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Finally, no serious commentator on Afghanistan believes now that achieving the objectives of the war as set out initially will result from actions solely within the borders of that country. The conflict has become and has been recognised as a regional conflict that desperately needs regional solutions. Recent events in Pakistan—for example, the attempted assassination of Mrs Bhutto—underline the volatility of the region, particularly in the frontier areas with Pakistan. Inevitably—I am sure that the Minister will comment on this in his winding-up speech—the frontier areas in Waziristan and other tribal agencies, which have been the seat of unrest for centuries, are where the solutions must be found.

7.21 pm

Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, I join other speakers in congratulating the two maiden speakers, who will clearly become redoubtable Members of the Conservative Benches, this House and, indeed, Parliament as a whole. Both illustrate the well established truth that the range in backgrounds of Members of the House of Lords gives considerable value through the balance of expertise and understanding in Parliament as a whole.

I shall underline some points in the report of the committee, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Roper, of which I am a member. This is my swansong for my four-year cycle on that committee. I will then put some issues to my noble friend, of which I have given him notice, about the problems on the Iraq/Turkey border and how they interrelate to some of the problems of the internal evolution of democracy and human rights in Turkey. Some of us had the privilege of having discussions with the Turkish Prime Minister about that earlier this afternoon. I couple my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Roper, with thanks to the clerk of Sub-Committee C, Kathryn Colvin, who is happily with us in the Chamber.

The noble Lord, Lord Howell, may think that I will try to be helpful on sub-committees, but I have to stop there with regard to his thesis that there is something rotten in the state of Denmark when it comes to our committee structure and the remit of the EU Committee and its sub-committees. Of course it has never been the case, whether on Africa, the Middle East or anywhere else, that we are focusing only on what the issue has got to do with the EU. I can well imagine the speech that the noble Lord would make if we did not concentrate on the scrutiny of the EU as our main rationale. After all, we pride ourselves—do we not?—on having a comprehensive structure to scrutinise the EU. I would have thought that the noble Lord would think that that is absolutely essential—I refer to phrases such as “Make sure they don't get away with anything”, and to rhetoric of that kind.

I have been on two EU sub-committees. In committee it is often very salutary to say, “Just a moment, we are not doing a report on the Russian economy or on the whole of Africa; we are doing a report on the role of the European Union”. For

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example, there is an important and growing role for the European Union in relation to development. The aim is that 10 African countries do not have 250 different pieces of advice about auditing or whatever. But it means that there has to be a bigger role for the EU on such external relations. There is a very long list that demonstrates the truth of that, whether it concerns energy policy, the environment or other such issues.

I do not think that we need to shed too many crocodile tears over the EU being all over the place on policy matters such as the Middle East. I say “crocodile tears” because obviously—to vary my metaphor—charity begins at home. It is Britain, France and Germany that sometimes do not want the EU to act as a united front. I ask the noble Lord: where does that leave criticism? I do not ask him to respond to that this second but that is the nature of the balance that has to be struck. It would be retrogressive to advocate that the EU is simply going to be an exercise in intergovernmentalism. The noble Lord’s criticism would then be logically even more cogent.

The EU in this context is a member of the quartet, but it has not been a very proactive member. We concluded with some agreement over Javier Solana’s remark that the EU sometimes needed to be two or three steps—I think I have this right—ahead of the United States. That is what the Arabs—if I can put them all in one compartment, which of course is a dangerous thing to do—would rather like. Noble Lords can read our remarks about the Mecca agreement in, I think, paragraph 180. We say that the agreements that the Arabs are struggling to put together—they were making some progress—rely on an interlocutor who is not so joined at the hip as are the United States and Israel. To follow on from that metaphor, I hope that my noble friend is recovering well from his hip operation; we look forward to him speaking from the Front Bench for many years to come.

In the phase following Gaza and so on—

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, I wonder which noble Lord the noble Lord was referring to; I want to extend my sympathies to him for his condition.

Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord knows the answer and that he is winding me up. He will have to ask his colleague which noble Lord I may have been alluding to or he will have to work it out for himself.

One of the central themes in our report was put rather well by an academic Israeli witness who told us in terms that the view in Israeli senior circles could be put by saying, “Let the United States handle the politics and let the EU handle the economics”. That is very convenient. In other words—the following conclusion is inescapable—Israel’s special relationship with the United States means that the EU would not have its own robust relationship with Israel but would trail along behind the United States. If we want the Arabs to engage constructively, they should be allowed to

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have a symmetrically important special relationship with the EU. We are not suggesting that, but the EU should have a balanced relationship in both directions and be able to play its own role in the quartet along with the Americans, the Russians and the United Nations.

There is scope for varying the geometry, as we found with the EU and Iran. At the moment, a crisis involving Iran is obviously emerging, and the EU will have to be very prominent in sorting it out. I want to mention something else that is rather obvious: the Israelis have a nuclear bomb and the Iranians do not. I am not suggesting changing that in the direction of both having the bomb, but there should be a nuclear-free zone covering the whole of the Middle East. My noble friend may wish to comment, but I cannot see why that is not official UK policy. It is essential that we go in that direction.

Before I sit down, I want to say a couple of words about Turkey and Iraq. I had the privilege two weeks ago of being in south-east Turkey in Diyarbakir, an area where the majority of citizens have a Kurdish background. The British Government have been very active in making positive contributions. I welcome the dialogue that I had with the Turkish Prime Minister, who is a considerable statesman. Nearly everyone who has met him in London believes that it is essential to make progress on the route of Turkey joining the European Union. Difficult issues that came up such as the terrorism laws and Turkishness laws must be set against the background that we very much want to find solutions. One danger is that action by the PKK and possible reaction by the Turkish generals could mean that these human rights questions are exacerbated.

The dialogue must be a dialogue, without the Americans coming in again with hobnailed boots over the question of the territorial integrity of Iraq. No one is questioning the territorial integrity of Turkey, including parties with a Kurdish background. We must recognise that the DTP or something like it has a role to play, along with civil society organisations. We must get behind Mr Martti Ahtisaari, the High Representative and the team on the EU and Turkey to signal that we want to accelerate the progress of Turkey towards the European Union so long as there are signs of internal dialogue. I do not mean dialogue with the PKK. The terrorist outrages must be seen to be nothing to do with any party being allowed to put forward candidates—as the DTP is now—for the Turkish Parliament. It would be helpful to see how that positive strategy could be moved forward, as well as saying that we are totally against the terrorist outrages of the PKK.

7.34 pm

Lord Lamont of Lerwick: My Lords, I first refer the House to my entry in the Register of Lords’ Interests as I am a director of a number of companies operating in or with investments in the Middle East, including one with investments in Iran.

It is my great pleasure to be the first on the Conservative side of the House to welcome two exceptional maiden speeches today. Both of them

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dealt with the subject of Afghanistan, but in very different ways. My noble friend Lady Warsi gave an eloquent and moving account of the plight of women in Afghanistan. She has tremendous expertise in Muslim affairs, which will be of great value in this House. She comes here with a high reputation for combative oratory, which anyone who has watched “Question Time” will know is well justified. She referred to the long line of distinguished ladies from Dewsbury who have arrived here. She is a very distinguished addition to their ranks already and we look forward to hearing her again.

My noble friend Lady Neville-Jones also made a powerful analysis of Afghanistan, and I particularly agreed with two of her observations—I am sure that everyone did. The first is that, having committed ourselves, we must see it through and, secondly, that it would be a terrible mistake to impose western liberalism on a traditional tribal society. I first knew her when she was in the Cabinet Office. Her experience there and as chairman of the JIC will be of tremendous value to this House. We look forward to hearing from her again as well.

At Heathrow Airport, there is an advertisement for the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation which one always sees when one gets on board an aircraft. It says, “Isn't it a good thing to see things from another person's viewpoint?”. Then, as you walk down the gangway to the plane another poster says, “Another person's viewpoint is simply the place where you are not”. I am afraid to say that I was reminded of those posters when I listened to the Minister. Sometimes when we have debates on the Middle East we lose the ability to see things as people in other countries see them. We sometimes lose the ability to see how we are perceived in the Middle East.

I hate to say this because it gives me no pleasure, but we are seen today through the prism of Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and rendition, and through the eyes of Al-Jazeera television programmes that are often made from the point of view of those on the ground who have to pay the price of invasion—what we euphemistically call collateral damage.

The phrase “the war on terror” has been a terrible mistake. If it were just a phrase it would still be a terrible mistake, because it is so easily confused or wrongly translated as a war against Islam. But it is a wholly wrong concept if the idea is to win hearts and minds and to divorce the passive supporters of terrorism—those among whom the terrorists live—from supporting it. You cannot wage war against a few individuals using all the weapons that demolish homes, kill children and cause collateral damage. When the Minister referred to the French aircraft that were going to be deployed in Afghanistan, I am sorry, but my immediate reaction was, “I wonder how many homes they will bomb by mistake”.

The United States and many in Britain have made the mistake of carrying forward into the war on terror the same mentality that we had in the Cold War. The threat today is not a single ideology that is allied to a military superpower such as the Soviet Union. The threat that we face today is much more diffuse.

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Sometimes people try to identify a threat by talking about the threat of a universal caliphate. Maybe Hizb ut-Tahrir and Osama bin Laden fantasise nostalgically about the caliphate, but it is most improbable that it could ever be realised. For a start, Shia Muslims—a large part of the Islamic world—do not believe in the universal caliphate. Therefore, Iran, identified as the great danger in this debate, will not be pushing that concept. In fact, the idea of the universal caliphate was not so popular at the end of the First World War when it disintegrated among fighting between Turks and Arabs.

We are not facing a war of civilisations but the threat posed by, I accept, a very large number of small groups of Islamic extremists who can mount terrorist attacks. They can kill innocent civilians, damage property and sting us into making inappropriate reactions. These people can murder but do not threaten the West’s existence or our way of life. Combating them is a job for Special Forces and the police, both domestic and international.

I accept that there is also a separate problem of nuclear proliferation. I agree with the Minister and my noble friend Lord Howell about the danger of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons which could destabilise the Middle East. It is a serious problem which, as my noble friend on the Front Bench said, has to be tackled with diplomacy and other measures.

Unfortunately, our task has been made much harder—as I think the noble Lord, Lord Lea, was hinting—by the fact that we have turned a blind eye to the possession of nuclear weapons by countries that we regard as more favourable to the West. I agree with him that it would have been much better if, earlier on, we had devoted our efforts towards trying to create a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East.

The former Prime Minister, Mr Blair, made a speech last week in which he compared the situation in the Middle East with the rise of fascism in Europe in the 1920s. In the West, we have had new Hitlers several times. Sir Anthony Eden saw Nasser as Hitler, the Americans saw Ho Chi Minh as the equivalent of Nazi Europe and, not so long ago, Colonel Gaddafi was the latest Hitler figure. I am not sure that the former Prime Minister’s remarks are entirely helpful if they are designed to solve the problem that we have with Iran—a country, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester reminded us, which is highly factional and diverse, and which has a defence budget that is 1 per cent that of the United States.

If Iran is Nazi Germany on the rise, it seems very strange that it made the offer it did in 2003 to rein in Hezbollah and Hamas, help America in Iraq and introduce transparency in the nuclear programme—an offer rejected out of hand because America felt that it was on the offensive and had the advantage. Today, sadly, the psychology is the other way around.

Nothing about Iran today can be understood without reference to the Iran-Iraq war. Trying to understand Iran without reference to that is like trying to understand modern Britain without reference to the two great wars. It is true that Iran displays a highly hostile attitude to Israel, particularly regarding Palestine. Iran has no legitimate involvement in the Palestine question,

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whereas one can argue that it has a legitimate interest in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Why does it maintain this policy towards Palestine and Israel? I believe it is for two reasons. First, if Iran is attacked, it knows that it cannot retaliate against the United States but it probably thinks that it could do so against Israel. It may be overestimating its own capacity in that regard. Secondly and more importantly, hostility against Israel stops Iran being isolated within the Gulf. Arab Governments are opposed to Iran but I regret to say that the President of Iran’s stance—outrageous that it is—is tremendously popular in the Arab street. There would be no way more effective in undercutting Iran and isolating it than to make progress on the Palestinian question, which is why I hope that the Government will put renewed energy and vigour into that.

Another threat identified in Mr Blair’s speech in New York was the rise of political Islam, about which I would like to say a word. We have seen in recent years the rise of political Islam, sometimes called Islamism—the belief that government should be based on the religion of Islam. It is perfectly possible to believe in political Islam without being a supporter of terrorism. There are terrorists who are Islamists but not all Islamists are terrorists.

Islamism is a spectrum. There is a profound difference between the political Islam of Sunnis and Shias or the political Islam of Iran and Hamas. Throughout the Islamic world, religious parties have been advancing and advancing in democratic elections—in Lebanon, Iraq, Pakistan, Palestine, Algeria, Egypt and Turkey. William Dalrymple remarked the other day that democracy, not terrorism, has been the engine of political Islam.

Religious parties often come to power, or increase their vote even if they do not come to power, because they are seen as representing justice and the interests of the poor. Often they are the alternatives to despotic or corrupt regimes as I think, to some extent, Hamas was seen as the alternative to corrupt Fatah. On several occasions, the West’s response has been to reject the result of a democratic election, if it is the wrong one, as we decided it was in Palestine and in Egypt.

While I agree with what the Minister said about human rights in Iran, he would have been more convincing if he had coupled it with a strong condemnation of the human rights situation and the imprisonment of political dissidents in Egypt. We are far less vocal about countries that we regard as more in favour of ourselves.

It may be that a religiously based state will be a stage that some countries pass through as they progress towards full democracy. There is no reason why the West should not exist with Islamic states. However, the great mistake that we hope we will avoid making is denying the results of democratic elections when they bring to power those of whom we do not approve. That is simply going to reinforce the Islamist trend and those who sometimes use the democratic process to protest against particular regimes.

In the Middle East, as in Ireland, the shadow of history is a very long one. Today’s children are paying for our grandparents’ mistakes. We have to be careful

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that we are not creating a bitter legacy for future generations. I hope that that will not happen and that we can put aside some of our mistakes in recent years.

7.48 pm

Lord Hylton: My Lords, somewhat to my surprise, I found myself in full agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, about the war on terror, Middle Eastern perceptions of the West and Islamic politics. However, I will not pursue these subjects but suggest that in approaching this timely debate—for which many are grateful—we should ask what the real interests of the United Kingdom, the United States and Israel are.

The answer lies in a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine, an end to conditions of war and non-recognition and, more widely, a reasonable balance of forces. If these aims could be achieved, it would be in the national interest of the three states that I have mentioned. It would mean that the Middle Eastern region could make a positive contribution to the rest of the world instead of being a permanent source of instability and violence. The proposed international conference at Annapolis may assist the bilateral and multilateral aims, provided that it respects existing realities. Here I agree strongly with my noble friend Lord Hannay, who is no longer present, that this means that Syria and Hamas should not be excluded. Both are too strong to be ignored. Syria is strategically placed and its Government show no signs of collapsing. Hamas enjoys solid popular support in both Gaza and the West Bank. A Palestinian Government of national unity could have continued successfully had it not been for the inept preconditions and quasi boycotts imposed by the external powers. I did warn against these mistakes at the time.

It would be helpful to Annapolis and to the search for long-term peace if the pro-Israel lobby in the United States could be persuaded to show a degree of restraint. Its past failure to do so has meant that the Oslo agreements went unimplemented, that peace with Syria was not achieved, and that the opportunity of the Saudi and Arab League initiatives was missed.

I conclude by mentioning two small points which some might think insignificant. I suggest that together they could do much to improve the climate for negotiations. In Gaza, there are some 6,000 students who have places in foreign universities and institutions, many of them with scholarships attached. They are unable to travel because of the blockade and the closing of the crossing points. Surely it would benefit Israel to let them go to study rather than stay at home, disaffected and liable to be recruited into terrorism.

The second point concerns the 10,000 or more Palestinians currently detained in Israel or who have been convicted by military courts. They include a few women and children, plus many members of the elected Palestinian Legislative Council. I welcome the release of 87 individuals in early October, but I suggest that a proper review mechanism is needed to assess length of detention, current attitudes and a whole range of humanitarian factors. Her Majesty’s

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Government, with their experience of the release of politically motivated offenders in Northern Ireland, could perhaps offer good offices in this context. A review mechanism which led to regular releases would give much hope. It would also be in Israel’s interest by reducing the likelihood of its soldiers or officials being kidnapped.

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