Examination of Witnesses (Questions 30-39)|
MP AND MR
WEDNESDAY 5 DECEMBER 2001
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
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
Chairman: I am obliged. On that point of reconstruction
I call Mr Chidgey and then Ms Stuart.
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 agreementI presume firm agreementsays
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
(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 doingvarious
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
assistancewhere you are just providing food parcelsto
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
(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.
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.