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3. Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South): What recent discussions he has had with representatives of allied countries on extending the mandate of the international security force in Afghanistan; and if he will make a statement. [84322]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Mike O'Brien): On 27 November, the UN Security Council agreed to extend the ISAF mandate until 20 December next year. The area of operations remains Kabul. We are discussing with other coalition members ways of getting what is called an ISAF effect in areas beyond Kabul.

Mr. Mullin : What role are the Americans playing? Are they still floating around the country handing out bin bags full of dollars to warlords and shooting up wedding parties, or has it been possible to engage their attention in nation building?

Mr. O'Brien: I am pleased to report that the Americans are very much engaged in nation building, in that they are putting substantial amounts of aid money into Afghanistan and are looking at ways of improving the security situation. The US has recently proposed having small civil military teams of 40 to 60 strong to work with the Afghan national army regional leaders and non-governmental organisations to help to improve security in areas outside Kabul. Substantial sums are going into Afghanistan from the United States and the US is working with other countries to improve the security situation. It is also working closely with President Hamid Karzai's Government. I visited President Karzai recently and he was very grateful for the help that Britain as well as the United States has provided to Afghanistan.

Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle): May I, through the Minister, congratulate the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) on asking one of the great, classic, perennial parliamentary questions? Does the Minister recall that when the viceroy of the day posed the question to the great Lord Salisbury, the Foreign Secretary advised the Viceroy's Council to study Afghanistan on a larger-scale map—a piece of advice that is of general application today?

Mr. O'Brien: I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) welcomes the hon. Gentleman's advice. I, too, will ensure that I study all the maps that I need to study.

Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford): I think that my hon. Friend is aware of the concerns of the NGOs and their workers outside Kabul. However, does he know that one of Mercy Corps' veterinary surgeons was shot dead in Kandahar province when he was attending to his duties as a livestock support worker and that three other Afghans working for Mercy Corps have been

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kidnapped? Fortunately, they have now been released, but that has led them to consider whether they can continue their operations. When will a demilitarisation programme begin in Afghanistan?

Mr. O'Brien: As I have already indicated, the coalition is looking at ways of extending the ISAF effect to improve security in the provinces beyond Kabul. We need to demobilise and disarm the militias, build an accountable Afghan national army, create an effective police force, stamp out the drugs trade and construct a legal system. We are in the process of nation building, and I cannot tell my hon. Friend that we will achieve that overnight. I wish that we could do it more quickly, but these things need to be built brick by brick. It takes time, but doing it properly will lead to more effective and solid results for the long-term future of Afghanistan. Rushing to judgment and being too quick to put in mechanisms that do not work could be detrimental and counter-productive.

Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon): We are not asking the Minister to achieve anything overnight, but we have heard both from him and from his colleague the Secretary of State for International Development that the ISAF remit might extend beyond Kabul. Does he agree that, for every delay, there is an increase in heroin production in Afghanistan, which has a direct impact on the amount of drugs available on the streets of the United Kingdom? The Minister must make the connection between the power of the territorial warlords and the failure to tackle them. When can we expect positive action?

Mr. O'Brien: The hon. Gentleman is quite right: there is a link with the disorder in Afghanistan—a country ravaged by war for 25 years. We are in the process of re-establishing law and order in parts of Afghanistan around Kabul and in some other regions. That will be done over a period of time. However, it is wrong for a Government to say that, in a massive country such as Afghanistan, we can make changes within a few days or months, or even a year. The programme does not only address issues with regard to poppy production, which means providing alternative lifestyles for people who grow poppies and using a forced eradication programme. We are supporting such policies not only because they are right for Afghanistan but also because, if they are successful, they will prevent people from dying on our streets. However, we cannot promise to do that overnight; it will take time. I suspect that poppy production will rise before it falls, because we need to establish substantial controls and building an Afghan national army requires time, effort, resources and facilities. It cannot be done overnight.


4. Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North): What links he has identified between Iraq and al-Qaeda. [84323]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Mike O'Brien): We know that al-Qaeda operatives have been in Iraq. It is not clear what links they have with the Iraqi regime.

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Mr. Chaytor : I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Does he agree with the United States Government that military action against Iraq would be part of the war against terror? If so, does he think that war can provide the solution to terror?

Mr. O'Brien: The objective of our involvement in Iraq is to ensure that Saddam Hussein is prevented from developing weapons of mass destruction. That is clearly the objective set out in UN resolution 1441. We know that, in the past, Iraq has supported terrorists such as the Abu Nidal group and Mujahedin-e Khalq—the MEK—and that Saddam Hussein gave money to the families of suicide bombers in Israel and Palestine. Saddam Hussein has been involved in terrorism, but whether he is involved with al-Qaeda is another matter.

We hope that the removal of weapons of mass destruction from Iraq can be achieved by peaceful means. I hope, too, that we can deal with the problems of terrorism worldwide, but I fear that it is possible that our means may not always be peaceful.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): Will the Minister keep in mind when exploring those links the fact that many of us will have great difficulty in finding a proper moral justification for war against Iraq unless we can properly invoke the principles of self-defence, which can be properly invoked only if the threat to ourselves or our allies is both grave and imminent?

Mr. O'Brien: It is our view that resolution 1441 provides a legal basis for ensuring that the inspectors go into Iraq. We seek to provide a way to ensure that Saddam Hussein does not create the circumstances in which war happens. Our objective is to achieve disarmament. We shall work towards that end.

Resolution 1441 was good enough for Syria, France, Russia and all the members of the Security Council. I am not sure why it is not good enough for the right hon. and learned Gentleman.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): I would not have fancied being an al-Qaeda representative in Sunni Iraq. Will the Minister put the names of those operatives, if he has them, in the Library?

Mr. O'Brien: No.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell): Is it not clear from all the Minister's answers that there is no link between al-Qaeda and the regime in Iraq and that, whereas there is a perfectly good case to pursue terrorists, such as al-Qaeda, and there is probably an equally good case to pursue the Iraqi regime, to link the two together simply does a great disservice to truth?

Mr. O'Brien: The right hon. Gentleman obviously knows more than those who are a lot better informed than him. It is not clear that there are links between the Iraqi regime and al-Qaeda. We are still examining some

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evidence that is available to us. We know that al-Qaeda operatives have been in Iraq, and we also know— [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) should not shout at the Minister.

Mr. O'Brien: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

We know that there have been al-Qaeda operatives in Iraq. We are not sure what the links are, so it is right to investigate them. The right hon. Gentleman makes an assertion that there are no links, but I could not possibly make that assertion based on the evidence that I have.


5. Mr. Harold Best (Leeds, North-West): What help he is offering to further the reconciliation process in Sudan. [84324]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Bill Rammell): In 2002, there is a new window of opportunity for peace in Sudan and a new round of peace talks led by the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development. The United Kingdom has played a major role in the peace effort so far, through its role as international observer at the Machakos talks. This year, we have committed about #10 million to support humanitarian work and the peace process itself.

Mr. Best : I am very pleased to hear the report from my hon. Friend the Minister, but does he share my concern about the damage that might be done to peace in Sudan if war were to break out in Iraq? That seems not to be the kind of development that most of us who are interested in peace in Sudan would want to see.

Mr. Rammell: Our aim in Sudan and Iraq is to secure peace and security. In Iraq, we face a threat from weapons of mass destruction. We are trying to resolve that issue peacefully. Saddam has the opportunity to do that by complying with resolution 1441. Although I understand my hon. Friend's concerns, I do not believe that we would sustain human rights in Sudan by failing to stand up and ignoring the very real danger that exists in Iraq.

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes): May I address the question itself? Although I recognise that the key to resolving the conflict in Sudan lies mainly in achieving an equitable sharing of power and wealth between the north and south, does the Minister agree that the lasting solution must also depend on trust and respect for human rights? Is not one of the grave human rights problems facing the people of Sudan the incidence of slavery? Will he therefore agree that that issue must be addressed during any future negotiations? What are the Government doing to try to ensure that that happens?

Mr. Rammell: I wholly agree with the right hon. Gentleman on that matter. We have much contact with the Committee for the Eradication of the Abduction of Women and Children, which is making significant

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progress. Already, more than 600 abductees have been returned. We are concerned, however, that a market may be created by paying for the return of abductees, but that is a real issue, which must be taken into account in the eventual peace settlement.

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