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6.49 pm

Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, I am pleased to second the warm tribute to the maiden speech of the noble Baroness. It is good to be sandwiched between two distinguished former diplomats. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, always speaks with great authority and I am confident that the noble Baroness who is about to deliver her maiden speech will follow in those tracks, particularly regarding her major areas of expertise in counterterrorism and the European Union.

As the noble Lord has just said, several tectonic plates grind against one another in the Middle East, causing disturbances in many different areas, but the constant is the conflict between Israel and Palestine. If there were to be a solution there, it would not solve other regional conflicts, but it would certainly make those conflicts more manageable. I shall concentrate on the prospects for the proposed conference in Annapolis, although it appears that only the location has been decided; timing, participants and agenda are in the air. As is the case with any debate on the Middle East, there are already two starting points.

First, as we saw to our cost in the EU Sub-Committee after we embarked on our inquiry, there is the arrival of the unexpected, such as the coup of Hamas on 15 June this year. We had looked closely at the position that we would adopt in relation to Hamas. Then came its dramatic and violent takeover of Gaza and the subsequent entrenchment of what many now see as an Islamist state, heavily supported by Iran. We pressed on, notwithstanding that dramatic turn of events. We included a brief Chapter 6, attempting to foresee the consequences of that

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takeover. What is new is the increasingly bitter division among the Palestinians, which reflects a wider Sunni/Shia split in the region. The takeover is a good illustration of the unpredictability of events in the Middle East.

The second complicating factor is the irrationality of much of the debate. That combination of unpredictability and irrationality must make one apprehensive about the prospects of success for any proposed conference, even if it is essentially a cover for relations between the two principal participants—the Palestinian Authority and Israel—leading to a series of other conferences.

After all, as my noble friend the Minister knows all too well, the United Nations was extremely confident after 1989 and the fall of the Berlin Wall. The UN had enormous success, which I witnessed, in Namibia. It appeared then that everything was attainable. Alas, it was not to be. Yes, we had the Oslo accords in the 1990s, but as the outcome of Camp David showed—even with a United States President prepared to commit much time and political capital to the region, and with a pragmatic Israeli premier in Barak—the initiatives came to nought. Abu Ala, the current Palestinian negotiator, claimed to me that the failure arose because the US Administration were pushing too hard when he and his Israeli interlocutor, Shlomo Ben-Ami, were step by step moving in the ways of the Levant in the correct direction. Others blame Arafat’s indecision and personal weakness. As Shimon Peres frequently states, the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. What is clear is that the road map seems to have petered out in the sands before either party had completed their obligations under the first stage. At a time when Arab leaders in 2002 were promoting an interesting initiative, the Bush Administration, if only as a riposte to the Clinton Administration, turned away from the region until this year.

What are the negative features as we approach the conference? The first is political weakness on all sides. Prime Minister Olmert has been damaged by the incursion into the Lebanon, and the Palestinians by fratricidal strife. There is a lame-duck US President who has little credibility in the region as a result of the Iraq invasion and does not want his foreign policy legacy only to be seen as Iraq. Can the Palestinians make progress when their negotiations are led by the Fatah old guard, notably Abu Ala, and when Hamas, which it now bitterly hates, is wholly excluded from the process?

However, there are some positive signs. At least Israel and Palestine are in direct talks. There is little detail, but this fact is a good sign. Benchmarks have been established in earlier talks and, the reverse side of my earlier point, Hamas is out of the picture—at least in the early stages. Key Arab players are engaged. They have visited Israel, are concerned about growing Shia influence in the region and have a credible set of agreed proposals, led by Egypt and Jordan. It may be that the Saudis have reached some sort of deal—explicit or implicit—with the US Administration to assist in Iraq if the US presses harder in Palestine. Equally, there is a wider coalition

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within the Knesset and President Abbas clearly wants peace, whereas Arafat’s motives were unclear. The regional intervention may provide an acceptable cover for bilateral accords.

What in the Government’s view are the chances for the coming conference and the best means of making progress? The devil is not in the details, but in the key principles, which are well known. Is there at least a prospect of a comprehensive armistice or hudna beyond the negative or limited ceasefire? Is it at least worth seeking shorter, practical and pragmatic steps that would create realities over time? For example, Israel, in an effort to produce trust between the parties, released more than 250 prisoners in July and has released several batches of prisoners since then. As part of the Oslo family and reunification policy, Israel will be granting residency permits to 5,000 Palestinians who have been living illegally on the West Bank. There has also been the symbolic act of the beginning of reconstruction of the roadway between Ramallah and Jerusalem. Much can be done on the economic side and I commend the Government for their initiative on 17 September of launching an economic report. There cannot be real progress without tackling the economic misery on the Palestinian side.

On Iran, I believe that the Foreign Secretary has, as yet, refused to follow Jack Straw in stating that the use of force would be “inconceivable”. Financial pressures, with enhanced sanctions, public and private—including from the banks, which may be of greater importance, as they were in South Africa—are the most likely means of achieving a moderation of policy. A military strike on the three major nuclear installations would only make moderates rally behind the flag at a time when there is real discontent—one thinks of the tomato problems in the spring of this year, signs of disaffection among the populace and words of caution by the Supreme Leader and by Rohani regarding President Ahmadinejad. Would it not be more helpful if the US was to show Iran that it was not focused only on regime change and was more pragmatic, as it was regarding North Korea, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said?

Finally, a postscript on Afghanistan. There has been the very bad news in the recent UN report about the increase in drug production, which the Minister set out in his speech. President Karzai has acknowledged that the security situation has deteriorated, with a recent upsurge in violence, and it is clear that not all NATO countries are pulling their weight, as many like to think that they can operate only from relatively safe areas in the north. Clearly, there should be consensus that we must be there for the long term and provide the necessary resources, because a failure in Afghanistan, with even greater poppy production affecting our streets and even greater sources of terrorist activity by the Taliban, would have the most adverse repercussions not just in Pakistan and the region, but over the world as a whole. Therefore, at least let us be agreed that we cannot, as a world community, countenance failure in Afghanistan and the return of the Taliban.

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7.01 pm

Baroness Neville-Jones: My Lords, I am honoured and delighted to take my seat in Parliament’s upper Chamber and I am grateful for the kind remarks made in my direction during the debate. The breadth of experience and depth of talent in this House are inspiring and I look forward to being able to contribute to debate of public policy and to the opportunity to influence the outcome on matters that come before this House for consideration and vote.

Like my noble friend Lady Warsi, I will focus my contribution to the debate today on Afghanistan. I recently accompanied the leader of the Conservative Party on a visit to that country. One should always be careful about drawing long-range conclusions from short visits such as ours but, in a less than ideal world, it is still better to have had some direct experience of the issues than none at all. Strapping on body armour before stepping into the heat and dust of Helmand province quickly brings home the reality of the challenge faced by our brave service men and women.

The level of the British military commitment in Afghanistan is striking. At Camp Bastion in Helmand, we have built a military base of significant size, which is in the process of further upgrading. That seems right, because if this country is serious about Afghanistan—and, in my view, we must be—neither our forces nor our civilian personnel will be leaving in short order and they must be properly housed and protected. I shall return later to the likely length of the mission.

Public discussion of the British commitment has tended to focus on three issues: whether we should be in Afghanistan at all; whether our forces have been properly equipped to carry out the mission entrusted to them; and whether they are succeeding. In this short intervention, I am not going to deal in detail with the second of these issues. Suffice it to say just two things. The recent decision announced by the Government to supply, off the shelf, a more rugged vehicle to our troops is sensible, though not before time, and we must hope that those vehicles will be delivered soon. The better armour of a Mastiff, compared with a Land Rover, will help to save lives. No Government are entitled to expose our serving men and women to unnecessary risk. Furthermore, when our service men and women are injured, they should be able to expect the best medical treatment that we, a technologically advanced and wealthy country, are able to provide.

During our visit, we were shown the medical facilities at Camp Bastion, which are also available to the local population. They are impressive, as is the commitment of the medical staff. Injured personnel, of course, need to reach those facilities quickly from the field and shortage of helicopters can be a problem. Moreover, when servicepeople return to the UK for further medical treatment, we need to ensure that not just the medicine but also their hospital environment are conducive to speedy recovery.

As to whether the UK should be in Afghanistan, although our presence there has not been attended by anything like the controversy surrounding our presence in Iraq, it has not been free from it.

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Opponents often argue that no outside power has ever succeeded in Afghanistan and that NATO will not, either. That is fatalistic, pessimistic and false. The alliance is no invader. It is there at the invitation of the Afghan Government to assist in creating conditions of greater freedom, security and prosperity in that country. That involves combating terrorism, which threatens the Afghan people, this country and our allies. For these reasons, this side of the House supported and continues to support the intervention in Afghanistan.

Having committed ourselves, the UK must now succeed. The consequences of failure in Afghanistan, in the wider region and for the alliance itself are far too serious for it to be anything other than a first-order priority to give ourselves the best chances of success. I do not think that we have done that yet. Indeed, there is a widespread impression outside Afghanistan that the NATO military campaign is failing, which is mistaken, although it is possibly a result of the media sophistication of the Taliban. Our commanders are the first to warn of the dangers and they are not complacent. It is, however, a mark of their relative success that the Taliban has had to extend its tactics from fighting our troops to intimidating the civilian population with suicide bombing.

The real problem lies in what follows—or fails to follow—a successful NATO military operation. If the Afghan armed forces and the local police are unable to provide a reasonable level of security and the Taliban can slip back in, as already happens, economic reconstruction and restoration of normal daily life cannot take place. That has potentially enormous costs in the battle for hearts and minds and the whole point of an operation can be lost. Training a sufficient number of Afghan soldiers to hold territory taken and raising local police standards are therefore key priorities.

Problems lie on the civilian side, too. There are over 100 civilian agencies in Afghanistan with more than $100 million a year to spend. There are no fewer than 28 provincial reconstruction teams, led by different foreign Governments. Much good is being done, but differing methods of operation and different goals, combined with the absence of an overall strategy and effective high level co-ordination, mean much wasted and misdirected activity. We are a long way from helping the Afghans to generate a viable economy free of dependence on the narcotics that reach our streets.

The huge international effort needs strategic direction under an individual with the experience and authority to pull the strands together and contribute to the creation of a really effective military-civilian nexus. Indeed, it has been well said by NATO military commanders that it can go in alone but not come out alone. The civilian side of post-conflict stabilisation is crucial to success and there has to be a joint effort between the military command and civilian agencies. In developing a comprehensive approach, NATO shows that it understands that. However, as NATO itself will acknowledge, implementation is far from mature. NATO also needs to be nimbler and less

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bureaucratic. I tell no secrets in pointing to the many layers of command, as well as to the long-standing problem of national caveats, which damage NATO’s military effectiveness. Such issues will not find their solution on the ground in Afghanistan, but that country shows clearly how important their solution is to the long-term future of the alliance as an effective instrument of western security.

It is not so much that we do not understand what needs to be done in Afghanistan; we have learnt much and the outline of what is needed is pretty clear. The difficulty lies in putting it into effect. We need to continue to work at getting a higher level of performance out of each of the elements of policy, while welding them together in a strategy that can be driven forward with vigour. This is not an optional extra; it is essential to success.

We also need to be realistic about what we are trying to achieve politically and must not try to impose western notions of liberalism on a deeply traditional society. Instead, we should work with the grain of Afghan society in helping to open up opportunity to more of its citizens. I said earlier that if we were interested in success, we should not expect to leave Afghanistan soon. The British ambassador there was right when he said that it is not a sprint but a marathon. We need patience, perseverance and determination. What happens in Afghanistan is linked to the situation in Pakistan, which is not becoming less complex. That subject goes beyond the scope of my remarks today. However, it is clear that, among other things, closer co-operation between Islamabad and Kabul in countering terrorism is absolutely essential.

In conclusion, I would like to say how important the success of NATO is, not only to western interests in Afghanistan but to the foundations of British foreign policy. As a young graduate, I was the fortunate recipient of a Harkness fellowship, which took me to the United States for two years. While I was there, the Cuban missile crisis took place. Anyone who lived through that has had it impressed on them how profoundly important our relationship with the United States is to our security. The world has been transformed since then, but it remains true for the United Kingdom that our capacity to act in the world still rests on the transatlantic link, at the core of which lies NATO.

In a globalised world, we should not be surprised that we have much at stake in a country 3,500 miles from our shores. We must not shrink from the task that we have taken on, but we must get it right. The price of failing to do so will surely be greater than the effort that we need to put in to make it succeed. I thank the House for listening so patiently to this initial contribution to its deliberations.

7.11 pm

Lord Chidgey: My Lords, I am pleased to follow the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, and to congratulate her on her contribution to the debate today. She has had an illustrious and diverse career in the service of her country, as a number of noble colleagues today have

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emphasised. With more than 30 years’ experience in Her Majesty’s Diplomatic Service, in posts as diverse as Singapore, Washington, Brussels and Bosnia, to call on plus spells as the chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee as well as a BBC governor—not, I hasten to add, at the same time, as I understand it—I have no doubt that she will enlighten and enliven your Lordships’ debates for some time to come.

I carry on more or less where the noble Baroness left off in turning my remarks to the work that we are trying to do in Afghanistan. I, like her, praise almost beyond my imagination the work that our Armed Forces have done there, whether they are regular service personnel or reservists. Their approach in establishing the early provincial reconstruction teams was both courageous and sympathetic. I ask noble Lords to imagine just handfuls of young soldiers working with the grain in vast tracts of Afghanistan’s interior. Years ago, I saw for myself, as the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, did recently, the genuine friendliness of our young soldiers engaging with local communities. I can bear witness to their resourcefulness in helping to deliver humanitarian aid and development projects. Their commitment in holding fund-raising events among their own colleagues in their bases to pay for micro-projects such as a footbridge, a well or a classroom, built with the help of local villagers, pays tribute to the dedication of those young men and women.

Those projects may hardly be noticed in the general scheme of things, and perhaps it is not so surprising that those young men and women are prepared daily to put their life on the line to preserve and protect what they are achieving on behalf of the Afghan people and in the service of their country. We should be proud of them and salute them and their families. We could start by ensuring that the commitment shown by these young people, some of whom are barely out of their teens, in our Armed Forces is not cheapened by inadequate developments, by the inadequate deployment of personnel and resources, or perhaps by the threat of a widening capability gap due to unreliable, ineffective or inappropriate weaponry, transport and communications systems. The case of the Mastiff armoured vehicle is classic; after so many years, we have eventually begun to get it right. With a 30 per cent increase in violent deaths in Afghanistan this year, rising from 425 a month in 2006 to 550 a month now, and with suicide and road-side bombing increasing at a similar rate, we must ensure that the efforts of our military personnel are not diluted, diverted or squandered through the failure to set realistic, achievable objectives in Afghanistan and the neighbouring region.

The present objectives are well known but are worth repeating. In summary, they call for the elimination of al-Qaeda, the defeat of the Taliban and the development of a stable and democratic Afghan state. They also call for support for the Afghan Government and internationally sanctioned counter-narcotics efforts and for the provision of support for humanitarian assistance operations. However, there are concerns that the progress made on the political and development objectives does not match the military investment and commitment that

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we and our NATO allies are making. The question is why the coalition forces were unable to turn the initial military success into sustainable security and stability in Afghanistan.

The Royal Institute of International Affairs at Chatham House has already been quoted in the debate. Its report is an important contribution to the analysis of how we can go forward. Its recent analysis shows that, although the operation suffers from a lack of resources and troops and has done in many people’s eyes since 2003, there is a more fundamental difficulty: those involved in the coalition have in many cases failed to develop the coherent approach needed to achieve the coalition and NATO objectives in that country. In particular, a comprehensive strategy to address the political objectives—the elimination of al-Qaeda, the defeat of the Taliban, and help for Afghanistan towards establishing a stable and democratic state—seems to have been subsumed in a collection of partial and ad hoc schemes and perceptions. That is a major difficulty in varying the international, legal frameworks under which the contributing forces operate.

The national force deployments in Afghanistan are heavily constrained by restrictive caveats imposed by national Parliaments, as my noble friend Lord Lee of Trafford has already mentioned. Chatham House gives two classic examples, among many more. My noble friend Lord Lee has already mentioned one: Tornado aircraft collecting reconnaissance data under one hat but being unable to pass the data on to those who need them under the other hat. There is also Operation Medusa, during which Canadian ISAF forces were confronted by entrenched Taliban units in strength. The Canadian commanders apparently asked four allied partners for relief but not one helped. The commanders were turned down each time on the basis that the legal restrictions would not permit their allied partners to come to the Canadian forces’ aid. That is a farce and a fiasco.

Those cases illustrate a serious difficulty with coalition operations in Afghanistan. Not all ISAF members, as many noble Lords have noted, are prepared to share the increased risks of military expansion in Afghanistan—an unwillingness that reflects parochial domestic political pressures but presents a serious threat to NATO’s future operations and perhaps to NATO’s future itself. Helping Afghanistan to develop into a stable and democratic state is proving, if anything, even more daunting. The trends over time of increasing opium production are deeply depressing, as other noble Lords have noted. It is generally known that Afghanistan produces some 90 per cent of the world’s illegal opium, according to the latest UN figures. Even more depressing is the fact that that 90 per cent is up from 70 per cent in 2000 and from just over 50 per cent in 1990. The trend continues unchecked. The narcotics trade continues to fund the warlords and their private armies. It continues to feed corruption in the civil administration and to nurture increasing criminality throughout the country. With disagreement within the coalition about the way forward in eradicating the poppy crops and providing equitable and viable

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alternative livelihoods for the farmers, it appears that counter-narcotic plans are in danger of stalling, if not of failing altogether.

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