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5 Feb 2009 : Column 1067

There is a clearly expressed ideology of militant Islamist fundamentalism that not only wants to kill, but rejects all the values that uphold democracy—the rule of law, open economies, freedom of expression—as well as the rights of those of other religions and women and gays to live their lives as they wish. It is not just western countries who suffer from this ideological assault. Al-Qaeda’s number two, Mr. al-Zawahiri, has stated that the Pakistani Government are “apostate” and should be overthrown. It is time that we drew a much clearer distinction between Islamism as an ideology and the faith of Islam.

We must also recognise that there are great forces around the world with a strategic interest in seeing NATO, the United States, Great Britain, the west and the Euro-Atlantic community defeated. There is an open-ended supply of arms from Iran and other parts of the region to the people who are seeking to kill our soldiers. We can send as many helicopters there as we like, but as the Russians will tell us, helicopters do not do the trick. We can bomb as much as much as we like, too—in 2007, the US air force had almost 3,000 strike hits—but that has not decreased the violence.

Kyrgyzstan is shutting down its supply base for America, so if the Khyber pass is choked off—as seems to be the case—land supplies can come in only through Russia. I do not wish to make comments about Russia in this debate, but putting NATO and America at the mercy of Mr. Putin does not seem strategically wise, so we need to think in a different way. The player that we have to bring in is India.

So far this century, we have sent more than £1 billion to India in development aid, yet India is rich enough to plant its flag on the moon and, as has been described, to be a nuclear-armed power. It is spending up to a reported $1 billion in its own development programme in Afghanistan. Thus, Pakistan feels encircled. There are 500,000 Indian troops in Kashmir and 70,000 Kashmiris have died since the Indian army moved in nearly 20 years ago—far more than all those killed in the middle east. The bulk of the Pakistani military has to focus on that. A country cannot have 500,000 troops actively engaged in training and manoeuvres on its frontier and not take appropriate precautions—there is no example in history of that happening. So we have to say to India that it should de-escalate a bitterly emotional dispute.

Former President Musharraf said that the line of control should be treated as a de facto frontier, and I invite the two Front-Bench teams not to snipe over the question of who raises the issue of Kashmir. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary was right to repeat the then Senator Obama’s absolute hyphenation between Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. To get things going, we have to discuss the Kashmiri issue. When my right hon. Friend came back, he was trashed in The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail—all those papers that just seek to score cheap political points. Let the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) have the guts to say that Kashmir, India and Pakistan need to be discussed, and let us stop sniping about that issue.

While on holiday in India at the new year, I was appalled to read the militaristic language being used against Pakistan, to see maps in Indian papers of Pakistan re-partitioned, to read about serious people discussing
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a military invasion of Pakistan and to be able to watch a TV show called “Dial Pak for Terror”. We have to get the hyphens back in place; India must bear a responsibility and we must make that clear.

5.2 pm

Ann Winterton (Congleton) (Con): This debate rightly focuses on both Afghanistan and Pakistan because, although there is an established international border between the two countries, in many remote places it is virtually ignored by local tribes, who move freely back and forth. I propose to concentrate my remarks on Afghanistan and to focus primarily and perhaps rather narrowly on what is needed to promote the creation of wealth. We all applaud efforts to build schools and hospitals and to provide for other social needs, but if wealth is created the country will not have to depend for ever on international aid.

The security situation in Afghanistan has to be sorted out before the creation of wealth can begin. The military are expected to provide the security, with civilian contractors following up with reconstruction projects, but until the population are convinced that life is better than it was under the old regime, there will continue to be flare-ups—many Afghan men will still have a rifle concealed under their dishdash ready to exploit any situation, and the re-infiltration of Taliban forces will continue to bring about failures in the security situation.

I would like briefly to pursue two themes: power supply and the road capacity. The Taliban want neither to succeed; they do not want capacity to be enlarged or such facilities to be made more efficient. They would prefer to continue to rely on the heroin trade and the restrictions on society that we in the west find so abhorrent. The Afghan Energy Information Centre tells us that Afghanistan has 18 hydroelectric power plants, with a generating capacity of 263 MW, and 15 thermal plants, which run on imported diesel and generate 88 MW. It says that a further 296 MW is imported from 13 sources in neighbouring countries. Afghanistan has a total capacity of more than 600 MW, although output is estimated to be around 400 MW, and about 20 MW per 1 million people is provided. That is insignificant when compared with UK provision, which is 1,000 MW per 1 million people.

There is no national grid in Afghanistan because of the security situation, and distribution is limited to businesses and individuals located in the major cities or those close to the sources of power generation. That severely limits Afghanistan’s ability to establish wealth-creation projects, although it has tremendous assets such as coal reserves of 400 million tonnes—no doubt destined to fuel China’s coal-fired power stations—and gas, oil, copper, iron ore and many other minerals. In addition, it has the ability to grow crops in its rural areas which, if storage areas and transport facilities were developed, could be exported to the west or elsewhere.

The construction and maintenance of much-needed roads appears to be a hotch-potch international affair with very mixed results. India, for example, has just completed a 135 mile road linking the province of Nimroz to the Iranian port of Chabahar, thereby opening up a new trade route. That has attracted some sniping from Pakistan, which will lose its trade monopoly and is probably worried about its rival’s growing influence in Afghanistan.

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In late 2001, approximately 16 per cent. of Afghanistan’s roads were paved, compared with more than 80 per cent. in neighbouring Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. The percentage of paved roads has now increased to 29 per cent. and they have the advantage of being faster for communication, security and the movement of goods. It is also more difficult for insurgents to plant mines and IEDs in roads than in dirt tracks, but maintenance is a continual problem, especially in the mountain areas where damage is caused by the melting of the winter snows.

The Afghan Government and the USA and other donors consider road construction to be a top development priority and almost 20 per cent. of the US Agency for International Development’s $5.9 billion assistance to Afghanistan has been for roads. However, detailed information on this subject has been difficult to obtain, particularly on provincial and rural roads.

Mr. MacShane: Can the hon. Lady confirm that 80 per cent. of US aid is actually spent in the US, paying American salaries and buying American goods, not in Afghanistan itself? The money would be best spent sur place in Afghanistan.

Ann Winterton: That is a good point and I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is right.

One way to secure a dramatic improvement in road building and power distribution could be achieved by putting the military in charge. It would need to be given the tools and finance to get on with the job, with the transfer of money from other Department’s budgets if necessary. If that is not done, it is the Army that will suffer in the long run as it is placed in an impossible “no win” situation. Reconstruction of the infrastructure is very slow—over the past two years the Royal Engineers have repaired, reconstructed or built just 25 miles of road.

There is also a military advantage to such a strategy. At present, members of the Taliban choose their ground and can evaporate and re-emerge at will. They are present everywhere, but are indistinguishable from the local population. Afghanistan is far too large and complex a country for the Taliban to be destroyed by the military alone, but the one thing that the Taliban could not tolerate is for infrastructure improvements to win support from the people.

A good road network would bring in its wake prosperity, thereby generating income for social projects. With the military in charge of the road-building programme the Taliban would be identified, tied down and drawn into an area where ISAF and Afghan forces could take them on, knowing full well when to expect them. The co-operation of local people is essential if we are to succeed in Afghanistan, and there is no better way to ensure that that is achieved than by improving prospects, in both security and potential prosperity.

Although progress is undoubtedly being made, it is far too slow and sporadic. The British Army in Helmand province, by changing its tactics and strategy, could make a lasting and dramatic improvement in the lives of the people of Afghanistan that would augur well for eventual peace.

5.9 pm

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con): Let me start by protesting at the absurd shortness of the debate,
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which is totally inadequate even for the sprinkling of Members present. Why are so few people here? It is because so few people will get the opportunity to speak. I blue-pencilled my speech to fit it into the time available, and my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Holloway) who has spent days working on his speech, drawing on his enormous experience, will be reduced to a few scraps. It is intolerable and I hope that the Government will take that to heart and give the House more time to discuss these vital issues.

I agree with much of what has been said and, most worrying, I find myself agreeing with those who are most doom-laden. Our soldiers continue to win battles against the Taliban in Helmand but the politicians in Afghanistan and the west seem incapable of taking advantage of the time and space won by the blood of our brave troops.

The story is the same across Afghanistan. We went to Afghanistan, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) pointed out, solely with the objective of toppling the regime that sheltered al-Qaeda. However, we have finished up nation building.

Our problems in Helmand are a microcosm of the wider difficulties that the international security assistance force is experiencing: lack of military and civil capacity, a vacuum of governance, overstretch and a complete lack of strategic direction. I met a senior non-commissioned officer who was back from Afghanistan just before Christmas, and he told me, “We are there to help them but they just don’t want to be helped.” That reinforces the central message of James Fergusson’s excellent book, “A Million Bullets”, which is that much of what we have found ourselves doing in Afghanistan seems to have been counter-productive.

Our armed forces are brilliant and brave, but their tactical successes seem to contribute little towards strategic success. They merely stir up a hornets’ nest. Lord Ashdown went even further in a remarkable interview on the “Today” programme on 24 January. It pains me to repeat him, but he said:

That is a serious charge to bear for us as politicians responsible for the situation.

We would do well to recall the greatest Chinese military thinker, Sun Tzu, who said


I agree entirely with the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane), who has unfortunately absented himself from the Chamber, that the lack of strategy is our biggest problem. The hesitancy of the Foreign Secretary, perhaps in an attempt to seem reasonable and open-minded, conveys a lack of confidence that I have also picked up on in private meetings in the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence and from our military commanders.

We have a campaign plan but we have no overall plan to win the war, as pointed out by Professor Hew Strachan recently at the Royal United Services Institute. NATO is operating the 21st-century equivalent of the Schlieffen plan at the start of the first world war, when railway timetables behind the German front lines became the
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driving factor of German military policy. With a new US President, it is time to say these hard things in the hope that a coherent strategy will emerge.

Lord Ashdown suggests that three essentials are required alongside additional military and aid capacity: an international plan, signed up to by everybody; proper international co-ordination expressed with a single voice; and a regional construct—a treaty—to involve Afghanistan’s neighbours, including Iran, that is underpinned by the world powers, including China. Let us hope that Richard Holbrooke’s appointment heralds that new single voice, but reinforces another lesson. The UN does not and cannot successfully prosecute wars. Wars need leadership of the kind that, in this case, only the United States can provide. If some nations are not prepared to accept that, it would be almost more helpful if they left the field altogether instead of insisting on overcomplicated command chains and caveats that preoccupy commanders with process instead of outcomes.

If we Europeans want a say in US strategy, we must commit the European forces that can make a real difference. Sadly for the British, our armed forces are so overstretched and run-down that we have limited additional military capacity to offer just as the new President is looking to America’s allies to prove themselves. We are losing influence in Washington and at US central command in Tampa, Florida, and we have only ourselves to blame. That is more than just bad for the UK; it threatens our ultimate success. With our history and blood ties in the region, particularly in Pakistan, we are uniquely placed to be effective and proactive.

It is true that Pakistan is vital to success in Afghanistan, but that misses the real point. In the long term, Pakistan is far more significant strategically than Afghanistan. We should be devoting far more to our excellent mission in Pakistan and committing far more military resources to helping the Pakistani army.

Military diplomacy was meant to be a big thing in the 1998 strategic defence review, but the Government keep cutting the numbers of defence and military attaches in our embassies. We have a good but tiny military-to-military relationship with the Pakistan. Given the scale of the potential strategic threat of terrorism, and the disastrous possibility that a Government armed with nuclear weapons might fall into the hands of extremists, why on earth is military diplomacy not being addressed with far more urgency?

We have spent billions of pounds in Afghanistan, perhaps not very effectively. A few hundred million more spent in Pakistan would be of far greater strategic benefit. We should be helping to reform and modernise the Pakistani military to give the army the self-confidence to conduct modern and sophisticated counter-insurgency campaigns, to divert it from its hopeless preoccupation with India, and to help it integrate into a stable Pakistani democratic settlement. We would also be tackling the roots of the insurgency in Afghanistan; at present we are treating the symptoms and not the cause.

5.16 pm

Mr. John Horam (Orpington) (Con): I profoundly agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for North
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Essex (Mr. Jenkin) said about the importance of Pakistan. We should not forget that it is the sixth most populous country in the world, with 170 million people, or that it is a nuclear power.

One warning that I would make about putting Afghanistan together with Pakistan in this debate is that we must not prejudice improvement in Pakistan by our actions in Afghanistan. It is that important.

Even so, there are some grounds for optimism about the present situation. First, we have a new President in America. I voted against the Iraq war because I felt that America took its eye off the ball in Afghanistan between 2000 and 2003, and we are paying a very heavy price for that neglect.

Secondly, we have better people in charge now. General Petraeus has more confidence than some of his predecessors and did a good job in Iraq. I think that he is the right person to manage these matters, given his experience in an equally difficult part of the world.

Thirdly, it is clear that there is a new emphasis in Pakistan on the importance of relations with Afghanistan. President Zardari, for example, had President Karzai with him during his inaugural procedures, and that was a good sign. Moreover, the Pakistani Parliament had a long and very sensible discussion last October about negotiations in Afghanistan, and that is a very good sign indeed.

As has been said, however, the situation on the ground is dire. The Joint Defence and Foreign Affairs Committee recently heard evidence from Lieutenant-General Wall. Several Opposition Members were present, and the hon. Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Illsley) said that we had been told in New York that only one of the 13 provinces in Helmand was now under control. Lieutenant-General Wall agreed and said that that was a fair assessment. In his speech today, the Foreign Secretary insisted that far more provinces were under control, but it is clear that the situation is fluctuating and I do not believe that the present assessment is correct. It is worrying that Lieutenant-General Wall should have made those comments.

The situation on the ground in Afghanistan is dire and, as various contributors to this short debate have said, we need a radical adjustment of our strategy. In particular, greater emphasis needs to be placed on political dialogue with the Taliban and the Pashtun. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Holloway), if he gets called to speak, will elaborate on those matters, which I have discussed with him over the past few years. I agree with his basic proposition that we must negotiate sensibly with those elements of the Taliban and the Pashtun who will respond. I appreciate that it is very difficult to decide who to negotiate with and what they want, but none the less I think that that is inevitable.

Fourthly, as Adam Roberts—an Oxford professor and noted authority on the issue—pointed out in evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee, which will visit Afghanistan in April:

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