rose to move, That this House takes note of developments in the Middle East and Afghanistan.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, this debate comes at a busy time. London hosts several visitors from the Middle East and Afghanistan this week. President Karzai is here today, while Prime Minister Olmert of Israel and Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey are also visiting to discuss the region. Even without such visitors to London, the Middle East is always with us. For better and sometimes for worse, the Middle East is constantly at the top of our agenda, because so many dossiers beyond those of traditional foreign policy alone that matter to us here in the UK—terrorism, crime, drugs and migration—have roots in the wider Middle East and, of course, in Afghanistan.
The debate today is sufficiently wide that I felt that I had no choice but to treat this opening intervention as a tour d’horizon, which perhaps can offer some points for subsequent interventions. I am honoured to share the debate with the noble Lord, Lord Roper, who will shortly move his Motion on the EU Committee’s report into the EU and the Middle East. The report is a valuable contribution, not just to today’s debate but to our wider thinking on how the EU should engage in the peace process as it gathers momentum.
I begin with Afghanistan, which I visited last week. Afghanistan is a key priority for us. The Afghans deeply appreciate, as I learnt first-hand, what we are doing in their country. But I must say that I came back from that visit more convinced than ever that Afghanistan—its Government and people—should lead the security and reconstruction effort. The more we are pushed into displacing them in that leadership role, the more counterproductive it is.
I saw last week that a great deal has been achieved in Afghanistan since 2001, including a constitution and presidential and parliamentary elections—the elements, if you like, of a functioning democracy. There has also been the return of 5 million refugees, major improvements in healthcare—82 per cent of people now have access to basic healthcare, compared to just 9 per cent in 2002—and improved life expectancy, education and provision of electricity. Perhaps more surprisingly still, the Afghan economy, which we rightly still think of as one of the poorest in the world, grew some 42 per cent between 2003 and 2006—a year-on-year growth of over 7 per cent. Even on some of the more difficult indicators, there have been improvements. The number of poppy-free provinces, for example, has increased from six in 2006 to 13 this year.
Some of these improvements—from health to reduction in poppy cultivation—are a direct result, at least in part, of the £500 million-worth of assistance provided by this country since 2002. But the successes remain fragile and dependent to a large extent on the security situation. I am afraid that in the southern province of Helmand, where I was a little under a week ago and where British forces are based, insurgency consistently impedes progress.
There is some welcome news about supplementing our security forces in the south, about which I have been asked in this Chamber before by noble Lords. Last week, the Slovakians announced that they will double their contribution in 2008, although it is—let me say quickly, before I am challenged on it—a modest contribution, and doubling it will bring it up to 100 troops. Also, France plans to redeploy six Mirage fighters from Dushanbe to Kandahar. That new proximity means that they should be more effective support to our operations.
However, opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan, despite the number of poppy-free provinces, has risen for the second successive year, driven by a significant increase in cultivation in the south and, to a lesser extent, the east of the country. The total area under cultivation increased by 17 per cent this year. Cultivation in Helmand province has risen by 48 per cent following a 162 per cent rise in 2006. Today, Helmand is responsible for more than half the entire Afghan poppy crop.
Our new package of measures on counter-narcotics, which we announced on 9 August, is designed to reverse this trend. We are confident that our analysis shows a strong link between access to the rule of law, security and poppy cultivation. Where we are able to succeed in establishing a functioning state, a convincing rule of law and development alternatives for people, the rate of poppy cultivation comes down.
I come now to Iraq, where the number of our troops will be reduced to 4,500 by the end of this year and, if conditions allow, to 2,500 by spring next year. This is in line with our long-held strategy of handing over increasing responsibility to the Iraqi authorities as conditions and capabilities allow.
Progress has been made in Basra. The new Iraqi security chiefs there are making a real impact. Increasingly, Iraqi security forces are able to handle the incidents that have occurred, and the overall level of violence has dropped in recent months. There have been positive security achievements elsewhere in Iraq, too: in Baghdad, following the intensified Iraq-led security plan; and in Anbar, where local Iraqi leaders have shown commitment to working against al-Qaeda.
We continue to work in support of the Iraqis so that progress on the security front can be matched and sustained by progress on the political front, which is critical to long-term peace. At the leaders’ conference in August, the Iraqi leadership recommitted to the programme of national unity. We are pressing in particular for regular meetings of the Prime Minister and the Presidency Council to drive forward progress on national reconciliation, which, as one cannot overemphasise, is key to overall political progress in the country. Much depends on whether Iraqis will learn the art of compromise and concession to one another.
Iraq’s neighbours have a central role in supporting Iraq’s future. Issues such as refugees, security of borders and the security of fuel supplies have regional implications for everyone. Conversely, external support for militias and insurgent groups prolongs the violence and threat to Iraqi lives. We welcome the UN’s recent commitment to provide a secretariat for this regional initiative, but a critical factor for success will be the willingness of all Iraq’s neighbours, including Iran and Syria, to recognise that a secure, well functioning Iraq is in their interest.
The next of these neighbours’ meetings is in Istanbul. In the past few days, the Turks have faced unacceptable and deliberately provocative violence from the PKK operating out of Iraqi territory. I want to express our admiration for the restraint of the Turkish response. Turkey is right to seek a solution through dialogue and to focus, if possible, on the long-term gains that a secure neighbourhood would bring.
Iraq continues to face acute economic and infrastructure problems. By April next year, we will have spent nearly £750 million on reconstruction. At the beginning of this month, the Prime Minister announced an additional £90 million to create employment and improve infrastructure in southern Iraq. That will provide more than 1 million people with water and power. The southern province, and the city of Basra, is a key region to raise oil revenue. Growth in this region should take hold more quickly and, we hope, act as a multiplier for the country as a whole.
I welcome the increasing international commitment to Iraq. The UN hosted a constructive high-level meeting on Iraq in September, at which I was present. Having participated as a UN official in earlier such meetings, I can record that there is a slow warming of the ice between Iraq and its neighbours. Indeed, other countries are starting to be more active in terms of support to Iraq.
My Lords, will the noble Lord say something about the progress in dealing with corruption? There is no point in spending huge sums of money if they dribble away into the wrong hands. I am thinking particularly of oil theft, which appears to go on the whole time, and continuing reports of money going astray.
My Lords, the noble Lord raises an enormously important point. As the international financial institutions become more active in Iraq, it has been possible to improve some of the measures and accountabilities for the use of funds. However, I suggest to the noble Lord that there are two primary routes to the corruption in Iraq. The first is the continued insecurity, which allows people to steal oil from pipelines; that would not happen in a country that was well policed and could protect its pipelines against these kinds of actions. The second is the continuing sense of instability that the Iraqi political class has about its survivability. I have always found that, when a regime is not certain about how long it will last, that is the moment when it is most tempted to filter resources into its own accounts and to provide a retirement fund in case government officials are forced to go into exile. Therefore, I argue that the best way in which to combat corruption is first to ensure security, secondly to convince Iraqis that democracy is here to stay and that Iraqi politicians have a long-term future in the country, and thirdly to improve the arrangements of international audit and accountability for funds. I acknowledge that progress on all three is not fully satisfactory.
Earlier this month, EU Foreign Ministers committed to enhancing their political engagement with Iraq and its neighbours, which is another sign of growing support for the Government in Iraq. As the Prime Minister has argued in another place, our role in Basra has changed and is moving increasingly towards support for Iraqi authorities. This is a tribute to the determination and dedication of our troops and civilian personnel from the MoD, DfID and the FCO, both British and Iraqi.
I will now say a word about Iran. While Turkey has shown great fortitude in its response to provocation from the PKK within Iraq and while Saudi Arabia is working constructively with Arab colleagues, even towards opening an embassy in Baghdad, I am afraid that I cannot report such healthy collaboration from Iran. Iran is quite simply not a good neighbour. Despite an apparently clear strategic interest on the Iranian side in the success of both Prime Minister Maliki’s Government in Iraq and Prime Minister Karzai’s Government in Afghanistan, both of whom enjoy good relations with Tehran, elements of the Iranian regime remain that just cannot help themselves. They are illegally smuggling arms and supporting extremism and violence, and targeting American and British troops in both countries, as well as playing a similar role in Lebanon.
Within Iran itself, the human rights situation is fast deteriorating. In the past 12 months, the authorities have closed reformist newspapers, arrested journalists and editors and confiscated satellite dishes, while websites and blogs have been blocked. Large numbers of teachers, women’s rights activists and students have been arrested for taking part in peaceful demonstrations. This seems to be part of a clampdown by the system on all forms of organised progress. Let me take just one example, that of Mansour Osanloo. He is a trade unionist, the president of the Syndicate of Workers of the Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company. He has been arrested several times, first in December 2005, when he was detained without trial for seven months, and most recently in July this year. The charges against him are unclear, but trade unions are illegal in Iran. Osanloo has been arrested and imprisoned for being, it seems, just a peaceful trade unionist. He has not been allowed proper access to legal assistance or medical treatment to save his eyesight, which was damaged following injuries that he sustained at the hands of the security forces in May 2005.
Iran is one of the very few countries that still executes juveniles, in violation of its obligations under international conventions. Iran also continues, as I think we are all aware, to violate UN resolutions on its nuclear programme. Mr Larijani’s resignation over the weekend from the Supreme National Security Council in his role as nuclear negotiator has provoked a new round of speculation and concern. We have always insisted that Iran has the right to civil nuclear power, but not to start a regional arms race. In the next months, we expect a new Security Council resolution and discussion within the EU on new sanctions. If Iran continues to defy international demands and refuses to bring its programme into compliance with the demands of the Security Council and the IAEA, there will indeed be further sanctions.
As I have said before in this House, let me assure noble Lords that we are committed to solving these issues through diplomatic means. Iran needs to stop moving further into international isolation. We need to draw Iran back into becoming a responsible regional leader and international player, but that will not be achieved as long as Iran feels able to fuel violence in its neighbourhood and develop an illegal nuclear capability.
I shall say a word about the Middle East peace process, which will be discussed at Annapolis in the coming weeks, followed by a major donor conference in December. Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas have appointed negotiating teams and have met fortnightly through the summer. These meetings provide the best opportunity since 2001 to make progress. As the Prime Minister said on 8 October, we cannot achieve what we want in the wider region without progress on Israeli/Palestinian issues. For the sake of time, I will not go further on this issue now, not least in the expectation that noble Lords will wish to return to it during the debate.
A few weeks ago, this Government published their proposals for an economic road map to underpin the peace process—a programme for rebuilding the Palestinian economy and for reducing the high levels of unemployment and poverty among the Palestinian people. Economic development remains a key part of building a constituency for peace and of course the quartet envoy, the former Prime Minister, remains hugely active in support of that agenda. We are providing humanitarian support to Gaza, the West Bank and the Occupied Palestinian Territories at this time. But both parties need to act to establish a just and lasting peace. Palestinian rocket attacks into Israel continue, but equally settlement activity and the construction of the barrier threaten the viability of a future Palestinian state.
Again, I will leave a fuller commentary on Lebanon until later in the debate, but I just note at this point that the key upcoming event is the presidential election due in November, on which many of our hopes for future stability in that country now rest.
I hope that noble Lords will forgive such a rapid tour of this troubled region, but I hope that at least, perhaps in its mistakes as much as in its claims, it will provide a stimulus for the debate to follow. I beg to move.
Moved, That this House takes note of developments in the Middle East and Afghanistan.—(Lord Malloch-Brown.)
My Lords, we are grateful to the Government and to the Minister for promoting this debate at a time when the issues under discussion are very much in need of close examination. As the Minister says, it is a massive canvas and it is very hard to do full justice to all aspects of the Middle East and Afghanistan—and indeed the report we are going to discuss—in one speech or one debate.
We are extremely fortunate that we are going to have the opportunity of hearing two maiden speeches in this debate, to which I am greatly looking forward. The first is going to come from my noble friend Lady Warsi who, despite her youth—I hope that does not sound too old from an older man—is hugely experienced in community relations and particularly in the position of women in the war theatres and uglier regions of the world. That matter requires very close attention, which she will give. She is also an expert on racial justice work and will bring very good first-hand experience to our debates. We look forward to that very much.
Later on we will have a second maiden speech from my noble friend Lady Neville-Jones, who is well known to many of us. She was extremely senior in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as political director and was chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee. I have never been too sure what joints that joint committee was joining but, along with her other past activities, that gives her enormous experience in these areas to share with us. Intelligence and security are central to our national interest and concerns. I look forward to that as well.
I would like to take the subjects in not quite the same order as the Minister. I will begin with Iraq and the threat of Turkish invasion, which are parts of the same issue—the future integrity and survival of Iraq as a nation and, we hope, as a democracy.
Iraqi Kurdistan is already a semi-autonomous part of that nation. Turkey has been remarkably relaxed about the emergence of Iraqi Kurdistan as almost a separate concern within Iraq. The PKK invasion and the threat of a separate Turkish Kurdish state is of course a different matter and a deadly threat to Turkish stability. We must understand that while caution and calls for restraint all round are completely understandable and indeed essential, so too is Turkish anger at—as the Minister says—the highly provocative attacks by the PKK. The problem is this: if neither the Kurds nor Baghdad have any kind of control—or even concede that they should have any control—over the PKK strongholds and the Kandil hill mountain areas, then the Turkish case for doing something is very strong and we can see the point of view of the Turkish leadership and parliament. There is also an interesting debate going on about the legality of it all. If the sovereign power—which is Iraq, with Kurdistan within it—concedes that its writ does not run in the Kandil mountains, is Turkey acting legally if it is to go over the border? It would be valuable to have a comment from the Minister—maybe supported by some legal advice—at the end of this debate.
That is the unnerving position that is developing there. It raises the broader question which all of us dread, which is that it could be a move by an outside power to enter the Iraqi melange and could lead to dangerous pressures for Iraqi break-up, which none of us wants. I certainly do not. We will debate our own position in Iraq again and again in the coming months and some of my noble friends, including my noble friend Lord Attlee, will look at the detailed military aspects.
I find the Operation Overwatch timetable—to 4,500 and then 2,500 in the spring—a little worrying, quite aside from the slightly odd way in which it all was announced by the Prime Minister. There is a saying in our phrase-book: “Get in or get out”. The plan now seems to be to go down in the spring to two battle groups. If one of those battle groups is out helping the Iraqis to train or is on the borders, can the other hold the Basra airport encampment if there is a sudden upsurge of extreme and highly populous violence? I do not want to be too fanciful, but our history is unfortunately marked by a number of instances when a brave British outpost was undermanned and over-run, even by more primitive people. We can think of Gordon of Khartoum—no pun intended—and Isandlwana where that terrible thing happened.
Can the Minister tell me if there is some discontent in Washington with our plans, or are people happy there? We get completely different versions. We are certainly discontented with some of the American procedures in Iraq in recent years. A lot of fingers have been pointed at some of the mistakes made by the American Administration—and by the Americans themselves. I hope that the Miliband mission to Washington that I read about in the papers this morning will clarify things and smooth relations, but I hope it will not be at the cost of being subservient on either Iraq and how we handle it or Iran and how that should be handled. I will come to that point in a moment.
We remain in favour of an independent inquiry into the Iraq saga at the appropriate time to help us see what went wrong, how to put it right and how to apply the lessons elsewhere.
I now come to the Israel-Palestine issue, which some people describe as the key issue, saying that if we can solve Israel-Palestine everything in the Middle East will be sweetness and light. I do not believe that. There are many other long-standing disputes and dangers related to the rise of militant Islam and so on, and those will not disappear if we can get some miraculous advance between Israel and Palestine. The Arab-Israel dispute is certainly the poison in the well and it may be about to get much worse. It links with many other issues such as south Lebanon, the Syrian position and—again—Iran’s role in supporting Hezbollah, Hamas or anything else.
The Minister reminds us that the Annapolis conference is coming up. The conference rooms are all booked. Does the Minister feel that this heralds a change of the whole US policy and approach? Some people may be too hopeful in thinking that it does. Obviously the long-term goal is clear: a permanent peace based on UN Resolutions 242, 338, 1397 and 1515, and on the Madrid principles, the Saudi Arabian peace initiative, the quartet road map and a thousand other efforts. That is where we want to go. Obviously one conference alone cannot possibly achieve this: it could not begin to do so, even if we had had slightly happier vibes and reactions from the leading participants before the conference even began. That is why I agree with the US Israel Policy Forum—a very interesting body striking a new note in American attitudes to Israel—that the meeting must be one of a series which must be inclusive, produce substantive moves and concessions and have a real impact on the many imperilled and miserable lives of people living in Gaza and the West Bank. It is imperative to avoid the danger of it being all process and no substance, which we have seen too often in the past.
As I said, the mood in the USA may be changing, especially given the enlightened Jewish opinion which argues that the clear aim must be two independent sovereign states—I know Mr Bush has said that, but other voices are now giving him additional support—and genuine homelands respectively for the Jewish and the Palestinian people. There must be borders based on 1967, maybe with one or two negotiated changes; a just solution to the refugee problem; agreement on Jerusalem; and, above all, a freeze on settlement expansion—that cannot go on.
Tony Blair and his mission can indeed play a key part in all this because the embryo Palestinian state, which is not yet really in existence, is not only bisected by settlements but economically destitute. A huge international programme of revival needs to be marshalled and I hope that the former Prime Minister, Mr Blair, will concentrate on that. Certainly he should be supported. That is where he should put his efforts rather than giving Manichaean lectures in America on good and evil. That is what he can do and where his talents can be best applied.
The Annapolis conference and, I hope, its successors need to embrace a wide number of Arab states. It is essential that Condoleezza Rice, with all her travels, persuades the Saudis and the Syrians to get on board, which she has not yet done. The position of Hamas is difficult but, if there is a second conference, that is the point where it could be invited as well. It cannot be excluded in the end, and the quartet and the Americans are going to have to face up to that.
Some of these issues are covered in the EU Committee report, which the noble Lord, Lord Roper, will introduce in a moment. I look forward to hearing what he is going to say. At first reading—I can be persuaded otherwise—the report seems more about the role of the EU than the actual detailed working plans, step by step, of the way in which to move forward. That is in contrast to the American ideas which I have been talking about.
The report brings home to me just how incoherent and unstructured the EU foreign policy role is and, I am afraid, is bound to be. It would be nice if it could be otherwise. Despite brave calls for a more active and imaginative role for the EU, which we all want, somehow it never happens. The same goes in regard to the lack of integration in EU aid policy, which, sadly, has a long history of failure. We should certainly co-ordinate with our European neighbours, or those who are willing, in all kinds of detailed and intimate ways, but we should be cautious about submerging our own unique roles and skills contribution too far into the EU system.
The report strikes me as a warning in this House against seeing too many of our international aims through the EU prism nowadays, and perhaps points to a restructuring and modernising of our own committee system in the new global context, taking special cognisance of our invaluable membership of the growingly powerful Commonwealth network. I should like to hear what your Lordships, and particularly the experienced chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Roper, think about that rumination.
The Minister spoke with great authority on Afghanistan, where he has just been. We all know that this is proving a far tougher nut to crack than earlier hopes implied, as every historian warned us and most of us predicted. We on this side want to hear a great deal more about the overall strategy if we are to accept that yet more troops are going into Afghanistan; we want to know whether the Canadians and Dutch are now pulling out; we want to know what can be done to unify commands effectively; and, above all, we want to know what more can be done—the Minister has spoken about it—to address the narcotics and poppy issues squarely and offer the farmers something better, not deprive them or turn them to the Taliban. The question has to be asked again: why does not the UN or some grouping of nations buy out the whole crop for medicinal purposes? I was surprised to hear the Minister say in one sentence—although he later changed it—that the cultivation had been reduced. In fact, as he went on to say, it has been rising miserably fast. It is a problem that we are not on top of, and it is getting worse at vast expense. Our policy has to change.
The options are narrowing on Iran. Even Mr Putin seems to be losing patience with Tehran. There are fresh ways of turning the screw—Mr Sarkozy has been airing some of them—and those who say that it is either sanctions or a resort to force are giving a false dichotomy; there are options between those two courses of action. Sanctions may be necessary to curb the drift into a military nuclear pattern from a civil nuclear pattern, but we know that China and Russia are never going to come on board and support full UN trade sanctions even if these could be made to work, which many noble Lords said last week they doubted.
Financial sanctions and maybe cyber-sanctions are another matter. Further checks on doing business with Iranian banks or banks connected with Iran could well do a lot more to deepen the divisions in a deeply divided society, which Iran is. The mullahs are cross that they are not getting dollars for their oil, and the young people are clearly fed up with the rule of the mullahs. As I said, the French Government seem to have new zest and ideas on these subjects. Mr Larijani has resigned yet, oddly, turned up at the meetings in Rome. Clearly a lot of internal forces are working against the absolute unified hard line of Iran as a troublemaker, which the Minister mentioned. The one man who could certainly unite Iran is Mr Cheney in Washington, along with his friends. If they decide on an all-out attack, that will consolidate Mr Ahmadinejad’s rule like nothing else.
We want to be friends with the United States in dealing with these terrible problems, but it is a friendship that is rather difficult to maintain. In too many areas, from legal irritants over extradition up to issues such as Guantanamo, Washington seems insufficiently prepared to listen. We all want to see the return of the genial and generous Uncle Sam of the past, but that is not what the world is currently being offered. United States leaders speak of American dominance, but dominance is not the answer. Exporting a simplistic version of democracy, to be delivered by overwhelming force if the medicine is not taken, is not a policy and will not work. I liked the article in the Economist the other day reminding us that democracy is a very loose term and that we should refine it by thinking less in terms of mass ballots, automatic elections, Jeffersonian models or Westminster models and more in terms of the rule of law, open and public discussion and a public-spiritedness in the conduct of affairs. It is a concept which needs careful handling, and nations which believe they can carry it all before them waving the banner of democracy are not going to get very far.
Above all, our American allies have to face the fact, as we do in Europe, that power has shifted to Asia in all these matters. The answer to many of the Middle East problems may well lie as much today in Beijing, Delhi, Tokyo and Moscow as it does in Washington or Brussels. Why do I say that? Because they are the regions with not only the economic power but the political power. They are the regions with the capital and savings generated in enormous quantities, while we—especially the Americans and our own country—are the regions and nations of debt. So they produce the money and we borrow it, and the power tends to lie with those who lend and not those who borrow. That applies as much in the Middle East as elsewhere.
Our national interest is to recognise where the new power lies and to work as closely with it as we can. Our history and skills make us well equipped to do so, and the sooner our foreign policy and the present foreign policy of each Government recognise these realities, the better.
My Lords, today’s debate on the Middle East and Afghanistan is my first opportunity to contribute as a defence spokesperson since I was a defence procurement Minister in the other place over 20 years ago. I am recalled to the colours following the very sad, almost brutal death of our dear colleague, Tim, Lord Garden. He entered your Lordships’ House following a distinguished military career, and his military experience and opinions carried huge respect here and beyond. I come after Tim, but in no way can I say I follow him. We all miss him greatly, no one more so than my noble friend Lady Garden, who is with us today.
My Lords, I would like the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, to know that noble Lords on all Benches were enormously respectful of the work done by Lord Garden. I am still an active member of the group he established on non-proliferation, which does essential work. He was diligent about having an excellent range of speakers on that issue, and we very much regret his passing. We hope that in due course the noble Baroness will be able to take an active part in our proceedings.
My Lords, we on these Benches are very grateful for the comments of the two noble Lords.
When, at the Ministry of Defence in the early to mid-1980s, I was involved in privatising the Royal Ordnance factories and contractorising the dockyards, the official Opposition at that stage was led by a certain new Labour Member of Parliament called Gordon Brown. My ministerial colleague at that stage, the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, visited Rosyth to spell out the benefits of our contractorisation policy. Sadly, if I remember correctly, his ministerial car received a severe rocking, but the men of Lerwick are built of stern stuff and the noble Lord survived. I am delighted to see him in the Chamber today.
I intend to focus my comments primarily on the defence aspects of Afghanistan, although of course the widely held view, as was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, is that the failure to solve the Middle East conflict between Israel and the Palestinians lies at the historical heart of so many regional conflicts and terrorism issues. My noble friend Lord Wallace will be talking about the Middle East and its wider dimension later on.
Sometimes I think that, were instructors at staff colleges to create a mythical country posing the most difficult challenge to our forces, it would have many of the characteristics of Afghanistan today: a large inhospitable landmass with extreme temperatures; a complex tribal population; 90 per cent of the world’s opium production, with all the corruption that goes with that; borders virtually impossible to police, with pursuit over them barred; above all, a country that has defeated and devoured invading foreign armies over the centuries. Our forces in Afghanistan today are being asked to undertake a task somewhere between one fraught with extreme difficulty and a nightmare. That they have achieved so much is a tribute to their training, their character and their bravery, but are we asking them to achieve the “Mission: Impossible”, given their limited numbers and resources?
I am delighted that our military chiefs, politicians across the political divide, the British Legion and the media are now campaigning for greater recognition of what our Armed Forces do for us, for better accommodation, for better medical and psychological support for the wounded and for a better financial package for those service personnel and/or their families following serious injury or death. But all that is for another day’s debate.
In the defence policy debate in the other place last week, the Secretary of State, Des Browne, attempted to put the most favourable interpretation on events. To be fair, there have been real achievements: 40,000-plus Afghan troops trained; 4.8 million refugees returned home; 83 per cent of the population having access to medical facilities, as the Minister referred to; 5 million children in education; and Afghanistan close to becoming self-sufficient in food production. Virtually parallel with that, however, we have a Chatham House publication entitled Coalition Warfare in Afghanistan: Burden-sharing or Disunity?, which paints a very different picture:
“Western forces’ success in fighting the Taliban and Al-Qaeda and in achieving a satisfactory level of security throughout Afghanistan remains limited … The coalition’s internal cohesion regarding the … Afghanistan operation is becoming increasingly fragile … The coalition forces’ comprehensive approach towards stability and reconstruction operations remains an elusive concept”.
“The conflict has increasingly become a regional one … As long as parts of Pakistan serve as a safe haven for the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, coalition forces will not be able to control Afghanistan”.
We expected so much from our allies. Western forces in Afghanistan amount to approximately 50,000, plus potentially a similar number of Afghan forces. Using a formula based on population and landmass, the US forces’ counterinsurgency manual estimates that a force of 400,000 to 600,000 is required to pacify a country like Afghanistan. Too many NATO countries are just not pulling their weight. We have the ludicrous example, quoted in the aforementioned Chatham House paper, of reconnaissance data collected by German Tornado aircraft under ISAF being denied to the more combat-oriented US-led Operation Enduring Freedom mission. All this with Brigadier John Lorimer, the commander of British forces in southern Helmand province, telling us that troops face a marathon mission lasting decades.
It must be heart-wrenching for our valiant forces to conquer positions and seize territory, only to know that lack of numbers means that those gains cannot be properly held and are likely to have to be retaken. That is intolerable. Thankfully, there has been an improvement in equipment, vehicle protection and helicopter numbers, from a slow start. The dominant problem, however, is a major shortage of troops on the ground. With Afghanistan, we are talking about a country the size of France.
In drawing my remarks to a close, I have four specific questions for the Minister. First, can he foresee a serious increase in troop levels from either ourselves or our allies? Secondly, do Her Majesty’s Government favour the appointment of an Allied supremo to whom the Karzai Government could relate, rather than the current multiplicity of military and civilian chiefs, often with divergent missions? Thirdly, what exactly is our policy on opium production? And, fourthly, given that our Apache helicopters have to be used for escort duties as well as combat roles, what are the implications for the rest of our Apache fleet back in the UK?
Few can doubt that the uncertainty and concern that reign in Afghanistan today are compounded by a regional backdrop of anxiety: the unresolved Israeli/Palestinian issue, the turmoil in Pakistan, possible Turkish action in Iraq, the re-arming of Hezbollah and the rising militias in Lebanon and, above all, concerns regarding Iran’s nuclear ambitions and its role as the quartermaster of insurgency. It is difficult to be other than pessimistic and very worried at this time.
My Lords, I thank the usual channels for including in this debate the Motion in my name. The report from the European Union Committee that we are considering was prepared by its Sub-Committee C, which I chair, and I am grateful to the members of the sub-committee—four of whom will be taking part later in this debate and may also have things to say about our report—and to our staff for the hard work they have put in to prepare it. It is an attempt—this takes up some of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford—to discover what value added the European Union provides for its member states in approaching the Middle East peace process as well as trying to find out what further measures could now be taken.
The sub-committee is very grateful to those who gave evidence to us, particularly Dr Solana, the High Representative for the CFSP in Brussels, and Dr Howells, the Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. We are also grateful to the Government for sending us their reply last week, and for the kind remarks that the Minister made in his introduction today. Some points in the government response showed that they did not fully share our approach, and I will return to these.
The sub-committee had completed taking evidence and virtually completed the report when—as we make clear in chapter six—the growing hostilities in Gaza and the West Bank between Fatah and Hamas and the takeover of Gaza by Hamas militias led to the dismissal of the National Unity Government and the declaration of a state of emergency by President Mahmoud Abbas. While these significantly changed the environment, the sub-committee believes that they reinforce the overall conclusion of our report—that the European Union now needs to play a more active and energetic role in the search for peace in the Middle East. I will return to this.
While the situation when we completed our report in June looked particularly difficult, when we started work on the report at the beginning of the year there were a number of encouraging signs. The Saudi initiative, which led to the Mecca agreement, provided the basis for the Palestinian National Unity Government in mid-March. On the diplomatic front, the United States Secretary of State increased the number of her visits to the Middle East in an attempt to unblock the negotiating deadlock and Dr Solana was tasked by the European Union's Council with missions to the Middle East, including direct talks with the Syrian and Saudi Governments.
The report sets out—this is important because it is not always noticed—the history of the development of the European Union's relation with the region from the EC's Venice Declaration of 1980, where the call for a Middle East peace process was first formulated, and which by recognising the Palestinian right to self-determination provided the initial basis for a negotiated two-state solution. It is fair to say that although the United States has normally led the political negotiations, the European Union has often provided innovative ideas, and since 2002 through its role in the quartet, has been directly involved in the negotiations together with the United States, Russia and the United Nations.
The European Union has also played an important part in humanitarian aid, and from 1995, in providing financial and technical assistance for the creation and functioning of the institutions of an emerging Palestinian Authority. We were told that at one stage it provided half of the budget of the Palestinian Authority. The European Union, taking together the spending of the European Commission and the member states, is far and away the largest donor to the Palestinians, estimated by the Government in their response to be some €800 million in 2007. There is no doubt that at various stages there was abuse of some of this aid but we received evidence of a variety of mechanisms that had been introduced to check that the funding was properly monitored. We welcome the assurance in the Government’s response that they are,
“working with the World Bank, EU and other partners to create a mechanism for direct assistance to the Palestinian Authority that will be based on conditionality around institutional and governance reforms”.
Although, as the report makes clear, European Union aid, and for the last year the temporary international mechanism,
“has prevented a very serious humanitarian crisis from becoming even worse … [it] should … not divert the … EU from the root causes of the insecurity and poverty in the Palestinian territories”.
Analysing the impact of the boycott of the Palestinian Government introduced by key members of the quartet in March 2006 following their assessment that the Hamas-led Government had not complied with the three principles, the sub-committee expressed its grave concern,
“about the security, human rights and socio-economic situation in the occupied Palestinian territories”.
The sub-committee cited the European Union General Affairs and External Relations Council conclusion of 18 June 2007 which stated that the,
“EU will do its utmost to ensure the provision of emergency and humanitarian assistance to the population of Gaza, whom it will not abandon. Unimpeded access to humanitarian aid deliveries must be guaranteed”.
Since the report was completed the situation has deteriorated in both the West Bank and Gaza, as the valuable reports from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs make very clear. There are too many of these to quote, but in the West Bank UNOCHA reported in September that 40 more control points had gone up compared with the position in June. That was in the West Bank, not in Gaza. In Gaza the position has also deteriorated in the past month since the Israeli designation of the strip as an “enemy entity”. In its report of 9 October on Gaza, UNOCHA stated that since 19 September a large reduction has been reported in the number of truckloads entering Gaza. The average of 106 truckloads per day that was recorded between 10 June and 13 September has dropped to approximately 50 truckloads per day since mid-September. This trend is giving rise to growing concerns among aid agencies about shortages of certain food supplies.
As regards the opportunity for those in Gaza to get medical assistance, in September there was a significant reduction in the number of patients crossing into Israel and the West Bank for medical treatment: fewer than five patients crossed each day compared to an average of 40 patients per day in July.
The situation is perhaps best summed up in the statement made yesterday after news came of the closure of medical units and clinics because of the absence of anaesthetics. Sir John Holmes, the United Nations Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said:
“The economic noose continues to tighten around the necks of the people of Gaza, who are being manifestly punished as part of a political strategy”.
In this situation I should like to ask the Minister what the European Union and its member states are doing to fulfil the commitments they made in June not to abandon the people of Gaza.
The sub-committee was concerned at the rigidity of the European Union within the quartet over the three principles, particularly after the creation of the National Unity Government in March of this year. The committee was clear,
“that the European Union's support for a Palestinian coalition government, including Hamas could not have been unconditional. To require that a Hamas-led government not only renounce attacks but use its governmental authority to prevent such attacks was entirely justified”.
As regards the requirement to accept and respect the positions established collectively by the Arab side, we considered that by signing the Mecca agreement the Government had committed themselves to respecting the existing bargaining position and agreements signed by the PLO and more generally by the Arab side. On the other hand, the question of the formal recognition of the state of Israel as distinct from the de facto recognition implicit in accepting the objective of a two-state solution seems open to debate.
Hamas, we felt,
“regards recognition of Israel as the object of the peace talks ... rather than a condition that can be met prior to discussions”.
We expressed the hope that the Government and the European Union would,
“reconsider the precise formulation of any conditions [on this subject] and ... apply them in future with a reasonable amount of flexibility”.
We regret that on this point the Government in their reply was unable to agree.
As chairman of the sub-committee it is not appropriate for me to discuss in detail the approach adopted by Secretary of State Rice in her negotiations or the prospects for the meeting in Annapolis later this year. I wish them well, even if it is difficult at this stage to be too optimistic about the outcome.
However, two matters discussed in our report are relevant to the ongoing search for peace. We made clear that the peace process should not be held hostage by any faction, individual or state. We said:
“Although each situation is different, recent experience in other situations, such as Northern Ireland, can [provide] valuable lessons on how to bring into the peace process individuals and movements who previously espoused violence”.
That was linked to our view, reiterated after the events in Gaza in June, that a precondition of the success of any peace process is that it must be as inclusive as possible. I welcome the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, on this point. The exclusion of Hamas can be explained by its behaviour, but many of us feel that it significantly reduces the chances of ultimate success.
The overall conclusion of our report was that the European Union,
“now needs to play a more active and imaginative role in the search for peace in the Middle East than it has done in recent years”.
We made it clear that this should be in close co-operation with the United States. However, in the developments since June, the initiative has been very much that of the Secretary of State of the United States. Whatever happens between now and the end of the year, it would be important that the European Union realises the central contribution it an its members can make to the political, as well as the security, development of the Middle East in the coming months.
My Lords, developments in many parts of the world, but particularly in the Middle East and central and south Asia, whether political, economic or social, are increasingly influenced by religion—a word that I have not heard so far in the debate. Religious beliefs and values permeate what may appear to be just diplomatic, political and even military moves. It is as well for us to recognise this reality and to structure our response accordingly.
Whether we like it or not, the Westphalian consensus is dead—certainly in this region, if it ever existed there. But such a death also has implications for us in our conduct of business. One way to discover people’s religious commitments is dialogue. An Iranian minister said to me recently, when asked, that the cornerstone of his country’s foreign policy was “the spirituality of justice”, to which I replied, “What about the spirituality of love?”. But this dialogue needs to respect the integrity of each side and cannot be conducted on terms decided by one side alone, which was a danger in the otherwise welcome letter written by some Muslim leaders recently.
What should be on the agenda for such a dialogue? It seems clear that Islamist movements of various kinds will remain important on this scene for some time to come. The question is—this has already been implied—whether their programme is to be merely theocratic or whether they will recognise the need for intermediate political, social and legal institutions. Some such movements are in an interesting phase of transition in this respect. Islam has never historically produced an enduring theocracy. There have always been political institutions, such as the caliphate; legal ones to codify, develop and implement the Sharia—we need to note the very important role played by Muftis, the jurisconsults, in the development of fiqh or codified law; the role of the Grand Mufti in Egypt at this time in this area is worthy of note—political and legal institutions; and, of course, we must not forget the socio-religious ones such as the Sufi orders. It has been shown that wherever Sufi orders have been suppressed by authoritarian regimes there has been some kind of emergence of fundamentalist and militant movements.
In the region, there are customary and religious means of governing by consent. That is the phrase we should adopt rather than the loosely used word “democracy”, as the noble Lord has already reminded us. In the joint declarations between Afghanistan and the UK, and between Afghanistan and the European Union, there is a welcome commitment to develop parliamentary institutions in that country, but how will it be done? What kind of development will there be? The convening of the Loya Jirgah, reformed to include women, was a good start in using a customary institution to promote government by consent. Will such sensitivity continue to be shown in the further development of a participatory system in Afghanistan as the national assembly and the provincial assemblies are developed? What about Iraq? As I have said previously in this House, both religious and customary practices—such as baia, the recognition of a ruler’s legitimacy, and shura, a process of participatory consultation—can be developed here to provide continuity. In the past, the Government have always responded to such suggestions to use custom and religious institutions by saying that the Iraqi people are free to have the form of government that they want. But do we not have a responsibility for taking history, custom and faith seriously as partners, for better or for worse, in this dialogue?
In the relationship with Iran, we have to be aware of the complexity of Irani society. We do not have the political and social monolith of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. It is quite possible to continue dialogue with sections of even the ulema—they were referred to as mullahs recently, but no matter—academics, prominent politicians and government officials, and even to discuss, as has been said, the possibility of a modern civilian nuclear industry, as with the P5+1 proposals, as well as Iran’s genuine security worries, without in any way condoning internal oppression or external aggression and condemning in no uncertain terms any threats to destroy the state of Israel. Their great poet, Firdausi, who wrote a book on the politics of kings long ago, said that,
“du-sad gufteh chun nim kirdah neest”—
hundreds of words do not compare with half a good deed. Iran needs to show, by word and by example, its peaceful intentions.
If we agree that the role of religion in the state must always be persuasive and never coercive, what are the implications for the application of Sharia law in Muslim countries? This is a crucial issue, affecting fundamental liberties, the status of women and the treatment of minorities. Debate about this matter is often ill informed on every side. We need a comparative study of how Sharia law relates to the constitutions and laws of different nations. It relates differently in different places. We need much further work on understanding the dynamism of the different schools of law in Islam, and how principles for development can be identified and applied. Education, education and education are certainly the priorities here.
In a region fraught with conflict—how many speeches so far have been about that?—it is important to have some convergence on when intervention is justified, or even necessary, to prevent oppression, destruction and genocide. This can be greatly facilitated by in-depth dialogue on the respective Islamic and Christian traditions of jihad and the just war. While there are significant differences between these two traditions, some convergence is possible, and such dialogue is now urgent. How will it be undertaken?
One of the prominent features of interfaith dialogue today is the need for a common commitment to freedom of belief, freedom of expression and the freedom to change our beliefs. We must note here the position of Christian and other communities in the region. We have recently been reminded of the perilous position of the Christians in Iraq: nearly half are now refugees in Jordan and Syria. There can be no justice unless these minorities are fully enfranchised and are secure. Whether it is the beleaguered Christians of Iraq, the Maronites in Lebanon, the Copts in Egypt, the Baha’is in Iran—or indeed the Jewish people in the Holy Land, taking the region as a whole—there has to be an end to persecution, the acceptance of coexistence and mutual respect.
It is quite possible to see what a two-state solution might look like in the Holy Land, and how shared sovereignty over Jerusalem, with particular provision for the holy places, might work. How that might happen has not been mentioned, but it will be one of the difficulties in any final status talks about Jerusalem.
Will the extremists be allowed to frustrate the realisation of such a vision? It is vital to understand that extremist anger is not caused by western policies—exacerbated maybe, but not caused. Rather, such policies are being used an excuse to establish dominance—the real agenda of some kinds of extremism in the region. Of course, extremists should not be provided with excuses, but neither should we capitulate to their desire for dominance. As always in the Middle East, “Assabr miftah al-faraj”—patience is the key to a happy ending.
My Lords, it is an honour to follow the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester. He always says things that are correct, true and courageous, certainly among religious people. Not least this evening, he is right about interfaith dialogue: we have to get on with and respect each other. We have to understand that, whether we are in the Middle East or this country. We must get on with others who disagree with us. I thought his remarks were extremely wise.
I am sure we all commend our former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, on the role that he has now taken up in the Middle East, in the hope of creating peace. He certainly contributed to what nobody really expected to happen in Ireland; we are all immensely grateful that it has. He has an impossible task, but he might make it possible. In the circumstances, we are proud that he is the quartet’s special envoy to the Middle East peace process. His role is one of state-building and I hope that he will help to remove corruption and create infrastructure—not least in the Palestinian Authority—and that there will arise a viable Palestinian state which can support a lasting peace. I am sure that we all wish him the best of luck.
I welcome the Annapolis summit next month, at the initiative of Condoleezza Rice; I hope it will capitalise on the ongoing dialogue between Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas, who are speaking together. Only if people speak together is there hope of peace between their peoples. It is important that all the major players are engaged in the Annapolis summit. That should include the Arab League, especially Saudi Arabia and Syria. Perhaps my noble friend will tell us what the Government are doing to broaden participation and engagement in the Annapolis summit, particularly among Arab states, because without that it cannot succeed.
I travel greatly, especially in the Middle East, and work towards achieving peaceful solutions, which requires two hands. One hand alone cannot clap, as in the Arab proverb. I work with Prince Hassan of Jordan in the Muslim-Jewish Coexistence Trust. We have to work together or we will die separately. Wherever I travel, the biggest concern for everybody is undoubtedly Iran. It is a particular threat to Israel. President Ahmadinejad said that he wants to wipe Israel off the map and on 5 October he announced that,
“the creation, continued existence and unlimited support for”,
“regime is an insult to human dignity”.
Whatever Israel’s failings, it is the only democracy in the area and, however much we might dislike a particular Government at a particular time in our particular country, I am sure that we agree that democracy is best in the long run, even if sometimes it does not elect the Government we would wish to have. Certainly, the opposite side of the House is entitled to be wrong and to have a different view of our Government and their leader—that is democracy. It applies in Israel and nowhere else in the Middle East.
It is the wider regional threat that should worry us all: Iranian nuclear weapons will precipitate a Middle East arms race and countries including Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia may choose to begin their own nuclear programmes if nuclear weapons are obtained by Iran. It will spread, the area will increasingly destabilise, and so will the world that we live in. It will become a world in which there is a much greater danger that we will die. It is this added insecurity that will lead to regional divestment, damaging vital economic interests in the Gulf states, in Israel and throughout the area.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s call of 3 September for a third round of sanctions on Iran, and the calls of the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, for vigilance on these issues. Does my noble friend agree that Russia has a major role to play in the ongoing negotiations in the United Nations Security Council, as Ehud Olmert’s visit to Moscow last week showed? I realise that Russia is not easy to deal with, especially given our current difficulties. Our relations with Russia are certainly not at their best, but will Her Majesty’s Government commit to doing everything in their power to encourage Russia to play a constructive role in the Security Council negotiations? We echo our Prime Minister’s call for stronger, more effective sanctions against Iran.
I have taken only six minutes, and I am going to cause great surprise by sitting down. Thank you.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Janner, for surprising me, and I hope that noble Lords will indulge me as I rise to make my maiden speech in your Lordships’ House. I was given two pieces of advice about today. I was told, first, to ensure that I used language that was appropriate for your Lordships’ House. I remind noble Lords that, as the daughter of Pakistani immigrants, English was an unknown language to me until I went to nursery school; but today I will certainly try to follow that advice. Secondly, I was told to remain non-controversial. As those who know me will know, on this rule I will have to try much harder.
I am the latest of a long line of women that my home town of Dewsbury has contributed to this House. There is the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, whom I confess I had hoped two years ago to replace in another place. There is the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, who as the Speaker of the other place had a distinguished career, and whose father, like my father, was a weaver in the textile mills of Yorkshire. Of course, there is also the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, whose contribution to this house as Deputy Speaker must be truly acknowledged, as must her tireless campaigning on women’s issues.
Today, I wish to highlight the plight of women in Afghanistan. In June 2001, Saira Shah, a British journalist, revealed the horrific lives of many ordinary Afghani women. She was assisted in her efforts by RAWA, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan. She exposed an Afghanistan where women were excluded from jobs and medical care, where education was denied them and where war widows were forced to beg on the streets of Kabul. This was Afghanistan under Taliban rule. On International Women’s Day in 2007, some six years after our invasion, RAWA said that,
“the world came into motion in the name of liberating Afghan women and our country was invaded, but the sorrows and deprivation of Afghan women has not just failed to reduce but has actually increased the level of oppression and brutality”.
UNIFEM, Amnesty and Human Rights Watch have many statistics on Afghanistan, and I will share some of them. Some 86 per cent of Afghani women are illiterate; 87 per cent of the Afghan population still believe that a woman needs male authorisation to vote; every 29 minutes a woman dies in childbirth; and 50,000 war widows live in Kabul alone, and many still beg on the streets. The number of girls in secondary school is decreasing; 80 per cent of women face forced marriages; nearly 60 per cent are married before the legal age of 16, despite the 2005 protocol to,
“eliminate child and forced marriage by 2008”.
Sadly, that honourable aim is unlikely to be met by then or at any time in the near future.
I acknowledge that some progress has been made. As we know, 27 per cent of Members of the National Assembly are women, but only one serves in the Cabinet and, sadly, too many are ineffective and subdued. Indeed, in recent provincial council elections, not enough women came forward to take up the women’s quota, resulting in some of the reserved women’s seats reverting to men. I pay tribute to Malalai Joya, a brave and determined young Afghani parliamentarian who more than deserves the international accolades that follow her, but whose life is under constant threat.
Amnesty International writes that,
“women continue to face severe violence both within and outside the house”.
Abduction and rape is widespread, and officials are killed merely for registering women to vote. An extremely disturbing phenomenon is the ever increasing number of Afghan women who seek death by fire: women who are set alight or set themselves alight in sheer desperation. Cases of self-immolation have doubled in Kabul in the past year alone, and the situation is even more acute in the city of Herat. Human Rights Watch believes that contributing factors are severe governmental and social discrimination, illiteracy and an incompetent justice system.
The pictures alone do not fully describe the plight of these women. It is a subject close to my heart and one of which I have direct experience. I chair a women’s empowerment charity, the Savayra Foundation, which seeks to empower women in Pakistan through education and training. Sadly, I meet many abused and desperate women, but one in particular remains vivid in my mind. Aliya, a beautiful 21 year-old woman, a loving mother of two, was set alight by her husband in her home in the Pothohar region of Punjab. She presented herself to me with severe burns and disfigurement from her scalp to her waist. She is a woman whose children fear her because of her appearance. She is a woman who simply longs to hug her young son.
Whenever we go to war, we must ensure that our actions leave women safer and stronger, and we must ensure that never again do we allow women to be abused on our watch in a country that we have invaded to make better.
Let me finish by thanking my noble friends Lady Morris and Lord Strathclyde, who have been far more than supporters—they have been consistently good-humoured despite my constant questioning. I also thank noble Lords from all sides of the House for their very warm welcome and constant offers of tea, far too many of which I have reluctantly had to decline in the interests of my growing waistline. Finally, I thank those who serve your Lordships’ House, many of whom have accompanied me while I was lost in the numerous corridors, and who always smile when they realise that I am the newest and youngest Member of your Lordships’ House and not an intern.
My Lords, it is my duty, but it is also a great pleasure, to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, and to congratulate her on a most accomplished and rather moving, if I may say so, maiden speech in which she brought attention to an aspect of the problem of Afghanistan that is sometimes overlooked but should not be so. I would like to say how welcome she is in this House too. She adds to both our regional and ethnic diversity, both of which are to the good. She has been given a highly topical but rather difficult and important subject—community cohesion—which I feel needs shaping and defining as well as prescribing. I hope that she will help us to do that.
Perhaps I may also stray a little from the normal practices of this House by offering a pre-emptive welcome to the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, who is speaking later. I think that I am not allowed in the practices of this House to refer to her as my noble friend, but she is undoubtedly noble and she is my friend.
It is timely that we should have this opportunity today for a debate on the Middle East and Afghanistan. I am grateful, too, that the report on the European Union and the Middle East peace process, produced by the sub-committee on which I currently serve, is being brought within the ambit of our debate. With the important conference on the peace process summoned by President Bush due to take place next month, it was high time for the House to have an opportunity to discuss our recommendations and the Government’s response to them. I hope that the Minister will not take offence if I describe the latter—the Government’s response—as bland even beyond the normal average for my old department. I can see why references to keeping channels of communication open to Hamas and the need for an inclusive peace process might provoke an evasive response, but why on Earth the Government cannot agree that it is now important to begin to address final status issues as well as process completely eludes me.
It would, I fear, be a triumph of hope over experience to say that President Bush’s conference is taking place under particularly propitious circumstances or with particularly high expectations of success. The weak position of both the Palestinian and Israeli Governments—and, one could add, that of the US Administration—increases the likelihood that tough choices will be ducked or fudged. The divisions among the Palestinians, with the exclusion of Hamas from any participation, can be welcome only to the most short-sighted. Nevertheless, it would surely be unwise to approach the conference in a spirit of cynicism or of exaggeratedly lowered ambitions; to do so would likely be self-fulfilling, and another failure will only stoke the fires of extremism that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester referred to in his contribution, which are already burning fiercely enough across the Middle East and more widely across the Islamic world.
What is needed is not just another photo-opportunity conference—not some vapid declaration of principles which are then interpreted in totally contradictory senses by each party within a few weeks or even a few days—but rather the establishment of a robust and structured process designed to get to grips not just with interim deals and fixes like the road map but with the core issues of a two-state solution: frontiers, Jerusalem, security arrangements and refugees; a process that can survive the vicissitudes of next year’s US presidential election and which can be sustained through whatever acts of violence the enemies of a peaceful negotiated solution may throw at it. I was delighted to hear the noble Lord, Lord Howell, referring to a study on the US side of the Atlantic which comes to precisely the same conclusion as I have just suggested. It would be good to hear from the Minister what the Government and the EU’s objectives are for that conference and what enhanced role the EU can hope to play in its aftermath.
There is also, I would suggest, a sub-plot here over the role of the United Nations in any process. There are renewed calls for the UN to pull out of the quartet and thereby, it is suggested, to regain what is described as its freedom of action. I believe these calls to be misguided and I hope the Government will advise the Secretary-General to resist them. It has been a mistake for two successive Secretaries-General, Kofi Annan and Ban Ki-Moon, to forbid their special representatives in the region to have any contact with Hamas, or with Hezbollah for that matter. The UN should be prepared to talk to all parties in disputes of this sort. But reversing that mistake does not require the UN to pull out of the quartet. After all, the Russians accept no such constraints on contact with Hamas and yet they remain in the quartet. And just what would be this freedom of action that the UN would have if it distanced itself from the key external co-ordinating group?
Turning to Iraq, I do not want to get drawn into a detailed analysis of the prospects for stabilising the situation. Having tried a whole range of futile, counter-productive and poorly implemented strategies, the United States does now seem to be making the best of a pretty desperate job. But there is one particularly urgent problem that has the capacity to further destabilise the country and to which the Minister referred in his opening speech—it is particularly topical this week given the visit to London of the Turkish Prime Minister—namely, the tension between Turkey and the Kurdish region of Iraq over the incursions of PKK guerrillas and the possibility that Turkey will launch military operations across the border. That would be a high-risk policy fraught with many possible unintended and negative consequences for all concerned. I hope that the Minister will say something about the line that the Government will take on this matter with Prime Minister Erdogan.
It is hard not to feel some sympathy with the Turkish Government, faced with the casualties to their armed forces, and also to feel that the Kurdish regional government are not perhaps doing all they could or all they should be doing to prevent their territory being used for these incursions. No doubt the Americans are better placed than we are to address that aspect of the problem, but concerted pressure on all and a concerted effort by all concerned will be needed if a Turkish Prime Minister who has done more than any other to alleviate the situation of his ethnic Kurdish compatriots and who has resisted the earlier pressure for military action from his generals is not to be drawn dangerously down that road.
Then, there is the threat to the peace and security of the Middle East region posed by the doubts that still hang over Iran’s nuclear programme and by Iran’s refusal to accede to the Security Council’s request that it suspend its uranium enrichment programme. Neither Iran’s response so far to that request, nor the Iranian President’s overblown and often vicious rhetoric, nor the recent resignation of Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator leave any grounds for complacency or illusions. An Iran with nuclear weapons or with fissile material enabling it to develop such weapons in short order would seriously destabilise one of the already most unstable regions in the world, irrespective of the wider implications for our own and our Allies’ security and for the future of the non-proliferation regime. So a renewed effort and new initiatives to agree a diplomatic solution are now, I would argue, becoming overdue.
It was quite right for the IAEA’s director-general to seek to clear up all the remaining doubt about Iranian past activities during the long period when it was operating a clandestine programme in breach of its international obligations. Dr El Baradei has been quite unreasonably criticised for doing what is simply his job to do. But however successful the agency’s work in that respect, it will not resolve the problems caused by Iran’s enrichment programme and the doubts about its future intentions.
A further sanctions package may well be needed, but as our debate on economic sanctions earlier this month demonstrated, sanctions are not an end in themselves and they cannot work in isolation from diplomatic action. What is needed is that the United States should accompany any decision on further sanctions with an unconditional offer to join talks with Iran over the whole range of Iranian and international concerns. That, after all, is what it has done with North Korea, and it does seem to be having some beneficial effects. Why can it not be tried with Iran? I would be grateful if the Minister will say whether the Government would support such an approach.
When the House last debated the situation in Afghanistan, the Minister said that the Government were currently reviewing all aspects of our policy there. I wonder if he could say a little more in his wind-up speech about the outcome of that review, though he did speak very interestingly about his recent visit there when he opened. I shall focus on one aspect only: the counter-narcotics strategy.
As Afghan production of opium continues to rise, with forecasts of further rises next year, how long will it be before we recognise that present policies are not working and are almost certainly not going to work? Since our debate earlier this autumn, the Senlis council has produced what seemed to me at least some interesting ideas for pilot projects linking the controlled legal production of opium with the pharmaceutical use of the drug. We know that controlled production can work and has worked in Turkey and in India. No doubt Afghan conditions are much more challenging. But is it not time to give something like this a try?
Any glance at the Middle East and Afghanistan is liable to leave one even more pessimistic and daunted than when one began, but pessimism is a poor prescription for effective diplomacy. We face massive challenges in this region, some of them due to our own earlier mistakes and miscalculations; and I am not speaking here only about Iraq. We need now to try to put that behind us and to work with as wide a degree of international co-operation as we can muster for better outcomes in the future.
My Lords, I am pleased to second the warm tribute to the maiden speech of the noble Baroness. It is good to be sandwiched between two distinguished former diplomats. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, always speaks with great authority and I am confident that the noble Baroness who is about to deliver her maiden speech will follow in those tracks, particularly regarding her major areas of expertise in counterterrorism and the European Union.
As the noble Lord has just said, several tectonic plates grind against one another in the Middle East, causing disturbances in many different areas, but the constant is the conflict between Israel and Palestine. If there were to be a solution there, it would not solve other regional conflicts, but it would certainly make those conflicts more manageable. I shall concentrate on the prospects for the proposed conference in Annapolis, although it appears that only the location has been decided; timing, participants and agenda are in the air. As is the case with any debate on the Middle East, there are already two starting points.
First, as we saw to our cost in the EU Sub-Committee after we embarked on our inquiry, there is the arrival of the unexpected, such as the coup of Hamas on 15 June this year. We had looked closely at the position that we would adopt in relation to Hamas. Then came its dramatic and violent takeover of Gaza and the subsequent entrenchment of what many now see as an Islamist state, heavily supported by Iran. We pressed on, notwithstanding that dramatic turn of events. We included a brief Chapter 6, attempting to foresee the consequences of that takeover. What is new is the increasingly bitter division among the Palestinians, which reflects a wider Sunni/Shia split in the region. The takeover is a good illustration of the unpredictability of events in the Middle East.
The second complicating factor is the irrationality of much of the debate. That combination of unpredictability and irrationality must make one apprehensive about the prospects of success for any proposed conference, even if it is essentially a cover for relations between the two principal participants—the Palestinian Authority and Israel—leading to a series of other conferences.
After all, as my noble friend the Minister knows all too well, the United Nations was extremely confident after 1989 and the fall of the Berlin Wall. The UN had enormous success, which I witnessed, in Namibia. It appeared then that everything was attainable. Alas, it was not to be. Yes, we had the Oslo accords in the 1990s, but as the outcome of Camp David showed—even with a United States President prepared to commit much time and political capital to the region, and with a pragmatic Israeli premier in Barak—the initiatives came to nought. Abu Ala, the current Palestinian negotiator, claimed to me that the failure arose because the US Administration were pushing too hard when he and his Israeli interlocutor, Shlomo Ben-Ami, were step by step moving in the ways of the Levant in the correct direction. Others blame Arafat’s indecision and personal weakness. As Shimon Peres frequently states, the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. What is clear is that the road map seems to have petered out in the sands before either party had completed their obligations under the first stage. At a time when Arab leaders in 2002 were promoting an interesting initiative, the Bush Administration, if only as a riposte to the Clinton Administration, turned away from the region until this year.
What are the negative features as we approach the conference? The first is political weakness on all sides. Prime Minister Olmert has been damaged by the incursion into the Lebanon, and the Palestinians by fratricidal strife. There is a lame-duck US President who has little credibility in the region as a result of the Iraq invasion and does not want his foreign policy legacy only to be seen as Iraq. Can the Palestinians make progress when their negotiations are led by the Fatah old guard, notably Abu Ala, and when Hamas, which it now bitterly hates, is wholly excluded from the process?
However, there are some positive signs. At least Israel and Palestine are in direct talks. There is little detail, but this fact is a good sign. Benchmarks have been established in earlier talks and, the reverse side of my earlier point, Hamas is out of the picture—at least in the early stages. Key Arab players are engaged. They have visited Israel, are concerned about growing Shia influence in the region and have a credible set of agreed proposals, led by Egypt and Jordan. It may be that the Saudis have reached some sort of deal—explicit or implicit—with the US Administration to assist in Iraq if the US presses harder in Palestine. Equally, there is a wider coalition within the Knesset and President Abbas clearly wants peace, whereas Arafat’s motives were unclear. The regional intervention may provide an acceptable cover for bilateral accords.
What in the Government’s view are the chances for the coming conference and the best means of making progress? The devil is not in the details, but in the key principles, which are well known. Is there at least a prospect of a comprehensive armistice or hudna beyond the negative or limited ceasefire? Is it at least worth seeking shorter, practical and pragmatic steps that would create realities over time? For example, Israel, in an effort to produce trust between the parties, released more than 250 prisoners in July and has released several batches of prisoners since then. As part of the Oslo family and reunification policy, Israel will be granting residency permits to 5,000 Palestinians who have been living illegally on the West Bank. There has also been the symbolic act of the beginning of reconstruction of the roadway between Ramallah and Jerusalem. Much can be done on the economic side and I commend the Government for their initiative on 17 September of launching an economic report. There cannot be real progress without tackling the economic misery on the Palestinian side.
On Iran, I believe that the Foreign Secretary has, as yet, refused to follow Jack Straw in stating that the use of force would be “inconceivable”. Financial pressures, with enhanced sanctions, public and private—including from the banks, which may be of greater importance, as they were in South Africa—are the most likely means of achieving a moderation of policy. A military strike on the three major nuclear installations would only make moderates rally behind the flag at a time when there is real discontent—one thinks of the tomato problems in the spring of this year, signs of disaffection among the populace and words of caution by the Supreme Leader and by Rohani regarding President Ahmadinejad. Would it not be more helpful if the US was to show Iran that it was not focused only on regime change and was more pragmatic, as it was regarding North Korea, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said?
Finally, a postscript on Afghanistan. There has been the very bad news in the recent UN report about the increase in drug production, which the Minister set out in his speech. President Karzai has acknowledged that the security situation has deteriorated, with a recent upsurge in violence, and it is clear that not all NATO countries are pulling their weight, as many like to think that they can operate only from relatively safe areas in the north. Clearly, there should be consensus that we must be there for the long term and provide the necessary resources, because a failure in Afghanistan, with even greater poppy production affecting our streets and even greater sources of terrorist activity by the Taliban, would have the most adverse repercussions not just in Pakistan and the region, but over the world as a whole. Therefore, at least let us be agreed that we cannot, as a world community, countenance failure in Afghanistan and the return of the Taliban.
My Lords, I am honoured and delighted to take my seat in Parliament’s upper Chamber and I am grateful for the kind remarks made in my direction during the debate. The breadth of experience and depth of talent in this House are inspiring and I look forward to being able to contribute to debate of public policy and to the opportunity to influence the outcome on matters that come before this House for consideration and vote.
Like my noble friend Lady Warsi, I will focus my contribution to the debate today on Afghanistan. I recently accompanied the leader of the Conservative Party on a visit to that country. One should always be careful about drawing long-range conclusions from short visits such as ours but, in a less than ideal world, it is still better to have had some direct experience of the issues than none at all. Strapping on body armour before stepping into the heat and dust of Helmand province quickly brings home the reality of the challenge faced by our brave service men and women.
The level of the British military commitment in Afghanistan is striking. At Camp Bastion in Helmand, we have built a military base of significant size, which is in the process of further upgrading. That seems right, because if this country is serious about Afghanistan—and, in my view, we must be—neither our forces nor our civilian personnel will be leaving in short order and they must be properly housed and protected. I shall return later to the likely length of the mission.
Public discussion of the British commitment has tended to focus on three issues: whether we should be in Afghanistan at all; whether our forces have been properly equipped to carry out the mission entrusted to them; and whether they are succeeding. In this short intervention, I am not going to deal in detail with the second of these issues. Suffice it to say just two things. The recent decision announced by the Government to supply, off the shelf, a more rugged vehicle to our troops is sensible, though not before time, and we must hope that those vehicles will be delivered soon. The better armour of a Mastiff, compared with a Land Rover, will help to save lives. No Government are entitled to expose our serving men and women to unnecessary risk. Furthermore, when our service men and women are injured, they should be able to expect the best medical treatment that we, a technologically advanced and wealthy country, are able to provide.
During our visit, we were shown the medical facilities at Camp Bastion, which are also available to the local population. They are impressive, as is the commitment of the medical staff. Injured personnel, of course, need to reach those facilities quickly from the field and shortage of helicopters can be a problem. Moreover, when servicepeople return to the UK for further medical treatment, we need to ensure that not just the medicine but also their hospital environment are conducive to speedy recovery.
As to whether the UK should be in Afghanistan, although our presence there has not been attended by anything like the controversy surrounding our presence in Iraq, it has not been free from it. Opponents often argue that no outside power has ever succeeded in Afghanistan and that NATO will not, either. That is fatalistic, pessimistic and false. The alliance is no invader. It is there at the invitation of the Afghan Government to assist in creating conditions of greater freedom, security and prosperity in that country. That involves combating terrorism, which threatens the Afghan people, this country and our allies. For these reasons, this side of the House supported and continues to support the intervention in Afghanistan.
Having committed ourselves, the UK must now succeed. The consequences of failure in Afghanistan, in the wider region and for the alliance itself are far too serious for it to be anything other than a first-order priority to give ourselves the best chances of success. I do not think that we have done that yet. Indeed, there is a widespread impression outside Afghanistan that the NATO military campaign is failing, which is mistaken, although it is possibly a result of the media sophistication of the Taliban. Our commanders are the first to warn of the dangers and they are not complacent. It is, however, a mark of their relative success that the Taliban has had to extend its tactics from fighting our troops to intimidating the civilian population with suicide bombing.
The real problem lies in what follows—or fails to follow—a successful NATO military operation. If the Afghan armed forces and the local police are unable to provide a reasonable level of security and the Taliban can slip back in, as already happens, economic reconstruction and restoration of normal daily life cannot take place. That has potentially enormous costs in the battle for hearts and minds and the whole point of an operation can be lost. Training a sufficient number of Afghan soldiers to hold territory taken and raising local police standards are therefore key priorities.
Problems lie on the civilian side, too. There are over 100 civilian agencies in Afghanistan with more than $100 million a year to spend. There are no fewer than 28 provincial reconstruction teams, led by different foreign Governments. Much good is being done, but differing methods of operation and different goals, combined with the absence of an overall strategy and effective high level co-ordination, mean much wasted and misdirected activity. We are a long way from helping the Afghans to generate a viable economy free of dependence on the narcotics that reach our streets.
The huge international effort needs strategic direction under an individual with the experience and authority to pull the strands together and contribute to the creation of a really effective military-civilian nexus. Indeed, it has been well said by NATO military commanders that it can go in alone but not come out alone. The civilian side of post-conflict stabilisation is crucial to success and there has to be a joint effort between the military command and civilian agencies. In developing a comprehensive approach, NATO shows that it understands that. However, as NATO itself will acknowledge, implementation is far from mature. NATO also needs to be nimbler and less bureaucratic. I tell no secrets in pointing to the many layers of command, as well as to the long-standing problem of national caveats, which damage NATO’s military effectiveness. Such issues will not find their solution on the ground in Afghanistan, but that country shows clearly how important their solution is to the long-term future of the alliance as an effective instrument of western security.
It is not so much that we do not understand what needs to be done in Afghanistan; we have learnt much and the outline of what is needed is pretty clear. The difficulty lies in putting it into effect. We need to continue to work at getting a higher level of performance out of each of the elements of policy, while welding them together in a strategy that can be driven forward with vigour. This is not an optional extra; it is essential to success.
We also need to be realistic about what we are trying to achieve politically and must not try to impose western notions of liberalism on a deeply traditional society. Instead, we should work with the grain of Afghan society in helping to open up opportunity to more of its citizens. I said earlier that if we were interested in success, we should not expect to leave Afghanistan soon. The British ambassador there was right when he said that it is not a sprint but a marathon. We need patience, perseverance and determination. What happens in Afghanistan is linked to the situation in Pakistan, which is not becoming less complex. That subject goes beyond the scope of my remarks today. However, it is clear that, among other things, closer co-operation between Islamabad and Kabul in countering terrorism is absolutely essential.
In conclusion, I would like to say how important the success of NATO is, not only to western interests in Afghanistan but to the foundations of British foreign policy. As a young graduate, I was the fortunate recipient of a Harkness fellowship, which took me to the United States for two years. While I was there, the Cuban missile crisis took place. Anyone who lived through that has had it impressed on them how profoundly important our relationship with the United States is to our security. The world has been transformed since then, but it remains true for the United Kingdom that our capacity to act in the world still rests on the transatlantic link, at the core of which lies NATO.
In a globalised world, we should not be surprised that we have much at stake in a country 3,500 miles from our shores. We must not shrink from the task that we have taken on, but we must get it right. The price of failing to do so will surely be greater than the effort that we need to put in to make it succeed. I thank the House for listening so patiently to this initial contribution to its deliberations.
My Lords, I am pleased to follow the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, and to congratulate her on her contribution to the debate today. She has had an illustrious and diverse career in the service of her country, as a number of noble colleagues today have emphasised. With more than 30 years’ experience in Her Majesty’s Diplomatic Service, in posts as diverse as Singapore, Washington, Brussels and Bosnia, to call on plus spells as the chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee as well as a BBC governor—not, I hasten to add, at the same time, as I understand it—I have no doubt that she will enlighten and enliven your Lordships’ debates for some time to come.
I carry on more or less where the noble Baroness left off in turning my remarks to the work that we are trying to do in Afghanistan. I, like her, praise almost beyond my imagination the work that our Armed Forces have done there, whether they are regular service personnel or reservists. Their approach in establishing the early provincial reconstruction teams was both courageous and sympathetic. I ask noble Lords to imagine just handfuls of young soldiers working with the grain in vast tracts of Afghanistan’s interior. Years ago, I saw for myself, as the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, did recently, the genuine friendliness of our young soldiers engaging with local communities. I can bear witness to their resourcefulness in helping to deliver humanitarian aid and development projects. Their commitment in holding fund-raising events among their own colleagues in their bases to pay for micro-projects such as a footbridge, a well or a classroom, built with the help of local villagers, pays tribute to the dedication of those young men and women.
Those projects may hardly be noticed in the general scheme of things, and perhaps it is not so surprising that those young men and women are prepared daily to put their life on the line to preserve and protect what they are achieving on behalf of the Afghan people and in the service of their country. We should be proud of them and salute them and their families. We could start by ensuring that the commitment shown by these young people, some of whom are barely out of their teens, in our Armed Forces is not cheapened by inadequate developments, by the inadequate deployment of personnel and resources, or perhaps by the threat of a widening capability gap due to unreliable, ineffective or inappropriate weaponry, transport and communications systems. The case of the Mastiff armoured vehicle is classic; after so many years, we have eventually begun to get it right. With a 30 per cent increase in violent deaths in Afghanistan this year, rising from 425 a month in 2006 to 550 a month now, and with suicide and road-side bombing increasing at a similar rate, we must ensure that the efforts of our military personnel are not diluted, diverted or squandered through the failure to set realistic, achievable objectives in Afghanistan and the neighbouring region.
The present objectives are well known but are worth repeating. In summary, they call for the elimination of al-Qaeda, the defeat of the Taliban and the development of a stable and democratic Afghan state. They also call for support for the Afghan Government and internationally sanctioned counter-narcotics efforts and for the provision of support for humanitarian assistance operations. However, there are concerns that the progress made on the political and development objectives does not match the military investment and commitment that we and our NATO allies are making. The question is why the coalition forces were unable to turn the initial military success into sustainable security and stability in Afghanistan.
The Royal Institute of International Affairs at Chatham House has already been quoted in the debate. Its report is an important contribution to the analysis of how we can go forward. Its recent analysis shows that, although the operation suffers from a lack of resources and troops and has done in many people’s eyes since 2003, there is a more fundamental difficulty: those involved in the coalition have in many cases failed to develop the coherent approach needed to achieve the coalition and NATO objectives in that country. In particular, a comprehensive strategy to address the political objectives—the elimination of al-Qaeda, the defeat of the Taliban, and help for Afghanistan towards establishing a stable and democratic state—seems to have been subsumed in a collection of partial and ad hoc schemes and perceptions. That is a major difficulty in varying the international, legal frameworks under which the contributing forces operate.
The national force deployments in Afghanistan are heavily constrained by restrictive caveats imposed by national Parliaments, as my noble friend Lord Lee of Trafford has already mentioned. Chatham House gives two classic examples, among many more. My noble friend Lord Lee has already mentioned one: Tornado aircraft collecting reconnaissance data under one hat but being unable to pass the data on to those who need them under the other hat. There is also Operation Medusa, during which Canadian ISAF forces were confronted by entrenched Taliban units in strength. The Canadian commanders apparently asked four allied partners for relief but not one helped. The commanders were turned down each time on the basis that the legal restrictions would not permit their allied partners to come to the Canadian forces’ aid. That is a farce and a fiasco.
Those cases illustrate a serious difficulty with coalition operations in Afghanistan. Not all ISAF members, as many noble Lords have noted, are prepared to share the increased risks of military expansion in Afghanistan—an unwillingness that reflects parochial domestic political pressures but presents a serious threat to NATO’s future operations and perhaps to NATO’s future itself. Helping Afghanistan to develop into a stable and democratic state is proving, if anything, even more daunting. The trends over time of increasing opium production are deeply depressing, as other noble Lords have noted. It is generally known that Afghanistan produces some 90 per cent of the world’s illegal opium, according to the latest UN figures. Even more depressing is the fact that that 90 per cent is up from 70 per cent in 2000 and from just over 50 per cent in 1990. The trend continues unchecked. The narcotics trade continues to fund the warlords and their private armies. It continues to feed corruption in the civil administration and to nurture increasing criminality throughout the country. With disagreement within the coalition about the way forward in eradicating the poppy crops and providing equitable and viable alternative livelihoods for the farmers, it appears that counter-narcotic plans are in danger of stalling, if not of failing altogether.
Finally, no serious commentator on Afghanistan believes now that achieving the objectives of the war as set out initially will result from actions solely within the borders of that country. The conflict has become and has been recognised as a regional conflict that desperately needs regional solutions. Recent events in Pakistan—for example, the attempted assassination of Mrs Bhutto—underline the volatility of the region, particularly in the frontier areas with Pakistan. Inevitably—I am sure that the Minister will comment on this in his winding-up speech—the frontier areas in Waziristan and other tribal agencies, which have been the seat of unrest for centuries, are where the solutions must be found.
My Lords, I join other speakers in congratulating the two maiden speakers, who will clearly become redoubtable Members of the Conservative Benches, this House and, indeed, Parliament as a whole. Both illustrate the well established truth that the range in backgrounds of Members of the House of Lords gives considerable value through the balance of expertise and understanding in Parliament as a whole.
I shall underline some points in the report of the committee, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Roper, of which I am a member. This is my swansong for my four-year cycle on that committee. I will then put some issues to my noble friend, of which I have given him notice, about the problems on the Iraq/Turkey border and how they interrelate to some of the problems of the internal evolution of democracy and human rights in Turkey. Some of us had the privilege of having discussions with the Turkish Prime Minister about that earlier this afternoon. I couple my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Roper, with thanks to the clerk of Sub-Committee C, Kathryn Colvin, who is happily with us in the Chamber.
The noble Lord, Lord Howell, may think that I will try to be helpful on sub-committees, but I have to stop there with regard to his thesis that there is something rotten in the state of Denmark when it comes to our committee structure and the remit of the EU Committee and its sub-committees. Of course it has never been the case, whether on Africa, the Middle East or anywhere else, that we are focusing only on what the issue has got to do with the EU. I can well imagine the speech that the noble Lord would make if we did not concentrate on the scrutiny of the EU as our main rationale. After all, we pride ourselves—do we not?—on having a comprehensive structure to scrutinise the EU. I would have thought that the noble Lord would think that that is absolutely essential—I refer to phrases such as “Make sure they don't get away with anything”, and to rhetoric of that kind.
I have been on two EU sub-committees. In committee it is often very salutary to say, “Just a moment, we are not doing a report on the Russian economy or on the whole of Africa; we are doing a report on the role of the European Union”. For example, there is an important and growing role for the European Union in relation to development. The aim is that 10 African countries do not have 250 different pieces of advice about auditing or whatever. But it means that there has to be a bigger role for the EU on such external relations. There is a very long list that demonstrates the truth of that, whether it concerns energy policy, the environment or other such issues.
I do not think that we need to shed too many crocodile tears over the EU being all over the place on policy matters such as the Middle East. I say “crocodile tears” because obviously—to vary my metaphor—charity begins at home. It is Britain, France and Germany that sometimes do not want the EU to act as a united front. I ask the noble Lord: where does that leave criticism? I do not ask him to respond to that this second but that is the nature of the balance that has to be struck. It would be retrogressive to advocate that the EU is simply going to be an exercise in intergovernmentalism. The noble Lord’s criticism would then be logically even more cogent.
The EU in this context is a member of the quartet, but it has not been a very proactive member. We concluded with some agreement over Javier Solana’s remark that the EU sometimes needed to be two or three steps—I think I have this right—ahead of the United States. That is what the Arabs—if I can put them all in one compartment, which of course is a dangerous thing to do—would rather like. Noble Lords can read our remarks about the Mecca agreement in, I think, paragraph 180. We say that the agreements that the Arabs are struggling to put together—they were making some progress—rely on an interlocutor who is not so joined at the hip as are the United States and Israel. To follow on from that metaphor, I hope that my noble friend is recovering well from his hip operation; we look forward to him speaking from the Front Bench for many years to come.
In the phase following Gaza and so on—
My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord knows the answer and that he is winding me up. He will have to ask his colleague which noble Lord I may have been alluding to or he will have to work it out for himself.
One of the central themes in our report was put rather well by an academic Israeli witness who told us in terms that the view in Israeli senior circles could be put by saying, “Let the United States handle the politics and let the EU handle the economics”. That is very convenient. In other words—the following conclusion is inescapable—Israel’s special relationship with the United States means that the EU would not have its own robust relationship with Israel but would trail along behind the United States. If we want the Arabs to engage constructively, they should be allowed to have a symmetrically important special relationship with the EU. We are not suggesting that, but the EU should have a balanced relationship in both directions and be able to play its own role in the quartet along with the Americans, the Russians and the United Nations.
There is scope for varying the geometry, as we found with the EU and Iran. At the moment, a crisis involving Iran is obviously emerging, and the EU will have to be very prominent in sorting it out. I want to mention something else that is rather obvious: the Israelis have a nuclear bomb and the Iranians do not. I am not suggesting changing that in the direction of both having the bomb, but there should be a nuclear-free zone covering the whole of the Middle East. My noble friend may wish to comment, but I cannot see why that is not official UK policy. It is essential that we go in that direction.
Before I sit down, I want to say a couple of words about Turkey and Iraq. I had the privilege two weeks ago of being in south-east Turkey in Diyarbakir, an area where the majority of citizens have a Kurdish background. The British Government have been very active in making positive contributions. I welcome the dialogue that I had with the Turkish Prime Minister, who is a considerable statesman. Nearly everyone who has met him in London believes that it is essential to make progress on the route of Turkey joining the European Union. Difficult issues that came up such as the terrorism laws and Turkishness laws must be set against the background that we very much want to find solutions. One danger is that action by the PKK and possible reaction by the Turkish generals could mean that these human rights questions are exacerbated.
The dialogue must be a dialogue, without the Americans coming in again with hobnailed boots over the question of the territorial integrity of Iraq. No one is questioning the territorial integrity of Turkey, including parties with a Kurdish background. We must recognise that the DTP or something like it has a role to play, along with civil society organisations. We must get behind Mr Martti Ahtisaari, the High Representative and the team on the EU and Turkey to signal that we want to accelerate the progress of Turkey towards the European Union so long as there are signs of internal dialogue. I do not mean dialogue with the PKK. The terrorist outrages must be seen to be nothing to do with any party being allowed to put forward candidates—as the DTP is now—for the Turkish Parliament. It would be helpful to see how that positive strategy could be moved forward, as well as saying that we are totally against the terrorist outrages of the PKK.
My Lords, I first refer the House to my entry in the Register of Lords’ Interests as I am a director of a number of companies operating in or with investments in the Middle East, including one with investments in Iran.
It is my great pleasure to be the first on the Conservative side of the House to welcome two exceptional maiden speeches today. Both of them dealt with the subject of Afghanistan, but in very different ways. My noble friend Lady Warsi gave an eloquent and moving account of the plight of women in Afghanistan. She has tremendous expertise in Muslim affairs, which will be of great value in this House. She comes here with a high reputation for combative oratory, which anyone who has watched “Question Time” will know is well justified. She referred to the long line of distinguished ladies from Dewsbury who have arrived here. She is a very distinguished addition to their ranks already and we look forward to hearing her again.
My noble friend Lady Neville-Jones also made a powerful analysis of Afghanistan, and I particularly agreed with two of her observations—I am sure that everyone did. The first is that, having committed ourselves, we must see it through and, secondly, that it would be a terrible mistake to impose western liberalism on a traditional tribal society. I first knew her when she was in the Cabinet Office. Her experience there and as chairman of the JIC will be of tremendous value to this House. We look forward to hearing from her again as well.
At Heathrow Airport, there is an advertisement for the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation which one always sees when one gets on board an aircraft. It says, “Isn't it a good thing to see things from another person's viewpoint?”. Then, as you walk down the gangway to the plane another poster says, “Another person's viewpoint is simply the place where you are not”. I am afraid to say that I was reminded of those posters when I listened to the Minister. Sometimes when we have debates on the Middle East we lose the ability to see things as people in other countries see them. We sometimes lose the ability to see how we are perceived in the Middle East.
I hate to say this because it gives me no pleasure, but we are seen today through the prism of Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and rendition, and through the eyes of Al-Jazeera television programmes that are often made from the point of view of those on the ground who have to pay the price of invasion—what we euphemistically call collateral damage.
The phrase “the war on terror” has been a terrible mistake. If it were just a phrase it would still be a terrible mistake, because it is so easily confused or wrongly translated as a war against Islam. But it is a wholly wrong concept if the idea is to win hearts and minds and to divorce the passive supporters of terrorism—those among whom the terrorists live—from supporting it. You cannot wage war against a few individuals using all the weapons that demolish homes, kill children and cause collateral damage. When the Minister referred to the French aircraft that were going to be deployed in Afghanistan, I am sorry, but my immediate reaction was, “I wonder how many homes they will bomb by mistake”.
The United States and many in Britain have made the mistake of carrying forward into the war on terror the same mentality that we had in the Cold War. The threat today is not a single ideology that is allied to a military superpower such as the Soviet Union. The threat that we face today is much more diffuse. Sometimes people try to identify a threat by talking about the threat of a universal caliphate. Maybe Hizb ut-Tahrir and Osama bin Laden fantasise nostalgically about the caliphate, but it is most improbable that it could ever be realised. For a start, Shia Muslims—a large part of the Islamic world—do not believe in the universal caliphate. Therefore, Iran, identified as the great danger in this debate, will not be pushing that concept. In fact, the idea of the universal caliphate was not so popular at the end of the First World War when it disintegrated among fighting between Turks and Arabs.
We are not facing a war of civilisations but the threat posed by, I accept, a very large number of small groups of Islamic extremists who can mount terrorist attacks. They can kill innocent civilians, damage property and sting us into making inappropriate reactions. These people can murder but do not threaten the West’s existence or our way of life. Combating them is a job for Special Forces and the police, both domestic and international.
I accept that there is also a separate problem of nuclear proliferation. I agree with the Minister and my noble friend Lord Howell about the danger of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons which could destabilise the Middle East. It is a serious problem which, as my noble friend on the Front Bench said, has to be tackled with diplomacy and other measures.
Unfortunately, our task has been made much harder—as I think the noble Lord, Lord Lea, was hinting—by the fact that we have turned a blind eye to the possession of nuclear weapons by countries that we regard as more favourable to the West. I agree with him that it would have been much better if, earlier on, we had devoted our efforts towards trying to create a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East.
The former Prime Minister, Mr Blair, made a speech last week in which he compared the situation in the Middle East with the rise of fascism in Europe in the 1920s. In the West, we have had new Hitlers several times. Sir Anthony Eden saw Nasser as Hitler, the Americans saw Ho Chi Minh as the equivalent of Nazi Europe and, not so long ago, Colonel Gaddafi was the latest Hitler figure. I am not sure that the former Prime Minister’s remarks are entirely helpful if they are designed to solve the problem that we have with Iran—a country, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester reminded us, which is highly factional and diverse, and which has a defence budget that is 1 per cent that of the United States.
If Iran is Nazi Germany on the rise, it seems very strange that it made the offer it did in 2003 to rein in Hezbollah and Hamas, help America in Iraq and introduce transparency in the nuclear programme—an offer rejected out of hand because America felt that it was on the offensive and had the advantage. Today, sadly, the psychology is the other way around.
Nothing about Iran today can be understood without reference to the Iran-Iraq war. Trying to understand Iran without reference to that is like trying to understand modern Britain without reference to the two great wars. It is true that Iran displays a highly hostile attitude to Israel, particularly regarding Palestine. Iran has no legitimate involvement in the Palestine question, whereas one can argue that it has a legitimate interest in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Why does it maintain this policy towards Palestine and Israel? I believe it is for two reasons. First, if Iran is attacked, it knows that it cannot retaliate against the United States but it probably thinks that it could do so against Israel. It may be overestimating its own capacity in that regard. Secondly and more importantly, hostility against Israel stops Iran being isolated within the Gulf. Arab Governments are opposed to Iran but I regret to say that the President of Iran’s stance—outrageous that it is—is tremendously popular in the Arab street. There would be no way more effective in undercutting Iran and isolating it than to make progress on the Palestinian question, which is why I hope that the Government will put renewed energy and vigour into that.
Another threat identified in Mr Blair’s speech in New York was the rise of political Islam, about which I would like to say a word. We have seen in recent years the rise of political Islam, sometimes called Islamism—the belief that government should be based on the religion of Islam. It is perfectly possible to believe in political Islam without being a supporter of terrorism. There are terrorists who are Islamists but not all Islamists are terrorists.
Islamism is a spectrum. There is a profound difference between the political Islam of Sunnis and Shias or the political Islam of Iran and Hamas. Throughout the Islamic world, religious parties have been advancing and advancing in democratic elections—in Lebanon, Iraq, Pakistan, Palestine, Algeria, Egypt and Turkey. William Dalrymple remarked the other day that democracy, not terrorism, has been the engine of political Islam.
Religious parties often come to power, or increase their vote even if they do not come to power, because they are seen as representing justice and the interests of the poor. Often they are the alternatives to despotic or corrupt regimes as I think, to some extent, Hamas was seen as the alternative to corrupt Fatah. On several occasions, the West’s response has been to reject the result of a democratic election, if it is the wrong one, as we decided it was in Palestine and in Egypt.
While I agree with what the Minister said about human rights in Iran, he would have been more convincing if he had coupled it with a strong condemnation of the human rights situation and the imprisonment of political dissidents in Egypt. We are far less vocal about countries that we regard as more in favour of ourselves.
It may be that a religiously based state will be a stage that some countries pass through as they progress towards full democracy. There is no reason why the West should not exist with Islamic states. However, the great mistake that we hope we will avoid making is denying the results of democratic elections when they bring to power those of whom we do not approve. That is simply going to reinforce the Islamist trend and those who sometimes use the democratic process to protest against particular regimes.
In the Middle East, as in Ireland, the shadow of history is a very long one. Today’s children are paying for our grandparents’ mistakes. We have to be careful that we are not creating a bitter legacy for future generations. I hope that that will not happen and that we can put aside some of our mistakes in recent years.
My Lords, somewhat to my surprise, I found myself in full agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, about the war on terror, Middle Eastern perceptions of the West and Islamic politics. However, I will not pursue these subjects but suggest that in approaching this timely debate—for which many are grateful—we should ask what the real interests of the United Kingdom, the United States and Israel are.
The answer lies in a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine, an end to conditions of war and non-recognition and, more widely, a reasonable balance of forces. If these aims could be achieved, it would be in the national interest of the three states that I have mentioned. It would mean that the Middle Eastern region could make a positive contribution to the rest of the world instead of being a permanent source of instability and violence. The proposed international conference at Annapolis may assist the bilateral and multilateral aims, provided that it respects existing realities. Here I agree strongly with my noble friend Lord Hannay, who is no longer present, that this means that Syria and Hamas should not be excluded. Both are too strong to be ignored. Syria is strategically placed and its Government show no signs of collapsing. Hamas enjoys solid popular support in both Gaza and the West Bank. A Palestinian Government of national unity could have continued successfully had it not been for the inept preconditions and quasi boycotts imposed by the external powers. I did warn against these mistakes at the time.
It would be helpful to Annapolis and to the search for long-term peace if the pro-Israel lobby in the United States could be persuaded to show a degree of restraint. Its past failure to do so has meant that the Oslo agreements went unimplemented, that peace with Syria was not achieved, and that the opportunity of the Saudi and Arab League initiatives was missed.
I conclude by mentioning two small points which some might think insignificant. I suggest that together they could do much to improve the climate for negotiations. In Gaza, there are some 6,000 students who have places in foreign universities and institutions, many of them with scholarships attached. They are unable to travel because of the blockade and the closing of the crossing points. Surely it would benefit Israel to let them go to study rather than stay at home, disaffected and liable to be recruited into terrorism.
The second point concerns the 10,000 or more Palestinians currently detained in Israel or who have been convicted by military courts. They include a few women and children, plus many members of the elected Palestinian Legislative Council. I welcome the release of 87 individuals in early October, but I suggest that a proper review mechanism is needed to assess length of detention, current attitudes and a whole range of humanitarian factors. Her Majesty’s Government, with their experience of the release of politically motivated offenders in Northern Ireland, could perhaps offer good offices in this context. A review mechanism which led to regular releases would give much hope. It would also be in Israel’s interest by reducing the likelihood of its soldiers or officials being kidnapped.
My Lords, I cannot hope to emulate the most interesting tour de force of the Minister in opening this debate, but I will do my best to concentrate on three particular areas. I start with Iraq. Like my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford, I am disturbed by the way in which the reduction of our forces in Iraq was announced and how it appears it is about to be carried out. Surely we agree that there should be no premature weakening of our presence in Iraq. The position is still extremely fragile, but there are signs of hope, not least because of the way the Iraqis themselves are increasingly taking control over their own affairs. Obviously there is a long way to go, and we have a great responsibility for keeping our presence strong and effective, in particular by helping them to deal with insurgents, by holding the ring and continuing with the training of Iraqi police and military personnel, which our forces have done with such consummate skill and which is now extremely well established. What a tragedy it is for the people of Iraq that a Sunni/Shia struggle for power within Iraq is depriving them of the great opportunities which undoubtedly await them, if only they could settle their differences and manage their own affairs effectively.
Turning to the Middle East as a whole, most commentators refer to the need to resolve the Palestine/Israel situation. I agree on the importance of achieving that, or at any rate of making further progress towards achieving it. No doubt the two-state solution does offer the best prospect for peace, but I do not think that that has any chance of coming about unless there is the prospect of a viable Palestinian state, and that in turn cannot come about unless Israel ceases the building of settlements and withdraws from the east of Jerusalem the settlements which it is in the process of establishing.
It is also most important that we engage Syria as actively as possible in our discussions when referring to the Palestine/Israel settlements. Syria is an Arab League nation and should be closely involved in all the discussions. Perhaps the opportunity will arise during the next few days for the Government to encourage Saudi Arabia to renew the initiatives it showed a short time ago. Perhaps that nation can broker an arrangement with Syria to become involved in these discussions.
However, the discussions are about to move to Annapolis in the United States of America, a city of which I have the honour to be a freeman and where one of my ancestors, the last colonial Governor of Maryland, is buried. We are not quite clear about what is going to happen in Annapolis, nor are we yet 100 per cent sure exactly who will be taking part in the discussions. Like the Select Committee, whose report is before us in today’s debate and was introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Roper, I suggest that greater emphasis should be placed on the possible role of Hamas. I know that it sticks in the throat to have to talk to people who have engaged in acts of violence, but throughout our history we have had to do that over and over. The time has come when Hamas needs to be drawn more openly and fully into the substantive discussions which the other countries are engaged in. I hope, therefore, that our Government will change their position on this point and encourage the involvement of Hamas directly in the Israeli/Palestinian summit to be held next month in Annapolis.
I agree with those who have said that a solution to Iran must be found through diplomatic endeavour. On this point, to what extent is the Minister able to tell us about the position of Russia following the visit of Mr Putin to Tehran? Is there any encouragement coming from that quarter? Is there any prospect of a settlement on a diplomatic basis? I know that Russia was more interested in establishing a Caspian security arrangement and that the interest there lies in oil. But oil is not the only interest that Russia must have in Iran. Russia must also be anxious to ensure that a fundamentalist Islamist influence does not permeate from Iran further north towards Russia.
While on the subject of Iran, I would like to say a word about the People’s Mujaheddin Organisation of Iran. There is no justification to continue the proscription of the PMOI. It is not a terrorist organisation. We only went along with that in a form of appeasement to Iran which has done absolutely no good. The people of Iran are anxious for a settlement with the West. The mullahs of Iran may not be, but those who speak openly about the need for greater rapprochement with other countries in the Middle East from Iran deserve all the encouragement that we can give them. That certainly applies to the National Council of Resistance of Iran.
My noble friend Lord Lamont referred to the long shadow of history. I agree with him that we all bear some responsibility for preserving an undue significance in those shadows. We all have the baggage of history on our shoulders, but even in the situation in the Middle East we can find hope if we can change the education policies of some of those countries. Perhaps this is a subject on which my noble friend Lady Warsi, whose brilliant speech was so moving, can make further contributions at some time. I think of the madrassahs in Pakistan, of the schoolbooks that are being used in Palestine right now and of the amount of preaching of hatred that goes on the whole time, more often than not in the name of religion. Education holds a hope for the future if we can get it right.
Lastly, nobody can talk about the Middle East without talking about America’s presence there. Without America there could be no prospect for any settlement anyway. I hope that American policy-makers can be less heavy-booted in their approach to these matters sometimes and not refer to everyone by the blanket label “Islamists”. People in Arab countries are as different as people in western countries. The people of Iran are different from the people of Syria and Lebanon and elsewhere. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester said, what we need to bring about a settlement of these issues more than anything else is patience. He is right; we do need patience. But I would add one further word to that tenacity.
My Lords, it is a real privilege both to listen to and to participate in this kind of debate in your Lordships’ House, graced by so many accomplished, knowledgeable and experienced speakers, by two very distinguished maiden speeches and, among many others, by my friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester, with his very particular knowledge, perspective and experience. I was struck by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, whose words resonated with me over and over again, though at the very end—and thinking of my colleague the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester—I wondered whether what he was talking about will prove to be the case or whether it is a momentary blindness; I wondered whether religiously based states are a stage through which states will pass on the way to greater democracy or whether this is how things may be for centuries and in many other parts of the world as well.
I appreciated the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Eden, about history and those of the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, about what we in our age may be laying up for our grandchildren, just as our grandparents’ generation laid up so much of the present situation. One thing that has surprised me in this debate is how little reference has been made to British responsibility in the 1910s, 1920s and 1930s for so much not only of the boundaries but also of the character of the regimes that have preceded the present ones right across the area about which we have been speaking and how that has left people of all sorts in these countries viewing us in some rather particular ways as British people and British Governments.
Some of your Lordships may have seen in the press that, in June, I wrote with two of my colleagues, the right reverend Prelates the Bishops of Exeter and of Coventry, a letter to the Prime Minister as he came into office. With an eye on Annapolis and as people with different but long-standing interests in the Middle East, we wrote to see whether we could draw out of him his own sense of the essentials and vision for the region, particularly around Israel/Palestine, offering some of our own observations and conclusions. We began by supporting the commitment of the Prime Minister and the British Government—although it is a much more widespread commitment, too—to a two-state solution, although we noted the extent to which that was becoming, for a range of reasons, increasingly unviable, as the noble Lord, Lord Eden, has just said.
We noted the speech that the Prime Minister made at the president’s dinner of the Board of Deputies of British Jews on 25 April, in which he committed himself to fight anti-Semitism and to remain a lifelong friend and supporter of Israel. In recognising the absolute right of Israel to exist, he called for people to work together for a two-state solution. We said that those were all sentiments with which the three of us wholeheartedly agreed. But we went on to note how on that occasion he had spoken of his understanding of the Hebrew word “tzedakah”, or justice and righteousness—a great biblical word in the Hebrew Bible and in the New Testament. We said that it seemed to us essential to hold that word in mind and to encourage both Israelis and Palestinians to hold it in mind about each other. We wondered whether, in that connection, he had really seen, and allowed to enter deep into his consciousness, the character of the security wall and the way in which it was, as we put it, separating people from their land, isolating communities and acting as a significant element in impoverishing and pauperising a large part of the Palestinian communities.
In that connection, I was intrigued a week or so ago to read in the press the comments of a UN official—he probably should not have said what he was reported as saying—who talked of recently briefing the previous Prime Minister in his present role on the situation in Israel and Palestine, particularly about the borders and the implications of the security wall and of the range of policies on both sides of it for the welfare and viability of Palestinians at present and in a future state. He said that he found Mr Blair both amazed and surprised by the briefings. This UN official then described how very surprising he found that, given the position that Mr Blair had been in for so long. Like my colleagues and many others, I believe that what is critical is an attempt to take in what is happening to Israelis and Palestinians in the present situation.
It was intriguing to receive, in a letter dated 5 October, the Prime Minister’s response, not least because it was so very much more positive, more engaged, more daring and more explicit than the Government’s response to the EU Committee’s document, which the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, absolutely fairly said was bland and non-committal to a degree—although I have said more than the noble Lord said, that is what I think he meant. The Prime Minister was very up front. He shared our vision and said that this was a rare moment of opportunity to take the peace process forward. He said that the US-led meeting in November will focus minds on a goal and that we really need to be up and at it and play a full part as the UK, and then within the EU and within the quartet.
That led me to think that the Prime Minister had in mind some of the kind of things that the noble Lord, Lord Roper, and his friends had very interestingly said in the committee’s document. I confess that, as I only got hold of it today, I have only read portions of it, but other noble Lords have noted significant portions. While supporting the position of the EU within the quartet and recognising the fundamental relationship with the United States, noble Lords are also saying that some independence of mind is required and necessary. There is a particular history of EU countries with the Middle East and there is a particular history within the EU of the UK in the Middle East.
The Prime Minister went on to be much more explicit than what was in the Government’s response. He said:
“We share your concerns over the humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories”.
He also said:
“We continue to call on Israel to halt settlement activities and the construction of the barrier on Palestinian land”.
It is important that we pick up the issues and encourage the Government to do so—I shall be interested to hear the Minister’s winding-up speech in that regard—with the greater sense of urgency that has found its way out into the media and the press in recent years about a situation that, for both Israelis and Palestinians, has elements that are simply terrible. We cannot be seen to allow it to continue until something better appears over the horizon.
I return to the question of the viability of the Palestinian side of the two-state solution. Noble Lords may have recently seen in the press an energetic critique, which surfaces periodically in the work of NGO Monitor, the Jerusalem-based think tank, of the work of Christian Aid in the Occupied Territories. The critique is of a pair of Christian Aid documents in particular, one of which I re-read—Israel and Palestine: A Question of Viability, a report published by Christian Aid in June this year—having read NGO Monitor’s material. This is not the moment to go into detail, except to say that I encourage noble Lords, if they are tempted to accept NGO Monitor’s critique at face value, actually to read the document that it is critiquing. Having re-read the report, I do not find that the critique relates to the Christian Aid text with any real accuracy. More important, the report is worth reading because it is among the most valuable and—from my experience, which is linked particularly to Bethlehem—accurate summaries of what is now needed if the Palestinian side of the two-state solution is to be viable.
I have already alluded to the fact that the committee is right to look for a greater sense of energy and initiative, both from the UK Government and in EU participation in the quartet, if the process is to be kept moving. Too much hangs on the whole situation in Israel/Palestine. While I value and agree with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, it is not good enough to say that that is the key to it all. I find when I talk to young Muslim people in Southampton that among the things that fire them—and that, their elders fear, fire them very much when they watch Al Jazeera or whatever coming into their homes—is the question of what is perceived across the Arab and Muslim world as a particularly profound injustice and dishonesty among western powers around Israel/Palestine. That is an urgent matter for us to address.
I have been grateful that a number of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Eden, have questioned—as has the EU Committee, although in very diplomatic terms—the wisdom of the exclusion of Hamas from the range of diplomatic activity. I would like to hear the Minister on that subject. If the British Government are rightly arguing for probing, accurate and excellent diplomatic work with Iran, why are they not saying the same thing with regard to Hamas? I see no significant difference. As others have pointed out, so much in our history says that we have to talk to people. A meeting in Annapolis or anywhere else with such an utterly partial representation of Palestinians is a meeting set up to fail.
I again underline the urgency of the situation. In Israel/Palestine, the Israeli state and hundreds of thousands of Israelis suffer seriously from the failure after so long of all sides, both internal and external, to find a resolution. From the Balfour Declaration onwards, we in the UK hold enormous responsibility for the whole situation through the mandate. I am struck that, whenever I speak about these things in Winchester, people tell me that they were there in 1946, 1947 and 1948 and speak about their experiences in that period. They ask why this process is taking so long and why we in the UK with our history and huge and onerous responsibility are not working much harder to resolve the problem. I am distressed and feel considerable anxiety and guilt at the thought that in recent years the international community has left this situation to fester, thus causing enormous damage to Israelis and still more to Palestinians. I hope that the Minister will commit to an energetic lead in working at these questions and will not let the problems just go on and on.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for introducing the debate.
We can debate the desirability of current military operations but we also have to examine the UK capacity to engage in them to the extent that we do. British defence planning assumptions allow for one medium-scale operation enduring—medium-scale comprises a brigade of 3,000 to 5,000 men—and one small-scale, comprising a battalion group of 600 men, possibly with naval support, and possibly enduring. The reality is that we are at double medium-scale plus and we have been doing this since 2003. This is a recipe for disaster. We cannot go on in this way.
It is not just about the 24-month tour interval; it is about strategic assets supporting two operations when just enough for one is provided; it is about the rate of spares usage and refurbishment of platforms. More importantly, it is about training for war rather than just the war; the training and experience of senior officers and, finally, the ability to deploy on a large scale deliberate intervention at divisional level—an LSDI.
I have served on an LSDI called Op TELIC 1. Your Lordships will recall that it was militarily successful, but part of that success came from deploying on exercise Saif Sareea in Oman in 2001. But we cannot undertake another exercise Saif Sareea until at least 2015. The very time one questions the need for an LSDI capability is a few years before it is really needed. However, at that point the genuine LSDI capability has been lost and then we get our posterior kicked. The need for the LSDI capability was recognised in the SDR. Does the Minister agree that we cannot engage in LSDI at the moment but that we need to maintain that capability?
I will not weary your Lordships explaining the perils of operating far outside defence planning assumptions for an extended period but they are very real. If any noble Lord thinks that US forces do not have this problem, he should think again. They do, but as with everything American, they have it on a bigger scale than we do. Clearly, we must either cut our commitments or massively increase our resources. Since no extra funds for defence or overseas operations are likely to be available on the scale required—and in any case it would take too long to implement any enhancements—we must cut our commitments.
We cannot affect the outcome in Iraq, however hard we try. We have a small fraction of the forces deployed by the Americans. But we can affect the outcome in Afghanistan, especially if we concentrate our forces on that operation, rather than do too little everywhere. I leave it to the foreign affairs experts and party leaders to say where to concentrate our efforts, but I know what I would do.
We should not reduce our forces in one area. We should close that operation completely. I did not know that my noble friend Lord Howell was going to put this point so well. On Iraq, he said that we should get in or get out. He rightly pointed to some of the risks of a small deployment. In principle, he is right. But, in reality, countering the risk of a large-scale attack could mean that our forces do very little other than exist in theatre. I have already undertaken to spare your Lordships a lesson in military logistics, but closing an operation completely is a lot different from reducing it. There are a lot more savings. But we must avoid the trap of withdrawing from Iraq completely and then redeploying all those forces to Afghanistan because of the long-term damage we are doing to our defence capability. We would be continuing to operate far outside of defence planning assumptions. If we continue to do that, we will encounter serious problems.
There are two useful concepts for engaging counter-insurgency and peace support operations. They are effects-based operations and the comprehensive approach. Many noble Lords have referred to the lack of a comprehensive approach to current operations. Put simply, as a crude example, a desired end state might be a peaceful area of operations. The effect needed might be for the farmers who have turned guerrillas to leave that area. Two activities could have that effect. One is to bomb them—a kinetic solution with all its attendant problems. The other is to put more resource into the aid effort by providing or repairing irrigation systems, and providing seeds and tools, so that the farmers will go home and do what they are good at. Of course, that is a civil activity and not a military activity, but you arrive at the desired end state of a peaceful area of operations.
My concern is that while we might engage in effects-based operations at a low level, we certainly do not do a comprehensive approach at the strategic level in Whitehall and the UK. It is even more difficult to ensure that we have a comprehensive approach at coalition level. The noble Lord, Lord Lee of Trafford, referred to it as an elusive concept—I think he was referring to a comment in a recent report. But that is not to say that excellent work is not being done in Afghanistan and elsewhere. The Kajaki Dam project is a fine example. Money to improve the electricity supply comes from the USAID, but the security comes from British forces in Helmand province. The electricity will improve the lot of the ordinary Afghan and will be a tangible and obvious benefit of progress. It will drive a wedge between the reconcilable and irreconcilable Taliban, and will help to extend a writ of the Government of Afghanistan to all their country.
I know that there is a post-conflict reconstruction unit, but it does not mean that we have a comprehensive approach at the strategic level. Which Minister is in overall charge of current overseas operations? As far as I can see, there is not a Minister for Afghanistan or a Minister for Iraq. I believe that at one point Lord Longford was Minister for Germany. He was obviously running the whole thing, the comprehensive approach. We are not doing that at the moment. Theoretically, of course, the Prime Minister is in charge, but I suspect he is a bit busy with domestic policy.
There is public dissatisfaction with both the aid and military operations in Afghanistan. This derives from unrealistic expectations of the rate of progress. There is no doubt that we will have to maintain a military presence in Afghanistan for at least a decade, maybe longer. This is not a prophecy of failure; it is the nature of the problem. In Helmand there is a considerable need for reconstruction and development, but it is difficult to implement reconstruction without improving security. However, it is very hard to improve security until the local population reject the Taliban.
Yes, we can militarily engage the Taliban, but this has its own problems, and Taliban body count is not a measure of success. It will be a slow process to put some security in place in Helmand, in order to facilitate some reconstruction, in order, then, to get some freedom of manoeuvre for the military. There is no doubt that the British public expect there to be some great event in Afghanistan, whereby the Taliban will be defeated. Of course, that will not happen. It will be a slow process to drive that wedge between the reconcilable and irreconcilable Taliban, and to marginalise the irreconcilable.
Some noble Lords might think that the MoD is failing in its media operations; nothing could be further from the truth. MoD press officers produce good and accurate stories for the media; the problem is that the media simply do not run them. The stories are there but they do not use them.
Many noble Lords are concerned about drug production in Helmand. The Minister gave a frank account of the current situation. Opium cultivation is an indicator of a lack of proper government. The writ of the Government of Afghanistan does not extend to those areas of cultivation. Our forces certainly do not have freedom of manoeuvre in those areas, which presents problems for the Government. It is important to remember that opium eradication is not a military task. However, the UK does lead on drugs policy within the coalition.
There are several schools of thought regarding eradication. Some think that it is easy. It is not. Any eradication has to be carefully targeted. If a farmer is up to his neck in debt, his land is poor and his poppy crop is destroyed, he will be driven into the arms of the Taliban. We would hope that he would be only a reconcilable member, but he would be in the hands of the enemy none the less. On the other hand, where a greedy farmer grows poppy on land that can easily support legitimate crops, targeted eradication may be beneficial, not least because it would increase the risk of cultivating poppy, rather than legitimate crops.
Aerial spraying would be disastrous. It is very effective at destroying the poppy, and is favoured, unfortunately, by the Americans, but spraying is indiscriminate and might damage legitimate crops. Worse, Taliban propaganda would claim that the chemicals in the spray cause infertility and birth defects. We have heard about how effective Taliban propaganda is. We would lose hearts and minds. Increased poppy production is disappointing, but it is not a driver for our efforts in Afghanistan. When we can get the writ of the Government of Afghanistan to extend across the country, and their police force is effective and honest, we can expect opium production to fall.
My Lords, this has been a very wide-ranging but interesting debate. I agree with a great deal of what the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said in his thoughtful opening speech. It has been helpful to tie in the valuable EU Committee report on the Middle East peace process with this debate. We have had two excellent maiden speeches. I was especially interested by the references of the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, to women’s rights, an issue that she is fully engaged in. It is also an issue in this country. Last Friday night, in Bradford, I was interested to hear about a speech that she had given last week on the role of the Braderei in the Kashmiri community in west Yorkshire. I would love to talk further about that with her.
We also had a very interesting maiden speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, who was referred to as a distinguished and senior Foreign Office official. When I first met her, she was a distinguished but junior Foreign Office official. I am trying to remember whether it was 1974 or 1975 when she first briefed me on foreign policy co-operation among EU member states, when I was myself only a junior researcher at Chatham House. We look forward to many further contributions from her.
There are many larger issues underlying this debate, some of which have been touched on by several other speakers. The first is what lessons we can draw on liberal intervention—the doctrine that our former Prime Minister expounded in his Chicago speech; that underlay a number of UN documents such as the Canadian report and others; and that, in the more ambitious neo-conservative strategy, proposes transforming the Muslim world into democracies—that is, both Tony Blair’s assumption that we could harness American power to a progressive moral international mission and the Bush Administration’s assumption that a coalition of democracies under American leadership could police and reshape the world.
We have now discovered the limits of military power and military intervention. Iraq has become a quagmire because we did not think through the extent to which military intervention can be only part of an attempt to reconstruct a state and to assist in redevelopment. In Afghanistan, we find ourselves now caught in the contradiction between fighting the Taliban, state building and economic reconstruction. We are state building in a country where many parts never really had a state and where, for example, the power of Kabul never played a large role in Helmand.
We now know that there are limits to what the Atlantic allies can do alone. We need to work with others—China, Russia, India and even Iran—if we are to achieve peace and stability in the area. There are also lessons for the special relationship. I very much support the underlying argument in the EU Committee report that, on the Middle East peace process, we need more Europe and less of following the American lead. The United States has, after all, now been the dominant power across the Middle East for 50 years; the sponsor of Israel; the ally and external supporter of authoritarian regimes in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and, until 1979, of the Shah’s regime in Iran. Sadly, under the Bush Administration much more than under their predecessors, it has become clear that American policy towards the Middle East is driven much more by domestic lobbies and by ideology than by careful consideration of national interest and international order, and by a deliberate attempt in the US to suppress intelligent and independent analysis of the complex politics of the Middle East region. As an academic and political scientist, I have a great deal of sympathy with some of those in the United States who have felt the political pressures to limit their analyses of the Middle East.
For example, the American attitude to Iran since 1979 has been fixated on the Iranian threat while at the same time forgetting how the United States has looked to Iranians since the 1953 coup. No American I speak to appears to be aware that the United States shot down an Iranian airliner some 20 years ago, or that the United States actively supported Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war, or that Iranian nationalism is as important as fundamentalism or anti-Americanism in Iranian attitudes to the United States. As other noble Lords have said, that leads to American approaches to Iran which, because of that underlying sense of aggression, are far more fundamentalist—one has to use the term—than American approaches to North Korea.
Then, there is the capture of American policy by the Israeli right through other domestic lobbies. That has also had an unfortunate effect on American policy, in which we see the American commitment to democratise the entire Middle East somersaulting when Hamas does well in the Palestinian elections, leading to active attempts to undermine the Palestinian coalition Government—one who offered us a brief prospect of a constructive way forward.
There are lessons for the importance of religion in global politics, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester told us. Radical Islam is now a religious ideology that has replaced Marxism as the rationale for the excluded and the alienated across the world—and in this country. There is great importance, therefore, in how we in the non-Islamic world respond to that challenge. There is a dangerous tendency within the United States to see this conflict as a long war between civilisations, and against an implacable and unchangeable enemy. It was a great mistake for our former Prime Minister Tony Blair to feed that tendency in his speech to the Roman Catholic archdiocese of New York, using the language of fascism to categorise Islam—“Islamo-fascism”, which means that they are totally irrational and that we cannot deal with them. There are, after all, four states in the world with religious legitimacy as their primary foundation: the Vatican, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. I suppose that we ought now to add a fifth: the current regime in Iran. Four of those five are in the Middle East.
We have to be concerned to promote modernisation through necessary compromise between faith and toleration, or between moral certainty and democratic diversity, which we have painfully achieved in this country, and which has been achieved across other states in Europe, sometimes in our own lifetime. Indeed, we forget how recently some of those developments took place in this country. In the first general election of 1974, I remember Father Kelly taking me round the Catholic clubs in Manchester Moss Side and, before we went in, telling me that I had to understand that we would be distinguished by a number of things. First, we would be the only ones there who were not drunk; secondly, the only ones who did not claim to have cousins in Long Kesh; and, thirdly, the only ones who did not believe that the IRA was entirely right and the British Government entirely wrong.
We have moved on from that and now see—or sometimes claim to see—the fundamentalist Muslim challenge. As the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, said, we have to be concerned with the evolution of an Islamic version of democracy. Perhaps in Europe, where we have our own substantial population of Muslim citizens, that is part of what we will now, slowly and painfully, see develop.
There are also lessons for the future of NATO at stake in Afghanistan. How many troops does NATO really need? How many more will the United Kingdom provide, as we draw down in Iraq, alongside the dribble of extra forces from the new NATO states? We will fail in Afghanistan if this becomes a war rather than a mission in which economic and political reconstruction are central. We will fail if we cannot constructively engage Iran in Iraq as well as Afghanistan, or persuade Pakistan to control its own radical Muslim groups. Some of those are linked to the military and intelligence agencies.
I read an interesting article over the weekend in Survival, the IISS journal, which referred to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia as “passive sponsors of terrorism”—and interestingly compared them, as an American author did, to the United States as a passive sponsor of the IRA. I hope that the Government will make it clear to the Saudis during the state visit that we need much more active support from their regime than we have seen so far on the debate within Islam and on support for liberalising processes in the region.
A number of noble Lords have spoken about the importance of the Annapolis conference and prospects for peace. There are real dangers of another half-hearted initiative on this issue ending in betrayed hopes and failure. I have read various worrying reports in the American press that President Bush is not fully committed to this initiative and that domestic lobbies are mobilising in Congress against it. We have, after all, had 40 years of Israeli occupation of Palestine, interrupted by the brief hopes and disengagement of the Oslo process in the 1990s. The situation in occupied Palestine is not stable. There are new Israeli settlement plans east of Jerusalem. Gaza is being strangled. The West Bank economy is sinking. The most recent edition of Survival has a depressing but persuasive article by Yezid Sayigh of King’s College London. The title says everything:
“Inducing a Failed State in Palestine”.
That is the direction we are going in, and if the state fails, we will have civil war, disorder and external terrorism. We also have weak government in Israel, with a populist Right, some Jewish fundamentalists and an active and unhelpful settlers’ movement. We have to hope that former Prime Minister Blair will not end in the same depressed state of mind as James Wolfensohn and Alvaro de Soto, who wrote despairing final comments on the failures of their missions.
We all understand the outlines of the only acceptable framework for peace and stability—two viable states with agreed boundaries and a special status for the holy places of Jerusalem. The long-term security of Israel depends on the achievement of such a framework. Those of us who see ourselves as friends of Israel find it difficult to defend it as strongly as we would like, as long as new settlements are under way, as long as internal barriers multiply within the occupied West Bank and the blockade tightens around Gaza, or as long as there is a culture within the Israel Defence Forces that permits the ill treatment of Palestinians, as Haaretz reported last week. We understand that there are many, many weaknesses on the Palestinian side within Fatah and Hamas, but we understand also that one has to deal with unpleasant people if one wants to achieve peace.
We are faced in the Middle East with the United States as the dominant but flawed power, bogged down in the area, declaring a “war on terror” but unwilling to tackle its profligate use of oil or reduce its dependence on foreign purchases of US Treasury funds by raising domestic taxes. As the EU Committee report remarks, we need more active and coherent European diplomacy and we need to engage other major players as much as we can, including those two difficult global players, Russia and China.
My Lords, forgive me if my reply is not comprehensive in answering all the points raised. I would need much more than the allotted time and would keep all noble Lords here long past a decent time. I begin by joining all those who have welcomed two remarkable maiden speeches, which offered, as the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, said, two very different but equally interesting perspectives on Afghanistan. Listening to those complementary but different views, I wondered whether I started to see a broad tent billowing on that side of the House.
I have tried to organise my responses by country, rather than by responding individually to each point made by noble Lords. I shall try to cluster what has been said under country headings. I shall begin with Afghanistan. The issue I will address first is poppy cultivation. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, and several others said that it is time to try licit cultivation. The issue was raised in this House just before the summer and, as a consequence, I met with the head of the Senlis Council to explore the idea further and made deep inquiries into the experience in Afghanistan with schemes of that kind. Indeed, I revisited the issue when I was there last week.
Aerial spraying is the only other strategy which unites people as forcefully against it as licit cultivation, and I heard from the military, the NGOs and my colleagues in the Foreign Office why it would not work. First, unlimited experimentation in the past had gone disastrously wrong and conditions that would allow the successful transfer of illegal production into a legal channel were completely absent. They had the view that all it would do was add to the total volume of production. With a new, second and legal client, people would just grow more. There would not be the framework of policing and law to ensure that the only growth was for legal use. Secondly, because of the very difficult situation in Helmand province, where communications are difficult owing to the insurgency, it was felt that such a policy would send dangerous mixed signals: first, you were told not to grow and then you were told that you could grow under certain circumstances. The view was that it would muddle the message. Thirdly, many experts in drug eradication have confirmed that while Afghanistan is a world market-beater in illegal cultivation, the growth of legal poppy for medicinal uses is already a crowded market. A number of growers are producing more inexpensively and there is just not the additional demand. People who have taken a very hard look at the issue believe it would not work.
Equally, from President Karzai downward and outward to all the foreign partners, except the United States, there is a similar objection to aerial spraying, which is the other radical break with policy proposed. In my view, that does not mean that we muddle along in the middle somewhere, doing a little bit of this and that. There is a need for much greater imagination in our eradication efforts.
I am pleased to say that DfID is looking at whether we can put on a more formal and structured long-term basis what one would controversially describe as an Afghan equivalent of a CAP, with subsidised purchase of legal crops to make returns more like those from poppy.
We have to do a much better job of not targeting the farmers, the producers whose hearts and minds we are trying to win in the counter-insurgency effort. We have to target the industry above that—the financiers, the shippers, the drug big-men who are benefiting from the production. We know who they are and the Government of Afghanistan know who they are. A system banning them from travel, listing them and freezing their bank accounts, hitting at the industry’s infrastructure, strikes me as an area in which more can be done. I spoke to the ISAF commander while I was there and he recognises—it is more broadly recognised—that, as drugs and insurgency wrap their limbs around each other, there is a need to break that link by targeting the factories and laboratories via military action if necessary, to take out the infrastructure, and not by targeting the farmers. I take the point that we need to do more and to look hard, because the trends in production figures are simply not satisfactory. We cannot sustain them.
I want to ensure that the noble Lord, Lord Howell, understood the point I made earlier that some provinces—where there is the rule of law, where there are development alternatives and where the writ of government runs—have reached the point at which they are not producing any opium. That is unfortunately more than offset by the jump in production in Helmand. We see these double trends in the country, and there is no doubt that the post-insurgency conditions of stable government and peace are the environment in which we can finally lick the problem. We must therefore win the battle with the insurgency in Helmand. On that point, the noble Lord, Lord Lee of Trafford, referred to the difficult geography of Afghanistan. I agree. Each time I fly over that country, I think, “Is this really a country?”, with its extraordinary valleys surrounded by mountains, making it very difficult both for military operations and for creating any sense of nationhood.
Helmand is an area in which, despite the heroic efforts of our troops and a lot of tactical military successes for them, we are not yet prevailing in the broader strategic battle because we have been unable to move in behind those successes the kind of Afghan-led civilian-political effort that would capitalise on them to win back ordinary villages to the government side. As recently as today, President Karzai and I agreed on that analysis. There is a sense that the Taliban are a long-term insurance policy for people—a sense of security after this Government fail. We must reverse that pessimism and sense of transience in Afghan politics, and persuade the ordinary people of Helmand that we, this Government and democracy are here to stay to support them for as long as they need.
On that point, reference has been made to this being a long-term commitment. We in the Government do indeed view this as a long-term commitment, but one that must have clear benchmarks and make the transition over time from the military activity of today to a civilian support mission where there is a role for military training but where British men and women are no longer in the front line fighting someone else’s war. We must allow Afghans to take on that lead role. We will be there for a long time, but the role must change.
We do not see a great jump in troop levels. We do not think that anything like the numbers that have been traditional in counter-insurgency operations are possible to achieve in Afghanistan. It is enormously important that, from now on, an enhanced political effort is the main thrust that prevails in this conflict. That effort must be backed by military action, but there would be no dramatic growth in troop levels. There is no appetite for it among our allies. Britain is already the second biggest troop contributor. Yes, we can supplement modestly what is there, but we cannot make the dramatic jumps in troop levels about which some have talked. In the same way, a question was asked about our Apache helicopters. There is a worldwide shortage of helicopters for operations of this kind today. I am out there looking for helicopters for Darfur as well as for Afghanistan, and I can confirm that there ain’t many around. They are a very versatile instrument for these kinds of activities.
In the interests of time, let me move on from Afghanistan, but not without again praising our troops there, as the noble Baroness did. Like her, I have just seen Fort Bastion, which is remarkable evidence of our commitment and the quality of our efforts there.
I turn next to Iran. I confirm the view of those who have said that Iran has a sense of besiegement. It feels that it has powerful enemies and that, in that sense, it is forced to strike back. But let us not feel sorry for little Iran because it is also a major force in its region, and a not altogether friendly one. Through little effort on its own part it has won two massive strategic successes that nobody wished to give it. The first is the emergence of a Shia Government in Iraq and the second is the overthrow of its old enemy the Taliban in Afghanistan. Iran has never been better blessed than today with the neighbours that western policy has helped put in power in Iraq and Afghanistan.
However, rather than quitting while it is ahead and recognising that it has been played a very lucky hand by the fate of geopolitics, Iran, as I said earlier, cannot resist perhaps going a bridge too far in its activities across the border into Afghanistan and across the border into Iraq; in both cases, it is smuggling in weapons to tactical allies it has made there.
My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary repeated what was said by the previous Foreign Secretary on whether the UK is committed to not using force. I do not think he used his words, but he said that we are absolutely committed to a diplomatic track on the nuclear issue. We have, however, warned Iran directly and through intermediaries—I have done it myself in a number of ways—that we will not tolerate attacks using Iranian weapons on our troops in either Afghanistan or Iraq. Just a few weeks ago we tracked another shipment of very dangerous explosive weapons from Iran into Afghanistan. These activities pose a real risk to Iran and we urge it resist these behaviours.
As I have said, we are committed to the diplomatic track on the nuclear front. It has been asked tonight whether Russia is as well. Russia has supported two Security Council resolutions on sanctions and is committed in principle to supporting a third, the negotiation on which has begun. President Putin, as was remarked, visited Iran. He went there to try to press the case for Iran complying with the Security Council. I think that there is no doubt that Russia recognises that Iran with nuclear weapons poses as much danger to Russia as to anyone in Europe. It is right that at times its tactical approach has differed from ours. In part that is addressed by Russia wanting to be given a leadership role in this regard.
As to whether there could be a nuclear-free zone embracing the whole region, in a sense we are where we are today. I add a second point: in a sense it is the undermining of the NPT over many years and our failure to have an effective global strategy on nuclear non-proliferation which forces us into so many difficult regional situations of this kind. We have no global framework within which to deal with this dangerously accelerating rate of nuclear proliferation around the world.
I now turn to Iraq and to the point raised first by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and then by others later in the debate, about “stay in or get out of Iraq, but don’t be half in”—to paraphrase what the noble Lord said. He particularly raised the example of whether with 2,500 troops by next spring and if one battle group were otherwise engaged we could defend ourselves at Basra airport. The number has been carefully planned on the military side, and the run- down to coincide with the point at which Iraq will have 35,000 troops of its own, and, therefore, we believe will be a more than adequate partner to us.
This approach has also been confirmed by General Petraeus, among others, as militarily doable. But as the Prime Minister insisted, this will be a matter of military not political judgment. If there has to be any adjustment in time lines, there will be. We will not leave our troops exposed, but we want to move them to this overwatch and training support mission as quickly as we reasonably can.
I hasten to reassure the noble Lord that relations with Washington are in good shape. Although there has been press speculation about the visit of the Foreign Secretary, he was only one of three Cabinet Ministers to have visited in the past few days, along with many senior officials. Plenty of contacts are going on at the moment and we do not need to be concerned, except in the sense that has been properly raised by so many speakers in the course of tonight's debate. As is appropriate between two old and good friends, we have some significant differences of analysis which should be debated, and it is a good thing that all those visitors are going there to make sure that we remain aligned where we have different perspectives on issues.
Before leaving Iraq, I have one clarification of what I said at the beginning. I said that we had committed £90 million to southern Iraq, implying that that had just happened. In fact that is the total of what has been spent and committed since 2003.
Turning to Turkey, Iraq and the PKK, the Prime Minister of Turkey has been here today. I do not yet have a full read-out of his discussions with the Prime Minister, but let me just say, as the Foreign Secretary said in a statement after the PKK attacks, that we condemn them. More particularly, we urge Turkey not to fall into the trap of doing exactly what the PKK would want by making a military incursion into Iraq. At this point, I praise the Governments of Turkey and Iraq, particularly the Government of Turkey, for showing a self-restraint from which many countries could learn.
We are still in the early stages of Martti Ahtisaari’s negotiations, and I do not want to comment further than to say that there could be no better negotiator for a task of this kind. I am confident that whatever direction he chooses, it is one with which we will all be comfortable.
I turn in these last minutes to the Middle East proper, to which I do not want to give short shrift. Several speakers raised the issue of a more robust UK policy. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, talked of needing to get to grips with the real issues of refugee return, frontiers, the status of Jerusalem and so forth. Those who have been involved in Middle East peace negotiations seem to be of the view that last time the negotiators arrived at the final summit having postponed those issues, believing that they were too hard to tackle in advance. The consequence was that they remained too hard to tackle at the final negotiation.
Obviously, there is a sense that there are a lot of unresolved issues as we come to Annapolis. Those who see it as just the first meeting may sadly be proved right, but some of those coming to Annapolis hope for a breakthrough to make it a significant event. We all welcome the heavy engagement of the US in the run-up to this meeting. We may wish that it had been possible earlier, but we all agree that it is better late than never and are glad that it is now possible for the US to apply focus to the task.
I come to Hamas and Hezbollah and whether the British Government, or indeed the UN, should deal with them. In the case of Hamas, there have been contacts with both and British diplomats have been heavily engaged with negotiating the release of hostages such as Alan Johnston. They have been heavily involved in humanitarian discussions, as were UN officials under both this and the last secretary-general.
The line has been drawn at formal political contacts at a time when Hamas refuses to recognise a sovereign member-state nation of the United Nations, Israel. However, I think that everyone agrees that while that political recognition must be withheld, in terms of negotiations with Hamas at the formal political level, contacts are vital. Over time, they must grow into full political contacts because, ultimately, Hamas must be a party to a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian problem.
Many of the same arguments apply to Hezbollah. We can abhor—as we all do—the tactics of both organisations and the use of violence and terrorism. Ultimately, as has been said, it is indeed British history—and that of the United Nations—that you often have to talk to people whom you do not like very much.
Let me welcome again the UN report. If we were not robust enough in it in the eyes of the right reverend Prelate and others, let me say that if time allowed me to be robust enough, I would very forcefully—and with, I hope, as much enthusiasm as my Prime Minister—endorse the urgency, the support to a two-state solution, the plea to Israel to stop settlement and barrier activities which make that harder, the plea to the Palestinians to put aside any rocket attacks on Israelis at this time and the plea to both sides to come to the table and negotiate a comprehensive peace. It is British diplomacy’s objective to support that.
I would only observe that we are not quite the front-line player that we sometimes in this House make the mistake of assuming we are. We are not a member of the quartet. We can do important tasks but others lead on much of this issue and we should and must support them.
Let me close by saying two things. First, I think that sometimes, as in the HSBC ads referred to by the noble Lord, we are guilty of looking at issues from one side only and not as comprehensively from the other side’s point of view as we should. That does not mean that we should not do what it takes in Afghanistan to defend its Government. Therefore, I am pleased about those French Mirages. Nevertheless, I accept his broader point that recent years have been terribly damaging to British standing and we have to repair that in all the ways we can. They have done great damage to the concept of liberal intervention. However, the responsibility to protect in a global world, to prevent mass human rights abuses and to ensure that people have freedom and protection from their own Governments is still an honourable idea that should not be lost and thrown out with the bath water of recent historical setbacks.
My second comment is on the right reverend Prelate’s point that the Westphalian system is dead, but religion is alive and well. I am sorry not to be able to do justice to his argument at the tail end of a debate in which I have already run over time, but let me just say that I concur completely with the idea that no longer is interstate peace and security a matter for state actors alone. We are seeing a dramatic rise of non-state actors, not only of religious communities and their leaders, but also secular communities and their leaders. All of them are shaping our world in a way that traditional foreign policy often has difficulty getting its hands around. Much of that shaping is for good, but sometimes it is for bad. It is enormously important that the right reverend Prelate has reminded us of those non-traditional dimensions to the issues we confront in this Chamber when dealing with areas such as the Middle East.
On Question, Motion agreed to.