Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 30-39)




  30. Secretary of State, let us now move to the question of the foreign policy aspects of the campaign against terrorism. The starting point is this. Clearly the action of ourselves and our coalition partners in Afghanistan should be judged by the highest values, particularly in respect of matters like the safety of prisoners of war. In that context then to what extent are ourselves and our US partners tarred in any way by the killings of those prisoners in Mazar-e-Sharif?
  (Mr Straw) I am troubled by any killings but if you are asking me whether I think there should be an inquiry into what happened there, the answer to that is that I have seen no good case in its support. I was struck by a comment which the head of the ICRC made which is quoted in Le Monde which I will turn up in a second. The heads of the ICRC themselves said that it needed to be borne in mind that these killings occurred after these prisoners had forcibly rearmed themselves, had broken into armoury and had then taken up aggressive action themselves. I wonder, Mr Anderson, if I may just make some general observations, given the fact that today is literally an historic one in terms of Afghanistan.

  31. We rejoice, obviously, at the news.
  (Mr Straw) I regard the signing of the agreement on Afghanistan's future as a very significant achievement for the people of Afghanistan, for their representatives and an achievement for the international community. I would like to pay tribute to the United Nations and to the Afghan leaders, men and women, who have grasped this opportunity to begin to rebuild their country. This is a victory for the coalition against terrorism. A stable Afghanistan with a broad based government is as important to our own security as it is to the Afghan people. This really is one world. There is now much work to be done on the ground in Afghanistan to turn this agreement into the reality of a stable nation at peace with itself and the world. Britain will continue to play its part in supporting these efforts, as we have played our part up to now in helping the United Nations' Special Representative, Lakhdar Brahimi, bring about this remarkable agreement. We have come much further, more quickly towards a stable Afghanistan than anyone thought possible just a few days ago and certainly than anyone was suggesting four weeks ago. The message from Bonn is that the will is there to build a new future and so now are the means.

  Chairman: I am obliged. On that point of reconstruction I call Mr Chidgey and then Ms Stuart.

Mr Chidgey

  32. Foreign Secretary, on this very issue of stability and reconstruction of Afghanistan. Obviously the delivery of humanitarian assistance is important in its own right but I think, also, it is important to show the Afghan people that our quarrel is not with them, it is with the Taliban and their support for terrorism. It is not with the ordinary people in Afghanistan. I have several questions in that vein I would like to ask you. Could I start by asking you to what extent does alleviation of humanitarian crisis in the country depend on the establishment of a functioning interim administration which we now hear is on the cards? The draft agreement—I presume firm agreement—says there is a need to deploy a multinational force as early as possible. I would like to know whether you believe this interim authority can be established without the presence of an international peacekeeping force?
  (Mr Straw) The immediate humanitarian need has to be met straight away, regardless of whether this interim authority is in place, and that is what the coalition has been doing—various key governments, particularly the United Kingdom with the Department for International Development, and of course many of the large NGOs under the UN World Food Programme. That has to continue. Fortunately the amount of deliveries overall has increased recently as the security situation in the country has stabilised. There is also the prospect, which will be of critical importance, that the Freedom Bridge, so-called, between Uzbekistan and North Afghanistan may at last be opened. It has been the subject of protracted negotiations with the Uzbek Government but we are hoping that may be possible. To come to the core of your question, the quicker that the interim authority can be established, and the quicker that it in turn can help to stabilise increasing areas of Afghanistan, the quicker that we can get in real humanitarian effort and move from bandaid assistance—where you are just providing food parcels—to proper reconstruction, for example if we can get the water supply restored to these areas quickly and you can get crops sown then that will make a very big difference to the prospects and over time reduce the need for straight forward aid.

  33. How important, therefore, is further military advance to the alleviation of the humanitarian crisis would you say?
  (Mr Straw) Annex 1 to the Agreement happily makes clear that the interim authority, including the Northern Alliance, would wish to see some kind of international stabilisation force in Afghanistan. Exactly what kind of force will have to be the subject of discussion with the interim authority and in due course I think it would be very desirable that any such international force had a mandate of some kind from the United Nations Security Council because it has to operate under some basis in international law. Active work is continuing on the nature of such a force.

  34. Will British forces be offered as part of a multinational peacekeeping force?
  (Mr Straw) Can I just make this point. All that said, one of the many remarkable things which has happened since the fall of Mazar on 9 November and of Kabul a couple of days later has been the degree to which there has been relative peace within most areas of Afghanistan without there being a need for external forces. Kabul has been quiet. It has a police force, a rudimentary police force of just 1,200 people which for a population of its size is very small but it has been relatively quiet. I think having been through this terrible blood letting over the last decade the sense I get from those I have spoken to is that people understand they have got to show restraint. That is one of the things which I commend and believe the Northern Alliance has. In terms of would Britain be involved?

  35. Would British forces be offered?
  (Mr Straw) Offered, there is work going on on that. To go back to a question you asked earlier, because our forces are, literally, one of the best in the world, and we have good headquarters experience, people tend to put the United Kingdom at or near the top of any list.

  36. That is not quite the same as offering them is it, Foreign Secretary?
  (Mr Straw) No, my colleague, Geoff Hoon, is currently looking carefully at the kind of contribution we could make to such a force but we would like to do so.

  37. Just two more quick questions, Foreign Secretary. Do you envisage the establishment of a war crimes tribunal?
  (Mr Straw) There has not been any proposal yet for one to be established. So far as Osama bin Laden is concerned, he is already indicted in the courts of the United States for the 1998 atrocities which took place against the US embassies in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi. Almost all of his key associates could similarly be indicted for their involvement in the atrocities which took place before 11 September of this year or that atrocity. Probably, because those crimes have taken place against United States' citizens or against citizens of Kenya and Tanzania, such people stand to be indicted before the well functioning courts of those countries. The point of having an international tribunal is where you cannot take people through the criminal process within a proper functioning state because none exists, and that is not the case here.

Ms Stuart

  38. You mentioned quite rightly that it is a fairly historic day in terms of the future of Afghanistan and you mentioned yourself that the interim authority has to be set up as quickly as possible. Could you outline what you envisage precisely the next steps in setting up the interim authority are and to what extent they have been successful in mentioning making sure women are represented?
  (Mr Straw) Yes. As I mentioned to the House of Commons Tuesday, a week ago, there were on the initial delegation to Bonn, out of what were then 28 delegates, three who were women, which is not a particularly high proportion but some Members here will excuse me from pointing out that it is a higher proportion than is enjoyed by the large Opposition party in the House of Commons, if I can put it that delicately.

  Mr Maples: Or on this Committee.


  39. Or on this Committee. Well done, John.
  (Mr Straw) Or on this Committee, indeed. So that is progress. The information this morning concerns eight members of this interim administration. The Chairman, Hamid Karzai, is a Pushtun but is independent and close to the King's Group. Colleagues here may have heard the radio reports this morning that he played a very courageous role in Taliban infested territory in fighting the Taliban and organising fighting. There are five Vice Chairmen who include Shima Samar for Women's Affairs, Amin Arsala for Finance, who is a Pushtun from the King's Group, General Fahim, who will deal with Defence who is Tajik from the United Front, the Northern Alliance, Mohaqiq who will deal with Planning and an unnamed Uzbek United Front member who will deal with Water and Power. Other portfolios within the Cabinet would be Dr Abdullah Abdullah, who has been the Foreign Affairs representative and will be the Foreign Affairs Minister who is also a member of the Northern Alliance, and Younis Qanuni who has led the Northern Alliance delegation in Bonn, is a Tajik and also from the Northern Alliance. Ten Cabinet members have been chosen including one woman, there are a further 11 names yet to be decided to bring the total Cabinet up to 23 ministers in addition to the five chairs and the Chairman. That is where we have got to. Then, of course, there is a big agenda down the track for the next stage of this process.

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