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The intention of the Obama Administration to address the threat of the FATA welcome. Securing a border agreement and bringing the region under the legitimate rule of central Government is of utmost importance to international security. It is right that we should work with the Pakistani Government to achieve those goals.
None of that will be easy; the challenge for us and our international partners is incredibly difficult.
India has been mentioned. There is little time to go into the issue in great detail, but the relationship between Pakistan and India has clearly been hugely shaken by the Mumbai bombing; that, of course, was the very objective of those attacks. Understandably, there have been very strong words from the Indian Government, but so far there has been no form of retaliation. I think that that is a positive sign that the two Governments recognise the importance of getting their relationship back on track.
Mr. Sarwar: Does the hon. Lady accept that the Mumbai attacks against innocent people have damaged the relationship between India and Pakistan? Both countries are victims of terrorism and we must urge them to work together with the international community to defeat terrorism. Pakistan must do its best, using evidence, to bring to justice the perpetrators who are taking refuge in the country. On the other hand, India must accept Pakistans offer of a joint investigation to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Jo Swinson: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. He is right, and the international community should do anything that it can to support the efforts of India and Pakistan to work through the difficulties caused by the attacks. Proper investigation is certainly part of that, and bringing to justice the people responsible would be incredibly helpful.
There was a statement today on the case of Binyam Mohamed, and there is no point in my going over that debate. However, I should say that our action in Afghanistan is to uphold human rights and the universal values that the terrorists seek to undermine. Stooping to practices such as torture would fatally undermine our own case. I welcome the Governments statement that we never condone torture or allow the practice of it; clearly, there can be no justification for torture under any circumstances. If there is evidence that Binyam Mohamed was not tortured, we need to see it. If there is evidence to the contrary, we equally need to see that, so that those who knew about it and were responsible can be held to account under international law.
In conclusion, I welcome the regional context that the Foreign Secretary set out. Afghanistan and Pakistan must be seen together in a regional frame. Although we have made some limited progress in Afghanistan, there is clearly still a massive task ahead of us. Business as usual will not provide us with the right way forward. We need new and clearly articulated priorities. We have to hope that there is a cause for optimism with the current international good will towards new US President Obama. Perhaps that gives us a little window of opportunity in many foreign affairs issues which should be exploited to the maximum.
As the House will know, my party has not been universally supportive of UK intervention abroad, but in the case of Afghanistan there was consensus not only in the UK but, amazingly, in the international community. The success that we seek to achieve in Afghanistan and in the wider region, including Pakistan, is absolutely vital, not only for the international community but for
UK interests, whether in terms of safety and security, counter-terrorism or counter-narcotics. That is why the region must remain a top priority on the Governments agenda.
Mr. Mohammad Sarwar (Glasgow, Central) (Lab): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in a debate on a matter that is so close to my heart and to which, owing to my origins, I am so deeply connected. I should like to begin by highlighting the strong mutual relations that exist between the United Kingdom and Pakistan arising from their long-standing historical association with one another. I was fortunate that in my youth, when I was growing up and studying at university, Pakistan was a modern, liberal state run according to modern democratic and Islamic ideals in which traditional Islamic values were reconciled with modern, liberal ideas.
However, there was a dramatic change shortly after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The United States Government viewed the conflict as an integral part of their cold war struggle against the Soviets and so saw it as being in their interests to provide assistance to any Afghan-led resistance movement regardless of its fundamentalist and extremist elements. Such support, although successful in achieving the immediate goal of a Soviet defeat, afterwards served only to strengthen the extremists hold over Afghanistan and Pakistan. As soon as the Soviets were defeated in Afghanistan, the Americans abandoned the people of Afghanistan, leaving the different factions to fight among themselves. No assistance was given with the rebuilding of homes, schools and infrastructure that could have helped the people of Afghanistan to recover and to create a stable and secure democratic nation, capable of countering extremism.
Similarly, after the tragic events that took place on 9/11, which triggered the US-led invasion of Afghanistan, no prior plan was ever conceived to deal with the aftermath. The US-led force devastated what was left of a very poor country that had already been ravaged by war, and yet made no real efforts to invest in it and help it to recover. The people of Afghanistan never saw any visible benefits of change after the defeat of the Taliban. Instead, they have been let down once again by the west, which, halfway through the invasion, shifted its attention towards the invasion of Iraq. That is a mistake which the United States has made before, and we must not allow it to happen again. I therefore thank my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for having made Afghanistan one of the UKs top foreign policy priorities. I also commend the Government for the substantial development and stabilisation aid that is to be delivered to Afghanistan over the next few years.
Earlier this year, I led a delegation of hon. Members from the United Kingdom, including my hon. Friends the Members for Livingston (Mr. Devine), for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mark Fisher) and for Dundee, West (Mr. McGovern), on a visit to Pakistan, at a time when there were rising tensions between it and India because of the deplorable and vicious attacks, which we must all condemn, on the innocent people of Mumbai. We were all very grateful to His Excellency Mr. Javed Malik, Pakistans ambassador at large, who made all the necessary arrangements for our visit. We were very privileged to meet the President of Pakistan, Mr. Asif Ali Zardari,
the Prime Minister, Mr. Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani, and Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, former Prime Minister and current chairman of the Pakistan Muslim League (N), who during his time as Prime Minister helped to foster better relations between India and Pakistan. He was particularly grateful for the hospitality extended to him by the British Government during his time spent in exile.
We were all honoured to have had the opportunity to meet her excellency, Dr. Fahmida Mirza, Speaker of the National Assembly of Pakistan, and the first Muslim woman Speaker in the entire Muslim world. My colleagues and I were tremendously impressed by her passion and commitment to the fragile democracy of Pakistan. Those we met were eager to see Pakistan flourish as a democratic Muslim nation, and emphasised their commitment to ridding the country of the scourge of terror. They also expressed their gratitude for the substantial aid and investment package the United Kingdom Government have offered them to help to redevelop the education system and health care, and to counter the influence of militancy.
We also had the privilege of meeting the Leader of the Opposition, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan. He was extremely grateful to the British Government, particularly the British high commission in Islamabad, for their support when he and others were subjected to political victimisation. That made me and all the members of the delegation feel immensely proud. However, all the people that we met were extremely concerned and angry at the continued use of drone attacks by the United States, which they felt were not only counter-productive to their attempts to tackle terrorism, but were actually harnessing extra support for extremist groups. Such attacks are a violation of the sovereignty of Pakistan and we must urge the United States to bring an immediate halt to their use.
We need to understand and appreciate that Pakistan is also the victim of terror, and that it is going through difficult and challenging times, especially bearing in mind the recent assassination of the former Pakistani Prime Minister, Mohtarma Benazir Bhuttothe terrible loss of a great leader. It is estimated that Pakistan has so far lost more than 1,000 soldiers in fighting militants on the border with Afghanistan. At the same time, both countries have been subject to numerous suicide bombingsin the last year alone, more than 2,000 civilians in Pakistan have lost their lives to such bombings.
In conclusion, I must emphasise the importance of a resolution of the Kashmiri conflict in favour of the people of Kashmir. It is perhaps one of the most important issues in this debate, and an area on which both Pakistan and India need our help. It is also an essential part of the road map to a stabilised Afghanistan. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary was absolutely right when he said that
Resolution of the dispute over Kashmir would help deny extremists in the region one of their main calls to arms.
Mr. Virendra Sharma (Ealing, Southall) (Lab): On the dispute between India and Pakistan, is it not important that the British Government should play a major part in bringing those countries to the table to negotiate on all their disputes, including the recent bombing in Mumbai and in other parts of the country?
Mr. Sarwar: My hon. Friend makes an important point. When tensions were high between India and Pakistan in 2002, I remember the British Government and the international community played a major role in easing those tensions and, indeed, brought those countries to the negotiating table to discuss the issues between them.
A political settlement on Kashmir is vital to the future peace and security of the region. Therefore, we must help the Governments of Pakistan and India to work together to reach a resolution as soon as possible. I hope that through the newly elected Administration of President Obama in the United States, combined with the leadership of our Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister, we will learn from our mistakes, continue to build stronger diplomatic relations and work together with the Governments of the region to build a stable and prosperous south Asia that can help to bring peace and stability to the world.
Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle) (Con): Any student of Afghanistanthe word Taliban translates into Pashto as student of Islamwill know that there are two permanently dominating factors. One is size, and the other is psychology. When the British Raj was seeking what in those days was called a forward policy on the North West Frontier, now called the tribal districts, the great Lord Salisbury, when he was Foreign Secretary to Disraeli, used to send messages to the viceroy urging him to study a larger-scale map. Of course, the viceroys failure to do that led to the second Afghan war, which contributed to the fall of the Disraeli Government.
The size of Afghanistan is critical. It is an enormous country of breathtaking beautynot really a country at all but a huge geographical area occupied by about 40 tribes, many of them of different ethnic backgrounds. They have only two characteristics in common. One is that they hate each other, and the other is that they hate foreigners even more. When they cannot kill each other, they turn to killing foreignersor vice versa, actually.
The idea that is now spreading that we are going to win peoples hearts and minds is realistically unattainable. The Russians and the British tried to win their hearts and minds by every conceivable method for 200 years. We had an immense number of devoted Old Rugbeians who spoke all the local languages and could pass unnoticed in any bazaar as devoutly Islamic. They knew all about Afghanistan being the home of the cloak of the Prophet. But nobody has ever won the hearts of people in Afghanistan, and nobody is ever going to, because they hate foreigners. It is precisely the intervention of foreigners that is making the problem so bad. The more troops we send there, the worse the situation will get.
As I said right from the beginning, our action does not just destabilise Afghanistan, it equally destabilises Pakistan. People are beginning to see that in reality. It is not just about hotels being blown up in Islamabad. Only a fortnight ago there was tremendous trouble with the Taliban in Swat, which is an enormously long way away from the frontiers and has a totally different ethnic background. The fact is that the situation in Pakistan is getting ever more serious.
I have some knowledge of Pakistan, having travelled about it. I am sorry that my colleague from Oxford days, the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman), is no longer in his place. He and
I were both friends of Benazir Bhutto. My wife and I took Benazir and her fiancé out to the theatre and to dinner three days after her mother had chosen her husband-to-be, whom she had never met before. They were very happy together. The next time that I met him was after he had come out from many years in prison under General Musharraf, and I took them both out to lunch. Benazir Bhuttos mother was the widow of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was murdered by General Zia, and Benazirs widower is now President of Pakistan. That indicates the extreme fluidity of Pakistani politics.
One must bear in mind the absolute lack of stability in these countries. What makes it much more serious is that Pakistan is a nuclear power with rockets that, with nuclear warheads, could destroy New Delhi and the area around it. Nobody actually knows who controls that nuclear powermaybe our Ministers do, but I very much doubt it. Even in Pakistan, none of the Ministers to whom I spoke, including Benazir, whom I knew well from her schoolgirl days onwards, knew who controlled the weapons.
We are playing a terribly dangerous gamethe word game always seems to crop up in connection with the area. We should get out of Afghanistan altogether. It no longer has strategic value. It is not the Russian gateway to India or the crossroads for trade between east and west and north and south. No Afghan was involved in the 9/11 attacks. The Taliban have no international ambitions. Taliban leaders do not like the al-Qaeda Saudi leaders.
Dr. Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman accept that many Afghan politicians who visit this country and meet hon. Members, including those in the all-party group, stress the opposite to what he suggests? They want us to be in Afghanistan and they want us to stay there for the long term to help them develop and establish a prosperous and democratic country.
However, I will read out four answers that the new Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, gave when she appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee the other day for her confirmation hearings, with Senator John Kerry putting pointed, detailed questions. Here are only four of her answers, which are not in consecutive order. First, she said:
The security situation in Afghanistan in deteriorating and the Taliban is gaining ground.
Afghanistan needs a government more able to take care of its peoples needs.
Afghanistan has turned into a narcostate.
The Afghan government is plagued by limited capacity and widespread corruption.
We should support Mr. Holbrooke, whom I know because we served on the Trilateral Commission for many years together. He is the ideal man for the job. He is as tough as any Afghan and very clever. We now have a new President of the United States, in whom I have tremendous confidence and for whom I have the greatest admiration, and I hope that he will apply his brilliant mind to the problem and get us out of Afghanistan altogether, before Pakistan becomes an enormous threat to the stability and safety of the world.
Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab): It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Louth and Horncastle (Sir Peter Tapsell), who has been the voice of history and the voice of sanity on the subject of our debate for many years.
There were many omissions from the Foreign Secretarys speech. He inadvertently gave a wholly misleading impression when he suggested, in answer to an intervention, that we have only two choices: to carry on what we are doing or to cut and run. Those are not the only choicesthere are many others. As has been suggested, it is possible to do deals. Subtle and complex deals, which are not straight deals with those who are pro-Karzai or pro-west, have been done successfully. That is the way forward. If we do not do deals, we might end up with something like the retreat from Vietnam by the Americans or the retreat from Kabul by the Russians. There is a way we can defend and consolidate some of the gains. Those gains are greatly exaggerated, but there have been some in education and in the position of women in Afghanistan. Unless we do a deal, we might lose them all.
The Foreign Secretary did not mention the surge, which is very much on our minds. Let us go back to what happened in this country. There was universal support, including from me, when we went into Afghanistan, although I did not think that the aims were attainable, particularly the ones to do with drugs. There is no consolation there, in spite of what the Foreign Secretary said. In the past three years we have seen the three largest drug crops ever and the price of heroin on the streets of Britain and France is lower than it ever was. There has been no success there.
We are talking about a country that is hugely divided, as the hon. Member for Louth and Horncastle said. I have a constituent who describes himself as the King of Baluchistan. Baluchistan is never talked about, but when Karzai sent in 12 emissaries to bring the Baluchs under control, their reaction was to behead them. Afghanistan is a huge, complex country that has been divided for millennia by tribal jealousies, as the hon. Gentleman described.
Let us look at the idea of putting in the military. Nobody says there is a military solution on its own, but there is nothing else to go with it. We can talk about construction, but although there was great celebration when a turbine was taken to a power station site, it took 3,000 soldiers to guard its passage there over many weeks. We know that the Talibans first roadblock is 15 miles outside Kabul, and Kandahar is under their control, apart from a few square miles of compounds controlled by NATO.
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