War against Terrorism

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:04 pm on 4th November 2004.

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Photo of Chris Mullin Chris Mullin Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office 5:04 pm, 4th November 2004

I did not say that. I merely pointed out a sentence or two that were missing from the account that the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling gave of the 6 October report.

Terrorists and insurgents are stepping up their attacks, but Prime Minister Allawi is determined that as many Iraqis as possible should be able to take part in the elections. Iraqis will able to register to vote in any polling station in Iraq. They do not need to vote in the polling station nearest to their home. Prime Minister Allawi has said that he wants the political process to be as inclusive as possible. He has made major efforts to encourage Sunni and Shi'a leaders to join the political process and create the secure, stable conditions needed for the elections to take place. We are giving him, the Iraqi Interim Government and the Iraqi security forces all the support we can.

Security is vital. Already, there are more than 220,000 Iraqi security personnel on the streets. We continue to equip and train the Iraqi security forces, and the multinational force is helping the Iraqis to protect the infrastructure and provide security for key Iraqi personnel.

I note that the Committee expressed disappointment at the number of countries that have so far been prepared to contribute to the multinational force—as did my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East, today—and urges the Government to encourage more countries to do so. We shall indeed do so, but I remind the Chamber that the multinational force is drawn from 30 nations, including 14 European countries. Italy, Poland and the Netherlands are major troop contributors along with South Korea and Ukraine. It is a concerted effort, and we will continue to encourage other nations to join us.

I pay tribute to the courage and determination of UK armed forces, and all the military and civilian personnel from around the world who are putting their lives at risk to help the people of Iraq.

Despite the difficult security situation, reconstruction continues. Mr. Streeter asked me for details of that. I have a long list that I can hand to him but, if he will forgive me, I will not read it out.

Electricity distribution is now more equitable across the country and 45 km of water pipes have been laid in Basra alone. In early September, the Secretary of State for International Development announced that the UK would contribute an additional £50 million to help to create jobs and to provide training for Iraqis. That is in addition to the £252 million disbursed in the financial year 2003–04 from the UK's overall commitment of £544 million in the three years to 2006. As the report makes clear, we cannot afford to let Iraq fail. We will continue to urge the international community to support Iraq's rehabilitation, and we will continue to help the Iraqi authorities create a safe and stable country so that Iraqis can live in peace and rebuild their lives.

We are also working towards that in Afghanistan, where 10.5 million people, including 4 million women, registered to vote in the recent presidential elections. Those were the first democratic elections ever in Afghanistan, and there was a turnout of more than 80 per cent. The next step in the political process is parliamentary elections, which are due to take place next spring. The Afghan people sense a new hope and a new beginning, but I think that we all agree that much needs to be done to improve security across the country.

As the Committee said in its report, the provincial reconstruction teams are one of the success stories of the international engagement in Afghanistan. The report notes, however, that there are differences in the approaches adopted by different PRTs and it suggests that they all be brought under the control of the International Security Assistance Force. Unfortunately that is, for the time being, not possible because ISAF's writ does not yet extend throughout Afghanistan. However, as ISAF expands, more PRTs will be brought under its command. The two UK-led PRTs, in Maimana and in Mazar el Sharif, were transferred to ISAF on 1 July.

As hon. Members will know, the UK led the way in deploying a PRT and was instrumental in generating the resources necessary to expand ISAF beyond Kabul in the north. By the end of October, ISAF was deploying 9,500 troops from 37 NATO and non-NATO countries. ISAF's contribution to the security of the recent elections, a commitment made at the Istanbul summit, was crucial. ISAF now needs to move to the next stage of expansion, which is to the west. The UK is working with potential contributors and with the NATO authorities to tie down the different offers of resources.

Long-term stability is vital for Afghanistan's economic development. Stability is also the key to tackling the hugely complex problem of opium cultivation. I am grateful to the Committee for its recognition that there are no instant solutions to the problem. Eradication of the opium poppy is a campaign that demands perseverance and long-term commitment. The hon. Member for South-West Devon asked me about the scale of poppy growth. I understand that the results of the UN survey will be published on 18 November. That will provide us with the most up-to-date figures.

The hon. Member for South-West Devon asked me about a programme involving strimming. I do not pretend to know the details but I am told that there are no plans for such a programme. If I find out anything different, I will get back to him. As the lead country in co-ordinating counter-narcotics activity in Afghanistan, the UK will continue to provide substantial support to help the Afghan Government to implement their national drug control strategy. We have, as the hon. Gentleman noted, committed more than £70 million in three years for counter-narcotics activity and at least £20 million for developing alternative livelihoods.

To encourage Afghans to develop a viable economy, we are funding research on alternatives. We are also considering innovative ways to fund the significant income gap between opium poppy and other crop cultivation and the crippling opium debt that many Afghan farmers have accumulated. We are working with the Afghans and with our international partners on improving law enforcement, eradication, judicial reform and the Afghan public's awareness of the illegality of the opium industry. Winning the war on drugs is central to winning the war on terror, as drug money supports the insurgents and funds weapons. We must tackle the issue not just inside Afghanistan but, as we are already doing, with Afghanistan's neighbours as well.

I turn now to Pakistan, which is a key ally in the fight against terrorism. We welcome the Select Committee's conclusion that Pakistan is making a meaningful contribution to the war against terrorism. We welcome President Musharraf's support. He has taken considerable personal and political risks to confront the extremist groups operating in Pakistan and to stop the spread of nuclear weapons-building capability. We will continue to support him in his efforts and to work with the Pakistani authorities to promote sustainable development, greater democracy and respect for human rights.

Like my hon. Friend Mr. Pope, who has had to leave the Chamber, we warmly welcome the improved relationship with India and continue to encourage India and Pakistan to resolve their differences over Kashmir. However, as my hon. Friend noted, our advice is not always welcomed by either party, so we must tread carefully when proffering it.

Russia is also a key partner in our efforts to combat terrorism, as the Select Committee's report underlines. We will continue to work with Russia, both bilaterally through our joint working group on terrorism and military co-operation, and multilaterally in the UN, the G8—in particular, the important global partnership programme—and the NATO-Russia Council. Although, as the Select Committee says, the war in Chechnya is not purely a terrorist insurgency, it is important to recognise that Russia faces genuine and serious security problems in the north Caucasus. Several Members referred to the horrific tragedy at Beslan, which is only the most recent example.

Finally, I turn to the Israel-Palestine conflict, which, as we all recognise, has done more than anything else to fan the flames of hatred and terrorism that threaten the stability of the entire middle east, if not the world. The Prime Minister has said that reviving the middle east process is one of his personal priorities. We shall continue to work with the new US Administration, our EU partners and members of the Quartet to encourage the Israelis and the Palestinians to move forward. Both sides must deliver their commitments under the road map. We continue to think that that is the best way to achieve a lasting political settlement. I believe that hon. Members will agree that much depends on the extent to which the new American Government are willing to become engaged, and we shall encourage them to do so.

Prime Minister Sharon's plan to withdraw all settlements from Gaza and some from the west bank is an opportunity for progress. We have made it clear, however, that such withdrawals should be a first step rather than an end in themselves. Despite what the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon said, we continue to believe that the road map is the best way to achieve a comprehensive and lasting settlement. I am sure that I speak for the Government—I hope I do—when I say that we are unconvinced that we could impose a solution on the parties.

We are also urging the Palestinians to deliver on their security responsibilities, which include serious action against terrorists, especially those who organise suicide bombings. We provide technical assistance and training to the Palestinian security forces to help them take more effective action against those who plan suicide bombings, and we are urging the Israelis to curb heavy-handed action by their defence forces. As the Prime Minister said yesterday, progress in the middle east, along with democracy in Afghanistan and in Iraq,

"would be the . . . most significant contribution we could make to the reduction of terrorism".—[Hansard, 3 November 2004; Vol. 426, c. 299.]