Backbench Business — [3rd Allotted Day] — UK Armed Forces in Afghanistan

Part of Privilege – in the House of Commons at 5:09 pm on 9th September 2010.

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Photo of Gisela Stuart Gisela Stuart Labour, Birmingham, Edgbaston 5:09 pm, 9th September 2010

I am grateful for this debate in Back-Bench time, and I shall be brief. To follow on from the comments of Richard Drax, there is only one thing worse than setting a firm date for withdrawal, which is to set one and then pretend not to have done so, ending up with the worst of both worlds. That is where we are at the moment.

My first observation is personal and constituency-based. When I go back to my constituency, I see helicopters coming in from Birmingham International airport to land at Queen Elizabeth hospital, bringing back severely injured soldiers, so I take no lessons from anyone on what the public's perception is. It is that we are engaged in a good fight, but that the Government could have done a better job of explaining why we are there. The troops certainly do not want to be seen as victims. They say, "We are a professional force and we want to have our job recognised."

I wish to mention three matters that have been forgotten in today's debate. The first is our role in the world. The United Kingdom is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and a nuclear force, and we have a record of intervention. Intervention has had a bit of a bad name recently, but I have not heard anybody saying that we should not have gone into Kosovo, which we did without a UN mandate and succeeded, and nobody has challenged what happened in Sierra Leone. We do intervene, and that is why we have an Army-we have a role to play in the world. We can debate what that role should be, but we should not lose sight of the fact that we have an international responsibility, with which come certain commitments.

Secondly, people keeping talking as though this were our war with Afghanistan. I remind everybody that we are there at the invitation of the Afghan Government. We are there not to conquer Afghanistan but as part of an international effort represented by ISAF. It is an out-of-territory NATO operation. If we cannot collectively make it work, it will affect not just Britain and Afghanistan but the future of NATO and how we see our collective responsibility. That seems to have been completely forgotten.

Thirdly, we must consider what is success. I have heard a number of definitions, and I wish to draw attention to a report recently published by the Henry Jackson Society, "Succeeding in Afghanistan". I declare an interest: I am a trustee of the society. The report reminds us that there is good news out there, but also asks how good things can get in Afghanistan.

People have drawn analogies between Afghanistan and Germany in 1945, but that is completely off the wall. When we were dealing with the enemy in Germany in 1945, it was a functioning nation state that had completely lost its way for a brief period in its history, so it was a question of restoring structures. In Afghanistan, the structures were never there in the first place, so the governance structures and election process will not be as we would have them here in the west. If we can start to deal with corruption and intimidation and set up functioning civil structures, that will be success.

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