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5 Feb 2009 : Column 1073

In other words, there is some doubt about whether for ever strengthening the central Government’s military force is the right thing to do.

Clearly, Pakistan has to make a much bigger effort to deal with the problems. As has been said, the border more or less does not exist as far as the Pashtuns are concerned. As was pointed out by the shadow Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), in the FATA—the federally administered tribal areas of Pakistan—female literacy is at 3 per cent., which is appalling. Unemployment is at 80 per cent. Are we surprised that those people are ready to be radicalised by the Taliban? There, too, a major effort has to be made to get the show on the road, so I hope that in future we can have longer debates on the subject. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for North Essex that the allocation of three hours for a debate on Pakistan and Afghanistan is lamentable.

I hope that we can have debates of a decent length on the issue, particularly, as the shadow Foreign Secretary says, when there are major, or even significant, changes to the UK Government’s strategy, as there have been from time to time. I hope that there will be a radical change in strategy, but I believe that we should be there in Afghanistan, for the reasons that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) so admirably set out.

5.21 pm

Mr. Adam Holloway (Gravesham) (Con): Yesterday, I saw a friend who had been tracking the Afghan Taliban in Pakistan—he was listening to somebody with a Yorkshire accent trying to speak Arabic into a hand-held radio. What can we do? We cannot do very much on our own, but I suggest that Britain and our allies declare a new war: a war on radicalisation. We should seek to protect our people by cutting out this cancer, rather than by suppressing the symptoms—that is, by dropping bombs on it from 20,000 ft, thereby distributing the cells all over the world.

The new American President has a choice. He can either be a pragmatist or reinforce failure. Failure might look something like this: the Americans send another 30,000 troops, hot-foot from Iraq, in the absence of a political settlement. They then think that the answer is to continue to “clear, hold and build” among a civilian population to whom foreign troops are, in large part, the problem. In that scenario, President Karzai stays in office until his term runs out in May, but limps on with his corrupt narco-clique until elections at some unspecified time in the future. As we know, Karzai remains a major barrier to meaningful reconciliation. Of course it was he who chucked out the utterly irreplaceable Michael Semple.

Meanwhile, we would muddle on. We would shrug and continue to utter expressions such as “We are where we are,” “It’s just about fine-tuning the comprehensive approach,” and “Just a few more troops.” Pakistan would continue to bomb and disperse its population, and continue to lose large chunks of its territory. Sometime thereafter, we could guarantee a more or less irretrievable situation.

On the other hand, the US President might be a bit more pragmatic. In fairness, some people in our Government may at last have understood the gravity of
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the matter. What might be the ingredients of a success that would allow us to avoid a second strategic failure? First, we have to understand that Bonn was a conference of the victors. Large parts of the Afghan political landscape were left out of it. Whether we like it or not, Hizb-e-Islami and as many elements as possible of the Taliban have to be brought back into the political process. The Taliban are not a single, coherent movement. In large part, they are the ordinary people of the Pashtun belt. Al-Qaeda is not the same as the Taliban. Frankly, I do not think that AQ needs Afghanistan anymore. It is now in plenty of other places, including our cities.

Like it or not, the great majority of Afghan and Pakistani tribal inhabitants are deeply traditional people. They want a very light touch from central Government; that system has worked for centuries.

In other words, what we need now is an Afghan solution—obviously, though, one that protects the strategic interests of the western countries. Of course, it is a hell of a lot easier to say that than to do it, but a couple of weeks ago in Dubai in the Art Boutique Apartment hotel a remarkable meeting took place—you are hearing it here first—between elements of the Taliban and representatives of all the major political parties, including that represented by Gulbuddin Hikmetyar. They were there to discuss the elements of a grand conference, which would do three things. It would correct the imbalance of the Bonn agreement, helping to bring the Taliban back into politics, it would agree to an interim Government to replace Karzai at the end of his term in May, and it would agree a programme for the withdrawal of foreign troops over many years.

Elements of the Taliban have signed up to those three things as the basis for a further meeting in a few weeks. The driving force behind the initiative, Mr. Jarir, is right now getting on a plane at Heathrow to go back to Dubai. He cannot go back to Kabul because Karzai has threatened to arrest him. The initiative, like many others before it, is imperfect, but it is huge in the sense that Afghan political parties are getting together, talking about bringing the enemy back in, and also talking about an agreed withdrawal of NATO troops.

Secondly, such a political settlement would allow resources to be concentrated in the Pashtun belt and Pakistan’s tribal areas. It will never be perfect, but light government would be working there with the international community to bring security, justice and the rule of law and to develop government institutions that serve the people meaningfully. This would be an enormous rescue plan, and we would have to be prepared to spend gigantic sums of money. We would have to reduce dramatically the tension between India and Pakistan. Remember that the Pakistanis see everything through the prism of Kashmir. We would then be in a position to allow the Pakistani military, which is now in tanks facing India, to focus on counter-insurgency and tribal engagement. It would be extremely helpful if the US Administration were engaged with Iran.

The plan would have the effect of freeing up our military resources, which are at present fixed in locations holding geography, rather than doing what they should be doing—defeating networks. None of that can happen without this Afghan solution at last, which would have to be supported by a clear international plan, a strategy and a single voice, which the military call unity of
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command, unity of purpose. It is there in the manual for winning a counter-insurgency operation. Without that, or some sort of significant rebalancing of our efforts, the problem will only get worse. At some point, that will directly affect our population. I want to win this.

In 1898 Major Fitzgerald Wintour, the grandfather of a distinguished managing director of my local borough council, asked:

The allies need to wake up and try to rediscover the pragmatism that we have lost in the past eight years in the wreckage of the ideologues.

5.28 pm

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): I am particularly grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Holloway) not only for the breadth and depth of the speech that he has just made, but for lining up exactly what I wish to begin with, which is a word or two about counter-insurgency in general.

I have a mantra, which is that there are four elements to a counter-insurgency campaign. Some of them are more familiar than others. The first three are very familiar—to identify, to isolate and to neutralise—but the fourth element is to negotiate. That is what my hon. Friend was referring to.

However, negotiation cannot be carried out at every stage of a counter-insurgency process. During an insurgency’s early stages, when the insurgents think that they are on course for victory, negotiation is not an option. The time for that comes either when the insurgents are in retreat, or when a stalemate exists—that is, when the insurgents cannot achieve their aims and the counter-insurgents cannot totally eliminate the insurgents.

At this point, I must pay tribute to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind), who focused the House’s attention on the central point of our war aim in Afghanistan. It is not a great, positive aim, but a negative one: to prevent Afghanistan from being used in future to host what has shown itself to be not some sort of patriotic, anti-colonial, nationalist organisation, but one engaged in an ideological crusade worldwide.

Dr. Blackman-Woods: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that, over time and as part of the aim of deterring the Taliban from harbouring terrorists, we need to build the Afghan state and capacity to provide services, job opportunities and infrastructure?

Dr. Lewis: I partly accept the hon. Lady’s point. What we need to do is help the Afghan state to build up a workable life for itself. However, we must not fool ourselves into thinking that that will involve a carbon copy or mirror image of the sort of lifestyle that it has taken us in our modern societies hundreds of years to develop.

Mr. Sarwar indicated assent.


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Dr. Lewis: I am glad to see some assent to that point on the Labour Benches.

Paul Flynn: Part of the aim was to destroy al-Qaeda’s safe place from which to organise terrorism. We have not been successful: that safe base continues, either on the borders or in Pakistan itself. Where is the threat of Taliban action in Britain? Is there any evidence that the organisation is planning terrorism here?

Dr. Lewis: The hon. Gentleman is confusing my argument, which he has perhaps not fully grasped. I am talking not about the Taliban in this connection, but about al-Qaeda. The whole point about how insurgencies end with a negotiated settlement is that our war aim should be to demonstrate to everyone with influence in Afghanistan—including the Taliban—that they are on to a loser when they give house room to an organisation such as al-Qaeda, which certainly has aims of causing mayhem in our own societies. The concept of negotiation should come into play precisely when we have shown the Taliban that they are at best in a military stalemate.

I will lay a large wager that the people, groups, sects and tribes who make up Taliban forces will be as fissiparous as any other insurgency movement. There will be those among them who will be willing to do deals, compromise and realise that they made a terrible strategic mistake when they accommodated al-Qaeda; others among them will be diehards who say that they will never do a deal. Our job must be to show the more pragmatic among the insurgents that they made a strategic error, which they can rectify by isolating militants and giving no house room to al-Qaeda.

Although the hon. Gentleman rightly says that al-Qaeda is now to be found in other parts of the world, the NATO mission in Afghanistan, if it is to succeed, should have as one of its aims showing other countries that they should think long and hard before emulating the mistake of the Taliban and giving house room to al-Qaeda so that it can launch its attacks against the west.

Mr. Sarwar: There is an unfortunate perception among the people of Pakistan about the fight against the Taliban and al-Qaeda. It is important that the leadership of Pakistan tells the people of Pakistan that the Taliban are killing Muslims and non-Muslims and bombing girls’ schools in Pakistan. This is a war that it is essential to win for the sake of the integrity and prosperity of the people of Pakistan.

Dr. Lewis: I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. He leads me to the next stage of my argument, which is to do with the ideological war that needs to be articulated.

Paul Flynn: The logic of what the hon. Gentleman is saying is that if we now discovered that al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden had a base in Pakistan, we should invade Pakistan. I am sure that that is not what he means to say, but that is the logic behind it. Is it not a terrible mistake to put all these groups—al-Qaeda, the Taliban, the insurgency in Iraq, North Korea and other countries—together as one group, as terrorists, and talk about a war on terrorists? Surely we have got past that nonsense.

Dr. Lewis: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that not all the groups with which we have been
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militarily engaged are part of a single organisation, but the ones that belong to al-Qaeda are part of a single organisation, and our job should be to show the other groups that they should have nothing to do with AQ.

Let me quote from a report in The Daily Telegraph of 10 January about one of the drone attacks that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. Sarwar) condemned. However, this was one of the more productive drone attacks. The report reads:

I want to impress on the House the fact that we are dealing with two very different types of enemy. One group is a declared enemy of everything that we stand for. It comprises people such as those in that report, who were from Kenya and yet, strangely enough, ended up in Waziristan. They do these things not because NATO responded to the attacks in America by invading Afghanistan, from which the organisers of the attacks had been operating, but because they have declared holy war on our way of life. The other, wider group—the enemies about whom we have to be concerned—are people who we have a lot of potential for working with if we can show them that dealing with al-Qaeda is ingesting a form of poison into their own lives and societies.

I say frankly to the hon. Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn) that if al-Qaeda is expelled from one country after another, then takes root in a third, and then shows every sign, as it almost certainly would, of continuing to launch attacks against the west, then yes, we would have to work with that third country to cut them out, and if the third country were not prepared to work with us to do that, we would have to cut them out anyway—unless he is proposing that western countries simply sit back as terrorist outrages are committed in the centres of their cities.

I have spent enough time on the theory, so I would like to say a few words about the debate. When the Foreign Secretary said that he would not be here at the end, he gave the excellent excuse that he is going to have talks with General Petraeus. If those talks are going to be about a possible increase in the British troop commitment to Afghanistan, I would like the Minister to answer a specific question. If he answers nothing else that I say from this Dispatch Box today, I would like him to answer this question: how will any extra troops that are sent to Afghanistan, if that is agreed, be funded? Will they be funded in-year from the Treasury reserve budget, or will they be funded in such a way that the money can be clawed back from the central Ministry of Defence budget? I am sorry to inject a rather banal, cost-and-effect, penny-pinching approach to this debate, but the Minister
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will be as aware as anyone else that, at the moment, however well our armed forces are doing in theatre, the chiefs of the armed forces are at each others’ throats in a civil war of their own over inadequate defence resources. We know that one service is attacking another service’s prime projects and reciprocation is not likely to be delayed for long.

We have been fighting two medium-sized conflicts on a peacetime defence budget—now it is going down to one. I have said before from this Dispatch Box, and I make no apology for saying it again, that Prime Minister Tony Blair gave the game away when he said that throughout the decade that new Labour had been in power, defence spending had remained roughly constant at 2.5 per cent. of GDP, and added the fateful words:

Whenever we talk about Treasury reserves and so on, when we lump everything together, we find that we have been fighting two conflicts on a peacetime defence budget, and now the services are seriously talking about having to abandon one of the strategic roles of the armed forces in peacetime—which is to insure against conflict with another state—if we are to go on fighting these counter-insurgency campaigns, even at the present level. That is totally unacceptable, so we must have an assurance from the Government that any extra cost arising from further deployment to Afghanistan will be paid for by extra money. Otherwise, it cannot be contemplated.

Mr. MacShane: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Lewis: I am sorry, but my time is nearly up.

Mr. MacShane rose—

Dr. Lewis: Very well.

Mr. MacShane: Is this now official Conservative policy? We need to know. The hon. Gentleman is talking about a huge amount of money.

Dr. Lewis: I have no problem with that at all; I have talked about it before as well. I have been challenged about the matter before, I am asked the same question every time and I always give the same answer: the official Conservative policy on defence is that we will fully fund our defence commitments. That means increasing the money for defence, reducing the commitments, or doing something in between the two. If the Government are proposing to increase their commitment, they have got to find the extra funding for it. They cannot do it at the expense of the core MOD budget.


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