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Mr. Kevan Jones: I have had previous discussions with the hon. Gentleman about his views on Iraq. Had he not already written an article for a national newspaper outlining all that he has said in the debate before he set foot in Iraq in 2004? Is not it true that his comments are not based on what he has seen on the ground but his prejudices, which existed before he went? The newspaper article appeared on the Wednesday that we were in Iraq.
The hon. Gentleman is correct about the timing and I am happy to say that what I saw on the ground confirmed my previous assessment. An isolated
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visit to British troops in heavily restricted conditions in Basra should not take one's eyes off the wider strategic position of taking in all the information from the whole country of Iraq. He saw what I saw on that visit, as we travelled round Basra in the back of armoured vehicles. That was when the situation in Basra was relatively benign, before the threat of improvised explosive devices had become as bad as it is today. I suggest that my article might bear his re-examination.
Jeremy Corbyn: Does the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that the removal by the United States of people, particularly from Afghanistan, to Guantanamo Bay and their treatment there are major causes of unrest throughout the region, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan? Does he agree that the only way forward is the immediate closure of Guantanamo Bay and the immediate acceptance of the role of the International Criminal Court and of international law in general, of which the United States seems to be completely ignorant?
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. The hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) will obviously answer that intervention in his own way, but I do not think that we should widen the debate too much.
Mr. Blunt: I am grateful for your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The answer to the hon. Gentleman is that I agree with him. There are many major causes of anger against American and British interests, and, sadly, Guantanamo Bay is only one of them. It is just one cause of our problems.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham dealt with Afghanistan briefly but with considerable authority. The fact that he has received accounts that people at Permanent Joint Headquarters are now referring to the British forces going to Afghanistan as the "duty targets" gives some indication of the depth of concern and perhaps cynicism about the likely success of that operation.
The estimates that we are considering today are extremely vague, as the Defence Committee pointed out. They refer to £1 billion here or there over three years, for example. The money is vague because the role and the mission are alarmingly vague. There is broad consensus that we are not sending enough troops to deliver the mission that they have been invited to undertake, but the force is also too large to extract easily. My worry is that, as the Americans downscale their operations in Afghanistan, the United Kingdom could be left holding the Afghan baby. The history of Afghanistan for foreign forces is an extremely unhappy one. The Afghan population will not easily be able to differentiate between the Britishwith our long history of association with Afghanistan, the rules of engagement that apply to our forces and the restraints that we place on themand the Russians, the
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Americans and perhaps the British of the 19th century. We will all be lumped together in the same category by the Afghan people.
The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. Havard) spoke of the importance to the soldiers on the ground of civil-military relations, but chose not to dilate on the state of civil-military relations likely to be faced by our troops during their operations in Afghanistan. Our forces are being invited to destroy the method by which most Afghan people earn their money. That method is, admittedly, unacceptable to us, given the huge danger to our constituents and our country, as well as to the whole of Europe, represented by the heroin emanating from Afghanistan. However, if we destroy the Afghan people's main income earner, they are unlikely to be too pleased with our presence, and we shall not easily be able to establish good civil-military relations there. I am worried that our troops will quickly end up behind armour, having to defend themselves from attacks not only from those who are already hostile to us, but from those whom we are about to make hostile. In that sense, we will never be able to achieve during forthcoming operations in Afghanistan, on any basis, the civil-military relations about which the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil was talking.
Mr. Havard: Actually, I am the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney. The hon. Gentleman had better not forget Rhymney, or the people there will be over the hill with blue faces and pointed sticks. Tribalism is something that I know about.
I was not dodging the issue and would be only too happy to debate it with the hon. Gentleman. He is right that it is the key to the whole exercise and I hope that the interdepartmental drug unit and the joined-up approach between various Departments will address some of that. The task is not solely militaryin that sense, he is correctand those relationships are one of the issues that the Defence Committee is considering. He will understand and, I hope, agree that the Afghan people wish to see such relationships, as all the polling suggests.
Mr. Blunt: The hon. Member for Rhymney as well as Merthyr Tydfil has taken a quarter of the time remaining for my speech. I am not the only one concerned about the change in nature of the Afghan people's view of foreign forces. In May 2005, following reports of abuse of Afghan detainees by American forces, the President of Afghanistan said that he feared that popular resentment was building against the international military presence and the Americans in particular. It will be difficult for the Afghan people to differentiate the Americans and us. I saw that the British general in Iraq who was interviewed on "Panorama" the other day was wearing American stars on his uniform. In one sense, I have always been a supporter of inter-operability and operating together, but if our soldiers are putting that on their uniforms so that the Americans know that we are on their side, ordinary Afghan people might be forgiven a greater degree of confusion.
I commend to the House the brief and authoritative speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham, who has considerable knowledge and expertise in this area. I look forward to the report of the Defence
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Committee on the deployment to Afghanistan. It is extremely important that Members who have knowledge of the scale of the task for the soldiers whom we are sending to Afghanistan warn the House and, through the House, the country at large, of the difficulties that they will face. The House can then come to proper conclusions about the resources that they will require to carry out the role that we have invited them to perform, or whether they should carry out that role at all.
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): When I first entered the House in 1997, it was not long before the bright, shiny new Labour Government came out with a bright, shiny new Labour foreign policy. That foreign policy was to be an ethical foreign policy. We do not hear too much about that these days, not because we think that our foreign policy is not ethical, but because the experience of office has shown the Government that foreign policy and, by association, defence policy, is often not a matter of positive ethics but of deciding which is the lesser of two evils.
That has been illustrated by a number of speeches today, not least that of my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt), comparing the differing objectives between wishing to clean up the trade in opium from Afghanistan, and not wishing to forge an alliance between the local farmers who depend on growing opium and the Taliban and other extremists and insurgents who were not normally in any form of prior alliance, but who could be forced into an alliance if we are heavy-handed about achieving the anti-drugs objective. In other words, one must sometimes choose the least worse policy.
That was also implicit in the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) when he said that it looked as if Iraq were ending up with a Government far more pro-Iranian, in terms of the alliance of the two adjacent countries' Governments, than one would ever have wanted. He did not say this explicitly, but I detect an underlying belief that the policy that was followed for years, and subsequently denounced on so many occasionsthe policy of supporting Saddam Husseinwas completely unethical, which it probably was. It is likely, however, that when discussions were held in the Foreign Office in his day, the argument would have been, "Yes, but what is the alternativesome sort of axis, nexus or alliance between extremist fundamentalist Governments in adjacent countries?" It is not easy to choose between those two evils.
The point is that a choice between evils must often be made. There is no morally free "get out of jail" clause that can be invoked by those burdened with the responsibility of deciding on a foreign policy or a defence policy in the modern world, which is peopledas no doubt were the mediaeval and ancient worldsby some very nasty regimes.
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