War against Terrorism

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:30 pm on 4th November 2004.

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Photo of Mr Donald Anderson Mr Donald Anderson Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee, Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee 2:30 pm, 4th November 2004

I know that some efforts have been made. There has been leafleting and an attempt to warn civilians in Falluja to leave in preparation for a potential assault that will try to separate the absolute fundamentalists—the bitter-enders—from the more reasonable elements of the population, many of whom are intimidated and frightened to leave. If one can show that every effort has been made to protect, warn and safeguard the civilian population, it will be a test of whether the Falluja onslaught—if it comes—is legitimate.

I turn to Afghanistan, where the picture is broadly positive but fragile. There has been improvement in key areas such as education, women's rights and even private investment. We welcome security and the support that was given by the United States to the electoral process. We are pleased at the news that President Karzai was officially declared the winner yesterday with 55.4 per cent. of the vote. It is clearly unfortunate that the voting was largely on tribal lines with the Pashtun majority supporting the President and the Uzbeks supporting Mr. Dostum. Despite a number of reported irregularities, the election was a great success and such irregularities were not in themselves sufficient to question the actual result. The parliamentary elections in Afghanistan scheduled for the spring of 2005 will obviously pose a greater challenge because of the nature of that election.

It is essential for the democratic process and the accountability of the President that parliamentary elections are held on schedule, so I ask the Minister what the Government are doing to assist the holding of those elections and to encourage broad assistance from the international community. We shall examine with great care what President Karzai does. He clearly has enormous problems; he cannot wipe the slate clean in respect of those around him, but he needs to appoint those not tainted with corruption to his Cabinet. Although he initially had an understandable wish to have a large-tent approach, perhaps he should now modify that to ensure that more respectable people are around him, particularly because the security forces are spreading out beyond Kabul.

The other interesting feature from the Committee's point of view is that when we were in Peshawar, we were able to speak to individuals who claimed to be moderate members of the Taliban—if that is not a contradiction in terms. Apparently, there is now an earnest debate going on in Afghanistan as to how they respond to those of the Taliban, in exile in Pakistan and elsewhere, who wish to return.

On the subject of drugs, which was part of our survey in Afghanistan, we concluded that there was little sign of the war against drugs being won and that the situation is likely to get worse, at least in the short term. That in an area in which foreign policy shades into domestic policy. We know that 95 per cent. of heroin in the United Kingdom comes from Afghanistan. We are living in the new globalised world where what happens on the streets of our constituencies is highly relevant to what happens in what in the past might have been called a "faraway place of which we know little".

I am told that our Committee's conclusion on drugs is confirmed by the report on drugs which has been complied by the United Nations and which was due to be launched tomorrow, but is now to be launched in a few weeks. The report will show that progress has been much slower than had been hoped and will paint a gloomy picture. Clearly, we need to redouble the efforts, particularly because we in the United Kingdom are head of the counter-narcotics group. Our approach must incorporate eradication and interdiction.

There is also a need for alternative livelihoods that provide a living wage. Given the figures that we were shown about the yield per hectare of heroin and wheat, there is no way in which alternative crops are likely to provide farmers with anything like the income that they will get from heroin. Perhaps only the force of law can prevent farmers from producing that very tempting crop.

There is an overriding need for security and to achieve progress on that and other issues. High-level arrests must be made to demonstrate the unacceptability of links with the drugs trade. We understand that there is also a health problem in relation to addicts in Afghanistan, including those who have returned from exile. What are the Government doing to reinvigorate efforts to tackle the drug problem in Afghanistan? Is there any evidence that the price of heroin supplies in this country has been affected? What could provide suitable alternative livelihoods for Afghan farmers and what are the Government doing in that area?

Given the gloomy conclusions of the UN report, how are we seeking to monitor the situation before the publication of the next UN report in roughly a year's time? What is being done to establish treatment centres across Afghanistan? Can the Government undertake to report regularly to Parliament on the progress or, sadly, perhaps the lack of progress?

When the Committee was in Afghanistan, it was able to meet both the UK forces in the provincial reconstruction team and the leaders of the NATO forces. We have played an important role in improving the security of the situation. We are training the Afghan army and police units so that they can assume responsibility for their own population. There is clearly an urgent need to achieve disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration. We need to devote greater resources to that. We know that if adequate security resources are not provided, there will be a real danger of implosion in that fragile country.

In Istanbul in June, NATO member states agreed on a major expansion of the alliance's role in Afghanistan, particularly with regard to extending the reach of the international security assistance force beyond Kabul. However, the implementation of the NATO response has been unsatisfactory and there is also the question of national caveats, which hinder the effectiveness of NATO troops. Are the commitments made by the NATO forces sufficient? Indeed, are the commitments being made? Clearly, there is a pressing need for the Government to put pressure on countries to fulfil the undertaking that they gave in Istanbul. Although France and Germany are doing well, other countries, such as Italy and Spain, are way behind.

It is clear that Pakistan has provided invaluable assistance in the war against terrorism, such as by launching campaigns in the tribal areas along the borders with Afghanistan. Many suspected and actual members of al-Qaeda have been arrested. The Committee received a briefing from the senior military officer in Peshawar relating to the problems in the tribal areas and was able to appreciate the real problems in that region, which, although not exactly the wild west, is difficult and turbulent.

We understand the serious domestic constraints under which President Musharraf operates. Some areas are dominated by forces sympathetic to the Taliban and al-Qaeda; indeed, while we were there we passed the area where two attempts were made on President Musharraf's life last December. What are the Government doing to assist Pakistan's effort to reform the education system and to encourage development efforts in the tribal areas? Dealing with the madrassahs is one way we can assist in addressing the root causes of extremism.

We also expressed, quite properly, our concerns about the state of democracy and human rights. On 1 November, Pakistan's upper House passed a Bill allowing President Musharraf to remain head of the army. That legislation will take effect from 31 December this year, despite his having pledged to stand down. The human rights situation in Pakistan remains unacceptable. To turn again to the point that my hon. Friend Mr. Drew made about the Christian minority's position, I and other colleagues have received briefings from Christian Solidarity Worldwide on the disturbing reports of attacks on Christians in recent months, including the deaths of a number of individuals. However, we recognise that the Shi'a mosques are also affected.

President Musharraf, with all the internal difficulties that he faces, has made speeches in which he has called for a law banning honour killings and recommended that the Hudood ordinances and the blasphemy laws be scrutinised to prevent further abuses. According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, more than 600 women were killed in the name of honour in Pakistan in 2003. We should all welcome the President's words, but encourage him to go further than merely scrutinising the blasphemy laws, which have had such an adverse impact on minority groups, and actually reform or repeal them. We have to understand the formidably difficult context within which President Musharraf operates, but the Government should do everything possible to encourage Pakistan to do more to adhere to international human rights standards and guarantee the rights of all Pakistani citizens.

The last issue that I shall discuss is the Israel-Palestine conflict. The new factors include the result of the US election and what effect, if any, it will have. Will we see a conventional second term, when the US President, knowing that he does not have to face the electorate and wanting his place in history, is more ready to strike out boldly? Will President Bush be ready to intervene in the conflict as strenuously as President Clinton was and does he realise the enormous damage that is being done to the United States image in the Arab world by the perceived partisan position that the US has taken? The continued violence and suffering of both the Israeli and Palestinian people clearly highlight the need for a resolution of the conflict. That resolution would be an essential component of efforts to defeat terrorism and promote reform in the middle east. Whether the terrorists are using the fact of the Israel-Palestine conflict as a catalyst or excuse, we do not know.