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John Reid: The hon. Gentleman knows that that assurance cannot be given by anybody, because we are in the middle of the reorganisation. After six months, there will be roulement on many of these posts, so I cannot indefinitely extend such an assurance to the end of the period.

All I would say about the reorganisation of the armed forces, particularly the Army, is that I fully understand the sentiment and morale elements associated with cap badges, regiments and so on, but I am fully convinced that the Chief of the General Staff and the chiefs of staff have embarked on a reorganisation under the supervision of the Minister for the armed forces in order to make our armed forces more capable than ever before. That means that they protect to a greater extent those who serve in the Army and increases their chance of victory. That, in sentiment and substance, is why we
 
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have done it. Despite the attachments to pre-existing organisational formats, which I fully understand, that is a move for the better.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): Like others here today, I had the opportunity to visit Afghanistan and 16th Air Assault Brigade as part of the armed forces parliamentary scheme and I concur with the remarks about readiness. Does my right hon. Friend accept that this is a very difficult mission and that we need an exit strategy in the short run as well as in the long run, particularly for troops who will be assigned to duty? It would be good to know that the House will be kept regularly informed of how the troops will be brought home, as well as about how other troops will replace them.

I have raised with my right hon. Friend before the relationship with the Pakistani authorities. I was led to believe from last summer that the Pakistani authorities would mount their own campaign to deal with the insurgents on their own territories, but since then we have had the problems with the earthquake. Will he say something about that, because it is particularly apposite given such a porous border?

John Reid: My hon. Friend makes a good point. It is absolutely essential that our colleagues in this struggle—particularly nations which border Afghanistan—make the maximum possible effort to ensure that terrorists cannot use their country as a base from which to attack our forces or others in Afghanistan. Even in times of great difficulty President Musharraf of Pakistan has been making such strenuous efforts. The entire House was happy to see us contributing something towards dealing with the terrible events following the earthquake. We sent helicopters and commandos not only because of the humanitarian plight, although that was sufficient, but because of the knowledge that, despite all those problems on his plate, President Musharraf had maintained troop levels at the border in order to counter terrorists. That was an indication of his resolve, and I trust that that will continue on the part of everyone in Afghanistan.

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): Will the Secretary of State confirm whether the £1 billion to which he referred is an additional Treasury commitment or whether it comes from reprioritising MOD or Department for International Development spending?

John Reid: It comes from the reserve. When we have embarked on unexpected deployments—and over a period of years until 9/11, Afghanistan was unexpected—the Chancellor has been prepared, sometimes under very difficult circumstances, and in addition to the money spent on maintaining the defence posture, to support Her Majesty's armed forces in the tasks that this House asks them to carry out. If everyone supports the armed forces as the Chancellor has done in resources—and I am sure will continue to do—we will be better off. I am glad to respond in such emollient form. Perhaps I was unduly unemollient to the hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell); if I was, I apologise.

Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk) (Con): The Secretary of State quite rightly outlined the fact that this
 
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would be a coalition operation. I do not think that any Members are necessarily blaming the British Government, but many of us are concerned about his talking in his statement about the Danish Parliament examining the proposal, and about being optimistic that the Dutch, Australia and New Zealand may also provide forces. At such a late stage, the fact that those Governments are still looking at that proposal is very worrying. He made the point that British forces will not plug any gap. If, to speak pessimistically, any of those Governments fail to provide those forces, who will plug the gap?

John Reid: The commensurate and roughly equivalent force levels will be engendered through a NATO force generation process. We have spoken to the Supreme Allied Commander, and we are committed to doing this. I believe that all those nations will, at the end of the day, be part of this, but one waits on the others to make the deployment announcement. The Canadians have already done that, and they will be about 2,500 strong in Kandahar. The British have, in a sense, led on this and made our position known by saying, "We will not wait any longer, because of events on the ground. The Afghan people, the new governor in the area and our troops expect us to make a decision on this; let's make it." I hope that that will be a catalyst for these decisions.

Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North) (DUP): I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his very full statement. May I assure him, the Government and, more importantly, our troops and service personnel, of our full support as they seek to prevent the return of the terrorist-supporting regime in Kabul? On the issue of counter-narcotics initiatives, will the Secretary of State tell us how he is going to measure progress in that area over the next three to five years?

John Reid: We have a series of measures, which has been one of the benefits of having several months more than we envisaged in which to consider this matter. There are fairly detailed plans of how we might judge the progress, including a list of criteria by which such judgments may be made. An example is the acreage of poppy cultivation, but there are several others. These will make it possible, although not with perfect scientific accuracy, to make a judgment after several years, certainly about the trend and not only the relative but probably the absolute success.

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): The Secretary of State says that the reconstruction and provision of alternative livelihoods will be Afghan-led. Is he aware, however, that, on a number of occasions, President Karzai has prevailed on farmers in Afghanistan, including in Helmand, to destroy their crops, only for the promised compensation from the international community not to be paid in time for the farmers to plant an alternative crop the next year? If this plan is going to work, two things must happen. The international community must deliver on its promises, and we must build up the capacity of the Afghan Government and President Karzai to deliver. If that does not work, it would not be
 
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fair on colleagues in the Department for International Development to come back and say that DFID had failed. We must give that capacity to the Government of Afghanistan. That has not happened in the past; if this is going to work, it must happen now.

John Reid: I agree with every word the hon. Gentleman has said, and I know that these matters are high among the priorities of our excellent ambassador and embassy in Kabul.

Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle) (Con): Notwithstanding the points that I made to the Secretary of State at Defence questions earlier in the week, I supported the original intervention in Afghanistan to clean out the al-Qaeda training camps in the Tora Bora mountains. I would remind the House, however, that Ministers assured us at the time that it was a temporary intervention and that we had no intention of occupying the country. The situation in Afghanistan, and in the middle east as a whole, is now very different. Now, al-Qaeda is able to train all over Iraq, which was formerly closed to it, as well as over large areas of the Islamic world. The Secretary of State says that we have been invited into Afghanistan by a democratic Government, but the sad truth is that President Karzai's writ runs only in the immediate environs of Kabul. Most of the country is governed by the so-called warlords that the Secretary of State has described. In Afghanistan, we face terrain that is vastly more difficult than that of Iraq or Vietnam, and a people who are far more war-like than the Iraqis or the Vietnamese. I have known Afghanistan well over a long span of years, and, in my judgment, we are asking the British Army to go into a country in pursuit of unobtainable objectives.

John Reid: The hon. Gentleman has made many points. Obviously, I do not accept his equivalence of the rag-tag international terrorists and former fascists in Iraq with the national liberation struggle of the Vietnamese people. I do not put the two in the same category. Furthermore, we do not intend to be in Afghanistan as an imperialist power. I would have thought that a man of such wide reading as the hon. Gentleman would see the differences, as well as the similarities, between the Afghan interventions. I do not think that he really believes that we have any long-term colonial ambitions in Afghanistan.

I would not say that the writ of the democratically elected President ran no further than the borders of Kabul. For instance, he has just moved the Governor in Helmand and put in a new one, Engineer Daud, who is pursuing with some robustness the policies that we all want to see being pursued. That is one reason why we should not leave the governance there without the necessary military support. Those are among the reasons why I have made my statement today. It is true that the central governance of Afghanistan, which was a pre-feudal society, does not run to every area of the country. That is one of the points of our being there. We want to help the democratically elected Government to extend such governmental control.


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