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There is a huge synergy between what has happened in Iraq and what is happening in Afghanistan. NATO is looking more and more like a two-tier operation, and the position will become even worse if Holland and Canada, which are currently reviewing their commitments to the country, decide to withdraw. I also am sad to report that President Karzais Government are increasingly
being seen as corrupt. The centralised model is inappropriate for a country comprising such a diverse collection of ethnic groups. It represses any tribal, ethic or cultural differences rather than celebrating them, and consequently there is growing resentment that the Kabul power base is now being abused. That is despite the fact that the centralised model hinders corrupt governors from exploiting their power base.
Mr. Hands: I recognise the great expertise that my hon. Friend has gained during his four visits to Afghanistan. Does he think that the Afghan single-state model should be maintained as part of British policy?
Mr. Ellwood: I believe that that is a matter for review. I also believe that we are at a pivotal point. If we do not recognise that the present constitutional model does not acknowledge the myriad differences across the country, that will be the genesis of failure. In the north, the north-west, the north-east and elsewhere, the President is being given a time bar. He is being told to get it right within about two years. Afghans are starting to rearm, to make caches of weapons, to hoard money and to build armies. That is what is happening in Afghanistan, and it is happening under the very nose of the international community.
I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), who called for a study group for Afghanistan along the lines of the Iraq Study Group to expose the shortfalls in the international community, and the lack of co-ordination among USAID, DFID, the European Union and the United Nations. It is appalling to report that Tom Koenigs, head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, does not talk to General McNeill. They have no relationship whatsoever. That is scandalous in a country that requires so much effort.
Afghanistan needs a product that it can get out of the country. At present there is only one market, certainly in the souththe poppy market. That is why people use it. Agriculture is the answer. Before 1979, Afghanistan was the world leader in exporting a series of fruits and agricultural products, but that is no longer the case because the entire irrigation system was destroyed. Now 92 per cent. of the water that comes out of Afghanistan leaves the country without being harnessed. We need to find a way of harnessing that water, creating irrigation systems, and allowing Afghanistan to grow and export products that are less robust than poppies.
The second part of the economic model is the building of infrastructure to get Afghanistans produce out into the wider international market. A railway is being built to extend west from Herat to Iran, where a market is developing. The other railway that should be built is the continuation of a British effort from the 1920s leading to the Khyber pass. During my visit I went down to see Governor Sherzai, who complained vehemently about the lack of operational funding from central Government. He explained that he wanted to build a number of dams so that he could harness the water and hold it back from the winter months and throughout the summer, and people could start growing and exporting crops.
The area that I visited is on the main A1 arterial route that leads out of Afghanistan. It was a delight to see that every third vehicle was a huge articulated lorry moving in and out of the country, but the pace is very slow. If we are to leave not in three decades but in, let us say, one decade, we must give Afghanistan an economic plan enabling it to look ahead. The provisional reconstruction teams that operate around the country are engaged in short-term projects. They are doing things for tomorrow. Why? Because the captain or major in charge must leave after his six months showing that something has actually been done. That is outrageous. He should be working to a grander plan, allowing the country, region or community to move forward. A good example of a waste of money is the £420,000 spent by DFID in Lashkar Gar, in Helmand, on a park for women. That is disgusting. It might be an important aspect at some point, but I do not believe that it is a priority today. We see a lack of joined-up thinking there.
There is much to be learned in Afghanistan. Unless we take advantage of the huge international effort there, and harness it in a way that we are not seeing at the moment, we will fail and the situation will worsen. I also believe that it is time to consider talking to the Taliban. I say that with difficulty because my brother was killed by al-Qaeda, but I put forward the question: is it now time to consider talking to the Taliban? Unless we start raising those very difficult questions, we could find ourselves in Afghanistan for a very long time.
Sarah McCarthy-Fry (Portsmouth, North) (Lab/Co-op): I would say that it was a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood), and I was not going to talk about Afghanistan, but I have to pick up on the point about money spent on women in Helmand province. One issue that I picked up when I was there was that money was being spent on widows. Without a man to support them, in their community they have nothing. The projects that I saw are training women to set up their own businesses. Micro-finance is enabling them to be respected in their community and to bring money into that community. That is the future of Afghanistan, so I would not say that that money was wasted.
To come back to what I had planned to talk about, like most hon. Members, I attended a Remembrance day service in my constituency yesterday. The poppy is symbolic of the famous battlefields of the first world war: the Somme, Passchendaele, Ypres. In some ways, it was more simple then. There was a clear enemy, a real threat of physical invasion, one side ranged against the other, trench warfare and a war of attrition, in which each side sustained the most horrendous losses20 million deaths, civilian and military.
World war two was even worse. Over 100 million soldiers were fighting across the world and the casualties were even greaterestimated at over 70 million, civilian and military. However, it was still nation states against nation states. Even the more recent Falklands conflict
was nation state versus nation state, an actual invasion of sovereign territory and an easy concept for the British people to understand and get behind.
In contrast, todays action in Afghanistan is much more complex, much less black and white. There is not a direct threat of invasion but an indirect threat to our security through terrorism. It is not nation state against nation state, but a coalition of forces supporting the elected Afghan Government in order to prevent the country from slipping back into a base for terrorism with which to threaten us.
Iraq is more complex still. I do not intend to go back into the whys and wherefores of how we got into the situation, except to say that I have a sizeable Kurdish community in my constituency and the Iraqi Kurds suffered the most under the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein and had been calling on us in the west for years to rid them of that evil dictator.
to deliver security, political reconciliation and economic reconstruction.
We need to leave behind the arguments about the invasion and focus on the here and now, as Iraq will continue to be a major issue in British and western politics for many decades to come. Calling for troops out now is too easy and does a disservice both to the good work being done by our servicemen and women stationed there and to the Iraqi people.
All that the majority of people hear about Iraq is blood, bombs and failure, but while of course that is a large part of the picture, there are other facets of modern Iraq. We should not forget the emergence of a plethora of democratic political parties, and elections in which more people have participated than in the UK. We should also not forget the emergence of a new independent civil society and chiefly the renaissance of the labour movement. Trade union membership has increased from virtually hundreds to hundreds of thousands in four yearsprobably the biggest single growth of trade unionism in the world. Those unions are organised on non-sectarian lines and wish to contribute to a growing federal and democratic Iraq after nearly four decades of fascist-type rule under the Baath and Saddam.
In addition, there is the exemplary success of the Kurdistan region in Iraq, which I aim to visit in the next few months. Kurdistan today is relatively prosperous, with a more developed economy than other parts of Iraqunsurprising perhaps, given its relative security. The region has a young and increasingly prosperous population of nearly 4 million people, seven universities, two of which teach exclusively in English, and a returning diaspora providing a skilled work force with English as a second language. The relative security and stability of the region has allowed the Kurdistan regional government to sign a number of investment contracts with foreign companies, and in 2006 we saw the first new oil well drilled in the Kurdistan region since the invasion of Iraq.
We should not forget that that region suffered terribly under Saddam's brutal regime. It was on the receiving end of the Anfal campaign of the late 1980s, where thousands of civilians were killed during chemical and
conventional bombardment. Between 100,000 and 200,000 Kurds lost their lives and some 2,000 villages were destroyed. They have been able, since what people here in the UK commonly call the invasion and what the Iraqi Kurds commonly call the liberation that came in 2003, further to rebuild the region with more democratic and unified institutions, a thriving economy and external investment, and their leaders are making a massive contribution to holding Iraq together.
That is not an easy task. We have only to look at the Kirkuk situation. Kirkuk is seen as a historic part of the Kurdistan region, but Saddam forcibly expelled many Kurds from the city and settled it with his supporters. It is one of the most bitter issues in Iraqi politics. However, it has been agreed that there should be a referendum by the end of this year, although it may well run into next year. Kirkuk is an oil-rich city and I note that the Kurdistan regional government has committed itself to sharing the oil revenues from the area, as other Iraqi oil resources are to be shared, roughly on a per capita basis. I hope that the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs will add his weight to the calls for the agreement on Kirkuk to be implemented.
The Kurdistan Region shows what can be achieved when people cooperate and work together. This is a very strong example for the rest of Iraq. With better security, the rest of Iraq can follow this model.
I wholeheartedly agree. President Masoud Barzani praised the Secretary of State's visit, saying that it came at an opportune time. He thanked the UK for its role in the liberation of Iraq. Regarding the current tension between Turkey and the PKK, the President called for brotherhood between Turks and Kurds. He said:
Military action to solve the current tensions between Turkey and the PKK will benefit no one. We believe that only dialogue can secure a long lasting solution."
In an earlier meeting between the Secretary of State and Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, the Prime Minister thanked the British leadership and the people for the important role that they have played in Iraq since 2003. Prime Minister Barzani emphasised that Turkey was an important trading partner and that the Kurdistan regional government was ready to do whatever it could to defuse tensions. The Kurdistan regional government does not support the actions of the PKK and it believes that only through dialogue and communication can a permanent peace be found.
There are reasons to be positive. Events in the past few days have been both significant and promising. Just last week, eight Turkish soldiers who had been captured by Kurdish rebels were released and the EU has demonstrated that it is prepared to engage on the issue.
On 23 October, my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr. Anderson) and I met members of the Kurdish community from my constituency and Ms Rahman, the Kurdistan regional government's high representative to the UK, who reiterated its commitment fully to engage in dialogue with Turkey. That is in
Turkey's interest, too. I look forward to the day when Turkey becomes a full and active EU member, but with that right comes responsibility. Turkey can represent a proper bridge to the middle east, but that must never be at the expense of minority rights within Turkey. The EUs norms and values are expressed not by the prevailing religion but by our attitudes of tolerance and respect for those of different faiths and cultures. Turkey's drive towards modernisation and Europeanisation holds the key to that. Turkey's Prime Minister has said that the solution to the Kurdish problem lies in
greater democracy, greater rights, greater social and economic development - in short Turkey's Europeanisation.
Kurdistan is a model for how Iraq should be: relative peace and stability leading to investment and reform. It is vital to the west, to Turkey and to all neighbours in the region that Kurdistan continues to flourish. We should be doing all we can to help that to happen. I have spoken of the growing trade union movement in Iraq. When some of my colleagues visited Kurdistan last year, they held a five-hour discussion with union leaders from around Iraq where the message was simple: Help us to stand on our own two feet and contribute to social justice. Trade unions can help to contribute to social justice, as has been demonstrated over the years in this country.
Just the other day I had the privilege of meeting the visiting Kurdistan region youth and sports Minister, who told me that Iraqi Kurds are fanatical about football and that the Arbil team from Kurdistan was the Iraqi team in the Asian cup. I was very pleased that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport was able to join us and to promise to help to promote greater sporting links between the UK and Kurdistan.
The Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne): I want to take my hon. Friend back to her previous subjectthat of the importance of free trade unions as a part of a developing civic society. I do that because on both occasions when my hon. Friend has mentioned trade unions it has generated a degree of mirth on the Opposition Benches. Does she agree that there is a consistent process of dictators and despots attacking and killing trade unionists in order to undermine civic society across the world? The people of northern Iraq, or Kurdistan as it is known, were not free from that process during the time of Saddam Hussein, which stresses the importance of free trade unions being allowed to operate in Kurdistan.
Sarah McCarthy-Fry: I entirely agree and I hope that Opposition colleagues, rather than laughing at something that is helping to bring about the reconstruction of civic society in Iraq, would be part of the process. Tomorrow sees the inaugural meeting of a new all-party group on the Kurdistan region in Iraq. I urge all hon. Members, particularly those from the Opposition Benches, to come along and do what they can to help.
Whatever the arguments about the recent history of Iraq, we surely all agree that its future is vital. A secure Iraq, confident in its future, means a secure near
neighbour and trading partner and better lives for the Iraqi people. It means that the sacrifices made by our servicemen and women will not have been in vain. Let this unravel, however, and the situation will be too awful to contemplate. No region of Iraq is more central to this struggle than that of Kurdistan. I welcome the Secretary of States recent visit and I urge the Government to continue to give this issue full and proper attention.
Mr. Greg Hands (Hammersmith and Fulham) (Con): I want to address my comments entirely to the proposed EU reform treaty. As I outlined at length in the debate of 20 June on Europe, I am a natural pro-European. I thank the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) for his kind comments about my enthusiasm for Europeans in general and eastern Europeans in particular. Nevertheless, I remain deeply sceptical of the direction of the EU at the moment.
an institution desperately short of legitimacy and accountability
and I agree. I am not someone who is opposed per se to European co-operation or even to the pooling of sovereignty in certain areas such as, for example, in the administration of trade policy. But I believe that any new and/or significant transfer of power to Brussels needs to fulfil two important criteria. The first is that the British people must vote democratically for it to happen; the second is that the ensuing structures and processes in Europe must themselves be democratic. Both are crucial, yet neither is being fulfilled by the treaty that we will be considering at length this Session.
I wanted to focus my comments less on the processit does not really need to be said any longer that the process of arriving at this treaty has been deeply dishonest and full of subterfuge, practised both by those proposing the new treaty and by the Government here in the lead-up to signing itand principally on the contents. We are in danger of becoming too fixated on manifesto pledges and red linesimportant though they areand we need to get across what is wrong with this treaty and how it is against British interests. I will outline seven areas of particular concern.
The first was talked about at length by my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague): the role of the new EU President. As he rightly pointed out, the federalist vision is that the position be eventually merged with that of the President of the Commission. Giscard dEstaing said:
We will probably have to have at least two executives in the beginning.
the President of the European Council should not hold national office
but it is quite possible for him or her to be the President of the Commission. Suddenly we would have a very powerful head of the Executive, combining the roles of the President of the Council and of the Commission, but crucially he or she would be unelected either by the peoples of Europe or even by the Parliaments.
Giuliano Amato, the vice-president of the convention that drew up the original EU constitution, has even explicitly called for the two positions to be merged before 2015.
Can an animal with two heads survive for long?
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