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Some noble Lords might think that the MoD is failing in its media operations; nothing could be further from the truth. MoD press officers produce good and accurate stories for the media; the problem is that the media simply do not run them. The stories are there but they do not use them.

Many noble Lords are concerned about drug production in Helmand. The Minister gave a frank account of the current situation. Opium cultivation is an indicator of a lack of proper government. The writ of the Government of Afghanistan does not extend to those areas of cultivation. Our forces certainly do not have freedom of manoeuvre in those areas, which presents problems for the Government. It is

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important to remember that opium eradication is not a military task. However, the UK does lead on drugs policy within the coalition.

There are several schools of thought regarding eradication. Some think that it is easy. It is not. Any eradication has to be carefully targeted. If a farmer is up to his neck in debt, his land is poor and his poppy crop is destroyed, he will be driven into the arms of the Taliban. We would hope that he would be only a reconcilable member, but he would be in the hands of the enemy none the less. On the other hand, where a greedy farmer grows poppy on land that can easily support legitimate crops, targeted eradication may be beneficial, not least because it would increase the risk of cultivating poppy, rather than legitimate crops.

Aerial spraying would be disastrous. It is very effective at destroying the poppy, and is favoured, unfortunately, by the Americans, but spraying is indiscriminate and might damage legitimate crops. Worse, Taliban propaganda would claim that the chemicals in the spray cause infertility and birth defects. We have heard about how effective Taliban propaganda is. We would lose hearts and minds. Increased poppy production is disappointing, but it is not a driver for our efforts in Afghanistan. When we can get the writ of the Government of Afghanistan to extend across the country, and their police force is effective and honest, we can expect opium production to fall.

8.34 pm

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, this has been a very wide-ranging but interesting debate. I agree with a great deal of what the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said in his thoughtful opening speech. It has been helpful to tie in the valuable EU Committee report on the Middle East peace process with this debate. We have had two excellent maiden speeches. I was especially interested by the references of the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, to women’s rights, an issue that she is fully engaged in. It is also an issue in this country. Last Friday night, in Bradford, I was interested to hear about a speech that she had given last week on the role of the Braderei in the Kashmiri community in west Yorkshire. I would love to talk further about that with her.

We also had a very interesting maiden speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, who was referred to as a distinguished and senior Foreign Office official. When I first met her, she was a distinguished but junior Foreign Office official. I am trying to remember whether it was 1974 or 1975 when she first briefed me on foreign policy co-operation among EU member states, when I was myself only a junior researcher at Chatham House. We look forward to many further contributions from her.

There are many larger issues underlying this debate, some of which have been touched on by several other speakers. The first is what lessons we can draw on liberal intervention—the doctrine that our former Prime Minister expounded in his Chicago speech; that underlay a number of UN documents such as the Canadian report and others; and that, in the more ambitious neo-conservative strategy,

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proposes transforming the Muslim world into democracies—that is, both Tony Blair’s assumption that we could harness American power to a progressive moral international mission and the Bush Administration’s assumption that a coalition of democracies under American leadership could police and reshape the world.

We have now discovered the limits of military power and military intervention. Iraq has become a quagmire because we did not think through the extent to which military intervention can be only part of an attempt to reconstruct a state and to assist in redevelopment. In Afghanistan, we find ourselves now caught in the contradiction between fighting the Taliban, state building and economic reconstruction. We are state building in a country where many parts never really had a state and where, for example, the power of Kabul never played a large role in Helmand.

We now know that there are limits to what the Atlantic allies can do alone. We need to work with others—China, Russia, India and even Iran—if we are to achieve peace and stability in the area. There are also lessons for the special relationship. I very much support the underlying argument in the EU Committee report that, on the Middle East peace process, we need more Europe and less of following the American lead. The United States has, after all, now been the dominant power across the Middle East for 50 years; the sponsor of Israel; the ally and external supporter of authoritarian regimes in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and, until 1979, of the Shah’s regime in Iran. Sadly, under the Bush Administration much more than under their predecessors, it has become clear that American policy towards the Middle East is driven much more by domestic lobbies and by ideology than by careful consideration of national interest and international order, and by a deliberate attempt in the US to suppress intelligent and independent analysis of the complex politics of the Middle East region. As an academic and political scientist, I have a great deal of sympathy with some of those in the United States who have felt the political pressures to limit their analyses of the Middle East.

For example, the American attitude to Iran since 1979 has been fixated on the Iranian threat while at the same time forgetting how the United States has looked to Iranians since the 1953 coup. No American I speak to appears to be aware that the United States shot down an Iranian airliner some 20 years ago, or that the United States actively supported Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war, or that Iranian nationalism is as important as fundamentalism or anti-Americanism in Iranian attitudes to the United States. As other noble Lords have said, that leads to American approaches to Iran which, because of that underlying sense of aggression, are far more fundamentalist—one has to use the term—than American approaches to North Korea.

Then, there is the capture of American policy by the Israeli right through other domestic lobbies. That has also had an unfortunate effect on American policy, in which we see the American commitment to democratise the entire Middle East somersaulting when Hamas does well in the Palestinian elections,

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leading to active attempts to undermine the Palestinian coalition Government—one who offered us a brief prospect of a constructive way forward.

There are lessons for the importance of religion in global politics, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester told us. Radical Islam is now a religious ideology that has replaced Marxism as the rationale for the excluded and the alienated across the world—and in this country. There is great importance, therefore, in how we in the non-Islamic world respond to that challenge. There is a dangerous tendency within the United States to see this conflict as a long war between civilisations, and against an implacable and unchangeable enemy. It was a great mistake for our former Prime Minister Tony Blair to feed that tendency in his speech to the Roman Catholic archdiocese of New York, using the language of fascism to categorise Islam—“Islamo-fascism”, which means that they are totally irrational and that we cannot deal with them. There are, after all, four states in the world with religious legitimacy as their primary foundation: the Vatican, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. I suppose that we ought now to add a fifth: the current regime in Iran. Four of those five are in the Middle East.

We have to be concerned to promote modernisation through necessary compromise between faith and toleration, or between moral certainty and democratic diversity, which we have painfully achieved in this country, and which has been achieved across other states in Europe, sometimes in our own lifetime. Indeed, we forget how recently some of those developments took place in this country. In the first general election of 1974, I remember Father Kelly taking me round the Catholic clubs in Manchester Moss Side and, before we went in, telling me that I had to understand that we would be distinguished by a number of things. First, we would be the only ones there who were not drunk; secondly, the only ones who did not claim to have cousins in Long Kesh; and, thirdly, the only ones who did not believe that the IRA was entirely right and the British Government entirely wrong.

We have moved on from that and now see—or sometimes claim to see—the fundamentalist Muslim challenge. As the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, said, we have to be concerned with the evolution of an Islamic version of democracy. Perhaps in Europe, where we have our own substantial population of Muslim citizens, that is part of what we will now, slowly and painfully, see develop.

There are also lessons for the future of NATO at stake in Afghanistan. How many troops does NATO really need? How many more will the United Kingdom provide, as we draw down in Iraq, alongside the dribble of extra forces from the new NATO states? We will fail in Afghanistan if this becomes a war rather than a mission in which economic and political reconstruction are central. We will fail if we cannot constructively engage Iran in Iraq as well as Afghanistan, or persuade Pakistan to control its own radical Muslim groups. Some of those are linked to the military and intelligence agencies.

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I read an interesting article over the weekend in Survival, the IISS journal, which referred to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia as “passive sponsors of terrorism”—and interestingly compared them, as an American author did, to the United States as a passive sponsor of the IRA. I hope that the Government will make it clear to the Saudis during the state visit that we need much more active support from their regime than we have seen so far on the debate within Islam and on support for liberalising processes in the region.

A number of noble Lords have spoken about the importance of the Annapolis conference and prospects for peace. There are real dangers of another half-hearted initiative on this issue ending in betrayed hopes and failure. I have read various worrying reports in the American press that President Bush is not fully committed to this initiative and that domestic lobbies are mobilising in Congress against it. We have, after all, had 40 years of Israeli occupation of Palestine, interrupted by the brief hopes and disengagement of the Oslo process in the 1990s. The situation in occupied Palestine is not stable. There are new Israeli settlement plans east of Jerusalem. Gaza is being strangled. The West Bank economy is sinking. The most recent edition of Survival has a depressing but persuasive article by Yezid Sayigh of King’s College London. The title says everything:

That is the direction we are going in, and if the state fails, we will have civil war, disorder and external terrorism. We also have weak government in Israel, with a populist Right, some Jewish fundamentalists and an active and unhelpful settlers’ movement. We have to hope that former Prime Minister Blair will not end in the same depressed state of mind as James Wolfensohn and Alvaro de Soto, who wrote despairing final comments on the failures of their missions.

We all understand the outlines of the only acceptable framework for peace and stability—two viable states with agreed boundaries and a special status for the holy places of Jerusalem. The long-term security of Israel depends on the achievement of such a framework. Those of us who see ourselves as friends of Israel find it difficult to defend it as strongly as we would like, as long as new settlements are under way, as long as internal barriers multiply within the occupied West Bank and the blockade tightens around Gaza, or as long as there is a culture within the Israel Defence Forces that permits the ill treatment of Palestinians, as Haaretz reported last week. We understand that there are many, many weaknesses on the Palestinian side within Fatah and Hamas, but we understand also that one has to deal with unpleasant people if one wants to achieve peace.

We are faced in the Middle East with the United States as the dominant but flawed power, bogged down in the area, declaring a “war on terror” but unwilling to tackle its profligate use of oil or reduce its dependence on foreign purchases of US Treasury funds by raising domestic taxes. As the EU

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Committee report remarks, we need more active and coherent European diplomacy and we need to engage other major players as much as we can, including those two difficult global players, Russia and China.

8.48 pm

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, forgive me if my reply is not comprehensive in answering all the points raised. I would need much more than the allotted time and would keep all noble Lords here long past a decent time. I begin by joining all those who have welcomed two remarkable maiden speeches, which offered, as the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, said, two very different but equally interesting perspectives on Afghanistan. Listening to those complementary but different views, I wondered whether I started to see a broad tent billowing on that side of the House.

I have tried to organise my responses by country, rather than by responding individually to each point made by noble Lords. I shall try to cluster what has been said under country headings. I shall begin with Afghanistan. The issue I will address first is poppy cultivation. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, and several others said that it is time to try licit cultivation. The issue was raised in this House just before the summer and, as a consequence, I met with the head of the Senlis Council to explore the idea further and made deep inquiries into the experience in Afghanistan with schemes of that kind. Indeed, I revisited the issue when I was there last week.

Aerial spraying is the only other strategy which unites people as forcefully against it as licit cultivation, and I heard from the military, the NGOs and my colleagues in the Foreign Office why it would not work. First, unlimited experimentation in the past had gone disastrously wrong and conditions that would allow the successful transfer of illegal production into a legal channel were completely absent. They had the view that all it would do was add to the total volume of production. With a new, second and legal client, people would just grow more. There would not be the framework of policing and law to ensure that the only growth was for legal use. Secondly, because of the very difficult situation in Helmand province, where communications are difficult owing to the insurgency, it was felt that such a policy would send dangerous mixed signals: first, you were told not to grow and then you were told that you could grow under certain circumstances. The view was that it would muddle the message. Thirdly, many experts in drug eradication have confirmed that while Afghanistan is a world market-beater in illegal cultivation, the growth of legal poppy for medicinal uses is already a crowded market. A number of growers are producing more inexpensively and there is just not the additional demand. People who have taken a very hard look at the issue believe it would not work.

Equally, from President Karzai downward and outward to all the foreign partners, except the United States, there is a similar objection to aerial spraying, which is the other radical break with policy proposed. In my view, that does not mean that we muddle along

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in the middle somewhere, doing a little bit of this and that. There is a need for much greater imagination in our eradication efforts.

I am pleased to say that DfID is looking at whether we can put on a more formal and structured long-term basis what one would controversially describe as an Afghan equivalent of a CAP, with subsidised purchase of legal crops to make returns more like those from poppy.

We have to do a much better job of not targeting the farmers, the producers whose hearts and minds we are trying to win in the counter-insurgency effort. We have to target the industry above that—the financiers, the shippers, the drug big-men who are benefiting from the production. We know who they are and the Government of Afghanistan know who they are. A system banning them from travel, listing them and freezing their bank accounts, hitting at the industry’s infrastructure, strikes me as an area in which more can be done. I spoke to the ISAF commander while I was there and he recognises—it is more broadly recognised—that, as drugs and insurgency wrap their limbs around each other, there is a need to break that link by targeting the factories and laboratories via military action if necessary, to take out the infrastructure, and not by targeting the farmers. I take the point that we need to do more and to look hard, because the trends in production figures are simply not satisfactory. We cannot sustain them.

I want to ensure that the noble Lord, Lord Howell, understood the point I made earlier that some provinces—where there is the rule of law, where there are development alternatives and where the writ of government runs—have reached the point at which they are not producing any opium. That is unfortunately more than offset by the jump in production in Helmand. We see these double trends in the country, and there is no doubt that the post-insurgency conditions of stable government and peace are the environment in which we can finally lick the problem. We must therefore win the battle with the insurgency in Helmand. On that point, the noble Lord, Lord Lee of Trafford, referred to the difficult geography of Afghanistan. I agree. Each time I fly over that country, I think, “Is this really a country?”, with its extraordinary valleys surrounded by mountains, making it very difficult both for military operations and for creating any sense of nationhood.

Helmand is an area in which, despite the heroic efforts of our troops and a lot of tactical military successes for them, we are not yet prevailing in the broader strategic battle because we have been unable to move in behind those successes the kind of Afghan-led civilian-political effort that would capitalise on them to win back ordinary villages to the government side. As recently as today, President Karzai and I agreed on that analysis. There is a sense that the Taliban are a long-term insurance policy for people—a sense of security after this Government fail. We must reverse that pessimism and sense of transience in Afghan politics, and persuade the ordinary people of Helmand that we, this Government and democracy are here to stay to support them for as long as they need.

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On that point, reference has been made to this being a long-term commitment. We in the Government do indeed view this as a long-term commitment, but one that must have clear benchmarks and make the transition over time from the military activity of today to a civilian support mission where there is a role for military training but where British men and women are no longer in the front line fighting someone else’s war. We must allow Afghans to take on that lead role. We will be there for a long time, but the role must change.

We do not see a great jump in troop levels. We do not think that anything like the numbers that have been traditional in counter-insurgency operations are possible to achieve in Afghanistan. It is enormously important that, from now on, an enhanced political effort is the main thrust that prevails in this conflict. That effort must be backed by military action, but there would be no dramatic growth in troop levels. There is no appetite for it among our allies. Britain is already the second biggest troop contributor. Yes, we can supplement modestly what is there, but we cannot make the dramatic jumps in troop levels about which some have talked. In the same way, a question was asked about our Apache helicopters. There is a worldwide shortage of helicopters for operations of this kind today. I am out there looking for helicopters for Darfur as well as for Afghanistan, and I can confirm that there ain’t many around. They are a very versatile instrument for these kinds of activities.

In the interests of time, let me move on from Afghanistan, but not without again praising our troops there, as the noble Baroness did. Like her, I have just seen Fort Bastion, which is remarkable evidence of our commitment and the quality of our efforts there.

I turn next to Iran. I confirm the view of those who have said that Iran has a sense of besiegement. It feels that it has powerful enemies and that, in that sense, it is forced to strike back. But let us not feel sorry for little Iran because it is also a major force in its region, and a not altogether friendly one. Through little effort on its own part it has won two massive strategic successes that nobody wished to give it. The first is the emergence of a Shia Government in Iraq and the second is the overthrow of its old enemy the Taliban in Afghanistan. Iran has never been better blessed than today with the neighbours that western policy has helped put in power in Iraq and Afghanistan.

However, rather than quitting while it is ahead and recognising that it has been played a very lucky hand by the fate of geopolitics, Iran, as I said earlier, cannot resist perhaps going a bridge too far in its activities across the border into Afghanistan and across the border into Iraq; in both cases, it is smuggling in weapons to tactical allies it has made there.

My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary repeated what was said by the previous Foreign Secretary on whether the UK is committed to not using force. I do not think he used his words, but he said that we are absolutely committed to a diplomatic track on the nuclear issue. We have, however, warned Iran directly and through intermediaries—I have

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done it myself in a number of ways—that we will not tolerate attacks using Iranian weapons on our troops in either Afghanistan or Iraq. Just a few weeks ago we tracked another shipment of very dangerous explosive weapons from Iran into Afghanistan. These activities pose a real risk to Iran and we urge it resist these behaviours.

As I have said, we are committed to the diplomatic track on the nuclear front. It has been asked tonight whether Russia is as well. Russia has supported two Security Council resolutions on sanctions and is committed in principle to supporting a third, the negotiation on which has begun. President Putin, as was remarked, visited Iran. He went there to try to press the case for Iran complying with the Security Council. I think that there is no doubt that Russia recognises that Iran with nuclear weapons poses as much danger to Russia as to anyone in Europe. It is right that at times its tactical approach has differed from ours. In part that is addressed by Russia wanting to be given a leadership role in this regard.

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