesia, which I mentioned in response to the right hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce), is the world’s fourth most populous state and the largest Muslim state. In 10 years, it has gone from being a military-backed dictatorship to being a vibrant democracy with a rapidly expanding economy. It is now a G20 member and an effective partner against terrorism. There has been a seismic, historic shift in the international landscape, and we should recognise and welcome that.
That is why we fully supported and support the Government’s decision to join international partners to enforce United Nations resolutions 1970 and 1973 in Libya. Those who query resolution 1973 and this country’s rapid decision to act must consider how we would have felt, and how the world would have reacted, if Gaddafi’s tanks and death squads had poured into Benghazi over that weekend and killed people, to use his words, “like rats”. In this day and age, that would all have been carried out on 24-hour TV in real time.
While giving support, it is our responsibility, as a Parliament and as an Opposition, to scrutinise carefully the Government’s conduct and effectiveness in fulfilling the task. We need from the Government a clearer and better articulated strategy. Frankly, we need them to explain how their self-imposed cuts to our expeditionary capability will enable them to implement the policy. The article that the Prime Minister wrote with the French and US Presidents in April said:
“So long as Gaddafi is in power, Nato and its coalition partners must maintain their operations so that civilians remain protected and the pressure on the regime builds”.
It is incumbent on the Government to be clearer to this House and to the British people about how they propose to bring about such a resolution of this situation, especially in the light of the comments over the weekend.
It was asked earlier, but I think it needs to be asked again, what is meant by “infrastructure targets”. If it means command and control posts within a military structure, I understand that. I think it is arguable—I hope that the Attorney-General would back me—that that is perfectly within the bounds of the UN resolution. If, as some commentators have suggested, it means industrial infrastructure, and particularly electricity infrastructure, we have considerable doubts. Even in Kosovo, which was a major operation, the object was to immobilise the transmission systems not to destroy them, because after military operations are over, there is a need to reconstruct the country. It is difficult to do that without adequate electricity supplies. It is therefore important that we have clarity on what is meant by infrastructure. One meaning is perfectly within the current programme, but otherwise we have considerable questions and doubts.
It has to be clear that there is continuing international and regional support for our strategy. I can see no UN mandate for ground troops to move into Libya, and I think it is fair to say that there is no chance of getting such a mandate at the Security Council and no prospect of regional support. We must recognise that there is little appetite among the British public for such a course of action, and I suspect that the situation is similar in the United States and France.
I hope that the Secretary of State for International Development will update the House on the considerable efforts of his Department, with others in the international community, to assist the 750,000 people who are estimated to have crossed from Libya into neighbouring countries, and to get supplies to people in parts of Libya that are under siege from Libyan Government forces. I do not underestimate the task, but we need to know how we are tackling it, because it is substantial and urgent.
What are our realistic options across the middle east and north Africa? Although it is true that we are one of the few countries with the strategic capability to provide meaningful intervention, we must recognise the constraints imposed by our existing commitments elsewhere, the clear problems of overstretch, and the cuts made in the strategic defence and security review, which are increasingly seen as ill advised and outdated. Whatever action we take will be in conjunction with others, and not only our key strategic ally, the United States, but increasingly the EU, or at least key European allies. It has become clear, particularly in the last week or so, that a stretched United States has self-imposed limitations. Our European deliberations will have to consider that, and our response will have to be shaped accordingly. It is true that we could take a position of splendid isolation and say that those issues are nothing to do with us, but developments would continue in north Africa and the middle east. Although we should not overestimate our ability to shape events, we should not underestimate it either.
A key area is to develop capacity for the emerging democratic forces and parties in the countries concerned. It would be tragic if the principal beneficiaries of the new democracies were the remnants of the old dictatorial parties or underground fundamentalist Islamist groups. We should draw on the experience of eastern Europe, where post-communist parties were able to exert disproportionate influence because of their well-developed corrupt networks. I am sure all parties hope that the Westminster Foundation for Democracy will play a major role in building capacity for democratic parties.
I am listening with great interest to the right hon. Gentleman. I am slightly concerned that he may not have learned the lessons of the past, in particular with respect to Iraq, where a thoroughgoing programme of de- Ba’athification stripped out the whole of the middle class and political class, making reconstruction far more difficult than it might have been. Does he not think that we should be cautious about completely stripping out individuals who may have been associated in some small way with an unsavoury old regime?
The hon. Gentleman has misunderstood what I was saying. I fully agree that the de-Ba’athification programme and the disbanding of the Iraqi army contributed substantially to many of Iraq’s problems. I am turning that point around and saying that I do not want the established networks of the old corrupt parties or the well-organised networks of the Islamist groups, in particular the Muslim Brotherhood, to have a free field.
What I am talking about is not taking such people out of the structure but ensuring that emerging democratic forces, which by definition have been underground but are not organised in a Leninist fashion, can develop the capacity to compete on an equal playing field. They will then be able to play a proper role and not be outgunned—literally, sometimes, but certainly in finance and capacity —by other parties, which would have a detrimental effect. I am talking about building alternative capacity rather than moving along the route that the hon. Gentleman describes. That is the best prospect for the future of democracy in the countries in question.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that in Tunisia, there is serious concern about the resurrection of many of the security forces that existed under the Ben Ali regime, which are treating protests and demonstrations with great brutality and great force? They are breaking them up and seem to be trying to suppress the very voices of dissent that brought about the huge changes in February in the first place.
We certainly ought to be concerned about that; my hon. Friend highlights another significant concern. Because of the vast array of countries across a wide and diverse region, our debates focus on certain countries. Inevitably, today’s debate will be focused primarily on Afghanistan and Libya, along with maybe one or two other countries. I am concerned that some of the countries that have been making some progress might start to slip off the radar, and it is important that we do not allow that to happen.
We must not allow our level of interest in the countries that are making progress to fall. Development there must be sustained, because there will not just be a steady path towards a democratic society. There will be pitfalls along the way. To make a comparison with eastern Europe again, the involvement of the secret police networks can be a considerable factor in the development of those countries, as I described earlier. We ought to be alert to that problem, but we should also take the positive way and build the capacity of democratic parties so that they can take the best advantage of democratic elections when they come.
I hope that Members of all parties will consider the role that the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and other such bodies can play in building capacity for democratic parties. The Foreign Secretary has announced substantial cuts in the Foreign Office programme—the sum will go down from something like £139 million to £100 million. We did not get details, but we need to know whether the cuts will have an impact on those organisations and their programmes.
In the Foreign Secretary’s statement last week, he talked about increasing our presence in a number of missions across the world. Interestingly enough, only one of those, Pakistan, is in the area that we are discussing today. There was, understandably, mention of a reduction in Afghanistan and Iraq, but in none of the other countries concerned did it seem there would be an increase in our local involvement despite the considerable interest that we need to be taking in them. On the face of it, that seems a slightly strange decision, and it would be helpful to have some explanation.
We have to recognise that not all of the liberation of eastern Europe went smoothly. Ethnic tensions rose to the surface, and in one case, Czechoslovakia, were resolved by a—fortunately peaceful—division of the state. Catastrophically, however, in Yugoslavia they led to vicious civil wars, appalling violence and the necessity for NATO intervention. Some states in north Africa and the middle east are fairly homogenous, but others are riven by ethnic differences and, in some cases, considerable and long-standing ethnic feuds. The international community must use all its endeavours to ensure that the outcome of the Arab spring is more like Poland than Yugoslavia. In that context, I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s comments about Tunisia and hope, as I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), that we will not focus only on countries where there is conflict. We must also provide assistance to those that are making a more orderly transition.
I shall move on briefly to the middle east and the Israel-Palestine issue. I am sure that everyone in the House and internationally is frustrated by the failure to get engagement in substantive talks leading to the creation of a new Palestinian state, living peacefully side by side with Israel. We echo the Foreign Secretary’s statement yesterday, which he repeated today, when he expressed Britain’s concern about the violence on the border and the loss of life, and called on all parties to exercise restraint. We should be persuaders for peace, to ensure that Palestinian aspirations can be realised alongside Israel’s equally legitimate desire for a peaceful existence within secure and recognised borders.
I certainly do not question Israel’s right to exist—I have made my views about that clear over the years. It was brought into existence by the international community and has as much right to exist as any other state, but not in the occupied territories. How can Israel genuinely say that it wishes to bring about a two-state solution at some stage—not that it has put much emphasis on that—when so much of the occupied territories has had settlements built on it? On what site is the second state, the proposed Palestinian state, going to exist?
I say to my hon. Friend and near neighbour that in all the discussions on the middle east, and particularly on Palestine-Israel, there is a danger of what David Ervine of the Progressive Unionist party in Northern Ireland, who went from terrorist activities to a very significant role in the peace process, described as “whataboutery”. I could equally respond to my hon. Friend’s valid points by asking, what about this, that and the other? What about the failure to implement the Camp David accord? What about the terrorist activities?
At the end of the day, the international community and the parties concerned have to get back to the basic fundamental principle of ensuring the establishment of a two-state solution on borders agreed internationally and between the parties, with the states living together in harmony. I cannot put it better than UN Security Council resolution 1850, which said that
“lasting peace can only be based on an enduring commitment to mutual recognition, freedom from violence, incitement, and terror, and the two-State solution”.
I very much hope, as I am sure we all do, that the visit of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to Washington this month will intensify that process and involve a relaunch of the peace initiative by the Obama Administration. I am sure we all look forward to the President’s address on that subject.
The right hon. Gentleman is speaking very sensibly on this subject. I have always supported a two-state solution. Does he agree that Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza strip, where there were many settlements, shows that if an agreement for withdrawal could be reached, settlements need not stand in the way?
Yes, and I presume that the hon. Gentleman would also have mentioned the fact that the Israeli army enforced those movements under the direction of Sharon. Pointing such things out is important, but it is equally important to get back to the fundamental need for talks and negotiation on the acceptance of a two-state solution. From many of the discussions that there have been, I do not believe that the sides are too far apart on the detail. We therefore look forward to the initiative that we hope the US Administration will take later this month, which we hope all parties will then pursue.
On Syria, we welcome the Foreign Secretary’s comments about making approaches to the EU and the UN to step up pressure on the regime. At the moment, however, the regime seems well past his “fork in the road”, and I hope that the message is getting through to it clearly.
I am mindful of the time, Mr Deputy Speaker, and of the numbers who wish to speak in the debate, so I wish to raise only two other issues—and to do so briefly. First, on protecting our security and national interest, and ensuring stability in the region, the Foreign Secretary will be unsurprised if I once again raise the issue of piracy off the coast of Somalia. The problem now stretches right round the gulf of Aden and out into the Indian ocean, which has a considerable effect on countries in the region. Nearly 800 seafarers are being held hostage, often in appalling conditions. Some have been brutally murdered. More than 30 ships are being held—some are used as mother ships to extend the pirates’ reach far into the Indian ocean. Ransoms totalling well over $100 million were paid last year, and there are credible reports that the pirates have entered a deal with the al-Shabab organisation in Somalia, which is linked to al-Qaeda, for a percentage of the ransom.
Therefore, in effect, the shipping industry is directly funding terrorism. There has been some response, but I feel that it has been inadequate. I had a helpful response from an Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, but I was concerned when a Defence Minister told me that there had been no recent change in the rules of engagement. I recognise that there is no easy instant solution, but there is a danger that the crisis will continue to outrun and overwhelm the response. Piracy threatens not only lives but a vital world trade route. Incidentally, the unwillingness of crews and ships to go through the Suez canal and pay dues could have a damaging effect on the income of the emerging Egyptian democracy. Frankly, the Government need to get a grip on that. They must engage with other maritime nations and get commitments for sufficient ships and personnel, but there must also be a step change in the rules of engagement and operational tempo.
To pull those arguments together and put them in a broader context, we do not accept that if we intervene anywhere in the world, we must take action everywhere. Nor do we accept the converse—that if we cannot or will not take action in one country, we should be immobilised elsewhere. That is why the previous Labour Government, when I was a Defence Minister, intervened militarily in Sierra Leone, but were unable to take action against the brutally repressive Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe.
I also accept—the Opposition have supported the Government in this respect—that a range of factors must be taken into consideration, and that countries must be considered on a case-by-case basis. However, we would like evidence not only of more coherent planning, but of more rigorous analysis. Around the time of Kosovo both Tony Blair, in his Chicago address, and Kofi Annan, in his Ditchley lecture, extensively developed the doctrine of humanitarian intervention. They might have been controversial, but they helped to create a framework within which policy could be decided, and indeed scrutinised and criticised.
I have not detected the development of such a doctrine in the speeches of the Foreign Secretary, including his speech today. The Opposition support much in his policy, but we require the Government as a whole to get their act together on policy and to be more effective on delivery. In short, we believe that it is time for them to get a grip.
Order. A time limit of eight minutes will be imposed, plus two minutes for injury time. However, I caution Members to frame a six-minute speech in their heads, because that is what they are likely to be allotted by the time they are called.
In the short time available, I shall concentrate my comments on two matters: first, the conclusions we should draw from bin Laden’s demise, and secondly, the remaining challenges faced by the international community with regard to Libya.
Bin Laden’s demise was of course an historic event. We should not underestimate the significance of the US special forces operation, or of the extraordinary intelligence operation that their achievement represented. The timing of the operation is significant in that it happened right in the middle of the Arab spring. What could better demonstrate the ultimate irrelevance of what al-Qaeda has to offer? There is reason to believe—a massive amount of evidence has emerged from throughout the Arab world—that the lure and attraction of, and the significance of and interest in, al-Qaeda are beginning to wane. Al-Qaeda not only does not feature in the demands of the hundreds of thousands of people who demonstrate throughout the Arab world for reform and change, but it has been positively rejected by many as they advance claims for universal values.
However, if we begin to believe that the attraction of al-Qaeda is waning in the Arab world, I caution the House against coming to a similar conclusion with regard to Pakistan. We are in a very different time zone there when it comes to the possibilities of change. Bin Laden may have been of Saudi or Yemeni origin, but we should remember that ultimately the al-Qaeda movement originated in south Asia, not in the Arab world. We also know that that happened in the context of experiences in Pakistan and Afghanistan. It is perhaps significant and not irrelevant—I do not want to anticipate events—that the only revenge act so far in response to the assassination of bin Laden has come not from al-Qaeda or the Afghan Taliban, but from the Pakistani Taliban, who feel, and who have expressed sympathy for al-Qaeda and endorsed it.
That is significant for how we see developments in Afghanistan. There is a powerful argument for saying that if our original purpose for going into Afghanistan was the threat of al-Qaeda operating from within the country, that reason is now much less valid than it has been at any time in the past few years. However, the question of the timing and method of our withdrawal from Afghanistan must take into account not just the implications within that country, but to an even greater extent, the possible consequences for the destabilisation of Pakistan. Up to now, we have primarily worried about the consequences of al-Qaeda or the Afghan Taliban using the border as a refuge zone, but in some ways, things are now the other way around. As the right hon. Member for Warley (Mr Spellar) said, the problem in Pakistan is of far greater significance to the wider stability of the world, and it must be given priority. I hope that that is taken into account.
On Libya, I pay tribute to what has already been achieved. There is no doubt that Benghazi would have experienced an incredible massacre, and that Misrata would have been overthrown by Gaddafi, but for the efforts that have been made. However, those who have warned of the dangers of stalemate pose a real question. Without wanting to criticise the Government—I am aware of the international constraints on what they can do—there is a fundamental inconsistency in arguing that the mission is purely humanitarian at the same time as making it clear that it cannot be completed until we have, in effect, regime change.
The question, therefore, is this: how does one square that circle, and can it be squared in a way that does not breach the UN resolution? Whether we like it or not, that is the framework within which we must operate. As I see it, there are only three ways in which that stalemate can be broken over a reasonable period of time. First, implosion in Tripoli is quite possible. In the past few months, a significant number of leading Gaddafi adherents have defected. It is not impossible or inconceivable—it could happen next week or next month—that many of the senior adherents who remain, including generals and Cabinet Ministers, will simply fade away and disappear. I suspect that even Gaddafi’s immediate family will eventually not wish to share his bunker. Saif al-Islam and some of his colleagues might prefer to be in the south of France rather than the quagmire that Gaddafi’s regime could become.
That is one option, but we cannot count on it, and certainly not in any short time scale. The second option is a very slow process of gradual disintegration of the regime. That might be happening already because of the combined impact of economic sanctions and the fact that the oilfields are primarily in the east of the country, with very little utilisable refining capacity in the west, plus all the other forms of political, diplomatic and other pressure that is being put on the regime. However, by itself, that will not deliver the outcome that we need to bring this matter to a conclusion for many months, and possibly for several years. It is a serious option, but do we want to contemplate that the international action will take that long?
That leads me to the third option. What do we do, and what can we do within the UN resolution, to help the insurgents who are struggling for freedom and the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime? We have had a crucial watershed in the past couple of weeks in how the British and other Governments treat those insurgents. This is perhaps the first debate in which they have not been described as rebels. For many months, that was the description used not just in this country, but elsewhere, but that is no longer the case. The insurgents have been invited to open an office in London, they are being treated as serious politicians, and they are rightly considered to have greater legitimacy than the Gaddafi regime, which I welcome. However, we also know that they do not have the military capability to achieve the result that we all want.
The question is whether that can be achieved within the terms of the UN resolution. If it requires us—I do not complain about this—simply to protect civilians, what happens if there is hand-to-hand fighting in Misrata or Tripoli? It could not be stopped by air power or an international coalition; it could be stopped only by the people on the ground. Only they could protect civilians in such a situation. Therefore, I argue—and I believe that some of the legal advice agrees—that if we could be satisfied that the provision of military assistance to the insurgents would help to protect civilian lives and deal with the threat to civilians in Libya, it would be consistent with the resolution. In those circumstances, that kind of help should be considered. In reality, of course, that sort of help is already being given. The French, the Qataris and several other countries are already providing it, whether or not they acknowledge it publicly.
Were that help to be provided—I am talking about training as well as weapons—two things would happen. First, those around Gaddafi would know that the game was up, and gradually, as the insurgents became more of a disciplined, trained military force, it would become obvious—in their view, as well as in ours—that the regime was finished. Secondly, Misrata and the east of the country would gradually be united under insurgent control, and Gaddafi’s remaining power would be so restricted as to be insignificant. That is the real challenge, not just for the British Government, but for the international community, and I believe that we can respond to this situation positively within the terms of the UN resolution.
I am glad that the Foreign Secretary mentioned Iraq, because it is seldom mentioned now, and needs to be mentioned far more often. I have three recent Amnesty reports on Iraq that are well worth reading, because they point out some of the deficiencies in the Iraq that we have left behind. Tens of thousands of Iraqis, emboldened by the successful uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, have taken to the streets since early February to protest against the chronic lack of basic services, rising prices, mass unemployment and endemic corruption, and to demand greater civil and political rights. Unfortunately, the security forces have frequently responded with excessive force, using live ammunition, sound bombs and other weapons forcibly to disperse peaceful protesters, particularly during what the Iraqis called the “day of rage” on 25 February, when demonstrations were held across Iraq. At least 20 people were killed, many of those arrested say that they were tortured or ill-treated, and journalists trying to cover the protests, as well as political activists, have been targeted for attack or threats.
I obviously have a particular interest in this subject because, for seven years, I was special envoy on human rights to Iraq for the previous two Prime Ministers. I therefore have an ongoing interest in the development of human rights there. During this “day of rage”, protesters used violence, mainly by throwing stones at members of the security forces or public buildings, and on rare occasions by setting fire to public buildings, and as a result members of the security forces have also been injured. On 30 March, in a belated but welcome development, the Iraqi authorities announced that their security forces were under orders not to use firearms against demonstrators except where necessary for self-defence.
Up to now, the Iraqi authorities, in both Baghdad and Kurdistan, have sought to crack down on peaceful protesters. That obviously has to change. As Amnesty wrote:
“They should be cracking down on the use of excessive force and torture by their own largely unaccountable security forces, not on the right of people to peacefully protest. The Iraqi authorities should be upholding the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, including the right to protest, not trying to suppress them. It is high time to do so…Torture and other ill-treatment were widespread in Iraq before the US-led invasion in 2003”,
of which we were part,
“and continued in prisons and detention facilities controlled by coalition forces and the new Iraqi governments. Since 2004, suspects held in Iraqi custody have been systematically tortured and dozens of detainees have died as a result.”
In my seven years as special envoy, I continually visited prisons and detention centres and spoke on many occasions to the Iraqi human rights Minister, to whom I pay tribute, because she has a difficult job but has not had enough support.
Amnesty also wrote that
“US forces handed over tens of thousands of prisoners to Iraqi custody between early 2009 and July 2010 without any guarantees that they will be protected.”
I argued constantly in this Chamber that they should not have been handed over to the Iraqis, because they did not have the capacity to deal with the thousands of detainees they were expected to hold. Amnesty also wrote that
“there is every likelihood that torture and ill-treatment will remain widespread. Such abuses have a devastating impact on the victims not just when they are being tortured or ill-treated, but often for years afterwards…Urgent action is needed to end the pattern of abuse and to help the victims and their families.”
I received an e-mail from an American working in Iraq. His name is Tom Cruise—not the actor Tom Cruise—and he is the former senior adviser to the Iraqi Ministry of Defence directorate of human rights. He came to see me several times in the Baghdad embassy because of his great concern about an Iraqi prisoner killed while in detention. He wrote to me in February saying that he was still trying
“to bring attention to the disturbing torture and murder of detainee Adnan in…the former Iraqi 2/3/6 brigade which was run by BG Nasser who is now the Commander of the Iraqi 2nd DIV in Mosul.”
He was tortured and murdered, and the person responsible was known to everybody. His name is Lieutenant Nabil Rahman Ali Mosa al-Yasseri. After eight months of intensive investigation by the FBI, he was located and arrested in al-Hillah. He was held for a mere 10 weeks, and then suddenly he departed. He was helped to escape. Tom Cruise wrote:
“I hope this communication can serve to bring the necessary attention to resurrect this matter and initiate further judicial action so the world can see that Iraq respects human rights and it is important for all and especially for Adnan Awad Mohammed Thaib Al-Jumaila and his family.”
Our embassy has raised this matter with the Iraqi President, Deputy President, Prime Minister and many others in Iraq, but with no results. Obviously, I think that the UK Government can play an important role in putting pressure on the Iraqi authorities to ensure that detainees are either released or brought promptly to trial on recognisable criminal charges, with full and fair trial rights and without recourse to the death penalty. We have invested too much—in money and blood—in the country to allow this abuse of human rights to continue in Iraq.
It is, as ever, a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), who is a Foreign Affairs Committee member.
In my judgment, we made the right decision in March to establish a no-fly zone. At the time, there were concerns about a stalemate and about setting a precedent, but we had a UN resolution and a request from the Arab League to support us and to quell our doubts. The question was whether to intervene or not to intervene, and we chose the lesser of two evils to save Benghazi. As a result, there has been no slaughter in Benghazi, and to that extent it has been a success. We do have a stalemate, however. The question now is how to break the stalemate.
The UN resolution has been widely interpreted. We had the rather unexpected remarks over the weekend of General Sir David Richards, the Chief of the Defence Staff, who has called for a change in the rules of engagement to enable NATO to attack infrastructure to oust Gaddafi. There is a clear difference in our policy between our military and our political objectives. Our military objectives are humanitarian—in that, we are backed up by a United Nations resolution—whereas our political objective, which is not backed by the UN, is to remove Gaddafi. I think that General Richards has come pretty darn close to the latter course of action, touching on the political objectives. As the right hon. Member for Warley (Mr Spellar) said, regime change was set out by Tony Blair in his Chicago speech. I do not support that speech—I do not believe in regime change, and I reject the notions that he set out—but there is a difference between wanting regime change and using military force to achieve it, and General Richards is close to that concept.
The question that I would put to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development is whether General Richards was authorised to make that speech. Is there a legal opinion that says that targeting infrastructure is legal? Can he say what General Richards meant by infrastructure? Was he talking about refineries and power stations? If so, then in my opinion that would not be legal. Going down that road would need an amendment to Security Council resolution 1973 and, of course, a further resolution of this House, which adopted it. Such a policy would also be divisive within NATO. Furthermore, it is not in Libya’s interest to wipe out its economy by attacking the refineries and power stations. When we come to help rebuild that country, we will need that infrastructure—that was one of the mistakes that we made in Iraq. We may be critical in the House of Commons about what is happening in Libya, but it is our reputation and the perception of the Arab world that counts.
So what is the exit strategy? Having achieved the military objective, how will the Government achieve their political objective? There is a big gap between the two concepts. There is nothing wrong with the no-fly zone, the economic sanctions and the hope that a lucky hit on a command and control centre will destroy Gaddafi, but we need to send clear messages to the regime around him. I invite my right hon. Friend to consider the possibility of an amnesty. Why not suggest an amnesty for those around Gaddafi who abandon him and co-operate in bringing him down? It is not beyond the realms of credibility to start talks between the regime and the rebels. We do it where the IRA is concerned and we are proposing to do it in Afghanistan, so why not in Libya?
Let me touch briefly on the Government’s decision to cut the World Service and the Arabic service that it broadcasts. We need soft power to help us in this situation. Cutting the World Service at this point is a mistake.
What is happening in Syria is wholly unacceptable, but the army is solidly behind President Assad. He had a choice, between reform and oppression, and he chose repression, so why do we not have a no-fly zone there? The difference is that we have neither a request from the Arab League nor a UN resolution. I regret the Arab League’s inconsistency and silence on Syria. I have no doubt that it is silent because no one wants the next domino to fall—that is the Arab League’s reservation—but it is still regrettable that it remains silent.
The death of Osama bin Laden represents an opportunity in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Foreign Affairs Committee calls for talks in Afghanistan, and I believe that there is a momentum there that can be built on. However, we have to rebuild the relationship between Pakistan and the United States. Pakistan is a key player. It is a nuclear power and will be involved in any settlement negotiations in Afghanistan. Pakistan is clearly shaken by the death of Osama bin Laden. When the Foreign Affairs Committee went there last October, I was quite shaken by the level of hostility expressed by people in the Pakistan Administration towards the United States. Patching up the relationship will not be smooth, but Britain has a unique role to play. It is the one country in the world that is trusted by both the United States and Pakistan, and it is not beyond the realms of credibility to try to broker talks. Indeed, may I venture to suggest that we could broker talks between the two here in London?
This is a busy time in foreign affairs. I conclude by paying tribute to the Foreign Office. It is having to address action on two fronts, with the usual consular challenges all around. It has a trade policy that it is desperately trying to promote, and it is also dealing with more than its fair share of natural disasters. We have the middle east situation to deal with and, of course, the latest developments in Israel and Palestine. The Foreign Office faces a challenging situation, but in all this it has the full support of the Foreign Affairs Committee. We will of course engage in constructive criticism of the Foreign Office, but we want it and Britain to succeed. As a diplomatic organisation the Foreign Office is the envy of the world. Let us try to keep it that way.
Three months ago it seemed that the Arab spring in north Africa and the middle east might bring democracy to widespread areas of the region. Tunisia made major changes with its jasmine revolution, and Egypt rid itself of the Mubarak regime, even though the aftermath rumbles on. Now, however, the situation seems far less promising. Syria, Bahrain and Yemen continue to suppress the movements for democracy, with continuing serious loss of life inflicted by brutal regimes.
In Libya, not only has the situation reached deadlock, but misgivings must be aroused by NATO’s lack of political direction. UN Security Council resolution 1973 was right and necessary. There is no doubt that the implementation of the no-fly zone has saved very many lives. However, NATO now appears to be stuck, turning to regime-change policies, which are in no way authorised by the resolution. Loathsome though Gaddafi may be, attacks on his compound, apparently targeting him personally, are unacceptable, and it is deplorable that members of his family have been killed. There is no way in which the Security Council has authorised political assassination. It is essential that there should be a clear line of political control, linked to discernible political objectives. The resolution would otherwise never have been nodded through by Russia and China. It is a matter of concern that over the weekend General Sir David Richards tried to state political objectives that are not within his remit. Our brave armed forces are there to carry out objectives decided politically. It is not their leaders’ role to make or urge political policies.
Political assassination appears to be becoming the flavour of the month. I shed no tears for Osama bin Laden, a monster who was responsible for this century’s most lurid atrocity, but for Barack Obama to violate another country’s sovereignty by sending in an assassination squad must arouse deep concern, especially as the White House has made so many conflicting statements that it is impossible to know what really happened in Abbottabad. Was bin Laden armed, and did he seek to resist with arms, thus provoking the Americans to kill him? Did he try to use women as human shields, or was he unarmed? Was any real attempt made to take him alive and put him on trial for his crimes? The White House's handling of the situation has turned a killing into reality TV. There is also a lethal aftermath: 80 innocent Pakistanis were killed by the Taliban at the weekend in what they say was a revenge attack, with a threat of more to come. Did the Americans think this through before they acted?
This latest episode confirms—to me, at any rate—that Obama is simply a sanctimonious version of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. An example is his breaking his pledge to shut down the Guantanamo Bay illegal torture camp. As Zbigniew Brzezinski, the former US national security adviser, has said of Obama: he does not strategise; he sermonises. Nowhere has Obama’s failure been more damaging than in his handling of—or inability to handle—the Israel-Palestine stand-off. On 4 June 2009, he made a ponderous speech in Cairo that was supposed to launch a successful peace initiative. Now, two years later, not only has there been no such initiative but his envoy has packed it in and the situation has become threateningly worse. We are told that the President is going to say something more, quite soon. He will be praised for his oratory, but will it have any practical, useful or helpful consequences?
This past weekend, Israeli soldiers slaughtered 14 more Palestinian protesters. Last week, they murdered a Palestinian teenager on the west bank. Their brutal treatment of peaceful protesters with rubber bullets, tear gas, the spraying of sewage and the manhandling of women and children would be the object of condemnation if inflicted by any other country. The way in which Israeli soldiers maltreat Palestinians is appalling. A Palestinian contact of mine e-mailed me at the weekend with this description of what happened on Friday:
“In Nabi Saleh where I was, the soldiers attacked the men and women with extreme cruelty, although our demonstration was extremely peaceful. We had at least 24 injuries, without counting injuries with pepper spray. They were shooting the gas canisters right at us, aiming at our bodies. One American citizen was shot with a canister on his head. I was standing right to him and I saw the soldier aiming at him. The man is fine now, but he lost part of his scalp.”
I cannot fault the way in which our Government have reacted to this situation, and I particularly commend the Secretary of State for International Development for the way in which his Department has done everything possible to assist those affected. In the end, however, only the United States can exert the necessary pressure to make Israel see sense. The Palestinians are an oppressed people, and the Israelis will never know peace and security until there is a two-state solution. How long, O Lord, how long?
As befits my role as Chair of the International Development Select Committee, I will concentrate on the development aspects of this wide-ranging debate. In the context of Libya, I echo the words of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) about the Department’s prompt response to the emerging crisis in north Africa, and especially to the evacuation of people fleeing the violence of the conflict. I also commend the non-governmental organisations that are operating in difficult conditions, often under fire, to provide medical relief, assistance and support to those beleaguered people.
We all recognise the capacity of the Department to respond to these situations, and the way in which it has done so is extremely welcome, although I think that the Secretary of State would agree that Libya is not a prime target for our aid programme and budget, and nor should it be. Clearly, reconstruction should be carried out within the country’s own resources, but in regard to the first and immediate response, it is good to know that we can respond as well as we have done. In passing I would point out that, as and when we get a resolution that enables Libya to start its reconstruction, the prime investment should come from within its own resources and those of its Arab League neighbours, although we will want to have a constructive engagement if, as we hope, a more benign regime emerges from the conflict.
As far as the rest of the middle east is concerned, one area of interest is the role of the European Union’s external relations strategy. It has focused on the neighbourhood to the east of Europe, which does not have quite the same affinity but which has nevertheless been pursuing a Mediterranean policy. I hope that our Government will encourage the EU to shift the emphasis of its neighbourhood policy towards north Africa a little, rather than seeking to draw down more of the development budget from the UK. It is a matter of some embarrassment that the money we pay into the central budget of the EU goes into a neighbourhood policy that is classified as overseas development assistance, the prime beneficiary of which is Turkey. There is nothing wrong with encouraging Turkey to join the European Union, but it is a little disappointing that that overseas development assistance, which the UK would prefer to go to the poorest people in the poorest countries, is going to those who have the capacity to address their own problems. I hope that the UK has a degree of authority to assert in this instance. Given that we will be the first G20 country to achieve a 0.7% commitment on overseas development assistance by 2013, I think that we are entitled to say to other members of the European Union, which will not have achieved that, that they should not be diverting their aid away from where it could be most effectively targeted.
I intervened on the Foreign Secretary about the middle east peace process. We will be giving £343 million to the occupied Palestinian territories over the lifetime of this Parliament, which is a tragedy because we would not have to give anything if a proper peace process were in place. The area is not incapable of economic activity; it is prevented from being economically active by the frozen conflict. We should use whatever influence we have through the Quartet—I accept that the United States is the dominant influence—to point out to Israel that if it responds to the protests of the frustrated Palestinians in the way that Syria has responded to its protesters, the international community has a responsibility to put pressure on Israel to behave differently, even if we have no ability to intervene in Syria. We must point out that, if Israel does not unblock the peace process now, it could make matters much worse in the short to medium term and that it is really missing an opportunity.
Afghanistan and Pakistan are totally interlinked. The irony is that it looks as though we have more possibility of achieving stability in Afghanistan, difficult though that might be, than we do in Pakistan. It is instructive to take on board the fact that we are committing £2.1 billion of UK overseas development assistance over the course of this Parliament to Pakistan and Afghanistan combined. We must ensure that people understand why we are doing that. The military engagement in Afghanistan understandably gets all the attention, because our soldiers—male and female—are losing their lives in that operation. At the end of the day, however, it is our ability to deliver real improvements in the quality of life, education, health and livelihoods in Afghanistan that will have the most chance of giving people a sense that our engagement has validity and that we are on their side rather than against them.
The same applies, perhaps even more, in Pakistan. I know that the Secretary of State has placed particular emphasis on visiting that country and ensuring that our aid has precisely that effect. Pakistan has a huge, young and very suggestible population who are open to persuasion to take up extreme political positions. The best way to address that—although the outcome is not guaranteed—is to give people access to things that will give them a stake in the future and make them less inclined to join the terrorist activity to which they might otherwise be recruited.
I want to summarise the complicated developments taking place all over the world. Just as the collapse of the Soviet Union took place with unexpected suddenness, so did the onset of what is being called the Arab spring. Looking back to the collapse of the Soviet Union, we can see that we failed to hold Russia to a path of pluralism, democracy and human rights, but we were able to offer its satellites the opportunity to break away from the Soviet Union, achieve democracy and join NATO and the European Union. We cannot do quite the same for the Arab states, but we should hold out a hand of friendship and encouragement. To the extent that they can move towards pluralism, democracy and human rights, they will find willing partners to engage with in Europe.
We must not underestimate the fact that the Iraq war incensed middle eastern and Arab opinion. It also distracted us from the legitimate tasks in Afghanistan, took our eyes off Pakistan and, in many ways, damaged the legitimacy of the democratic world when engaging in these issues. We need to tread more softly if we are to build trust and respect that can open the way for economic development and poverty reduction, and expand the numbers and proportion of people in all those countries who have a stake in peace, transparency and the rule of law. We need to be a little more humble and a little less arrogant, and we need to use our soft power development funding in ways that build trust and confidence where our foreign policy has not always achieved the same result.
As we approach the sixth anniversary of 7/7 and the 10th anniversary of 9/11, my thoughts turn to the lives so tragically lost. It is clear that the war on terror is the battle of our era—a struggle to rid perceptions and ethics, ideology and religion of extremism and its deadly inevitability.
I find it hard to rejoice at the death of any man, even that of Osama bin Laden. I hope that his death is the beginning of the end for al-Qaeda—I accept that it might not be—but we must not be naive of history: no individual is irreplaceable; the war, the fight and the danger are far from over. However, bin Laden’s death provides us with an opportunity which, if seized, could lead to real progress in the fight against extremist violence, especially on the two key fronts of Pakistan and Afghanistan. There could be no better tribute to bin Laden’s victims than to use his death for lasting good.
In this war, our relationship with Pakistan is perhaps the most crucial. One immediate impact of the raid on Abbottabad has been to put that country under pressure as never before. One well-informed observer in Pakistan told me over the weekend that the country feels like it is in anaphylactic shock, while some in my constituency called for us to review our co-operation and aid in the light of the perception that Pakistan was complicit in harbouring the world’s most wanted man.
I doubt whether we will ever know the hard facts about what the Government of Pakistan knew or did not know about bin Laden’s whereabouts. It should be investigated, but what is most important is the bigger question of our overall longer-term relationship with Pakistan. There are clearly severe problems that need to be resolved and changes that can and must be made. We need urgently to find new ways to do that, but there is an overriding mutual interest in making the relationship work. I think that the basic outline of how to achieve that is clear.
Pakistan has legitimate concerns about sovereignty and its own security. Those concerns can be addressed, but in exchange, the Pakistanis cannot pursue those interests in a way that directly undermines stability in Afghanistan and harbours extremism at home or abroad. I believe that the crisis that has followed the killing of bin Laden provides a real opportunity for ourselves and the Pakistanis to reflect on how we refine our relationship to suit our shared interests. It is an opportunity we must take; indeed, we have to take it and we have to get it right. The consequences of failure—for ourselves and for the Pakistanis alike—are too dangerous to contemplate.
The UK's interest in a stable, democratic and peaceful Pakistan is clear. The country faces serious challenges and internal divisions. Those are very real: they include rising political tensions, unrest in the tribal areas, insecurity on its borders and more violent extremist groups than any other nation in the world. As with the wider middle east and north Africa as well as Afghanistan, the UK will feel the effects of state failure in Pakistan all too directly. The path used to import its product—whether it be drugs, the hateful rhetoric of extremism or the suicide bomber—is well trodden. We should also not forget how many of Pakistan’s people have died as a result of terrorism or in their fight to contain it. The prospect of a nuclear-armed Pakistan collapsing into internal strife or war with its neighbours is a nightmare. Now, more than ever, Pakistanis need us to stand shoulder to shoulder with them.
It is great to say that we should stand shoulder to shoulder with Pakistan and that we should respect its security interests, but what exactly does the hon. Gentleman mean? Does he mean recognise the Durand line or the boundaries with Kashmir? What security interests is he talking about; what concessions is he proposing?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. It neatly brings me on to the points I am about to cover.
What I believe is that we and our allies must work closely with Pakistan and that we must address its fears about its relationships with Afghanistan, India, other neighbours—and, crucially, as already mentioned, with the United States. We must do that in a way that acknowledges the particular challenges that the country faces. We must work together to find ways to tackle extremist groups without overly infringing on Pakistani sovereignty. I accept that the hon. Gentleman has made a good point, but the time constraints mean that I will not be able to go into detail now on the questions he asked. I would say, however, that in order to refine UK-Pakistan relations, we must find the balance between respecting Pakistan’s sovereignty and the eradication of Islamist extremist networks operating from Pakistan. The threat to both of us from the unchecked rise of extremism is too great to ignore. Perhaps most immediately, Pakistan can play a decisive role in reaching a fair and lasting peace in Afghanistan.
We are at an important crossroads in our relationship with Pakistan. The death of the head of al-Qaeda is significant, but we must remain engaged: this is a fight for the long term and we must leave those who would attack us in no doubt that we have the stomach for it. We should not stick blindly, however, to the path we have followed up to now. There are real dangers in our current position, but there are also real opportunities. We must be ready to seize them if we are to achieve the peace we all desire.
In January this year, I had the privilege to visit Pakistan with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association delegation. We all know that the danger with such visits is that we travel fast, meet a few people and come back as instant experts. I am aware that many Members know much more about the subject than me, but I feel completely confident in saying what I am about to say.
Sadly, it has recently become fashionable to criticise Pakistan—to criticise the amount of aid that we give it and to criticise it for being lukewarm in its reaction to the terror threat. The point has been made this evening on a number of occasions that Pakistan has invested more blood and treasure than any other country in the world in the fight against terrorism. We met the Pakistan Minister for Minorities, Dr Shahbaz Bhatti on 24 January; a fortnight later, Dr Bhatti was dead—murdered because of his Christianity and, more particularly, I think, because of his commitment to the cause of moderation. If such people are not to have died in vain, we have to ensure that we stand behind Pakistan and offer such assistance as we can.
The country has changed its constitution. There will be a shift of power from federal government to the regions. The point has also been made that it is a young country in respect of its population—it is one of the few countries in the world with more young people than old people. The young people we met were hugely enthusiastic for their future, but they were also hopelessly disorganised. In the regions, the democratic processes and the infrastructure are lamentable.
I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development is hugely committed to the cause of education in Pakistan, but we need to go one step further and strengthen the democratic infrastructure, perhaps through institutions such as the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, so as to enable the transfer of power from the federal government to the regions without extremism taking over. We will report to the Minister next Monday, and we will make those points then, but I want to make them to my right hon. Friend here tonight and to put them on the record.
I have the honour to be the chairman of the all-party parliamentary Tunisia group. The Arab spring, as it is now called, actually began in midwinter with the jasmine revolution in Tunisia. Since then, the introduction of an interim Government has led to the creation of an election commission, which has set in train the processes for the democratic elections that we hope and believe— despite some misgivings—will still be held on 24 July. I say “despite some misgivings”, because the task is herculean. In the time available, the commission must try to create a register and an identification process, and it must try to work out the detail of the election itself. It must establish whether the election will be held in constituency terms or nationally on a proportional-representation basis. As things stand, some 60 parties will be entering the election, which will create huge problems in itself.
The choice, however, is between action now and delay. Delay will lead to further unrest and further confusion. The consensus seems to be that it is right to move ahead, accepting the fact that the election will probably be ragged around the edges. Those of us who have worked as international election observers know only too well that in developing countries there must be an acceptance of some degree of imperfection. If we judge on the basis of our own methods, perhaps we should not look too closely at the dust in other people’s eyes.
The important part of the process will be what follows the election. The Government who are elected will again be an interim Government, but they will have been elected. They will be charged with the duty of creating a constitution that will then be taken back to the people for a further election, and only then will the real process of reconstruction start. However, that should not gainsay the fact that Tunisia is, at this moment, open for business. What it needs more than anything else is economic development and investment. The tourism industry is on its knees, but the country is safe and able to receive visitors.
The other problem that Tunisia has with Europe is that Europe will not take its agricultural goods, which has implications for rural jobs. It is not good enough for France and Italy to complain about the number of migrants from north African countries, while closing their doors to the produce that those countries, especially Tunisia, need to sell in order to create the jobs that will keep migrant workers at home and enable them to grow their own economies.
The abandoning of the Schengen agreement by France and Italy should come as no surprise to any Member, but it would behove, in particular, the southern states of the European Union to try to create real opportunities, rather than investing cash in programmes that may or may not lead to jobs in the longer term. They should immediately consider the possibility of bringing Tunisia into a customs union, so that it can look to Europe legitimately and play a real part in the development of the Arab spring and of democracy.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate, and, in particular, to follow so many hon. Members with great expertise in the matters that we are discussing. I do not claim to have such expertise, but it is important to put on record some of my concerns and those conveyed to me by constituents, including women—I note in passing that I am now the only female Member in the Chamber.
It is important for us to debate a situation that continues to develop on a daily basis in Libya, as well as wider issues relating to the middle east and north Africa. There are far too many of those issues for me to be able to cover them in a short speech, so I shall focus on matters involving Libya.
Like many other Members, I thought long and hard before deciding to support the Government in their Libya mission. I am not naturally inclined towards armed interventions, and many of my constituents expressed concern about what such an intervention would lead to, but—albeit with a heavy heart—I felt it necessary for us to enforce UN security resolution 1973 in view of the rapid deterioration towards a one-sided armed conflict and the humanitarian crisis that was likely to follow, particularly given the number of non-military casualties.
I have no doubt that the British forces have performed their role in an exemplary and professional fashion, as they always do, and that they have contributed significantly to the protection of the civilian population. As we have already heard, however, the challenge now is to define our future role and establish at what stage we will feel able to withdraw. Regretfully, I have to say that there currently seems to be a lack of strategic direction. In recent weeks, the Government appear to have made tactical and operational decisions that begin to depart from the original mandate of protecting civilians. The Government’s decision to provide telecommunications, body armour and a number of military advisers seems to me, and to many of my constituents, to have more to do with a military situation developing on the ground in Libya than with simply enforcing the resolution. I also regret having to express the view that the Government have failed to communicate to the public, and indeed to Parliament, the exact role of those people in a developing situation. For how long will they be deployed, and how does their role relate to the wider remit of protecting civilians? Those questions remain unanswered.
It seems that none of the measures represents a breach of the mandate provided by the United Nations and approved by the House, but they suggest a move towards measures that are beyond what I expected in supporting the Government when we debated the issue. Perhaps, when he winds up the debate, the Secretary of State for International Development will identify some specific issues and make the case for the strategic role of the advisers in resolving the crisis. Specifically, the advisers are there as a result of the Foreign Secretary’s assertion to the House on 26 April that
“it is impossible to see a way of securing the full implementation of the UN Security Council resolution while Colonel Gaddafi remains.” —[Official Report, 26 April 2011; Vol. 527, c. 40.]
A number of Members have commented on that statement. Is the mission now to remove Gaddafi at all costs, rather than simply to ensure the protection of civilians? If the Foreign Secretary’s statement is informing strategic military decisions, the Government must be absolutely clear and up front. That is vital in the context of some of the comments made today about a possible move towards identifying different targets.
Does the hon. Lady appreciate the distinction between the wishes of the British Government, in terms of someone who is now wanted by the International Criminal Court, and what the UN resolution sanctions in terms of the military mission by the international community? Those are two different things.
Of course they are two different things, but I have worries, which were identified at the outset of the process, about where we will end up and about the possibility of mission creep. It is important for the Government to continue to report back to those of us who, while supporting the Government, had and still have concerns.
There may also be a danger that as the conflict has continued, many of us—including the wider public—have become used to seeing images of it on our TV screens. Fewer column inches may have been devoted to reporting the details in the press, causing people to become immune to the process. That is why, as the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) has implied, it is vital for the House to have an opportunity to hear from Ministers regularly, and to be allowed a further vote if measures beyond those outlined in resolution 1973 are considered at any stage. Understandably, the military situation and western involvement in Libya have become the focus of media attention and therefore of public debate, but in the wider region there is also a whole range of other, non-military options, which I hope the Government will support. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say about that.
It is important that wherever we are involved in trying to resolve conflict, we support universal suffrage and the democratic process, which is especially the case in countries that are on the brink of a bright new future. It is reassuring that the UK is at the forefront of pressing for European Union action, and that an agreement has been reached on an arms embargo and the revocation of the association agreement that had been put in place with Syria.
My final point is about the ability of the UK to offer continued commitment to the aims of resolution 1973. The Select Committee on Defence asked whether the UK will remain a full-spectrum force capable of deploying all aspects of military power across the world, and the chiefs of all three services—the British Army, Navy and Air Force—answered no. However, that view seemed to be contradicted by many senior UK officials, such as Britain’s ambassador to the US, who maintained that the UK has emerged from the recent strategic defence review and the ensuing round of spending cuts announced by the Prime Minister in October as a full-spectrum military power. It is important that we understand what effect the cuts are going to have, and what their implications will be for our work in all the areas where we are currently involved.
In conclusion, I make the following plea. While British troops remain deployed in Afghanistan and elsewhere, it is vital that our armed forces are not stretched to breaking point. It is also important that we continue to give humanitarian aid, and I hope that that becomes the focus of our work. I urge the Government to ensure that the focus is on bringing peace in all areas of conflict where we are involved, supporting humanitarian aid and, importantly, returning our armed forces safely to the UK as soon as possible.
In the House on 21 March, the Prime Minister said in answer to a question from the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) about the current violence in north Africa and the middle east:
“I agree with the hon. Lady that there will be lessons to learn from the conflict for the future.”—[Official Report, 21 March 2011; Vol. 525, c. 707.]
I want to focus on one area where I believe that there is a very important lesson to be learned—arms export policy. That question arises because in the two years prior to the Arab spring, under both the current and previous Governments, arms export licences for weapons that can be used for internal repression were granted on an extremely wide scale throughout north Africa and the middle east, and those export licence approvals have been shown to have been grievously mistaken.
The policy was clearly stated on 18 February by the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt):
“The longstanding British position is clear. We will not issue licences where we judge there is a clear risk the proposed export might provoke or prolong regional or internal conflicts or”—
this is the key policy statement—
“which might be used to facilitate internal repression.”
The recent Committees on Arms Export Controls report sets out quarter by quarter since the beginning of 2009 the details of the arms export licences that were approved in each period. That shows, for example, sub-machine-guns and sniper rifles to Bahrain, and components for semi-automatic pistols and sub-machine-guns, artillery computers, combat shotguns, intelligence equipment and small arms ammunition to Libya. Since the publication of that report, the latest quarterly report has been published, taking us up to the last quarter of 2010—in other words, to a matter of two or three weeks before the start of the Arab spring. It shows that even in that period we were exporting equipment for sniper rifles to Bahrain and components for combat aircraft, military equipment for initiating explosives and weapon night-sights to Libya.
If one Government statement reflects the over-optimism that has afflicted both the current and the previous Governments about the risks that are run in exporting certain types of weapons to authoritarian regimes, it is to be found in the 2008 annual report on strategic arms exports. There was a case study of a licence application for armoured personnel carriers for Libya, which concluded:
“There remain wider human rights risks in Libya, but it was judged very unlikely that these vehicles would be used to carry out abuses. As a result it was concluded, with reference to the Consolidated Criteria, that there was not a clear risk that these vehicles would be used for internal repression and the licence was approved.”
I think that conclusion was symptomatic of the policy followed by both Governments.
I strongly support many of the points that my right hon. Friend is making, and it is absolutely proper to raise this issue. However, we both welcome the fact that the current Government have revoked more than 150 such arms licences granted by the Labour Government, and we both welcome the fact that this Government are currently actively reviewing the whole policy of arms exports.
That anticipates the point that I am about to make.
Britain was, of course, by no means the only country to engage in this degree of over-optimism and, as has been said, the Government have sought to retrieve the position. First, they have announced the revocation of a substantial number of arms export licences. Indeed, according to the latest figures, between 27 January and 9 March this year more than 150 previously granted arms export licences were revoked. That serves to highlight the scale of the previous misjudgment.
Why, however, are those revocations limited to just four countries—Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Bahrain? Why have there been no revocations of arms exports to Syria, for example? Why, too, have there been no revocations of arms exports to Saudi Arabia, whose British-made armoured personnel carriers have rolled into Bahrain and are therefore complicit, as it were, in the appalling abuses of human rights there? Of course, I understand that Saudi Arabia is big money, is big oil, and is useful intelligence, but can the Government really justify such a blatant degree of inconsistency in their revocations policy?
Secondly, I greatly welcome the review of arms export licences, but it has been initiated only in relation to north Africa and the middle east, while recent events also suggest that there are serious questions to be raised about arms export licence policy for weapons that can be used for internal repression in relation to authoritarian regimes worldwide. Sadly, authoritarian regimes extend from the boundaries of the European Union to the very furthest east. There are too many authoritarian regimes in Africa and some in central and south America. The current review should therefore be extended to cover authoritarian regimes worldwide. The Committees on Arms Export Controls has recommended that, and I earnestly hope that the Government will accept that recommendation and the other recommendations in our report.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley). He and I have served together on the Committees on Arms Export Controls and on the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs for many years, and he speaks a great deal of sense on arms exports issues.
Somebody once said, in the context of British politics, “You can be in office and not in power.” That situation clearly applies in a number of countries around the world, but I wish to focus my remarks, as others have done, on what is happening in Pakistan. The fact that Osama Bin Laden apparently lived in Abbottabad with food and access to information, although not to the internet, and was somehow protected, is a matter of deep concern, but I have no doubt that the Government of President Zardari had no knowledge that that was the case. The question for us, which is highlighted in a very good book that came out this week, “Pakistan: A Hard Country” by Anatol Lieven, is about the relationship between the civil society and the political society in Pakistan and the military and intelligence elite that has run that state.
Anatol Lieven says that:
“the Pakistani national security state…was born chiefly out of fear of, and hostility to, India. This is felt most strongly in the military and, in the ISI, it is a raging monomania.”
That sums up the problem. According to an opinion poll of about two years ago, 85% of the Pakistani population want better relations with India. We find the same thing when we speak to people in the British-Pakistani and British-Indian community—many of whom, including many of my constituents, have roots in the divided Punjab—and when we go, as I did with the Foreign Affairs Committee five years ago, by road from Amritsar to Lahore, through the Wagah crossing. If we leave aside the symbolism of the soldiers on both sides at the ceremony, we also find the interesting sight of the bearers, who, on the one side, carry sacks of onions on their heads for about a mile and half and, on the other side, carry boxes of dried fruit. This is an international border where people cannot trade by means of vehicles passing through; everything has to be unloaded and then loaded again.
Economic co-operation between India and Pakistan would be of great benefit to both countries, especially in dealing with Pakistan’s problems arising from its rapidly growing population: it has 180 million people, and that is on the way to becoming 300 million or 350 million. Massive difficulties are also caused by the fact that a disproportionate amount of money in Pakistan is taken up by the national security structure, and because the obsession with India means that it is a state that has in the past, through its Inter-Services Intelligence, sponsored terrorist organisations and insurgent groups in both Afghanistan and India. The democratic and secular forces—the people, including the late Shahbaz Bhatti, to whom reference has been made, who believe in women’s rights and in protecting minorities, and who stand up for ethical values and global values of human rights—are besieged now in Pakistan because of the international context.
The Pakistani Government and Pakistani politicians can rightly point out that many of the problems they face arise because of the misguided interventions of 25 and 30 years ago, which led to the situation in Afghanistan, where the groups that evolved into the Taliban were developed. However, there was also a Pakistani hand in some of that; they got the money from the United States—from the CIA—it was pushed through the ISI and it went through to people such as Mr Hekmatyar, to what is now the Haqqani network in Afghanistan, and to the Taliban.
That worm has turned, and the Pakistani state faces enormous threats from those organisations, but it also has its own resilience and ability to fight back. In my opinion, it is good news that Osama Bin Laden was killed and is dead, and however critical we might be of the fact that he was in Pakistan, we need to make an assessment and take a clear view. The Government of Pakistan were not shielding that man, nor were the Pakistani people. That was done by certain rogue elements within their society, and it would be completely wrong to do what some in the United States Congress are calling for and punish Pakistan by cutting off economic assistance and ending co-operation.
What Pakistan needs today is our solidarity against the terrorist threat it faces. Its secular politicians need our support and encouragement to rebuild the dialogue with India, to resolve the difficulties over Kashmir and to co-operate against the common threats of terrorism which both those countries are facing. That is not going to be easy—the history and the fact that the pain is so deep on both sides means that it will be very difficult—but the alternative is to play into the hands of the extremist groups that wish to foster a failed state, further conflict and terrorism. That will not only be destructive to all the values of Pakistan and India, but it will blow back into this country because people here have family roots in that part of the world. We owe it to them, as well as to ourselves, to work in co-operation with Pakistan at this time of great difficulty.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes), the former Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee. I agreed with almost everything he said. I agreed with the main thrust of it, and with his point about the essential need for our continued involvement in Pakistan in terms of providing aid and support. I also pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development for his concentration on the issue of education in Pakistan. A country that spends only 2% of its gross domestic product on education is one that must cause considerable concern to the rest of the world, as it is doing now.
I declare my interest as the chairman of the Conservative Friends of Israel, and I wish to say two things, which may take me a little time. First, it has become increasingly clear over the past six months that the middle eastern problem is not Israel. When Osama bin Laden was killed a few weeks ago, an important article by Robert Fisk appeared in The Independent, in which he made the point that al-Qaeda’s irrelevance has been shown by the fact that the Arab spring was demanding not more Islamic fundamentalism, but freedoms. It is just as important to note that the Arab spring has not been demanding a change in Palestine, essential though that change is; the Arab spring has been demanding the sort of freedoms—freedom of speech, freedom of the press and the rule of law—that are provided and embodied in Israel. My main initial point about Israel is that it is not the middle eastern problem; the autocratic regimes that have been surrounding Israel are the problem.
The second issue—it looks as though I shall have plenty of time to finish within my eight minutes—is the rapprochement between Hamas and Fatah. I would like to ask what it means. If it means that Hamas and Fatah will be united on the Fatah way of looking at things—the renunciation of violence, the recognition of Israel, the agreement to maintain and honour previous agreements—it will be a very good thing indeed. If, however, it means that they will be united on the Hamas view of things, that is entirely different. We know about Hamas. In the last month alone more than 120 rockets have been fired into Israel from Gaza, some with 40 km in range. There have been rockets and mortars, and a guided anti-tank missile hit a school bus in Israel and killed a 16-year-old schoolboy. Terrorism sponsored by, perpetrated by and supported by Hamas has killed more than 500 people in Israel since the beginning of 2003.
If the new Hamas-Fatah organisation follows the Fatah line I will be utterly delighted. That would mean that we could negotiate with Hamas again and that Israel would have a useful negotiating partner, because all these things must be achieved by negotiation and cannot be achieved by force or unilateralism. If, however, the new united organisation follows the Hamas line, the reconciliation will be either meaningless or significantly worse. This is not a various shades of grey issue, but a black and white one.
Does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that one of the important consequences of this agreement is that it allows a programme to go forward for democratic elections, hopefully at the end of this year or the beginning of next, that will then allow the Palestinian people as a whole to elect a new Parliament and a new President? That is vital if we are to get serious negotiation between Israel and the Palestinians.
I agree that that is very important. I asked the Prime Minister a month or so ago whether he was concerned that when the President of the Palestinian Authority called for elections, Hamas immediately rejected that—Hamas having been a democratically elected organisation that renounced democracy once its mandate had expired. I agree, however, that the notion of bringing democracy back to Hamas would be a welcome change.
Unfortunately, I think there is a risk that in the British Foreign Office the view is that this is a matter of shades of grey as opposed to black and white. For Israel it is not a matter of shades of grey. Israel has been struggling to secure itself and just to exist. When it comes to murdering schoolchildren, which Hamas went in for, that cannot be regarded as shades of grey.
Does the right hon. Gentleman not think that things such as the killing of 13 people at Qalandiya crossing yesterday by Israeli forces, the continued expansion of settlements and the taking over of Silwan in East Jerusalem need to change in Israel if there is to be any hope of some longer-term peace agreement?
I agree about the settlements, and I have said so in a speech in this Chamber. The hon. Gentleman heard me say that in the last speech I made about Israel. As for what happened at the crossing, I think the Government are right to call for restraint on all sides. There seems to me to be something very convenient about Israel moving in to the headlines as soon as there were clashes on the border of Syria and Lebanon. I am profoundly suspicious about what was behind those clashes.
At a time when the Arab spring is showing that the Arab people are desperate for freedoms, now is not the time for the United Kingdom or the international community to abandon the Quartet’s principles. They must demand that Hamas should renounce violence, recognise the state of Israel and honour the previous agreements.
I listened to the speech made by the right hon. Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Arbuthnot) with much interest, but there have been many civilian casualties on both sides and innocent people have been killed; indeed, that happened over the weekend, as many of my hon. Friends, including my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), have said. What is required is a genuine peace settlement.
I was not going to speak about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict until the right hon. Member for North East Hampshire provoked me. There are only two Members in the House who were here in 1967, when the war took place, and I am one of the two. I expressed my point of view on the situation at the time. With respect to the right hon. Gentleman, it is not a question of Israel now fighting for its very existence, but of the absolute refusal of Israel to come to any genuine agreement for a viable and independent Palestinian state. The Israeli settlements that have been built on the west bank surely demonstrate a lack of commitment on the part of Israel to what the international community—including, of course, the United Kingdom—would like to see: a two-state solution.
We can disagree about Hamas and the rest. Obviously, what Hamas stands for, being basically an Islamic fundamentalist concept, to say the least, is totally alien to everything I believe in. That goes without saying, but in negotiations one deals with one’s enemy. After all, if anyone is says that it is impossible to reach agreement with Hamas, we know that the IRA argued for years that there could be absolutely no solution in Northern Ireland until Britain decided to leave, yet a very different situation emerged. Those who, like the right hon. Member for North East Hampshire, take the Israeli point of view very strongly would do far more good if they could pressurise Israel to recognise that there needs to be a wide-ranging agreement.
If it was right, in the circumstances of the extermination of millions of people, for Israel to be created by the international community in 1947 and 1948, let us not forget for one moment the tremendous injustice that was done to the Palestinians as a result. The Palestinians were not responsible for what happened to the Jewish people during the second world war.
I now turn to the question of Libya. I made it clear in my speech on 21 March, in the previous debate on Libya, that I could not support the Government. I hesitated about voting against the motion, and in fact I abstained. I had hesitations during that debate, not because I did not want to see humanitarian action taken—obviously, I wanted help to be given to civilians in Libya who could be at the mercy of Gaddafi; that goes without saying—but I had the feeling that resolution 1973 would in practice result in an attempt at regime change. All that has occurred in more recent weeks, since that debate, has persuaded me that in spite all the denials we heard today from the Foreign Secretary and the rest, at the end of it all what is required is that Gaddafi should abdicate, that there should be regime change and that, if necessary, Gaddafi could be the subject of an assassination attempt.
I am no apologist for Gaddafi; heaven forbid. I have opposed the regime ever since he took power 32 years ago, as it was obviously based on tyranny and was much involved in international terrorism, as we know. Why on earth should I in any circumstances wish to defend or justify such a regime? But international law does not permit regime change or the assassination of a leader. The remarks of the Army chief, General Richards, over the weekend are bound to cause added worry. What will happen is an escalation of what has been occurring in the air strikes of the past fortnight or so. It is interesting that so many of the Members on both sides of the House who have spoken in this debate, most of whom voted with the Government on 21 March, have expressed the same reservations and concern about what is happening in Libya that I am expressing now.
The right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley) made a very good speech about the selling of arms to authoritarian states. There was hardly a word he said, even in his criticism of the previous Government, with which I could disagree. As he pointed out, it is interesting to note that however despicable the Gaddafi regime has been, Britain was selling arms to it right up to the moment before the demonstrations when opposition emerged in Libya. Why did we do that, and why do we sell arms to other states that are based on tyranny? Syria, which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned, is a good example of that. I certainly hope that there will be far greater concern about that in future, and that more attempts will be made to ensure that Britain is not involved in selling arms to countries such as Gaddafi’s Libya.
Turkey has put forward certain proposals regarding Libya that I should have thought it would be useful to try. It has urged an immediate ceasefire and has emphasised the need to start a political process leading to Gaddafi’s leaving office. The Government say that there is no wish on Gaddafi’s part to engage in a genuine ceasefire, but let us test that; let us see. Let us use Turkey’s proposals, which seem worth trying at least, and in so doing save lives.
Had there been time I would also have discussed Afghanistan and the wish to end as soon as possible the use of British military forces there. In the absence of time, I will simply say again to the Government that although they received support from the overwhelming majority on 21 March, that majority did not support regime change, and that resolution 1973 should not be used for that purpose.
It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick), who can always be relied on to make a thoughtful contribution.
In 1961, a young man, Abdul-Ghani, left his poverty-stricken village in Punjab, Pakistan, for England. He had heard that the mother country, as England was still known at that time, had plenty of jobs, so he decided to try his luck. Like many young Pakistanis arriving in Britain at that time, Abdul-Ghani planned to stay in England for only a few years—just long enough to earn enough money to send back to his siblings so that they could have the education that he never had. He also intended to return home because he loved his homeland. He remembered how, at the age of nine, he had been part of the largest population exchange in history, in which more than 15 million Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs had tried to find safety in their newly born nation states. To this day, he will never forget the stench of death and the heart-wrenching human misery that he witnessed.
In the early 1960s, many young Pakistanis such as Abdul-Ghani still harboured huge hopes for their country. They believed in the vision of Pakistan’s founding father, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who wanted a democratic, secular, modern state. As the years passed, Abdul-Ghani, who was by then a very proud bus driver in Rochdale, sadly came to realise that he would not be going back to Pakistan because the country was moving backwards. He gave up on his dreams of returning home and decided that he and his future family would be wise to make their permanent home in England. It is because of that decision that I am able to stand before the House and contribute to this important debate.
By the 1960s, it was already clear that the ruling bargain in Pakistan had changed. Gone was the dream of a tolerant, democratic and secular nation. In sharp contrast to the situation in neighbouring India, the rules of the game in Pakistan were being set by the Pakistani army. The army allowed the pretence of civilian rule, but everyone knew that it called all the shots. Each year, the army granted itself nearly 25% of the national budget and justified its rule on the grounds that Pakistan needed to confront its real enemy—India. Despite the very real challenges of widespread poverty and illiteracy, with enlightened leadership Pakistan could have taken the path to greater prosperity. That is not just a dream: many Muslim-majority countries have achieved that, including Turkey, Malaysia and Indonesia. Virtually every leader of Pakistan has failed his people, choosing self-interest over the national interest. They have all too often obscured their own incompetence and deceit by blaming every failure on an external, exaggerated threat. In much the same way, many Arab rulers love to blame Israel for all their problems.
I was saddened but not surprised that bin Laden was found to be living in Pakistan. Let us be clear. He was not just living in Pakistan: he was a stone’s throw away from the national military academy and just a two-hour drive from Islamabad. I have no doubt that it was just and strategically right for the US to kill bin Laden, and although I do not think that the Pakistani Government were involved in any way or were complicit as a whole, I find it very hard to believe that there were not elements of the Pakistani military intelligence services and some Government officials providing him with safe harbour. To suggest otherwise is frankly laughable. That is why there is no way that Britain’s relationship with Pakistan can remain the same.
When the Prime Minister visited Pakistan last year, he was right to say that Pakistan looked “both ways” when it came to terrorism. He was also right when he told the House very recently that we cannot afford to turn our back on Pakistan. If we did, the threat to Britain from the emergence of a nuclear-armed failed state in one of the world’s most volatile regions would be far too great. It is in neither Britain’s interest nor Pakistan’s for relations to become more adversarial, but Pakistan’s strategy of being both a friend and an adversary is no longer tenable. That is why we need to take a harder line on Pakistan and demand a lot more in return for our assistance, aid and friendship. The UK and the US should formally present to Pakistan’s leaders any information they have about Pakistani complicity in shielding bin Laden and should demand tough and immediate action. We should demand that Pakistan uproots insurgent sanctuaries, shuts down factories that produce bombs that kill our soldiers, and hunts down leading terrorists who are still at large.
We also need to start reducing our dependence on Pakistan. First, the international security assistance force should find an alternative to the supply lines that run through Pakistan to Afghanistan, and we should expand alternative supply routes through Azerbaijan and other countries in central Asia. Secondly, NATO and Afghanistan should reach agreement on a longer-term settlement allowing for a small but lasting military presence in Afghanistan. That capability could be indispensible in preventing some of the worst-case scenarios involving Pakistan and its nuclear weapons.
When it comes to helping Pakistan, our No. 1 focus should be on promoting commerce and education, as they are the only tools to help ordinary, long-suffering Pakistanis to climb out of poverty. Our message should not be that we are abandoning Pakistan, but that we will help Pakistan fight its true enemies—ignorance, illiteracy, corrupt elites and religious conflict. Although the killing of bin Laden was an important success, a greater achievement would be to transform UK-Pakistani relations into a true partnership that fights terrorism and helps ordinary Pakistanis.
I welcome today’s debate and the commitment from the Foreign Secretary that there will be regular reports to the House on the situation in Afghanistan and Libya.
The uprisings across the whole Arab world are momentous in historical terms and in many ways are a continuation of the uprisings of the 1950s, which were eventually mired in corruption and autocracy in almost every country. What we see now on the streets of so many Arab countries is a thirst for accountable government, economic sustainability and, above all, political freedoms. These developments are to be wholly welcomed, but they are not without their problems. The forces of the state that have sustained dictators in power for a very long time are hitting back in a real and quick way.
I pointed out in an intervention what was happening in Tunisia, where protesters are being fairly brutally prevented from making their views known. In the same way, progress in Egypt is up and down. Elements of the old regime constantly pop up and try to prevent industrial action by legitimate trade unions and to control society, just as the Mubarak regime did for a very long time. There should be understanding and solidarity.
While visiting Tunisia earlier this year, I recall talking to a group of young people in the central square in Tunis. It was when the protests were beginning in Libya, and I asked them whether they wanted any outside help. They said no, they did not. Historically, they had had quite enough of French colonialism, and they felt that people in the neighbouring countries had had quite enough of Italian and British colonialism. They wanted to do it themselves.
Proposing the intervention in Libya and support for the UN resolution, the Foreign Secretary made it clear that that was humanitarian; that it would create a no-fly zone; that it was designed to protect lives; and that it would be within the terms of international law. Listen to his speech today, follow the mood music, follow the statements made by NATO and all the others, and it is clear that the whole intervention is about regime change and occupation. The rush to provide facilities and support for the transitional council, which has renamed itself after its members were called “rebels” for a long time, suggests to me that we are in fact involved in a civil war.
I am not here, any more than my Friend the Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick) is, to defend the human rights abuses of the Gaddafi regime. I just feel that we have involved ourselves in a civil war, that there are ulterior motives relating to oil and future markets, and that a macabre demonstration is taking place to show the power of various defence systems and strike aircraft.
My hon. Friend had the wisdom to vote against this ill-fated intervention. Does he agree that it is concerning that we are sending so-called advisers to the region? In other interventions of this kind, where advisers go, troops cannot be far behind.
The parallel is Vietnam 1963, when several thousand CIA advisers descended on that country. That eventually turned out to be 500,000 US troops, 100,000 of whom died there. A million Vietnamese also died in that conflict. We should be slightly more careful, more sanguine and less gung-ho about the process.
Turkey has tried to bring about a peace process, as has the African Union, but what hope is there for a peace process and a diplomatic settlement if the language coming from NATO and others is, “We are going to win this conflict”? That is the subtext.
It is an extremely rare event when I disagree with my hon. Friend on this subject, but does he understand the predicament of many of us in the House when that vote was taken on whether we should intervene? If we did not intervene, we were leaving the people of Benghazi defenceless against the bloodthirsty threats of Gaddafi.
I have no doubt that the forces of the Gaddafi regime were being very brutal to people in Benghazi, just as the forces in Tunisia and Egypt were brutal to people in those countries. If the west was serious about bringing about a diplomatic solution in Libya, the Secretary-General of the UN and Heads of State would have gone there and there would have been a real effort, but the subtext the whole time, by Sarkozy particularly, was that they wanted military intervention and a no-fly zone. I voted against it because I do not believe that the intervention was as high-minded as my hon. Friend suggests it may have been, and many Members who voted for the motion on that day are having some doubts about what went on on that occasion.
I will not give way any more as I have had my allotted injury time, if the House understands what I mean.
I want to mention two other topics. I believe that there are double standards at work. The west has intervened in Libya, where there are large amounts of oil and where, under Tony Blair, a deal was done with the Government and arms were sold. They were being sold right up to the point when NATO was preparing to go in there. Interestingly, the arms sales there and in every other country in the region are, yes, planes, missiles and radar systems, but in every case they include anti-personnel equipment for crowd control, to deal with civil disorder and control populations.
That is what is now happening in Bahrain, with the support of Saudi Arabia. Other Members have drawn attention to what is going on there. I was with the Bahraini opposition groups in London last week. I first met Bahraini opposition groups at a UN human rights conference in Copenhagen in 1986, when they were complaining about British support for the regime, the suspension of the constitution and the lack of democracy in Bahrain. That has not stopped this country doing a lot of business with Bahrain. It has not stopped arms exports and oil imports from Bahrain. I would like condemnation of the violence of the Bahrain and the Saudi regimes equal to the condemnation of the Libyan regime and, rightly, of the Syrian regime for what it is doing.
My last point concerns Palestine. Yesterday, on the anniversary of Nakba, the day on which the Palestinian people were driven out of what is now the state of Israel to become that vast diaspora, was the occasion for demonstrations outside the Kalandia crossing. Thirteen Palestinians were shot dead. Last year or the year before, Operation Cast Lead over Gaza brought about the deaths of nearly 1,500 people in that bombardment. Routine operations by Israeli forces over Gaza result in deaths. Rocket attacks and suicide attacks also result in deaths.
However, there seems almost to be an approval of Israel and its perceptions of its own security needs to the exclusion of all understanding of just how brutal the regime has been towards Palestinians. If someone tries to travel through the west bank and sees the settlements, the settler-only roads, the checkpoints and the abuse that Palestinians receive every day from Israeli border guards, they will understand why people feel so angry. They will see the walls being built, the wells being taken away and the opportunity for economic life being removed. The people in Gaza are living in an open prison and young people are growing up living their lives vicariously through TV and computer screens because they cannot work and they cannot travel—they cannot do anything. They get very angry. There must be a recognition of the rights and needs of Palestinian people.
Likewise, the huge Palestinian diaspora, largely living in refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, but also all over the world, feels very angry. On a visit to Lebanon earlier this year my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman), who led the delegation, and I met an old man living in Shatila refugee camp—hon. Members will remember the Sabra and Shatila massacres in 1982. A man in his mid-80s could remember with absolute precision every tree, house and well of his Palestinian village, which he was driven out of when the state of Israel was established. Is he determined to go back? Yes. Does he think he has a right to go back? Absolutely. Do the people in that camp think they have a right to return? They absolutely do. This anger among Palestinian people is a cause that will go on for a very long time.
The result of 1948 might have been seen as a reasonable diplomatic solution to the massive and awful experience that Jewish people experienced before and during the second world war, but the residue of the ill-treatment of the Palestinian people lives on. The state of Palestine needs to be supported and the Palestinian people need to be recognised. If we do not do so, the cause will go on for a very long time. We cannot just sell arms to Israel and pretend that what is happening to the Palestinians is nothing to do with us.
I am not so sure about that. Nevertheless, it is fortuitous that I find myself following the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), whose speech I listened to with great interest, because I hope to shed some other light on the situation. I should start by declaring two interests. First, I do some work with the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre. Secondly, and perhaps more important, I very recently tied the knot with my Israeli partner.
I am afraid that it is with sadness, but not surprise, that I find myself speaking a day after another depressing turn in the wheel of futility and violence that characterises the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. All Members of the House—from the hon. Member for Islington North, the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) and the hon. Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick) to all Government Members—want to help them break out of this morbid cycle, but we will do so, as the hon. Member for Islington North said, only if we understand the fears and motivations of all parties in the dispute and grasp the way they perceive their situation, not how we perceive it.
Other hon. Members are more qualified than I am to shed light on the Palestinian point of view—the hon. Gentleman has done so, as I hope and trust will other hon. Members. I want to try to contribute a little understanding of the Israeli point of view. I will start by asking the House a question. Why is it that young Israeli men and women, such as my partner, are willing to do three years’ military service at a time when young men and women in Britain are working, studying, travelling and having fun? They are not compelled to do so, as they can choose a civilian form of service. It is not possible to say that Israel is some latter-day militaristic Prussia. Anyone who has been to Israel will have to testify to the fact that Israelis are a remarkably individualistic, even hedonistic, bunch of people. It is not even possible to say that somehow they are all brainwashed into thinking that this is something they must do. Israeli politics is one of the most disputatious and argumentative politics one can find, and there are many groups in Israeli politics preaching peace and arguing for a change in the pattern.
So why are they doing it? The reason is simple. There is nothing more important for my partner and people of his age, and for his parents and grandparents, than the security of the state of Israel because it is the first place in 2,000 years that Jews have been able to call home. The key to understanding Israel’s actions is this: what will it mean for their perceptions of their long-term security? In this place, such an obsession with security may seem overblown, but we are an island, we have water all around us, we have been here for thousands of years, and I remember that about 70 years ago we seemed to take threats to that security pretty seriously indeed.
The hon. Gentleman, although I disagree with him, is making the most interesting speech. I now understand the personal factor involved, but there is no criticism in what I have just said. Is not the best security for Israel—I have already indicated my support for Israel as a state, pre-1967 borders—to find and be willing to reach an accommodation with the Palestinian people, who are not going to go away?
I am very grateful for that intervention, and I agree with the hon. Gentleman and share his analysis. The vast majority of Israeli people also think that a two-state solution is the long-term source of their security, but they will grasp it only if there are guarantees that that state will not threaten the long-term security of Israel.
It is not unreasonable to ask for that when only five years ago Israel withdrew from Gaza and Gaza immediately fell into the hands of an organisation that is directly sponsored by Iran and wants to wipe Israel from the map. It is not unreasonable when Lebanon’s Government have been brought down and the new Prime Minister has been put in place by an organisation whose leader only yesterday said that we need to drive Israel into the sea, and that no treaties, no borders, no agreements will stop that happening. It is not unreasonable for the Israeli people to have that expectation. I wish that they might be willing to make more of a risk, but my wishes, and our wishes, carry no weight.
We must provide guarantees of security, which means, first, that the Palestinian state cannot have a military force, because if it does there will be no agreement, ever, not in our lifetime, our children’s or our grandchildren’s; secondly, that the neighbours of Israel will have to agree to recognise the existence and legitimacy of the state of Israel; and thirdly, that we in Europe and America will have to provide the kind of security guarantees that we have provided each other over the past 60 years.
That, in my honest judgment, is the only way in which we will bring the Israeli people to a table where we will be asking them to make an enormous compromise for their security. It is a compromise that, I agree, is necessary and vital to the interests of the Palestinian people and the interests of justice, but if we want to achieve a result we have to recognise what it will take, and deal with that.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles), and may I offer the congratulations of the House on his recent civil partnership? I am disappointed that he did not invite me to the event: after all, we share offices in Norman Shaw North and Leicester is not that far from Grantham—I would have made the journey.
I say to the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid) that I am glad, as I think is the whole House, that Abdul Ghani decided to stay in Britain rather than go back to Pakistan. The hon. Gentleman made a forceful and important contribution, and throughout the entire year of his being a Member I am sure his constituents have been extraordinarily proud of his contribution.
I always use opportunities such as this to talk about Yemen, and I make no apology to the House for doing so. I was born in that country and chair the all-party group on Yemen. I always start my contributions to such debates by saying that Yemen is in crisis, but it really is in crisis. There is a deep humanitarian crisis affecting Yemen. Some 40% of the country live on under £1.25 a day, one third of its people are unemployed and 7 million literally cannot find anything to eat each day. The situation that led to the uprising has caused the displacement of 330,000 people in the north of the country. As a matter of urgency, therefore, we need to continue the work that was started under the previous Government, through the Friends of Yemen procedure, and to give Yemen the support that it needs.
I am delighted to see the Secretary of State for International Development here today. I have known him for 35 years, and he is responsible for giving me my first political speech when he presided over the debating society that we both belonged to; he probably regrets it now. In the work that he has done, he has been an outstanding International Development Secretary. I know that there are many countries and that the budget is limited, but it is very important to focus on Yemen, which is one of the poorest countries on earth. It does not have the political capacity to punch above its weight as other countries have done, and it does not have the focus of the international community. That is why it is important that we should give it as much help as we can.
On the political side, tomorrow there will be a mass demonstration in Sana’a, and the predictions are that even more people will die unless there is restraint on all sides. So far, 170 people have been killed in the uprising. When I spoke in an Adjournment debate on Yemen a few weeks ago, I believed that we were near a solution, and I think that that was the Foreign Secretary’s view as well. The Gulf Co-operation Council had negotiated an agreement with President Ali Abdullah Saleh that he would stand down in 30 days. That agreement was also adhered to by the opposition. Everyone agreed that there was a process for the resignation of the President, with all the dignity of a person who has occupied that post for 32 years, and that a new Government would take over. This did not happen. It is vital that we provide not only humanitarian relief but political support. I have urged on the Government and the Prime Minister the need to appoint an envoy who will be able to bring all sides together; it could be an EU envoy or someone from the United Nations. After all, we are proposing to do this in other countries. I believe that Yemen can be saved from civil war if we are able to provide that political support.
Why is it in our interests to support Yemen? Why do we want to keep the country as one? The reason is the power that al-Qaeda has in Yemen. A lot of reference has been made to the death of Osama bin Laden, but the head of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Anwar al-Awlaki, is still in Yemen. Though born in the United States, he is of Yemeni descent. According to the Pentagon, he is more dangerous, as a person, than Osama bin Laden was. It is therefore in our interests to ensure that the country remains stable and united, that humanitarian support is given, and that the security situation in that whole area is not infected by the break-up of this impoverished country.
It is a pleasure, as ever, to follow the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz). I am going to talk about Israel and the middle east and, more substantially, about the dangers posed to regional and international security by a nuclear-armed Iran.
I will not reiterate the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Arbuthnot), but I am wary of the rapprochement between Hamas and Fatah given that the aim of many individuals in those organisations is to move towards unilateral and incremental recognition of Palestinian statehood rather than the alternative—a round-table debate and discussion among all parties, including the United Nations and the European Union, towards a negotiated settlement, which would mean a two-state solution that is viable and sustainable in terms of the creation of a Palestinian state.
It is very important that we support the courageous stand of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in his efforts, because Hamas has consistently repudiated the Quartet principles, including the recognition of Israel, the renunciation of violence, and the acceptance of all previous agreements. Indeed, it has called for the destruction of the Jewish state. Just last month, after the signing of the agreement, the Hamas leader, Khaled Meshaal, said:
“The only battle of the Palestinians is against Israel.”
I see ominous developments in the mixing of the Hamas forces—with their terrorist activists—and the police service of the Palestinian Authority, which is controlled by Fatah. That is the political context in which the Foreign and Commonwealth Office must reiterate the Prime Minister’s undertaking to the Community Security Trust that we must continue the dialogue with all parties and that:
“The alternative to compromise is that moderates will always lose out.”
Iran is a state that espouses a jihadist, anti-Semitic, militant theology. It is a leading sponsor of state terrorism across the middle east. Furthermore, it wishes to challenge the United States and undermine the historic undertaking of the Baghdad pact of the 1950s, through which the United States sought to support moderate Arab states. There is no doubt that the Iranian regime not only sees itself as the pre-eminent regional power seeking hegemony in the middle east, but is developing a supra-conventional nuclear missile capacity to consolidate that hegemony and become a rival to the United States in global terms.
Iran is close to weaponised nuclear capability, and to being able to move, via a breakout position, from the conversion of low-enriched uranium to high-enriched uranium at the minimum 90% level. Once the regime has achieved that, weaponisation can be achieved relatively simply. Much of that has been achieved with the help of North Korea, which has provided enrichment technology and, for hard currency, highly sophisticated centrifuges from its large, modern uranium enrichment plant at Yongbyon.
The Obama Administration are committed to this issue and have adopted a policy of sanctions, particularly through UN Security Council resolution 1929 of June 2010, and active diplomacy and engagement. The problem, as ever, is a lack of consensus in the United Nations—the P5 plus Germany—and the European Union. The next step must be the consideration of more draconian and targeted sanctions. I concede that diplomatic engagement will assist reformists in Iran such as Khatami, Rafsanjani and the fledgling green movement, but we cannot rule out the chance that military action may be necessary. Make no mistake, within two years it will be possible for Iran’s Sejil 2 multi-stage solid propellant missiles to travel a range of 3,000 km, which would reach most of continental Europe. Iran is well advanced in uranium enrichment, weaponisation and ballistic missile development.
A nuclear Iran would destroy the policy objective of global non-proliferation and semi-permanently destabilise the middle east, with countries such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia and smaller Arab states seeking nuclear parity. That argument is enunciated in a report entitled “Global Trends 2025” by the National Intelligence Council. The prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran presents a clear and present danger to Israel and to regional stability, and it is too great a risk. The European Union, the United Nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency must rise to the challenge of preventing that prospect from coming to fruition.
As the proud son of a soldier who was grievously injured on a battlefield and later cheated out of his pension by an ungrateful Government, giving him a sense of grievance and injustice that he took to his early grave at the age of 43, I do not need any instructions on the need for a military covenant from the Government. However, I believe that the military covenant should have as its first sentence the obligations of the Government, and it should read that they guarantee never to send our armed forces into conflict for causes that are avoidable or vainglorious. Earlier, I was accused of being a pacifist for suggesting that, but I point out that I have supported with my vote or voice all the conflicts and military interventions in which we have been involved over the past 24 years, except for two. Those were the ones that conflicted with what I hope will be the first line of the covenant: the second Iraq war and our intervention in Helmand province in 2006.
In the case of the Iraq war, Labour Members were bribed, bullied and bamboozled with a three-line Whip into voting for the war. To the great credit of 139 of us, we resisted that. In the case of Helmand, in March 2006 the total number of British soldiers who had died in Afghanistan, after five years there, was seven, only two of whom had died in conflict. It was said that to go into Helmand was to stir up a hornet’s nest, and it was compared with the futility of the charge of the Light Brigade. We have now lost not two but 365 of our brave soldiers, and I believe we have achieved very little for that. We are perhaps coming to consider why we went in there.
I wish to mention some points that give reason for optimism. On a point of order last Thursday I mentioned a story in The Daily Telegraph that gave us some hope, and I raised it again with the Foreign Secretary this afternoon. It stated that a decision was going to be taken within a matter of days that would bring 450 of our troops home from Afghanistan. As a result of that point of order, I had a stream of messages from wives, grandfathers and other relatives of soldiers out there saying, “For goodness’ sake, keep asking this question. Keep putting pressure on.” The character of the conflict in Afghanistan at the moment is such that they do not feel that the risk that their loved ones are taking is justified. There is good reason for that.
Will the Government please learn the lesson? We have never asked the Taliban why they are killing our soldiers. It is always easier to go on repeating the old lies than to reveal the new truth. We need to know why they are killing our soldiers—is it because, when they have killed them all, they want to come over to London and Newport to blow up people on our streets? Or is it because we are there as the ferengi, the foreigners, and it is their sacred religious duty to kill our troops in the same way that their fathers did the Russians, and as their great-grandfathers and all the previous generations have done? The great lesson of the recent actions is that the number of deaths that we have suffered has gone down greatly, not because the Taliban are slightly less wicked than they were, but because we are not in the north of Helmand. The sooner we make our exit, the better.
Another serious point is that as the rate of deaths has gone down, an increasing proportion of them have been among the immensely brave people who dismantle improvised explosive devices. The justification for taking the great risk of dismantling them rather than blowing them up, which would of course be perfectly safe, is to capture the members of the Taliban who constructed the IEDs. Details can be found such as fingerprints and so on, so that the Taliban who made them can be captured and put in prison. We know what happened recently—500 prisoners escaped. Those who risked their lives to ensure that those Taliban bomb makers were put in prison will now question whether their sacrifice was necessary. I urge the Government to re-examine their tactic and, instead of risking more lives by dangerously dismantling IEDs to capture Taliban who are detained for a very short time, to consider blowing up the IEDs.
I am hoping that there is a truth in what the Foreign Secretary expressed today, and that President Obama and the Prime Minister make a statement on making a start on the only sensible thing that we can do: bringing our people home. The question by which the Government should be haunted is the one that troubled Senator Kerry in Vietnam in 1971: who will be the last soldier I will order to die for a mistake?
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Members for Newport West (Paul Flynn) and for Walsall North (Mr Winnick), who is not in the Chamber. I learned tonight that the hon. Member for Walsall North entered the House before I was born, but if the clarity and passion of his speech is anything to go by, he will almost certainly still be here long after I am dead. He spoke about Libya, which I shall speak about, but from a different point of view— I do not share his outlook.
Since the insurgents began their campaign against Gaddafi some three months ago, they have scored a remarkable victory, in as much as they have built around themselves a tremendous international coalition. Something like 17 countries are contributing to the Libya campaign, and many more provide overflight rights, yet that military capability, which has undoubtedly reduced the opportunity for Gaddafi to strike against civilians with his tanks and heavy weaponry and stopped his using air power against them, has not removed him. While he is still there, he presents a terrible threat to civilians, as he has rather chillingly said. Anybody who calls their people “rats” cannot
“live in the hearts of millions”
other than as a feared and loathed object.
We have reduced Gaddafi’s military capability by something like a third, but that means that two thirds of it remains. His ability to strike at the insurgents is greater than their ability to defend themselves. As long as that position obtains, he will go on fighting. There was a striking piece the other day in The New York Times on the hidden workshops of Misrata, which describes the insurgents’ position. Men who a few months ago were welders or electricians now run makeshift military workshops, putting armour plating on pick-ups, cannibalising captured machine guns and building do-it-yourself rocket-propelled grenades. They do not have munitions know-how or the tools with which to do the job. They scrape explosives out of shell canisters to reuse, because they do not have supplies. They have nothing other than what they make themselves or that they capture from Gaddafi.
Is it therefore any wonder that the insurgents’ battle is desperate, bloody and very slow? That is why I am persuaded by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) that we need to move to bring the conflict to a conclusion. If we have a stalemate in Libya, and a failed state, torn in two, with factions fighting one another, we risk a Somalia-type situation. We also risk people in this country becoming tired and bored with a drawn-out campaign. We therefore need to take on board what General Richards, who is a thoughtful man, has said, and acknowledge what the Foreign Secretary has said on intensifying our military, diplomatic and economic campaign to remove Gaddafi from power. A few men in workshops—a few enterprising rebels—are not enough to do the job that needs to be done.
If we cannot, within the bounds of UN Security Council resolution 1973, put boots on the ground—I agree that we should not do that—or give military matériel directly to the insurgents, it seems to me that we can at least release frozen Libyan assets to the national transitional council. We have effectively recognised it; it has its own defence minister; and Baroness Ashton has set up her EU legation in Benghazi. Hundreds of millions of dinars are locked in this country and should be released to the NTC for it to spend as it wishes, whether on utilities in Benghazi to look after its people or, if it wishes, on the military campaign against Gaddafi.
The balance is already tipping in favour of the insurgents, but it is taking a long time and needs to be tipped more quickly. In Misrata, we have a refugee crisis. There are electricity cuts, and oil, food and medical supplies are running out. We have seen people migrating from Libya, causing friction on the country’s borders and friction between Italy and France. If we are to raise the siege of these cities, if we are to stem the migration from Libya and if we are to demonstrate to people at home that we can prosecute a compassionate and successful war to a quick conclusion, we need to move to remove Gaddafi, either through allied effort or by giving the Libyans the means to do so themselves. The status quo is not an option.
When the tragedy of 11 September occurred, I was working for the United Nations mission in Kosovo. I was in the region of Mitrovica, which is divided by a bridge. Across the bridge, I could see Serbian Orthodox Christians burning American flags in jubilation at the events unfolding in America. On 2 May, I saw similar signs of jubilation in America after the death of Osama bin Laden. It is important not to confuse the desire for retribution with the desire to defeat an enemy. Because terrorism partakes of both crime and war, it is perfectly natural, and perhaps legitimate, to have both these attitudes towards Osama bin Laden—to think that we had to disable him, and to think that he deserved to die. However, Milosevic, who killed 100,000 Bosnians, was tried at The Hague.
His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Williams, has said:
“I think the killing of an unarmed man is always going to leave a very uncomfortable feeling, because it doesn’t look as if justice is seen to be done in those circumstances”.
It is deeply troubling if we are moving to a global assassination policy for our enemies. Surely, the norm must be that terrorists be dealt with as criminals, through legal processes of arrest and trial. Such a trial would have had the benefit of laying out before the world the evil of terrorism. It would have peeled away the mystique of bin Laden and shown al-Qaeda to be banal and ridiculous.
In recent weeks, a blizzard of questions and fingers have been pointed at the legitimacy of Pakistan as an ally. I was disappointed by the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid), who seemed to suggest that more questions should be asked of Pakistan, although I was pleased that the Foreign Secretary mentioned Pakistan’s commitment to the international coalition against terrorism since 9/11. Pakistan has become the victim of an almost daily onslaught of suicide bombings in the very heart of its country. Just yesterday a suicide bomb killed 18 people. The US-led drone attacks continue to take civilian lives, resulting in a breeding ground for al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
Pakistan’s efforts since 2002 have cost it 30,000 civilian casualties, 5,000 security personnel casualties, and the devastation of property and infrastructure. Over the past nine years, its economy has borne the loss of more than $35 billion. The war on terror and the rehabilitation of internally displaced people has consumed a huge amount of the Government’s financial resources and halted economic growth. Unemployment is high, which is triggering other social problems and putting pressures on successive Governments.
The obligation to focus on security has contributed to a continuing failure to invest in key areas of public provision, such as education and health, and assisted the military and intelligence sectors in retaining power and influence in Pakistan’s political system. There may be some rogue elements in Inter-Services Intelligence, but to tarnish the whole of the ISI, the army and the Government of Pakistan by suggesting that they are not trustworthy is an insult to the people of Pakistan, including the civilian population, who suffer on a daily basis from atrocities that those of us sitting in this country cannot even imagine.
Many have mentioned the aid given to Pakistan over the past 12 years, which amounts to about $10 billion. However, the USA has spent $146 billion on this war on terror. In terms of loss—and, indeed, the near-destruction of Pakistan—$10 billion is chickenfeed. It does not even start to compensate Pakistan for the breadth of destruction that it has suffered. Let us remember that until the Soviets invaded Afghanistan—then we had 11 September—Pakistan had no quarrels or squabbles with Afghanistan. It got involved in the war in Afghanistan only because historically it was a US ally. Therefore, it is completely wrong for everyone to start pointing the finger at Pakistan, a country that is suffering the most.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that.
I was also a little disappointed that the hon. Member for Bromsgrove talked about Pakistan’s supposedly imagined problems with India. At the end of the day, each nation state is interested in its own interests. However, when two countries have gone to war on two occasions, as Pakistan and India have, when India supported the breakaway of East Pakistan, which became Bangladesh, and when every year it releases flood waters from dams, causing flooding in Pakistan, it is naive to say that Pakistan’s perceived security problem is an apparition. Rather, it is real. Indeed, Bishop Nazir-Ali, who is not normally pro-Pakistan, touched on Pakistan’s security in an article last week.
In all these wars that are taking place across the world, we lost the plot in the graveyard of empires, turning the hunt for the now largely irrelevant inventor of global jihad into a war against tens of thousands of Taliban insurgents who have little interest in al-Qaeda, but much enthusiasm for driving western armies out of their country. My hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn), who is no longer in the Chamber, referred to the ferengi, and that is exactly what is going on. The fact is that we are interfering in Afghanistan, while Pakistan, as an ally of the west, is having to pay the price for our war on terror.
I want to take this opportunity to make some observations about the situation in Libya and Syria, and to address the wider issue of British foreign policy in that rapidly changing part of the world. Our foreign policy is perhaps seen as one of intervening when we can, but not always where we should. There is a perception that the moral component of our motivation or justification for intervention does not always seem to apply everywhere with the same degree of seriousness. When it comes to that part of the world, I do not see an appetite in either this House or the country at large to seek out theatres of war. However, I seek to discern some consistency, even if the consistent application of principles will not mean that the same action is taken in every country.
Back on 21 March, I supported the implementation of the no-fly zone, which seemed entirely appropriate, not simply from the perspective of seeking to prevent mass slaughter in Benghazi, but on the understanding that all diplomatic efforts and avenues had been exhausted. Walking away when an evil tyrant was about to murder his own people would have been an abdication of responsibility by the international community. At the same time, however, I listened to the many excellent speeches in the Chamber, and the many warnings, especially from some of those hon. Members who are present this evening, who feared that the solution would not be quick and easy. Sure enough, it has proved not to be.
I am slightly concerned about the way in which the debate has unfolded over the past eight weeks. Nowhere in the UN Security Council resolution does it prescribe a time frame. There was a great expectation that the operation would all be over immediately and that everything would be fine, but that was never my expectation when I voted for the no-fly zone on 21 March. Across the House, however, there seems to be a great need to bring the operation to a close, as though the international community’s other weapons—diplomacy, economic sanctions and exerting our influence over what other countries in the region do—will have no effect. I was never tempted to assume that Gaddafi would quickly emigrate to Venezuela, or that his iron grip on his media would somehow dissipate overnight. It is true that he enjoys widespread support in Tripoli today, but there are horrendous things happening in Misrata. This is a moving situation, despite the notion that the world somehow stopped on 21 March.
The hon. Gentleman is making some important points. All wars have to end with some kind of political settlement and some kind of deal. Does he think that it might not be the west that brings about such a settlement, and that an effective diplomatic intervention from the African Union, the Arab League, the Turkish Government or someone else would be more likely to stop the bloodshed and bring about some form of peace?
Quite possibly; that is my point. Given recent events, I believe that the notion that we can bring the situation in Libya to a neat, precise conclusion by the extension of targets will prove erroneous.
These operations have significant implications for our armed forces. Last week, the Defence Committee, of which I am a member, interviewed the heads of the three services. It was quite clear, when we read between the half-answers and the attempts not to address the issue directly, that all the services are under massive strain. It will be an abdication of responsibility if the Government do not address that point and allocate appropriate resources. I was very concerned to hear that there is to be a review of defence expenditure over the next three months, as we try to squeeze out more resources. Concern was expressed following the strategic defence and security review about putting off decisions on expenditure until future years.
We need to deal with the reality, and a number of scenarios could evolve. We could find ourselves in a perpetual stalemate. Alternatively, we could have a little more humility about the way in which this awful situation could be resolved, and realise that it will not happen very quickly. We must realise that a change in regime achieved by the rising up of internal forces against Gaddafi is hardly likely to happen in just a few weeks or months, given the grip that he has had on his country over so many years. It is necessary for us to maintain the current posture and continue to develop diplomatic pressure and the role of the regional players. Yes, it is messy and uncomfortable, but it is right to hold the line and to continue to strengthen and broaden the base of support. We must continue to show resolve and to provide as much support as possible. It is also clear that going down the route of putting boots on the ground is never going to be acceptable in the current environment. We acted on the basis of stopping an evil man murdering his people. We may find the process since then rather uncomfortable, but it is not one from which we can pull away.
Some parallels have been drawn with Syria. There, we have seen numerous efforts taken to impose travel bans, to freeze assets, to provide medical supplies and so forth. There, too, the answer is diplomacy and securing concessions one by one rather than necessarily threatening military action. The reality is that each country in the region is different, which means we cannot have a one-size-fits-all policy; we need the slow, sober, determined, persistent and measured policy that this Government are undertaking. We need to recognise that we do not have the right or the means to solve this problem overnight.
I am very pleased indeed to have the opportunity to speak in this important debate. Before going any further, I would like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) on what I thought was an important and brave speech. I am going to touch briefly on the Israel-Palestine question, on Afghanistan and then, of course, Libya.
On the Israel-Palestine question, I cannot add much to what many others have said, but let me say this. I have heard Conservative Members say that we do not understand the Israelis’ wish for security. I was a Member of this House at the end of the ’80s, when an IRA bombing campaign on the mainland was still happening and I remember Mrs Thatcher being blown up in the Grand hotel in Brighton. I also heard the Canary Wharf bomb going off from my kitchen in the east end of London, so do not tell those of us who lived through that era that we do not take security issues seriously.
The proposition was put forward that Israel wants all these triple locks, guarantees and so forth before it will move forward. What triple lock guarantees did John Hume of the Social Democratic and Labour party have before he opened the first tentative negotiations with the IRA back in the ’80s? What triple lock guarantees did Nelson Mandela have when he was in prison and first opened overtures to the apartheid regime? The truth is that in the most bloody, difficult and seemingly intractable situations that we have seen in my lifetime, people have had to be prepared to go forward without the triple lock guarantees about which some Members have spoken, but with a will to bring about peace. As long as Israel believes that it has the unconditional support of the United States and Britain, it will continue to shelter behind the notion of triple lock guarantees.
I accept what the hon. Lady says, but does she accept that there was no question in the Irish situation of the people of this country being driven out of this country by those in the IRA who were fighting us? They wanted us to get out of what they perceived as their country; they were not trying to deny our right to be here. The fundamental situation faced by Israel is that some, though not all, of its neighbours believe that Israel should not exist and that all its people should be driven into the sea. That poses a security risk of a quite different quality.
The hon. Gentleman should speak to some of my friends in the Democratic Unionist party about how they perceived their security as part of Britain in the ’80s.
Let me move on and deal with Afghanistan. I have been fortunate enough to visit Afghanistan and to meet, talk and stay with our troops there. I was very struck by the bravery of our ordinary soldiers. Not many people realise that the level of mutilations—not just death—is far higher in Afghanistan than anywhere else our armed forces have been sent since the second world war. In talking to ordinary troops—which Ministers and shadow Defence Ministers do not necessarily do—I found that those who had been on two or three tours of duty said that they were regarded as liberators on their first tour, but were now regarded as an occupying force. Members who are familiar with our history will know that no British occupying force has won a war in Afghanistan since the 19th century. [Hon. Members: “We didn’t win that one, either.”] No, we did not. The idea that there is a military solution to what is going on in Afghanistan has a basis in history, but no basis in fact.
When my party was in government Ministers often presented, as Ministers do now, the notion that we were waiting for the Afghan police and armed forces to be ready to take over, but if we wait for that we will still be there in a hundred years. We must act decisively and stop making the mistake that we made with, for instance, the south Vietnamese: the mistake of propping up a regime that needs not to be propped up, but to face reality.
It seems to me that the best thing we could do for our brave soldiers who have lost their lives and limbs fighting this war is to use the occasion of the elimination of bin Laden—whatever we think of the circumstances—to do what we should have done before, and withdraw from Afghanistan. Let us by all means give that country support with development and nation-building, but let us stand back and withdraw from military intervention that history tells us is doomed.
I voted for the intervention in Libya, but I did so with a heavy heart. I was present for the debate—because I think that one should take part in debates on such important occasions—and I was persuaded that unless we intervened as the Government suggested, the civilians of Benghazi would meet a horrible fate. However, a number of developments in Libya since then have been extremely disappointing. For instance, where is the Arab League? I was in the Chamber when we were promised that we would have its support, and that we would be fighting alongside Arab troops. Where are they? We have sold those people billions of pounds-worth of arms. What has happened to the arms, the aeroplanes and the armaments? Where are they? This has the look and the feel of a straightforward western bombardment of a north African country, and I must tell the House that that is not sustainable politics. Where is the Arab League, and how can it be persuaded to shoulder its responsibility in relation to Libya?
I am also concerned about the sending in of advisers. Where advisers go, can troops be far behind? As one who sat through the entire debate on Libya, I am clear about the fact that there is no will in the House to become involved in a land war in north Africa, and as it happens, I do not believe that there is a will among the British public—Labour, Conservative and all points between—to become involved in such a war. I sincerely hope that we shall not see a further escalation of the Libyan intervention without returning to the House for a full debate.
Was it Walpole who said, “They are ringing the bells today, but tomorrow they will be wringing their hands”? I believe that unless we adopt a more decisive approach to what is happening in Afghanistan and do not simply allow ourselves to be sucked in, the British public—however much they appreciated the humanitarian impulse that led us into Libya—will be wringing their hands tomorrow.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott). I agreed with some of her analysis, although by no means all of it.
As we meet here tonight, civilians in Libya continue to become victims of a brutal regime that is showing no humanity in its efforts to impose its will on the Libyan people. The contrast between the cowardice of Gaddafi and the courage of his people could not be greater. While he continues to hide behind mercenaries and soak himself in delusional rhetoric in his compound, the vast majority of the Libyan people are standing in hope, in the open, and poorly armed, against him. Like all tyrants, he has lost his grip on reality. He is alone, and lost in his own propaganda.
When I look at the faces of the men and women fighting Gaddafi, I see a yearning for freedom and a grasping for dignity, pride and self-determination. All those are the antithesis of what Gaddafi represents. The only person he is fooling with his insane rhetoric is himself. He is hated by his people, he has lost legitimacy, he is shortly to become a wanted war criminal, and it is now a question of when, not if, he must go.
Against that backdrop, I pay tribute to the men and women of our armed forces who continue to execute the tasks set by the Government with the professionalism that we have come to expect from the best armed forces in the world. I remain in awe of their selfless determination and courage. In putting themselves in harm’s way to protect innocent people, they are standing up for the very best traditions of our nation, and they should rightly be proud of the work they are doing on behalf of their country.
Unlike the hon. Members for Walsall North (Mr Winnick) and for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), I remain convinced of the legitimacy of the steps the international community is taking. We could not have stood by and watched Benghazi entered by Gaddafi’s murderous thugs. We could not have watched from the sidelines and merely grimaced at the slaughter that would inevitably have followed.
I fear that we are witnessing Syria begin the slide into the same violence and bloodshed that we have seen so dramatically in Libya. The United Nations estimates that over the last two months about 700 innocent civilians have been killed and hundreds more detained by the Syrian security services. We have seen their cities shelled by tanks, and troops conduct house-to-house searches to arrest and intimidate protesters. In Syria, as in the early days in Libya, people are standing up unarmed, with only an idea to inspire them: the idea of freedom, which we in this country all too often take for granted. The reality is that the only long-term solution for the Syrian regime is one that regains the consent of the Syrian people. Failure to reach out to a political solution will only result in Syria descending into further turmoil and bloodshed. The international community must do all it can to impress that on the Syrian regime.
President Assad is at a crossroads. He can either respond to the demands of his people or he can continue his efforts to repress them, but only one course of action will leave his regime with security and legitimacy. If he chooses repression over reform, I believe he will ultimately be swept from power. I therefore welcome the steps the Government have taken to put pressure on the Syrian regime, but I ask the Secretary of State to say in his winding-up speech whether the discussions with the Syrian ambassador touched on rights of access to that country for the foreign media, and what the Syrian representative told him about the national dialogue proposed by that country’s President.
The events of the last few months in north Africa and across the middle east highlight the urgent need to review our arms export regime, as the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley) made clear. People across the middle east and north Africa have displayed true courage in standing up against oppressive regimes that have used the most modern equipment and munitions to try to break their will. It is difficult for any of us in this House to stomach the idea that British-made equipment may have been used against these courageous people.
Of course it is right for the UK to play an active part in the international negotiations that have recently started at the United Nations aimed at securing a global arms trade treaty, but we must not lose sight of the choices that we ourselves can make to tighten our export regime. That is why I welcome both the Foreign Secretary’s review of British arms export controls announced last month and the fact that the Government have revoked more than 150 export licences in recent weeks—but we can, and we must, go further. We need to tighten controls on both exports and re-exports, and we need to make sure that we put human rights at the heart of our consideration of which countries we should export to. When will the Foreign Secretary’s arms export review be published, and will it be brought before the House for debate?
It should now be crystal clear that the long-term interests of this country will always be best found in standing next to the people who seek freedom, and against the regimes that would simply impose their will. This strategic reality needs to be reflected in all corners of our Government and in all parts of the United Kingdom’s global posture.
Today’s debate is profoundly important and comes at a critical time. I thank the Secretary of State for providing Government time for it in order to consider the issues facing the people of the middle east, north Africa, Pakistan and Afghanistan, as well as our military, political and humanitarian response to the multiple crises in those crucial parts of the world.
Following the earlier debate on the military covenant, it is right that we pay tribute to the brave servicemen and women who are engaged in protecting civilians in Libya under UN resolution 1973, as well as to our troops in Afghanistan. In particular, I wish to join others in paying tribute to Nigel Dean Mead, from 42 Commando Royal Marines, who was killed in Helmand province yesterday. We remember the continued price paid by innocent people whose lives have been taken in terrorist attacks around the world, most recently in Morocco and, last week, in Pakistan. I also wish to reiterate Labour Members’ grave concern about the killing of protesters by Israeli soldiers on the Syrian-Israeli border and about the injuries of civilians in the Palestinian territories. We join the Foreign Secretary in reaffirming calls for restraint on both sides.
A common theme that has arisen from events in Tunisia and Egypt, and the current situations in Libya and Syria, has been the way in which citizens have responded to the abuse of power by, and the lack of legitimacy in, their Governments. People have taken to the streets in their millions to bring about badly needed change. Few could have imagined just how much a few short months would change the world, as the self-immolation of one man led to a chain of unstoppable events around the Arab world. Tunisia will hold its first elections to a new Assembly in July, Egypt will go to the polls in September, and we are seeing rapid change in a number of other countries.
However, it is also vital to pay closer attention to the need to tackle global inequality and economic inequality, given the situation in those middle-income countries. Many of the international financial institutions did not foresee what was about to happen in these countries, which did not have significant levels of poverty but did have great inequality. The historical failure of their Governments to deliver political and human rights opportunities, and economic growth, continues to fuel the protests, and this country has a crucial role to play in supporting the people of those countries.
For many, these events have been a cry for freedom, democracy and transparency after decades of repression and abuse of power by those in positions of authority and responsibility; they have been about the need to be treated with dignity and fairness, and the opportunity to have jobs and decent chances in life. The international community must do everything possible to help realise those aspirations and ensure that the brave people of those countries genuinely have the best chance for a better future.
Excellent speeches have been made by many distinguished right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House, in which they have highlighted their great insight, expertise, conviction and passion for the subject. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) spoke with great passion and expertise about the need to support Yemen, about the threat from terrorism and about the many challenges facing that country, including the need to tackle poverty. The hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson) spoke of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and concerns about Iran’s nuclear capabilities. The right hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) spoke of the importance of the EU providing support for the middle east in its pursuit of democracy and human rights. The right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley) raised concerns about the UK Government’s export licences for arms to the middle east.
The hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid) spoke with great passion about Britain’s relationship with Pakistan. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) highlighted the many challenges faced by Pakistan and the loss of thousands of civilian lives in terror attacks, including the one last week. It is vital that we continue to work closely with Pakistan despite the challenges and some of the criticisms. We must recognise, as many have in the House today, the importance of working with Pakistan, maintaining our alliances and ensuring that the terror threat is overcome.
Many Members have spoken with great expertise and passion about the situation in Libya and the middle east and, in particular, their concerns about the UN resolution, which we support, the dangers of scope creep and the parameters within which the resolution is implemented. Clearly, there are great concerns about stalemate, as highlighted by a number of Members, including the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) and the hon. Member for Croydon South (Richard Ottaway).
Let me turn to a recent tragedy involving migrants. The Government rightly supported the International Organisation for Migration, but I am sure that the Secretary of State for International Development will have been deeply concerned about reports last week that a boat full of migrants, including young children, died after their distress calls were not acted on. Only 11 survived. Will the Government clarify whether British forces intercepted any such distress messages, and say that they will co-operate with any international investigation?
As has been touched on by many hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Croydon South and my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman), in the light of the recent comments made by the Chief of the Defence Staff about upping the ante, may we also have an assurance that the House will be consulted before any significant change is made to targeting policy in Libya? Given the concerns expressed by Baroness Amos, will the Secretary of State assure us that a thorough assessment will be made of the humanitarian impact if military action is stepped up? In particular, if power, water and fuel cuts are made, as reported in some of the press, there are grave concerns about a humanitarian catastrophe. That contradicts the very reason why we are there: our military action is designed to protect civilians. There are also concerns about access for medical personnel, and we would appreciate an update on whether we are providing additional support to get medical personnel into Libya.
At a meeting today with Michelle Bachelet, the head of UN Women, the shadow Secretary of State for International Development and I discussed the concerns about sexual violence faced by women. May we have an assurance from the Secretary of State that the British Government will ensure that every effort is made to provide security and safety for women in conflict, not just in Libya but in other parts of the world? As was pointed out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), drawing on her experiences in Iraq, human rights, particularly those of women, are crucial and are often left out of major discussions and political negotiations on matters of conflict.
Many of my hon. Friends and other hon. Members raised concerns about what is happening in Syria. We, like the Government, denounce the appalling violence that the Government of Syria are using against their own people. We recognise the complexity and difficulty of the situation and we call on the Government to do everything possible to ensure that every pressure is put on the Government of Syria to bring an end to the violence against their people, who are out protesting. Will the Secretary of State for International Development, in his summing up, update the House on his assessment of the situation on Syria’s borders, and tell us whether large numbers of civilians are starting to leave that country?
On the situation in the middle east, many right hon. and hon. Members spoke passionately about the situation in Israel and Palestine and the need for a lasting peaceful settlement, with many highlighting the deaths of Palestinians over the weekend and the security concerns of Israel. We heard speeches from both sides of the argument: my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) spoke with great expertise about the plight of the people of Palestine, and others spoke of concerns about the security issues facing the Israeli people. It is clear that we desperately need a lasting settlement in the middle east, and we urge the Government to do everything possible to keep the pressure on the US and on the Israeli and Palestinian Governments to resume negotiations as soon as possible.
I now want to address issues concerning Pakistan and Afghanistan, particularly the political settlement in Afghanistan and the great concern about the exclusion of women from those negotiations. That concern has been raised a number of times in our discussions with politicians in Afghanistan, and we very much hope that the UK Government will do everything possible to make sure that women have a strong voice in the peace process, including in discussions about the role of the Taliban. There are particular fears about the violation of women’s human rights in Afghanistan, and we must do everything possible to ensure that those rights are not neglected—not just in Afghanistan but in Libya, Egypt and the many other countries in the middle east that currently face such challenges.
In conclusion, I reiterate how vital it is for the House to debate this important issue and I thank the Foreign Secretary for the opportunity to do so. I hope that in his summing up the Secretary of State for International Development will shed light on the many issues that have been raised by hon. Members on both sides of the House, and that he will address some of the questions that have not yet been answered, particularly about the widening scope of the UN resolution and about the humanitarian situation in Libya and other countries. I also hope that he will ensure that Britain provides the support needed not only to bring an end to the violence in countries such as Libya, but to ensure that the aspirations and hopes of the people who have been out on the streets demonstrating over recent months are realised.
This has been an important, timely and wide-ranging debate—a huge mouthful of a debate with a number of very fine speeches, not least from the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali), who speaks for the Opposition. I will address the issue of Libya at the end of my remarks and I will write to hon. Members if I do not cover the issues that they raised.
Let me start with a view of the discussion on the middle east. The transition sweeping the middle east is an historic opportunity for the region, as many hon. Members have pointed out. The Government are working to ensure that the international community rises to the challenge in its support for countries that embark on change. It is in our interests to ensure that those transitions succeed, but significant challenges must be addressed before lasting stability can be achieved. In particular, there must be the political and economic reforms that will support sustainable growth and facilitate the transition to a freer, fairer and more inclusive society. Britain is pushing the international institutions to play a leading role in galvanising support for that process, including by meeting the significant financial needs. As the Chairman of the Select Committee on International Development, the right hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce), said, the role of the European Union is critical. We are pressing for the restructuring of European neighbourhood funding for the region to ensure that it backs strong commitments to political and economic reform and to make it easier for countries in the region to trade with Europe. We also plan to fund a “know-how” facility to provide immediate access to expertise on economic reform. The right hon. Member for Warley (Mr Spellar) raised that issue. The facility will be closely linked to the efforts and expertise of the international financial institutions.
As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made clear, the European Union has a huge and critical role to play. The right hon. Member for Warley mentioned my right hon. Friend’s announcement of the expansion of the Foreign Office footprint, but said that it was not expanding in the middle east. I point out to the right hon. Gentleman that we are already represented in all the countries that we are discussing today, and more widely. The mission to Benghazi is an example of the expansion of the Foreign Office in a timely and sensible way.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Mr Gale) spoke with his usual expertise about Tunisia. He spoke wisely about elections and in particular about the importance of opening up markets. The difficult but important subject of the international arms trade was raised by the hon. Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick) and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley). I emphasise that there are high British standards for this trade, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) pointed out in an excellent intervention. In the end the answer is for the international community to accept the need for an international arms trade treaty.
On the occupied Palestinian territories, the wave of democratic movements that we are witnessing represents a unique opportunity to take forward the middle east peace process. The violence over the weekend at Israel’s borders underlines the urgency of making progress. With British support, the Palestinian Authority has developed its institutions to the point where the International Monetary Fund, the UN and the World Bank have recognised them as technically ready for statehood. To achieve a two-state solution it is important that this work continues. The recent announcement of a reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah is a step in the right direction if it leads to a Government who reject violence and pursue a negotiated peace—a point set out eloquently by my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Arbuthnot).
We heard disparate but firmly held views across the Chamber this afternoon. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) was characteristically forthright, and I thank him for his kind comments about my Department. We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles), on whose civil partnership the whole House will wish to congratulate him, from the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), who entered the House on the same day as I did and whose views have not changed one jot in the past 24 years, from my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson) in a fine speech, and from the hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), who touched on Israel in a wide-ranging speech. Everyone was united in the absolute requirement to make progress and to take advantage of the changed circumstances, which were eloquently described.
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me for a moment, I turn now to Yemen. The right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) warned of the continuing crisis. I will consider carefully some of his wider comments. With reference to Yemen, I am concerned that alongside the current political impasse, we are seeing an escalating economic crisis. In particular we are seeing increasing reports of fuel shortages and rises in food prices. Any further deterioration in the economy could prompt a much broader humanitarian crisis, not least because without fuel, much of Yemen cannot be provided with water.
The British Government are working with aid agencies to ensure that they can respond to humanitarian needs in Yemen, and I can announce today that we will be committing additional support to UNICEF and the Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs under the United Nations humanitarian response plan for Yemen. Through this support we will prevent 11,000 children under five from dying of malnutrition, vaccinate 54,000 children against measles, saving lives and preventing blindness, deafness and brain damage in over 2,000 children, and ensure that agencies have rapid access to funds if Yemen tips into a humanitarian crisis.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention.
I have even greater concerns about the situation in Syria. The current ongoing human rights abuses and lack of access for humanitarian organisations is particularly worrying. If organisations are to compile an accurate picture of need, sustained unhindered humanitarian access is essential. I call on the Syrian Government to allow United Nations humanitarian organisations unfettered access to undertake assessments of the situation across Syria without delay. As the Foreign Secretary made clear, the EU will insist that the violence must stop or additional measures will be taken, and I note that there was strong support across the House for that stance.
My hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Stephen Gilbert) mentioned the importance of international press and humanitarian access in Syria, but I can offer nothing for his or anyone else’s comfort on that point tonight. Finally, with regard to the sensible comments made by the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow, we are watching the humanitarian situation on the borders with great care. I discussed that matter a few days ago with Jakob Kellenberger, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Pakistan, which has been mentioned a great deal in the debate, remains a top priority for the Government. It can meet its enormous potential only if it works to stabilise its economy in the short term and to educate and develop opportunities for its rapidly expanding population in the longer term. A stable and prosperous Pakistan that can meet the needs of its people will benefit regional and global stability and security.
Britain will therefore support Pakistan in achieving this end. As the Prime Minister announced last month, our aim is to help Pakistan to get 4 million children into school, out of a population of 17 million who do not go to school. Pakistan could become Britain’s largest country development programme, but only if we see commitment and progress on reform from its Government, including a fairer approach to taxing its elite.
The people of Pakistan have suffered grievously from terrorism. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made clear, many thousands of civilians have been killed and many more maimed or injured. The right hon. Member for Warley made the same point. Osama bin Laden was no friend to the people of Pakistan; all he brought was a nihilistic message of death and destruction. His death, however, presents an opportunity for a brighter future in Pakistan and the region. Pakistan can make greater strides in its fight against extremism and the way is now clear for the Taliban to make a decisive break from al-Qaeda and join the Afghan political process. The choice is theirs. Peace and security can be improved for Afghan and Pakistan civilians on both sides of their border.
To grasp this opportunity, Pakistan needs to make a clean break with the past. There are serious questions to be answered on bin Laden’s support network in Pakistan, and we welcome Prime Minister Gilani’s announcement of an investigation into the matter. Nevertheless, it is right that we remain steadfast in our support for Pakistan as its democratically elected Government continue their fight against terrorism.
Pakistan matters to us. In an increasingly interconnected world, the UK cannot simply look on from the sidelines. More than 1 million people of Pakistani origin live in this country. We have a long, close and historic relationship with Pakistan. What happens there directly affects us. There is no serious alternative to our continued engagement with Pakistan. Neither the region, nor we, would be safer by leaving a nuclear power that is in danger of extremism and instability to its fate, a point my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid) made in an interesting and thoughtful speech.
Our engagement with Pakistan must therefore be both long term and strategic. Increasing access to high-quality education and developing greater economic opportunities will improve the lives of the Pakistani people and help strengthen resilience to terrorism. A stable and prosperous Pakistan that can meet the needs of its people will not only benefit regional stability and security, but directly benefit our own security.
On Afghanistan, the Chair of the International Development Committee noted that we should not concentrate only on military aspects, important though they are, and I join the whole House in paying tribute to Marine Nigel Mead, who recently lost his life. Although the next four years will be critical, 2015 will not be the end of the story. This is why Britain has made a long-term commitment to Afghanistan. It is unrealistic to expect the Afghan Government to become perfect in such a relatively short time, but they must be strong enough to secure the support of their people and defend themselves. To achieve these objectives, the Department for International Development is focusing on three development aims: supporting stability in insecure areas, stimulating growth and building the capability of the Afghan Government to deliver basic services.
I was able to see for myself the very real impact that aid is having on stability when I recently visited Helmand. British assistance has helped to train more than 2,000 policemen and women, built 12 checkpoints, with 16 more in construction, and laid more than 80 km of roads, giving local farmers the access to markets that they badly need.
At the same time, we are helping people to develop the skills that they need to improve their lives. We are developing plans to provide vocational training for 45,000 people, and that will include funding Turquoise Mountain to equip almost 200 men and women with traditional skills and crafts.
Although there is evidence of progress, the scale of Afghanistan’s challenge remains considerable, as the recent disgraceful events relating to the Kabul Bank have illustrated. We are working closely with the International Monetary Fund and the Government of Afghanistan to address the very serious issues that have arisen. They are undoubtedly a setback, but I can reassure the House that we have wasted no time in taking steps to protect British taxpayers’ money.
On the wider economic front, Afghanistan is making good progress. With British support, it has achieved 20% growth in revenue each year since 2002, and economic growth averaged 9% between 2002 and 2010.
The mining sector will be absolutely critical to future growth. I met Minister Shahrani in March and was encouraged to hear about the reforms that he is making—reforms that Britain is supporting. He also told me of his success in letting a number of mining concessions, and the details of the 108 contracts on the departmental website are also welcome evidence of its commitment to transparency and accountability.
Decades of conflict have inevitably left Afghanistan’s civil service ill equipped to do its job. During my visit, I announced funding for the Government-led civilian technical assistance programme, which will provide international and regional expertise to support local and national Government as we train the next generation of Afghan civil servants.
On Libya, I pay tribute to the thoughtful and important speeches by my hon. Friends the Members for Tamworth (Christopher Pincher) and for Salisbury (John Glen), and to the interesting contribution from the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn). I wish to address directly one of the points that the right hon. Member for Warley made in his opening remarks.
Britain made two important decisions on humanitarian issues early on in the conflict. First, we gave very strong support to the weight of migrant workers moving across the borders into Tunisia and Egypt, and as a result of that support from Britain and others almost 800,000 migrant workers have crossed those borders and tonight fewer than 10,000 are caught on them. That help has prevented a logistical crisis from turning into a humanitarian emergency.
Our second key decision was to announce that we would finance the rescue of 5,000 poor migrant workers who have been caught out on the portside in Misrata and subject to shelling and other attacks in recent weeks. Britain has been able to lift some 4,000 of them out of Misrata, and the final boat to remove the last 1,000 should go in any day now. The House will be aware that Misrata is no longer in Gaddafi’s hands but has been completely taken over by the interim transitional national council.
In addition to that, we are also working closely with the International Committee of the Red Cross and the International Medical Corps to supply medicines, 30 tonnes of which were recently delivered by boat to Misrata, and to support 100,000 internally displaced persons as well as 3,000 walking wounded.
We will shortly deploy a stabilisation response team, including some 10 stabilisation experts and 20 support and protection officials, to join together with the United States, Italy and the European Union. That team will work on infrastructure demands, basic services, justice, security and a political plan, all of which will be necessary following the ceasing of the conflict and as part of an early recovery.
We will of course work closely with the United Nations. When I saw Michelle Bachelet this morning, I had a chance to discuss with her the very matter that the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow raised. All of us believe that the plan that is worked up must be run by the United Nations, owned by the Libyans and supported by the region, the European Union and the international financial institutions.
All of us in the Chamber can draw inspiration from the way in which democracy is beginning to flower throughout the middle east. The Arab spring marks a truly historic moment not only for the middle east itself, but for us here in the United Kingdom. Our own peace and prosperity depend on the stability of the region and on the rights and freedoms that it espouses. Yes, there are challenges, and we will rise to them. The international community—
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 9(3)).