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I could not agree more with the right hon. Gentleman, who is absolutely right. That is why we need this regional peace settlement to be at the forefront of debates on how to solve the Afghanistan conflict. Let us be absolutely clear, however, that it is not going to be easy. If one looks at the possibility of making real progress on India and Pakistan relations in the near future, I just do not see it. Indeed, when Obama talked
about trying to resolve the India-Pakistan conflict in October 2008 and when President Clinton was appointed as mediator, even supportive commentators suggested that it was his first foreign policy mistake. Even people who share our analysis understand the problems.
Paul Rowen: The Foreign Secretary, answering my earlier question, rightly stated that the terrorist bombings in the Punjab were the result of terrorists linked to Kashmir. Does my hon. Friend therefore agree that it is imperative for the security and safety of people in Pakistan that we get that process moving? If that does not happen, it will destabilise Pakistan-a country with which we have very strong links.
Mr. Davey: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and the question is how we achieve that. If we have a full-frontal diplomatic assault, along the lines President Obama heard about, I do not think it will succeed. We need to look for behind-the-scenes reassurances, confidence-building measures and that sort of approach in order gradually to begin to change the dynamics. The Foreign Secretary does not have a brilliant track record with the Indian media, so I will not ask him or his colleagues in answering the debate to reveal whether any particular diplomacy is under way, but the House needs to know that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is making this matter a priority. We need to know that real work is going on on this issue, and that the FCO is not just sitting back because it is all too difficult. Our troops are on the front line, so this is absolutely central.
Beyond Pakistan, part of the challenge of finding a regional peace solution is the deep history of distrust in the region-whether one speaks of Iran, Saudi Arabia, central Asian concerns or Russian fears-because if we are to bring the fighting to an end and achieve a sustainable peace, the regional political element needs to be developed and our Foreign Office needs to be engaged in that.
For the Liberal Democrats, the most critical test of any new political strategy is how it addresses the local dimension and the insurgents on the ground. There are three elements to this, the first of which is the self-evident need to promote the social and economic well-being of ordinary Afghans, who have to see that a non-Taliban future is possible and prosperous. Reconstruction and development is not contentious in itself; the concern throughout the House has been the apparent inability to deliver, which remains a concern.
The second element is local governance. Most of Afghanistan's 153 municipalities lack basic justice systems, let alone other services. Of Afghanistan's 4,000-odd villages, there is no governmental system beyond the tribal leaders. Yet the current Afghan system of government still directs almost all resources via Kabul, and nothing direct to the provincial or local level. Our country, with its strong centralising tendencies, is probably not in a good place to advise on this, but we really need to change that government structure in Afghanistan.
The third element of this local political piece is the critical need to talk to the Taliban. I was roundly condemned earlier this year for arguing that it was "time to take tea" with the Taliban, yet I am of the firm belief that this remains the right thing to do. To avoid misunderstanding, let me explain precisely what I mean-
not least because I think I may differ a little in detail from the Government on the issue of what "talking to the Taliban" means.
I think it is shared territory that the Taliban are not some homogenous political grouping. As many others have said, they consist of the jihadists and the moderates-of those who take orders from either Mullah Omar or Haqqani, or those who obey their local tribal commanders; of the foreign Taliban and the Afghan Taliban; of the $10 a day Taliban and the Pashtun nationalists-so talking to the Taliban can mean many things in practice. There are some who suggest talking to the Taliban leadership, by which they tend to mean Mullah Omar. I have nothing in principle against that, yet unless we think they think they are losing, I do not think this will work. As many have said, they will believe that they have time on their side. I have been more impressed by those experts who have argued for talking to the local Taliban-the local insurgents.
Like others, no doubt, I have been influenced by an article called "Flipping the Taliban" in this summer's Foreign Affairs, by regional and Taliban experts Fotini Christia and Michael Semple, who made the argument for grass-roots, village-by-village, tea-drinking diplomacy. I have since been confirmed in that view by a separate but equally excellent article written by the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Holloway). I apologise to him if my endorsement in any way blights his promising career. In a passage sub-headed "Drinking tea can greatly reduce violence", he writes as follows:
"One remarkable individual told me that a decent political officer, with the right support, a generous budget and plenty of time to drink tea with commanders and tribal elders, could reduce the violence in Helmand by up to 70 per cent. This is no vainglorious speculation: that sort of approach has worked before, when the British Empire had dedicated Political Officers in the region. It can work again-if there is the political will."
Let us be absolutely clear: both articles are deeply realistic, and both understand the risks and the dangers all too well. Neither is putting forward tea drinking as a simplistic, glib, easy-to-do solution that would allow the military to pack up and go home. Both recognise that the best way to defeat the ideological Taliban is to win defectors from their own fighters, and that the best way to "Afghanise" the Afghan forces is to reintegrate former insurgents into the cause of law and order. Both appreciate that it is by understanding the issues of individual Taliban commanders that bribes, assurances and legitimate authority can best be bestowed in the cause of peace.
Given my welcome of the Queen's Speech proposal for a Bill to strengthen the law against bribery, I should explain my mention of the word "bribes". In the context of peacekeeping, and perhaps in that context alone, bribes are acceptable. The Americans used exactly that approach to persuade 100,000 Sunni militia to switch sides in Iraq, paying them each $300 a month, at a total cost of $30 million a month-a minor cost, given the
costs of war, especially as it produced a massive reduction in the violence almost overnight. In their article, Christia and Semple calculate that $30 million a month would get us 250,000 Afghan insurgents for about $120 a month each-the current salary of a soldier in the Afghan national army. That would make a real impact. I am sure that Ministers cannot be as frank with the House about such counter-insurgency tactics as Opposition Members can be.
As the hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) has reminded us, Generals Petraeus and McChrystal appointed this August the British Lieutenant-General Sir Graeme Lamb to mastermind a programme of reconciliation. That approach can be common ground among all those who have been critical of previous strategies.
Paul Flynn: Given the honourable record of the hon. Gentleman's party on Afghanistan, is he embarrassed that his leader yesterday took up another piece of empty, fear-mongering propaganda as a defence of being there-the threat of nuclear war?
Mr. Davey: I am afraid that I am completely at one with my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg) on that matter. There must be a danger of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of Taliban or other jihadists if we pull out. Many people have recognised that threat. I do not want to overplay it, but we cannot dismiss it out of hand. Given that the price would be so high, even a small risk must be considered properly.
Dr. Kim Howells (Pontypridd) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman take it from me that after a particularly fierce battle to the west of Kandahar in the red desert, one officer-on our side, as it happens-told me that one Afghan detachment had changed sides three times in 24 hours? I do not know how many bribes were offered to that detachment, but is he saying that good British generals should be bribing Afghans not to fight each other for the next 30 years?
Mr. Davey: As the right hon. Gentleman says, this is not an easy strategy-we have never claimed that it is. However, we know that it has worked in Iraq in the recent past and that members of the American and British forces are seeking to do the same, and we know from what has been said by Taliban experts that there is a history of conflicts being won and solved in Afghanistan in this way. When the Taliban won in 1998, they did so not because they had a huge army but because they persuaded lots of other people to join them. We must learn from the way in which they won, so that we can be the victors in the present important conflict.
The only surprising aspect of this apparently new approach to counter-insurgency-which we hope President Obama will confirm soon-is that it has not been tried more robustly before in Afghanistan. It seems that the Americans, at least during the Bush and Rumsfeld era, were reluctant to do so. Indeed, they did exactly the reverse. When Taliban commanders came over wanting to defect, they did not reintegrate them, but sent them off to Guantanamo Bay. That is hardly a recipe for encouraging splits in the rest of the Taliban. Even now, it seems that efforts to win defectors from the Taliban have been unstructured, under-resourced, and permitted only at individual level.
If the approach to reconciliation and defectors is really to change, and if that change is to be coupled with the other strategy changes that I mentioned earlier, the Liberal Democrats see some prospect of success in Afghanistan. If Obama's new strategy is one we can support, we will play our part in trying to explain to the public why the conflict in Afghanistan is so important. Part of that must involve ensuring that the new strategy is properly implemented and robustly assessed. We will be looking for the metrics indicating the progress and success of the new strategy to which others have referred. While not yet pressing for definitive timetables for withdrawal-for, as the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) has said, there are dangers in that-the House should be seeking to identify the steps on the path to main force withdrawal, perhaps in the lifetime of the next Parliament.
One of the main reasons why our party supported the mission in Afghanistan but opposed the attack on Iraq is our commitment to multilateralism and international law, and that is why we welcome the support in the Queen's Speech for the Government's efforts on nuclear non-proliferation. The all-important non-proliferation treaty review conference will take place next year, and I have been impressed by the FCO's efforts to prepare for it.
Not all the keys to the success of the conference lie in the Government's hands. Two critical questions will be whether the United States and Russia can ratify the successor to the strategic arms reduction treaty-which will include substantial reductions in missiles-and, of course, whether the United States Senate is of a mind to pass the treaty for a comprehensive nuclear test ban. Given the multiple pressures on Obama, I am not sure whether he will be able to pull that off, but he has shown a lead that I only wish others, including Britain, could emulate. In his willingness to drop President Bush's idea of a ballistic missile defence system based in Poland and the Czech Republic, he has not only helped the thawing of relations with Russia but shown an ability to reassess accepted wisdom on nuclear strategy.
We believe that it is time for the Government to reassess their approach to the replacement of Trident, and to do so ahead of the NPT review conference. The stakes are high, and not just in regard to reform of the NPT or the next stages of multilateral nuclear disarmament. The signal that such moves and progress would send to Iran and North Korea, among others, would be extremely strong-perhaps not strong enough to resolve the specific nuclear confrontations, but perhaps strong enough to address the current impasse in both cases.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Ivan Lewis): I agree with much of what the hon. Gentleman has said about the NPT, but will he clarify one point? Is it Liberal Democrat policy not to replace Trident?
Mr. Davey: We have said that we would not replace Trident with a like-for-like submarine system. As the Minister will know if he has followed some of my colleagues' speeches on the issue, we have advocated other approaches that we wish the Government to examine.
Mr. Davey: The Liberal Democrats are indeed conducting a review, and that is what we are urging the Government to do. We believe that they should move away from their commitment to replacing Trident with a like-for-like system.
Mr. Davey: Many others have interpreted the position slightly differently, and we have been talking to those people. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife, who is one of Parliament's pre-eminent experts in the field, is examining precisely such issues.
On Iran, no one can doubt that the situation remains alarming, and I agree in part with the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks. I also agree with others about the need to condemn the way Iran has treated our consular employees. The shocking recent International Atomic Energy Agency report says much about how Iran has been deceiving the world, yet the current question for policy makers on Iran is whether the diplomatic engagement and negotiations have reached the end of the road and it is now time for sanctions or whether there is room still for at least one more go at negotiations. Even if one could be sure that Russia would support tougher United Nations sanctions-and I am not-the recent discussions on a deal over uranium for the Tehran research reactor seemed to me still to have real life in them. As the Foreign Secretary alluded to earlier, it is true that the Iranians are insisting that any uranium swap occurs in Iran, not outside Iran, but would the Six really want to be responsible for walking away from the diplomatic route because they were unwilling to compromise on the detail of a deal? I hope not. The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks may be right that we need to prepare some of the background for sanctions, but I would keep the tool of sanctions in the box at least for a little while longer, because if a deal is struck on the uranium swap, the chances of getting Iran to discuss the military dimension and the outstanding issues increases. Indeed, those chances could be improved if they were combined with a focus on other issues of common concern, especially, of course, Afghanistan.
While the nuclear issue as it relates to North Korea gets less attention in this House-it has not been spoken about today-I urge the Government to do all they can to get the Pyongyang regime back to the Six-power talks. Too often we appear to believe that North Korea is fundamentally a show for the US and China to work on with South Korea, and we underplay the role of the European Union. I want to speak more about the new EU High Representative later, but given Baroness Ashton's success in trade talks with South Korea, perhaps she has the contacts and understanding to help make a breakthrough if the Council were to empower her to explore the options. This needs to be more of a priority for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Obviously, the nuclear issue is only one of many where a multilateral, multi-polar approach to foreign policy is essential. However, as other colleagues will no doubt speak at length on issues such as the climate change conference, the need for the G20 to collaborate on the economy, or the millennium development goals, I will not touch on them now, but I want to reflect briefly on some of the continuing challenges for multilateralism, beginning with the role of China.
There is much to welcome about the role of China, and the part it wishes to play in the world. China's economic influence is well known, and the Chinese response to the global recession has been helpful. In some respects, the proposals from the Chinese on climate change reveal real leadership and understanding, but China's approach in all too many countries and its focus on economic issues before and above any consideration of other, wider concerns, such as humanitarian issues or international law, is alarming.
Let me give a few examples. In Sri Lanka, the Chinese sold large amounts of weapons to the Sri Lankan Government and in return have been allowed many commercial opportunities, especially in terms of the development of a massive port in Sri Lanka that is of strategic economic and security importance to the Chinese. Far from not interfering in domestic politics, as the Chinese protest is their position, that policy was calculated and deliberate. While I welcome the Sri Lankan Government's announcement that they are to allow those in the internally displaced person camps to move freely, surely that remains an inadequate response to the humanitarian disaster in some of those camps. Moreover, that announcement was certainly not a result of pressure from the Chinese, but it may well have been a result of pressure from the EU, which proposed not to renew the generalised system of preferences-GSP-plus trade concessions. I hope the Government and the EU are not going to go soft on the GSP plus trade concessions and our concerns about human rights in Sri Lanka just because of this weekend's announcement.
The Chinese are easily the largest foreign investors in Sudan, and probably also the largest market for its oil. At the United Nations, the Chinese have blocked stronger international progress and appear to have done nothing behind the scenes to get the Khartoum Government to stop the actions of the Janjaweed and other Government-backed militias in Darfur.
Elsewhere in Africa, from Zimbabwe to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, we see the Chinese winning knock-down deals, partly because their contracts come with no questions asked. There are apologists who say, "Well, the west has done exactly the same" or "China has brought lots of investment." Well, that may be so, but I do not believe that such investments inevitably require a power such as China to adopt an amoral stance. There are plenty of examples of investment in developing countries being used smartly to lever improvements for their wider population-this is a question of political will. China would win more friends and influence, and would boost the multilateralism it professes, if it wielded its economic muscle in more enlightened ways-I hope that President Obama has been saying as much on his recent trip.
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