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5.35 pm

Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells), who we on the Foreign Affairs Committee remember as a Minister with a refreshing propensity to deviate from the official brief. The right hon. Gentleman, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) and the Front Benchers rightly focused on Afghanistan, and I wish to pay my own tribute to the extraordinary courage and skill of our service personnel there.

I wish to devote my time to the situation in the western Balkans, which I visited last month with other members of the Foreign Affairs Committee. In the three most difficult countries, we face a time-critical issue. In Serbia, the bicycle analogy is now something of a cliché, but I think that it is applicable in this case. The reality is that we will probably not maintain the forward-looking Government of President Tadic unless there is continuing momentum towards EU accession. Although the EU has managed to sign up to, but not ratify, the stabilisation and association agreement for Serbia, there is now an impasse created by the Dutch position. We all understand that the Dutch are still transfixed by the passive role played by Dutch UN forces around the time of the Srebrenica massacre. It is still an explosive issue in the Netherlands, and it has already brought down one Dutch Government. However, having recognised the political realities in the Netherlands, I have to say that it is not reasonable to impose on Serbia conditions for making progress with its EU accession that are simply not realisable.

My right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary mentioned the phrase "full co-operation with the ICTY", but the new chief prosecutor for the ICTY, Serge Brammertz, has said that he will not use that phrase, as he believes that it has become politicised. It is not therefore a realistic hurdle to put in front of Serbia. We all want to see Mladic and Hadzic alongside Karadzic in The Hague, but the issue is whether Mladic is still in Serbia. The Serbian Government can deliver only those people within their territories.

The key issue will come next week, when we get the next report by Mr. Brammertz. That will be followed by an EU Foreign Ministers meeting the following week. My information is that the Brammertz report is likely to be as favourable as is reasonably possible as far as Serbia is concerned, and in the discussions that we had with Ministers in Belgrade, they were all determined to co-operate fully with the ICTY and to do their best to find Mladic and Hadzic if they were in Serbia. I therefore very much hope that if the ICTY report comes out as I believe it will, the Government and the Foreign Secretary will take the two crucial steps at the forthcoming EU Foreign Ministers meeting that will be necessary to keep Serbia's EU accession going forward. Those steps will be making progress towards unblocking the
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implementation of the interim agreement under Serbia's SAA, and beginning the EU ratification process for Serbia's SAA.

Let me move from discussing Serbia to dealing with the position in Kosovo, where we also have grounds for a reasonable degree of cautious optimism. Among the Serbian municipalities, the municipality elections in Kosovo two years ago were effectively a write-off. There was virtually no turnout at all. In contrast, the elections two years later, which have just been completed-I refer to those south of the Ibar river-have been a remarkable success. The turnout has averaged between 20 and 25 per cent., which is a dramatic improvement and a dramatic increase in the willingness of Kosovo Serbs now to participate in elections organised from Pristina.

The critical issue now is what will happen in the elections for the two remaining Serbian municipalities, in particular north Mitrovica. President Sejdiu has wisely deferred those elections for six months, until 15 May next year, to enable the maximum possible time to ensure that they are held on a free and fair basis. That will be a serious challenge in north Mitrovica. The area is dominated by Serb hardliners. Their control is exercised by threat, intimidation, telephone calls threatening actions if people participate and knocks on the door at night. In the past, those intimidatory tactics have had considerable success.

A huge responsibility now lies with EULEX, the EU rule of law mission in Kosovo. EULEX is the largest civilian deployment under the European security and defence policy, and something of the ESDP's civilian credibility hangs on its success. EULEX has six months flat to try to create conditions in Kosovo under which the elections can be held on what we hope will be a reasonably free and fair basis in north Mitrovica. If that can be achieved, we shall have moved a long way to maintaining the integration of Kosovo and creating conditions in which its progress towards EU accession can take place.

I come finally to Bosnia and Herzegovina. My right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary was entirely correct in his opening remarks when he referred to the fact that the position in Bosnia and Herzegovina is going backwards. As we are all aware, the constitutional arrangements that are now in place were a brilliant triumph at the point at which they were concluded-in other words, the Dayton peace agreement of 1995, which had the hugely beneficial effect of stopping the terrible bloodshed taking place in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which was the most serious violence and bloodshed to have taken place in Europe since the end of world war two.

That peace agreement was achieved at a price. The price was a constitution that contains a series of ethnic blocks-blocks at the state level; blocks at the entity level; block after block after block. Although the agreement brought peace, it has not brought a constitution that is viable in terms of a governmental decision process for EU accession. The EU recognises that, the US recognises it, the Bosniaks recognise it and the Bosnian Croatians recognise it. The one group that does not, of course, is the Bosnian Serbs. At the moment, unless they can be persuaded to amend the Dayton constitution and to create a viable governmental structure at the top to deal with EU accession, the impasse will continue.

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This issue is also time critical. The present EU-US negotiating team will not be in play for ever; it is time limited. Indeed, I would say that it is crucial that progress be made in the next two or three months. I hope that the British Government, along with our EU and US partners, will use all possible influence to prevail on Mr. Dodik, and to make him understand the reality that he is taking the Republika Srpska into a complete cul de sac. There is no future for the people of the Republika Srpska if it is an isolated, supposedly independent, mini-state with no prospect of going anywhere. I do not believe that it will receive material support from Serbia for much longer, if at all, and I do not think that it can hope for very much from the Russians either. It is in a cul de sac, and Mr. Dodik needs to be persuaded that that is the case, so that Bosnia and Herzegovina can make progress.

Over the past 15 years, we in the EU, the US and Britain as an individual country have all invested enormous amounts of time, effort, money and resources into the western Balkans. I earnestly believe that, having made that investment, we cannot allow any of those countries to fail.

5.47 pm

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab): We have heard much this afternoon, particularly from the Liberal Democrats, of the virtues of taking tea with people who change their point of view to one's own point of view. The Foreign Secretary is having tea with Mr. Shalom this afternoon, and I wish him luck. The last time I, as chair of the Inter-Parliamentary Union middle east committee, had tea with Mr. Shalom was in Tel Aviv. He had been perfectly pleasant until I mentioned Palestinian prisoners, but then, unfortunately, he almost leapt over the dining room table to get me by the throat. So I sincerely hope the Foreign Secretary is luckier than I am, but I suspect that he will not be.

My right hon. Friend and neighbour, the Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells) and I disagree about very little, except perhaps the leadership of the Welsh Assembly, on which we profoundly disagree. I should like to follow up on some of the points that he made, but I want to spend the time available today talking about Iraq. For the first time in many years, the Queen's Speech did not mention Iraq. The complex issues relating to that country have dominated so many debates, questions and speeches in the House in recent years, and I feel that it is important to use this moment to highlight the important progress that has been made, and to remind the House of some of the issues that still need further attention.

I spoke to President Talabani of Iraq when he was here in London recently to attend the very moving memorial service for UK troops who had been involved in operations there. I was struck by the fact that, despite all the difficulties that Iraq has faced since the overthrow of Saddam, the President retains an unwavering belief that it was the right thing to do. It is clear from talking to him, and almost any other Iraqi, that ultimately only they can solve Iraq's problems. The role of the UK and coalition forces was to get them to the point at which they had a realistic prospect of success. I have full confidence in the determination of the Government and the people of Iraq to ensure that the country continues on its path to stability.

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Iraq's internal dynamics have changed significantly over the past 18 months, and I believe that it is now a nation that has changed for the better. There have been significant improvements on security, the economy and politics. Millions of Iraqis now have control over their own destiny. The Iraqi people have embraced democracy with great enthusiasm. The parliamentary elections in December 2005 saw a turnout of around 80 per cent., and provincial elections were held successfully in January this year, again with a very high turnout. National elections are due to take place in January 2010 and will provide another opportunity for Iraqis to embrace democracy. The Iraqi Parliament and the Council of Representatives are both steadily maturing as a voice for the people.

There are difficulties and delays in passing a new electoral law to regulate the next elections and the composition of the new Iraqi Parliament. Again, however, 25 per cent. of the places are going to be set aside for women, which is a point worth making here. It is another welcome sign that difficulties are being battled out in the political arena rather than on the streets.

The attempts by some to throw progress off course, as seen in the terrible bomb attacks on key ministries in Baghdad in August and October, have not had their desired impact. The response from Iraqis has been to deal with matters in a mature and considered manner. I sincerely hope that all the main political leaders in Iraq will continue to work together in a spirit of compromise and for the interests of all Iraq. Not doing so risks damaging the recent gains in security and political progress.

It is clear that many challenges remain in ensuring peace and stability in Iraq. Starting from such a low base, it is inevitable that work remains to bring about an effective human rights culture in Iraq. In my continuing role as the Prime Minister's special envoy on human rights in Iraq, I continue to engage with a wide range of Iraqis-both here and in Iraq-to help this process along. I urge those I meet to continue to focus their efforts on ensuring that the rule of law is respected.

The number of detainees held without trial has dropped considerably over the past 18 months, but sustained effort to ensure that those remaining are either released or made to face trial is needed. All those subject to the Iraqi legal system should be dealt with in a timely and humane manner.

Freedom of expression was an area that suffered greatly under Saddam. Since 2003, a vibrant media reflecting a wide spectrum of views has sprung up. There are signs of some efforts to curb the effectiveness of the media, with new regulations and legislation under consideration. This is a subject that I intend to raise when I visit Iraq shortly and meet key activists working to protect the rights of journalists. I discussed the challenges faced by the media in Iraq at one of the programmes of ongoing human rights forums or round tables held by the Foreign Office this year, which I chaired.

Industry in Iraq continues to recover and international trade links are being re-established. British companies assisted by UK Trade & Investment are showing more interest in doing business in Iraq. To support their efforts, the UKTI staff in our diplomatic missions in
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Iraq have been bolstered. BP and the Iraqi Government signed a new deal earlier this month to help revitalise the Rumaila oil field in southern Iraq, which should dramatically increase oil production and revenue for the Iraqi Government.

There is much work still to be done to protect the rights of Iraqi workers. The British TUC, which I thank very much, continues to assist in many ways. There remain in place many Saddam-era regulations restricting the rights of trade unions and preventing public sector workers from joining the union of their choosing. I am pleased to hear that a campaign launched by the Iraqi permanent co-ordination committee of trade unions and professional associations is gathering momentum. I note with some satisfaction that on 13 November President Talabani himself signed up to their campaign calling for more equitable labour laws.

I have raised from the start concerns about the treatment of women in Iraqi society. Women continue to face many problems in their day-to-day lives. Article 41 of the constitution could seriously affect the rights of women and I hope it will be revisited in the ongoing constitutional discussions. So-called "honour-based" violence has been reported as on the increase in many parts of Iraq. This is not a religious or an Islamic practice, but something rooted in the traditions of the clans and tribes. I have encouraged the leadership in Iraq, particularly the Kurds in the north, to speak out against it and to treat any "honour" crime just like any other crime. The considerable abilities of the new Kurdish Prime Minister, Barham Salih-he has visited this House several times-will, I think, be used to good effect in Iraqi Kurdistan, and I am sure that we would all want to send our good wishes to him. He has been an excellent Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq and I am sure that the Kurds will benefit from having him as Prime Minister of Iraqi Kurdistan.

I plan to visit Iraq again before the end of the year and am sure that, as in each of my previous visits since 2003, I will see further evidence of improvements. I know I will meet Iraqis who are committed to the future of their country and to seeing peace and prosperity. I know I will meet such people because they form the overwhelming majority of the population. I am sure that they will be pleased to hear that Iraq is no longer such a regular source of bad news and that they will not be at all offended that this year they did not even get a mention from Her Majesty the Queen in her Gracious Speech.

I finish with a short announcement. On 1 December, our present ambassador in Iraq will be coming here to answer questions. The Foreign Minister will also be present, as will the chargé d'affaires from the Iraqi embassy. I hope that those interested in Iraq will come along on 1 December to ask any questions that I have not been able to answer today.

5.57 pm

David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): It is a privilege, as always, to follow the right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), but I am going to focus in today's debate solely on some very simple points about the campaign in Afghanistan. Let me say from the outset that I agree with a great deal of what has been said by a number of earlier speakers. I agreed with
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about half of the speech of my old friend, the right hon. Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells)-I shall deal with that more fully in a few moments-and I agreed even with the Liberal spokesman, the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey). He jeopardised the career of my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Holloway), so I am going to do the same back to him-again, I shall come back to this shortly. I agreed most of all with the analysis provided by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind), a former Foreign Secretary, who showed that his intimate grasp of foreign policy issues is as firm as always.

My right hon. and learned Friend talked about whether the Afghan war is a war of choice or of necessity. There is no doubt that, back in 2001-02, it was a war of necessity. Whether our deployment into Helmand in 2004-05-in the so-called Operation Herrick 4-was a matter of necessity, I am much less sure. At that point in time, I was extremely doubtful about the value of that deployment.

Indeed, in a policy discussion at the time, when many experts were talking in a meeting about how to achieve victory, I am afraid my response was, "Well, I do not know how you will achieve victory, but how will you recognise it? What does victory consist of? Is it the defeat of al-Qaeda and driving them out of Afghanistan? Is it the defeat of the Taliban? Is it the destruction of the drug trade? Is it simply the protection of Pakistan? Is it simply the creation of a stable Government or is it the creation of a Jeffersonian democracy complete with proper treatment of women and all the things we like to see in a civilised state?" The truth of the matter is that I got no answer, which is unsurprising because at that point in time, the Government did not appear to have an answer either. Indeed, their justification for the deployment varied from week to week.

If it is not clear what a victory looks like, it is certainly clear what a disaster looks like. A disaster would be a precipitate withdrawal from Afghanistan now. Whether it looks like the American scramble out of Vietnam, with helicopters on the roof of the embassy, or whether it looks like the Russian deployment when the last general-I think it was General Gromov-walked out in a dignified manner over Friendship bridge back into mother Russia: either way, it is a disaster on several counts.

First, such a withdrawal would be a disaster for all the decent Afghans trying to make a decent living under the regime as it stands, and particularly for the Afghan middle class, many of whom are leaving in droves as we speak. Secondly, it would be a disaster for Pakistan, which has enough internal problems without having a further cause of them on its borders. Thirdly, it would be a disaster for the western alliance-I use that phrase deliberately, rather than the phrase, "international alliance" used by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea, as that is how it would be portrayed on the streets by Islamic fundamentalists around the world. The effect of that on our battle, or conflict-whatever one wishes to call it-against terrorism is my most serious concern, because that is a gift we do not want to give them. My argument starts from the point that if there is any material chance of victory-I do not care whether it is one in five, one in 10, one in two, or two in three-we must take it, to avoid that disaster.

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The Foreign Secretary made the obvious point-I do not mean that disparagingly-that any victory comes out of a military, civil and political dimension. That is self-evident. We must not lose sight of the fact, however, that the civil and political are not replacements for the military component. The civil component can only work if the military component works. There is no point in building schools and hospitals if next week they are burned down. There is no point in training teachers and nurses if they are hanged or decapitated. There is no point in trying to run a country if one cannot deliver justice on the ground, which, I am afraid, is the circumstance in Helmand today. Even in Lashkar Gah, ordinary Afghan citizens will walk eight miles to a Taliban village to get justice in a Taliban court, because they do not trust the justice system they currently have.

Security comes first and it is important that our leaders, whether the Prime Minister or the President of the United States, grip that nettle tightly. Our problem is that both our leaders are undoubtedly civilised people who do not like, and are not comfortable with, sending young men and women to their possible death or maiming in a foreign country. That is entirely understandable and a civilised reflex. Unfortunately, however, doing half the job, or sending half or a quarter of the number of troops that would be enough, is a way of increasing the number who are hurt and who die in our cause.

When General McChrystal calls for 40,000 troops, that is what we should give. McChrystal is not well known in this country but he is very well known in Washington. He is the man to whom the Americans largely attribute the success of the surge. He was effectively the cutting edge of the surge, and has as much claim to that success as Petraeus. His judgment and report was incredibly well thought through and carefully designed. If we intend to win the war, or campaign, we must take the whole bite, not half of it. I say that with an American political dimension in mind: next November, the mid-term congressional elections will take place. If, by then, we do not see material progress, the collapse in public support for the war, which we already see in both countries, will accelerate and will probably be reflected in the political classes too. In those circumstances, it will be very difficult for America to stay in. Therefore, we must grip the nettle tightly.

On the civil dimension, sometimes when I listen to colleagues talking about schools, hospitals and the like, I feel that they are talking to their own constituents. However, there is no constituency in the country, no matter how poor, that does not look wealthy beyond the dreams of avarice to an ordinary Afghan. The people on the ground in Afghanistan are poor beyond our imagination, and for them poverty is a life-threatening condition, especially for their children and families. Their concerns are having enough food to eat, enough firewood to get them through the winter, a roof over their head and some sort of job. Massive unemployment of a degree we cannot imagine among young men in Afghanistan, particularly in southern Afghanistan, is as much a contributor to the recruiting drive for the Taliban as anything else I can think of.

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