HL Deb 17 December 2001 vol 630 cc41-103

Debate resumed.

4.48 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth

My Lords, like many who have participated in the recent debates on the anti-terrorism legislation, I greatly value the opportunity afforded by this debate to move our focus away from the pressing issues of how we might deal with perpetrators of terror and on to the situation as it is emerging in Afghanistan.

I am sure I speak for many when I say how much we are looking forward to the maiden speech of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie. I remember meeting him last year at a very agreeable naval occasion in Portsmouth—it consisted of rather more than the tea and sandwiches to which the Lord Privy Seal referred earlier—when he spoke most movingly of Lord Nelson.

I want to focus on some of the wider issues of this Question. Having a particular responsibility for the Portsmouth area I have been deeply impressed by, as well as concerned for, members of the Armed Forces who are participating, if only on the fringes, in the current conflict, especially where this impinges on the work of the Royal Navy. On Friday morning I was involved with a small group welcoming back to Portsmouth HMS "Marlborough" following her escort duties in the Saif Sareea duties in the Gulf. The professionalism and dedication that was displayed by those whom I encountered give me hope and confidence that other members of the Armed Forces will display an equal level of professionalism in the task they are undertaking. I am grateful to the Minister for what she said in that regard.

The present Chief of the Defence Staff, Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, has been quoted as saying that a difference in emphasis will emerge in the next stage of the current campaign. I stress how much I appreciated the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, in that regard. I am not in a position to comment on the validity of that view, but I strongly suspect that I am not alone in wanting to acknowledge that we are at war. Much of the language that we have chosen to use skirts around that issue, but it nonetheless remains a fact that our Armed Forces are engaged in a combat situation. That merits a wider, more open and ongoing public debate. For example, there may be ethical questions about bombing; there are also ethical questions about different types of bombing. Some of the questions that have been raised in your Lordships' House in recent weeks bear witness to that. The possible extension of the current campaign to include a range of other spheres of activity seems to provide a timely opportunity for us to question what are the appropriate limits of our involvement and commitment.

I stand with a host of others in paying tribute to the Prime Minister for his handling of the war on terrorism and for the support that he has given to the United States of America. There has been a right place for the pursuit of justice, but the practical destruction of the Taliban, which we have witnessed in recent days, must give us pause for thought about where to turn to next.

In particular, I draw the attention of noble Lords to the role of the United Nations in the events since September 11th. The Security Council has passed no fewer than four resolutions of varying length unequivocally condemning terrorism and calling upon all member states to work together urgently to bring justice to those who organise terrorist attacks. The Security Council has likewise supported the programme to establish representative government in Afghanistan through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan. It has moved swiftly to bring forward the necessary humanitarian aid, another theme that noble Lords have touched on in various debates. However, apart from the generalised sense that the military campaign falls within the rights of member states to self-defence, the broader campaign has not received explicit support from the United Nations. I very much hope that the debate in the Security Council, which is going on as we speak, will result in support for a multinational peace-keeping force. I believe that the United Kingdom has a central part to play in such a role, one for which we are well-equipped and experienced. I agree with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, on the need for new and continuing intelligence services.

It seems that we are at a particular turning point where justice may end and retribution may begin. I have to ask myself whether the total elimination of all those who are regarded as terrorists would in fact lead to the end of terror. I suspect that the experience of the United Kingdom is very pertinent in that respect and not one on which the United States can so readily draw.

I am appalled by acts of terror and condemn them without reserve. Like many others, I found the recent bin Laden video as distasteful as I found the events of September 11th horrifying. I strongly echo the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, but I should "nuance" slightly his words about value. It is, I suggest, possible to observe negative values at work as well as positive ones. It is nonetheless incumbent on the House to ask searching questions about whether the focus should now be turned on identifying the root causes of terror, however they may be perceived and however uncomfortable we may find them. We should do that rather than unwittingly help to create a new generation of people who are embittered by the West.

To turn to my classical and theological roots, this might be a moment for what is referred to in Ancient and New Testament Greek as kairos; that is, a moment of opportunity for decision, change and a new direction. The United States has won the sympathy of many nations around the world and has received the practical support of numerous allies. At this crucial moment—at this kairos—respect and restraint would only enhance our esteem for a country that has been so sorely affected by recent events.

4.55 p.m.

Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank

My Lords, I first thank Members and the staff of your Lordships' House for making me welcome and for their advice. I am honoured to have become a Member of your Lordships' House and trust that I will be able to make an appropriate contribution. I am also pleased to find that I have served in the Army with a surprising number of the Doorkeepers; I joined my regiment with one of them more than 40 years ago.

The operations in Afghanistan are continuing satisfactorily—very much more satisfactorily than some commentators predicted. The United States has given the coalition good leadership and only struck after calm deliberation and careful analysis. As the Minister said, the Taliban is in disarray and although some of its surviving members could still cause serious trouble, Afghanistan has been freed from a vile regime by what many Afghans—not just those supporting the Northern Alliance—see as a war of liberation, not as a war against Islam. There is every reason to suppose that in time Osama bin Laden will be captured or killed; he has no escape.

Much progress has been made in Bonn and elsewhere to find a new government. We should not expect a tidy solution or one that is similar to that which developed democracies enjoy. In a land where tribe has often been against tribe and, within a tribe, family against family, power sharing does not come naturally. We have every reason to hope for better leadership; more representative leadership; leadership that is not feared or hated: and leadership that gives Afghans hope. However, we should not be surprised if there are some members of the new government with whom we are not comfortable.

The scale of the humanitarian crisis has been nowhere near what was predicted by some. Great credit is due to our own NGOs and the DfID for their contribution to the international community's achievements.

The conflict in Afghanistan that we are witnessing may well prove to be relatively easy when compared with what remains to be done in the struggle against international terrorism. We should remember that Saddam Hussein has killed more than 1 million Muslims and that he was decisively defeated in the Gulf War but that he remains a hero to many Muslims. It is important that Osama bin Laden appears, particularly to the younger generation, as the evil man he is—whose actions have brought nothing but misery.

The recently secured and widely shown video—it has already been referred to—of a gloating bin Laden, should help. However, if he does emerge as a hero, the long struggle that we have embarked upon against international terrorism—which can certainly succeed—will be even harder and longer.

The front-line states in the conflict deserve our understanding—none more so than Pakistan, which has many internal, cross-border and ethnic problems and disputes with its neighbours, mostly notably over Kashmir with India. The president, General Musharraf, has with great courage steadfastly supported the coalition against terror and Al'Qaeda, and he deserves our help and understanding in return.

For far too many years, Pakistan was treated as an outcast. Certainly, some of her problems were of her own making. But those who cry for a quick return to democracy fail to understand that there has never been what we understand by "democracy" under the rule of either civilians or generals in Pakistan. President Musharraf has already shown that he is moving in the right direction and is committed to democratic rule. Once the crisis in Afghanistan is over, it will be indefensible for the people of Pakistan to be abandoned, as they have been before, by the richer members of the coalition.

I want to raise two other matters. The first is the quite outstanding work of the BBC World Service. Between 60 and 70 per cent of Afghan male heads of households are regular BBC listeners. Broadcasts in Pashto and Persian have been increased to more than 90 hours a week since 11th September. BBC radio broadcasts are trusted and are the only way that many Afghans, a large percentage of whom cannot read or write, receive independent, impartial information. That will continue to be important when the fighting stops and Afghanistan is being rebuilt. The importance of the World Service needs to be recognised in the next spending round.

Secondly, and lastly, the Armed Forces have yet again performed magnificently under particularly difficult and dangerous conditions. I am proud that the regiment in which I served and of which I am now the Colonel Commandant has yet again been in the van. Our forces remain respected and admired at home and overseas. But for how much longer can we go on taking that for granted? The defence programme was underfunded before 11th September. There is now a new commitment. Is there anything that can sensibly be given up now that we are involved in Afghanistan and the struggle against terrorism?

Priorities—particularly spending priorities—are always difficult. But we must avoid falling into the trap of becoming so mesmerised by Osama bin Laden and Al'Qaeda that other key parts of defence are neglected and underfunded and we are found unprepared when confronted by a new threat. For we live in dangerous times and we can be absolutely sure that new threats will appear.

5.2 p.m.

Lord Inge

My Lords, on behalf of the whole House it gives me great pleasure to congratulate the noble and gallant Lord on his excellent maiden speech. His time as CDS, when considerable change was taking place in the Armed Forces and when those forces were very heavily committed operationally, will be a great asset to our discussions on defence and on the wider, important geopolitical issues.

Perhaps I may pick up two points in his speech. First, I reinforce what the noble and gallant Lord said about the importance of the BBC World Service. I sense that many people do not realise what wonderful work it does on behalf of this nation and in a wider capacity.

Secondly, I refer to the noble and gallant Lord's mention of Pakistan. He did not say that his personal relationship with General Musharraf was a key part in helping Pakistan to come on side during this very important time. I agree absolutely with what he said. General Musharraf took an important and also very brave step in supporting the battle against the Taliban and Al'Qaeda. He also said rightly that it would be a terrible mistake if we were to walk away from Pakistan after the support and assistance which it has given us.

I want to focus, first, on the military campaign. I am most grateful to the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Bach, for providing us with very helpful briefings about the situation as it has progressed. Like many others, I have been greatly heartened by the success to date of the military campaign. Its progress has been far quicker than I believe many of us expected. The combination of the devastating impact of US air power and the Northern Alliance, brilliantly and bravely encouraged by British and US special forces, has proved highly effective. I also praise—although it has had a much lower key role—the air refuelling fleet of the Royal Air Force. Without its assistance, the United States naval forces could not have taken such an effective part in the campaign. Certainly those forces destroyed the will and fighting effectiveness of the Taliban, although it is too early to say whether we have seen the last of them.

They also inflicted considerable damage on the Al'Qaeda organisation. If we get bin Laden, I believe that the military campaign in Afghanistan can be hailed a triumph. But, as the noble Baroness, the Minister, has been right to remind us, we are only at the beginning and there is a long way to go before we can say that the Al'Qaeda organisation no longer poses a serious threat. Certainly, after the success of the initial campaign, it would be a bad mistake if we thought that we could sit back, believing that the worst was over either for Al'Qaeda or for Afghanistan.

I know that we are concentrating on Afghanistan, but a number of noble Lords have already mentioned the importance of the tragic, ongoing crisis between Israel and the Palestinians. That deserves as much direct attention from America and Europe as does the war against international terrorism. While there is no sign of establishing a viable Palestinian state, the terrorists of the Al'Qaeda organisation will continue to believe that they have a cause.

Perhaps I may now focus again on Afghanistan and refer to the situation there, the role of the international security force and its command and control arrangements. I recognise that the meeting in Bonn was a great achievement and, certainly, much better than many expected. But, equally, we cannot divorce the present situation in Afghanistan and the way ahead from the country's turbulent history. More recently, there has been no peace since 1973, and in the past five years Afghanistan has not existed as a functioning state.

Even the Northern Alliance, which has had some success, consists of five or six tribal warlords, and their loyalty to the new government is at least questionable. The Northern Alliance has a history of changing sides and of resentment and suspicion towards foreigners. Revenge features high on its list. It will be a very long time before we see a viable state and viable Armed Forces there. That means that we must spend a lot of time on that country. We are in for a long haul and it will cost a great deal of money. I recognise, of course, that we cannot simply walk away from Afghanistan, as happened in 1989.

That said, I have great difficulty in understanding what will be the role of the international security force. It all seems to be rather vague at the moment. There is talk of maintaining only Kabul and perhaps its surrounding areas and some of the other towns where the UN mandated force might be deployed. But what will happen elsewhere in the country? It is also said that Afghan military units will be withdrawn from Kabul and elsewhere. However, I believe that that will be difficult to achieve. And what i1 those units do not agree and refuse to move or hand in their arms? Shall we be prepared to fight them? I believe that we must consider that before the force deploys.

There is talk of a training task, but we must recognise that the training standards of the forces being deployed from the various nations vary considerably. Finally, there is talk of protecting aid convoys. We are trying to achieve that in a country that is two-and-a-half times the size of France and where the terrain is difficult and rugged.

I am conscious that all that sounds very negative and that Afghanistan needs real help. Certainly, if the Armed Forces are deployed there, they will have my strongest support. But Her Majesty's Government should be in no doubt about the challenge that we may be asking our Armed Forces to undertake. They will be doing so at a time when they are already dangerously over-committed; at a time when, if they are committed to Afghanistan, we shall have very little left to deal with the unexpected; and at a time when they are under-recruited and when the defence budget is already underfunded.

The operational commitment has—to use a phrase which I dislike but which people seem to understand—"mission creep" written all over it. The Government must prevent mission failure.

I know it is early days, and I know that General McColl is still on his recce, but I hope that when he returns they will listen careful to what he says, to what the Chief of the Defence Staff says, and to what the Chief of the General Staff says. If we deploy a force to Afghanistan, it must be clear that the Government understand what that force will face. The force has to be properly structured; it must be competent, by which I mean that it is prepared to fight if necessary; it must be large enough; it must have adequate reserves; and multi-nationality must not be taken to too low a level so that the fighting cohesiveness of the force is not undermined.

On the command and control of that force, I have heard three options suggested. The first is the United Nations. I am glad to hear that that is unlikely to happen. I have great respect for the United Nations and some of the roles that that organisation undertakes. Clearly, it could be a UN-mandated force, but the UN cannot command awkward, difficult, dangerous and complicated military operations. Secondly, it has been suggested that Europe should take command. I belong to the school that believes that Europe should do more, but we are a long way from forming the European rapid reaction force, and the military structure in Brussels is nothing like ready to command something as complicated as that.

That leaves us with the United States, which is my favoured option. Frankly, even if the Americans are under a central command, that is not an ideal option because they will be concentrating on the fight against international terrorism. My biggest concern is that unless they have troops on the ground they will not concentrate or focus their minds in quite the same way. It is disappointing to hear the Americans say that already they are overstretched when I consider how overstretched the British Armed Forces are, and given the immediate, practical and real support that we gave the United States after those dreadful events on 11th September. I hope that somehow we can persuade the United States to provide forces that will stand shoulder to shoulder with ours if we decide to send forces to Afghanistan, which appears to be inevitable.

5.12 p.m.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

My Lords, although the convention is that only the immediately following speaker congratulates a maiden speaker. I hope that I have the indulgence of the House to comment on the outstanding speech that we have heard from the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank. That was not at all unexpected in view of his distinguished career. We look forward to hearing much more from him in the House in the future.

Not one noble Lord who spoke in the debates when the House was recalled during the Recess could have believed that at this date, barely three months later, we would be in the present position, either militarily—with the Taliban not entirely extinguished, but no longer in control of any region in Afghanistan—or politically—with the Bonn meeting of representatives from the four major groups in Afghanistan—the Northern Alliance, the former King's group, the Cyprus group and the Peshawar group—all agreeing on an interim executive and an interim council to govern until the spring when a Loya Jirga should convene to start to discuss a new constitution.

The interim government is due to commence on Saturday, 22nd December. While the situation is extremely fragile and the problems enormous, it is still a huge step forward. There are misgivings outside and inside Afghanistan, but I do not believe that one could continue in foreign affairs or diplomacy if one were not a perennial optimist. However, one also has to be a realist. One has to hope and to work for the best, but to be aware of what could be the worst. Nowhere is that more true than in Afghanistan.

However, it is not helpful for commentators to harp constantly only on the negative and to carp if they cannot have the ideal instantly. Courageous and patient negotiators such as Mr Brahimi and others, deserve great praise for what they have achieved. I echo what my noble friend Lady Symons said about that in her opening speech. The Afghans, in Bonn and in Afghanistan, also deserve great praise. They have reached a compromise and are struggling to make matters work.

Sometimes I lose patience with outside critics (often in the media) who, with little detailed knowledge or sensitivity, make instant judgments based on their own cultural prejudices of groups and individuals inside Afghanistan, he it the forces of the Northern Alliance or others. Of course, I do not mean that we should suspend judgment, but some understanding of circumstances, history and context should be brought into play.

Inside Afghanistan, not everyone is content with the Bonn agreement; for example, Uzbek General Abdul Rashid Dostum, who controls a large region around Mazar-i Sharif, believes that his faction has not been given enough power in the new executive. The Pashtun spiritual leader, Sayed Ahmed Gailani, is also critical of the agreement, and the former President Rabbani, who was persuaded to stand aside for the new structure is, perhaps understandably, also less than happy with the new arrangements.

Looking at the new executive, one sees real grounds for hope that it may work. Inevitably, it is headed by a Pashtun leader, Hamid Karzai, who appears to enjoy the confidence of most. Three key ministries are headed by Tajiks who were close to Ahmed Shah Massoud, who was assassinated on 9th September, undoubtedly by Al'Qaeda. Many, like myself, consider that his loss was a tragic blow to Afghanistan and welcome the presence of the people whom he trusted in the new government. They include Dr Abdullah Abdullah as foreign minister; Yunis Qanuni, who led the Northern Alliance delegation in Bonn and who was given the honour of delivering the eulogy at Massoud's funeral, as interior minister; and Mohammed Fahim, who succeeded as military commander of the alliance on the death of Massoud, as defence minister.

An issue of enormous sensitivity and importance is the place of women in the future of Afghanistan. That is an issue dear to my heart, as it is to many others in this House. I believe that it is important to remember that politics is the art of the possible. It is most important to listen to the women of Afghanistan and with all means at our disposal to support them in the way in which they choose to proceed. They have various opinions, but it is worth looking at what two of the women who attended the Bonn meeting said. Fatima Gailani, who was with the former King's delegation, said: We do not want things that will lead to a backlash. I just want three things—education, work, politics. If we have these we can build on them". Ansia Ahmadi, who was in Bonn with the Northern Alliance delegation, said: I wear the veil because I want to, not to please the men round the table". As my noble friend Lady Symons said, there will be two women in the new government. One of the deputy leaders in the new government will be a woman. The name of Dr Sima Samar, who is a Hazara, has been mentioned.

Those are small steps, but they are enormously important for women in Afghanistan. I believe that we would do a disservice to Afghan women if from outside the country we appeared to want the impossible immediately. That does not mean that we should not do everything possible to encourage and to support their progress along the paths that they choose.

I am afraid that whatever can go wrong probably will go wrong. Enormous progress has been made along the way to better governance for Afghanistan and a better life for its people. We must do everything that we can to help. We must not impose our ideas, our norms or our ways, but assist the Afghan people, men and women, to do things their way to achieve that better life. It is only right that we provide whatever appropriate support we can, including, if necessary, our Armed Forces.

I welcome the Statement today by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister which we have just heard repeated in this House, that in principle Britain is willing to lead an international security assistance force. I am confident that our forces, if deployed, will provide whatever is needed in whatever leadership role is asked of them with their usual high standards of professionalism and expertise.

5.20 p.m.

Lord Bramall

My Lords, it was good to hear my noble and gallant friend Lord Guthrie make his most excellent and wise maiden speech. He has had much recent experience in troubled times. No one knows better the delicate balance and interrelationship between the political and military imperatives that exist in any crisis situation. He will have so much to contribute in your Lordships' House.

I want to make three points. First, as has been said, the military campaign in Afghanistan has so far gone extremely well. All concerned deserve congratulations, in particular the commander-in-chief of the US central command, General Franks, who has organised and co-ordinated the land/air battle with skill and a strong degree of sensitivity. His success has been due, first, to the fact that, as my noble and gallant friend said, he was initially patient and did not rush in before he had gathered intelligence and could be selective in his targeting; secondly, because he increasingly related the air bombardment to the ground action undertaken. largely and sensibly, by indigenous forces; and, thirdly, because the United States was presumably prepared to provide sufficient gold to enable Field commanders to persuade large numbers of the opposition to give themselves up and even change sides without too prolonged and costly fighting, although I imagine that the going became a little rougher as the Al'Qaeda were cornered. Anyhow, that famous Chinese general and tactician of 500 BC, Sun Tsu, would no doubt have thoroughly approved.

As a result, the most impressive results in destroying the power of the Taliban have been achieved far quicker than many of us dared hoped. In all this the American marines and special forces and our own special forces have clearly played a significant part in advising local forces of the Northern Alliance and other factions and specifically in directing the air effort to both Taliban and Al'Qaeda targets and also by providing maximum fire support to friendly forces on the ground. As has been said, the Royal Air Force has played a big role in photo-recognisance and air refuelling. We should be grateful to them all and very proud of our own country's contribution.

Now the remaining Al'Qaeda bases, hideaways and training camps must be destroyed. Osama bin Laden, who may well, for all we know, now be in Pakistan, must be isolated from any network in that area or anywhere else, and, if possible, put out of action for good. But I have always felt that the network, much of which lies elsewhere than in Afghanistan, and sonic of it much nearer to home, has always in some ways been a more important target than the figurehead himself, whose mantle could so easily, while various issues remain unresolved, be assumed by others.

My second point is that having been so successful so far, I, too, like my noble and gallant friend Lord Inge, hope that we do not spoil it by forcing formed bodies of British troops on to reluctant Afghans, to do heaven knows what for heaven knows how long. It would surely be tactless to those who have done the lion's share of the fighting; their precise task would seem still to be obscure; and, as the realities of non-Muslim forces getting involved in internal domestic power struggles and squabbles sinks in, their safety could become increasingly precarious.

Such deployment would also significantly increase overstretch and it is highly doubtful whether the necessary support services, not least the medical services, could be provided without irreparable damage being done elsewhere. For all those reasons it must surely be contrary to military advice. But if I am wrong about that no doubt the Minister will correct me. Only in the context of humanitarian aid under UN mandate could an intervention such as this be seen to be justified.

I would therefore plead for the most thorough consultation with the people on the ground and not just in a European forum, as to what kind of force or organisation is needed. Also, like my noble and gallant friend, I hope that the general officer who has been sent out there, when he comes back will he listened to carefully as to what he thinks will and will not work, and that there will not be some preconceived idea which does not fit in to his report. I also hope that we shall not be contriving to create a democratic Afghanistan with full human rights, long after the military aims have been fully met. That must surely be left to the Afghans with the maximum encouragement and financial aid from outside.

My third and last point—this has already been touched on—is that I wonder, when our Armed Forces are needed as much as they are respected, what possessed the right honourable gentleman the Secretary of State for Defence to raise in a very long speech delivered to a seminar at King's College London the spectre of yet another defence review, albeit dressed up as a new chapter of the last one. Of course the JIC should be making an up-to-date assessment of the relevant threats post 11th September. That is its job. An intelligence effort should be strengthened. After all, the only sensible way to deal with terrorism is to be forewarned.

In the light of that assessment, the chiefs of staff should be revising organisation and deployment of forces at home and overseas; and the home commands, in consultation with the home department, should, if necessary, be revising plans to deal with a variety of crises situations, in particular, how to make best use of our splendid reserve forces, as has already been said. All that is their job, but it should be part of an ongoing process in any efficient and flexible organisation.

But to announce in public in a speech—much of which admitted, not unreasonably, that the situation may not have changed that much and that there are no obvious reasons why the presently organised Armed Forces should not be capable of reacting effectively to any new situation—that now there would be a formal review, a new chapter, run by a small caucus of the central staff, and which proudly boasted that the Treasury were in from the outset, can only set alarm bells ringing among those desperately trying to see that the last review—which incidentally fully took into account international terrorism and the threat of religious fundamentalism—was fully implemented in terms of manpower, equipment and money.

For however it is dressed up, however the approach to this chapter is paved with good intentions, any one with any experience in Whitehall will see this as a golden opportunity for the Treasury to question the sensible and fully agreed parameters of the Strategic Defence Review and reduce still further in cash flow terms the already underfunded and overstretched defence programme. This can of course only reproduce the uncertainly which was so powerful in the past among middle piece officers and senior non-commissioned officers, all of whom are so vital for retention and manning.

The organisation and speed of reaction of our forces works—as has been manifest over and again. After all, we sent a task force to the Falklands with four days' notice; we have long had a spearhead battalion at immediate readiness; we have special forces grouped for quick reaction, a Marine Commando Brigade, an Air Assault Brigade, a Strategic Reserve Division and a Rapid Reaction Corps all designed for rapid deployment anywhere in the world. If it works, why try to fix it? No two crisis situations will ever be exactly the same—as my noble and gallant friend Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank has said. What is needed is a general combat capability over a wide spectrum of threats and great flexibility in its usage. Of course, that is exactly what the Strategic Defence Review provides.

Finally, with your Lordships' indulgence, I should like to pay a short tribute to the late Lord Carver. Over the years, he was a most regular attendee of your Lordships' House and often a committee chairman. His speeches in debates such as this were keenly looked forward to, as he was a brilliant and erudite speaker with great experience behind him.

Although his obituaries may to some extent have dwelt on his brusqueness and intellectual self-confidence, noble Lords will have experienced nothing but courtesy and kindness from him in his dealings in your Lordships' House. As someone who served under him in Normandy and north-west Europe, I can vouch for his excellence as a commander in war. Clear headed and calm under fire, he was always, like the great Duke of Wellington, to whom he was related through his mother, where he was most needed in the battle. He was ready to take clear-cut decisions, however tough, and to seize tactical opportunities as they occurred, while at the same time being considerate of the lives of the soldiers under him. In this, he was everything that a soldier should be.

Michael Carver was also, in peacetime, a highly civilised human being—a man of letters and of culture. Those who knew him well—and I count a great number in your Lordships' House—will miss him very much indeed.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

5.33 p.m.

Lord King of Bridgwater

My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, in his tribute to Lord Carver, whom he certainly knew much better than I. However, I recall that he had an original and questioning mind and that when I was Secretary of State a shiver used to go through the Ministry of Defence every time that it was known that Lord Carver was about to speak in the House of Lords. He made a significant contribution to your Lordships' House.

As an aside to my remarks, our debates on Afghanistan should be required reading for anyone considering reform of your Lordships' House. Having come so recently from another place, I cannot fail continually to be impressed by the quality and authority of the contributions made in these debates, as in so many others. We have among your Lordships so many people with outstanding experience in the field. If I may congratulate the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank, on his maiden speech—I did not know that we were not allowed to do so—I must say that having been, as I continually told Chiefs of the Defence Staff and others, by an accident of National Service, commissioned earlier than several of those most senior in rank in the Ministry of Defence, I am delighted to see young officers making such progress and joining your Lordships' House.

As the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank, recognised, the value of our multi-national training programmes is seen to particular advantage at present. The authority and contribution that he has brought to our relationship with Pakistan at a critical moment may owe something to that background. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, may remember that on one occasion our relationship with Turkey in Operation Provide Comfort was enormously helped by the joint membership of the Royal College of Defence Studies of the British and Turkish officers concerned.

I was also delighted that the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank, echoed something that I said in my maiden speech about the importance of the BBC World Service. In whichever country we find ourselves, we discover that it has huge listening figures in the area. I was certainly not aware before of what a high listening audience the BBC World Service has in Afghanistan, which can only be helpful.

Your Lordships have now had the privilege of listening in rapid sequence to the words of authority of three former Chiefs of the Defence Staff, and I am about to be followed by another. They have all, with the authority that they bring to the subject, echoed the words from the recent Royal United Services Institute for Defence Studies lecture by the current Chief of the Defence Staff about serious concern about funding and the number of concurrent operations in which our forces now find themselves. In his chilling words, Something will have to give". I may be seen as the guilty man behind Options for Change. I listened to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, on the subject of defence review—as we never dreamt of calling it—but that was a specific and direct response to the ending of the Cold War. It was led by the then Vice-Chief of Defence Staff, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Vincent of Coleshill, assisted by the now Permanent Secretary of the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, Sir Richard Mottram. I always believed that that move was from one state to a new state—an end of Cold War state, as it were—but not a moment on a continuous path downwards. I believed that it was essential that we kept reserves, some tolerance and sufficient capacity for what the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank, precisely described as the next problem and threat to arise.

There is an awful thing about defence reviews—especially the most recent one, which claimed, if I may make a tiny party political point, that it would be better than any other because it would be foreign policy-led and, presumably, intelligence-guided. We know that our current problem stems from something that intelligence did not identify. Once again, as was the case in the Falklands and with the invasion of Kuwait, intelligence failed to give us the guidance that we needed. Yet again, the Ministry of Defence was told that it must do something and find the resources to take the necessary action. Each case proved unexpected. While I strongly believe in our being, in a phrase that the Prime Minister now echoes, a force for good in the world, the world is a more dangerous and unstable place than it was during the Cold War. If we are to achieve that admirable objective, we cannot do so without the necessary resources to make our contribution.

If I may, I shall now briefly consider the current situation. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, referred to this debate as an interim debate on the situation in Afghanistan. That must surely be correct. Objective one is to bring Osama bin Laden and Al'Quaeda to justice. We may be pretty close to achieving that; but we do not know just how close. But objective two is to prevent Al'Quaeda posing a continuing terrorist threat.

Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, the Chief of the Defence Staff, said that we ought to focus on the enemy, rather than on the ground taken. When we focus on the enemy, which is Al'Quaeda and its cells around the world, none of your Lordships will be in any doubt that its current capability is well distributed and resourced. It is a dedicated and autonomous terrorist force. When I say that it is well distributed, I mean that in a global sense. If it is true that 70,000 people passed through its training camps before the world awoke to the scale of the threat and took action, where are they now? We know that they were in places which the intelligence and security forces had not sufficiently anticipated. Even with the increased activity of the security agencies, we cannot he confident that we know where they all are. The chilling phrase used by Admiral Sir Michael Boyce was that they are "quite capable" of further atrocities comparable with those carried out on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon.

The rapid success in achieving objective one and the progress towards objective two may have dented the middle and longer-term capability of Al'Qaeda. We hope that that will prevent any further training taking place in Afghanistan. We also hope that the severity of the action being taken against Afghanistan is making other countries and governments think hard about whether they are keen to welcome Al'Qaeda into their territories. The Yemen, Syria and the Sudan are areas where Al'Qaeda might possibly have sought to establish an alternative base.

I turn to further action that might be taken. I have not yet mentioned Iraq, but there is a distinction between cases where terrorist organisations are perhaps being harboured by a state and cases where our suspicion is that the state itself is the terrorist organisation. We have to give careful consideration to that distinction.

Your Lordships will have noted a disturbing theme which has emerged. My noble friend Lord Howell thought that it might have been exaggerated by some commentators. It is that there is a divergence of view between the United States and the United Kingdom. That would be extremely worrying. Clearly, while there is evidence that the United States does not want to become engaged in nation building—the chilling phrase used was "Super powers do not do dishes"—the reality is that the coalition must stick together.

I am told that the British favour not merely the military approach but seek to win hearts and minds, too. They want to seek to establish an enduring relationship. The right reverend Prelate said that justice may have been achieved and retribution may now begin. I, too, believe in the importance of the hearts and minds programme. If we see a long-haul situation, if we see the need to sustain the campaign against terrorism from wherever it may come, it is critical to carry public opinion with us. Perhaps I may remind your Lordships of a nasty shiver which went around at the scenes in Mazar-i Sharif when it was thought that some of the methods used fell some way below the traditions of the Geneva Convention and other rules of warfare in which one might expect British forces to be involved.

I turn to the outcome of British involvement and pay tribute to our Armed Forces and the regiment of which the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie, has the privilege to be colonel. If the bravery and outstanding service of our forces are seen to be followed by the kind of outrages and terror we have despised in the former Taliban government, that will be extremely damaging to future campaigns against terrorism in other areas. The hearts-and-minds approach, better government, good administration and trying to improve the lot of the people may be seen in some United States quarters as slightly eccentric British post-colonial hang-ups, but I believe that they are critical if we are to sustain an effective campaign against terrorism.

Although I bow to the greater authority of those noble Lords who have spoken, in particular the former Chiefs of the Defence Staff, I wonder what we are going to do with the force which we are to send out there. Is it to be a British command unit which will organise everyone else and bring in Muslim forces and others which can be better deployed in the country? Is it to provide close protection for the British office in Kabul and members of the administration? Is it to be a major multi-national stabilisation force?

The noble and gallant Lords, Lord Bramall and Lord Inge, spoke of Afghans not wanting to see an occupation force moving in and the difficulties associated with that. I recall visiting our training force in Namibia and seeing the South West African Territorial Force and SWAPO; former enemies which had been trained together under a British training instructor. As regards Afghanistan, the problem about nation building is whether there is even a nation to build. Is it unrealistic to believe that if one tried to build stability in that troubled land, the formation of a national, embryo army which could benefit from the training we have provided elsewhere, could be one of the contributions we could make to whatever elements of nation building will follow? The initial efforts have proved to be an outstanding success but so much more now needs to be done.

5.46 p.m.

Lord Craig of Radley

My Lords, in order to abide by the Companion, I have already congratulated my noble and gallant friend Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank on a fine and thoughtful speech. He is a most welcome addition to these Benches.

Much has already been said today and in previous debates about the situation in Afghanistan. I propose to confine myself to the role which air power has been playing in this campaign and to touch on three particular issues which spring from that experience. As happened in Kosovo 18 months ago, a principal aspect of the strategy in Afghanistan has been to rely heavily on the offensive contribution of air power.

In Afghanistan, it began with the use of Tomahawk and conventional bombing to establish that first essential of any serious military operation; air superiority. Even at the outset, the Taliban threat to air operations was not that significant. I recall that during the previous debate I reminded your Lordships that the achievement of air superiority was but a step on the road to realising the coalition objectives and not an end in itself.

At that time, we were anticipating that the next stage would be the insertion of a considerable ground force. British and United States army units had been placed on shortened notice to move. The situation on the ground, and the contribution to it from the Northern Alliance, however, was not clear.

I was concerned about the problems which our own ground forces might face, though I thought it right not to comment beforehand, particularly as I was not privy to all the intelligence information available. However, our principal objective remained and it was very clear: to eliminate the Al'Qaeda and to get Osama bin Laden. First it was necessary to defeat the Taliban.

In the event, the decision, which I strongly endorsed, was to continue to rely on the use of air power, assisted by small independently operating teams on the ground. Even the most cursory study of the terrain—and one had to bear in mind the onset of winter—suggested that there were likely to be serious logistic and other problems. Inserting and sustaining ground forces over a period of weeks or months in a very unstable country, particularly if they were involved in offensive operations, was quite a task. The mix of factions on the move within Afghanistan then could further add to the difficulties of telling friend from foe.

So I was relieved when it became clear that the intention was to continue to rely heavily on air power. That was a very sound decision and reflects the increasing value now being obtained by the use of air power. Ever since the bombing began, and particularly in recent days, the weight of attack on first the Taliban and subsequently on Al'Qaeda has been immense.

There is a temptation to measure air power's contribution by the number of sorties and the weight of bombs which have been raining down from B-52s, F-18s and other aircraft flown from United States naval carriers or even from the continental USA. These statistics are, of course, very impressive. They are, too, a measure of the collective efforts of very large numbers of individuals and units, working together on planning and operational staffs, on airfields and on ships, as well as in the air, to achieve a massive and sustained level of operations. That reflects the depth of professional training and the most meticulous preparations for operations. It points, too, to the levels of performance of aircraft and weapons which are now required and the need to provide adequate numbers of them.

Planning and implementing operations on this scale is a major undertaking. All who have participated are to be congratulated on their efforts. Altogether, we have seen a most professional and skilful employment of air power, one which terrorist supporters in other parts of the world should note.

But it is not right to measure success solely by the number of sorties flown or the weight of ordnance delivered. Achieving the military objectives apart, we need to consider how often the right targets have been struck, how often they have been missed.

In war, as in training, there will be missed targets and thus some wasted effort. Training is essential if such mistakes are to be minimised. Cutting back on training is a grave mistake. It increases the chance of ghastly errors in war, which could very adversely undermine public support. We make cuts far too often, as a short term economy measure, in the training of our Armed Forces. Bombs that miss sometimes do dreadful damage to non-military targets and kill or maim children and non-combatants. Such horrific incidents understandably get considerable critical media coverage.

But there is more to it than that. Noble Lords should take it as read that great efforts are taken to avoid such tragedies—not only because of their adverse impact on public support for any campaign but also because bombs which go astray do not destroy the target and further sorties will have to be mounted to deal with it. Bombs will go astray, even the latest smartest guided weapons, and for a variety of reasons. There is a tendency for some critics to argue that even if a single bomb misses, something has gone wrong and that it is a poor show.

The Royal Air Force was criticised after Kosovo because not every bomb it dropped hit a target. That is uninformed criticism and very wide of the mark. Noble Lords will recall that during the Falklands conflict a Vulcan bomber, operating from Ascension Island, dropped a stick of 21 1,000lb bombs on the airfield at Port Stanley. The direction of attack across the runway was at an angle calculated to give a high probability—there can never be certainty—that one, only one, of the 21 bombs delivered would hole the runway. None of the other 20 bombs would hit the runway, either falling short or overshooting along the line of flight. To achieve the objective it was necessary to drop all bombs in a stick to get the right assurance that one of the 21 would hit and explode on the runway.

To a greater or lesser extent the same principle applies whatever number of unguided, or dumb, bombs are used. Several are dropped to straddle the target. Much modern ordnance today incorporates some form of guidance to achieve a higher probability of a successful attack and to reduce the number of bombs that would be required to destroy the target if they were unguided ones. The chances of hitting unintended buildings or individuals are, of course, also much reduced.

But even with smart bombs, not everything will always go right. If one is a good shot and fires at a target at Bisley, not every round will be a centre bull's eye. Even if the aim is rock steady, small variations in the wind or in the charge in the rifle round, for example, will affect the ballistics and reduce consistent accuracy. Flying at several hundred knots, where the altitude, acceleration and attitude of the aircraft at weapon release are all variables, will affect the flight of a round far more than one fired lying still on your stomach. On-board computers should cope with these variables but, like the experience at Bisley, there will be small deviations. The bomb's own guidance system will also have to deal with other variables as it descends towards its target. Of course one does all that one can to get everything working perfectly, hut the nature of warfare is that there will be technical as well as human error. Not every bomb that goes astray is due to pilot error.

Other noble Lords will comment on what we should do next. All I would add is that Her Majesty's Government should be very clear what their exit strategy should be for forces that they may commit on the ground.

Finally, there is one other point that I should like to highlight. Those whom we rely on to mount and participate in operations of war are a very special breed of individual. They are, of course, volunteers, but are now—far more than was ever the case during the Cold War—exposed to enemy threats. They are sent on operations and their lives can be at risk.

If they are to achieve what is expected of them, they need to be properly trained and the money for that must be found. They need to be provided with the aircraft, weapons and defensive aids to give them a much better than even chance of defeating their opponents in the air or on the ground. They need a rewarding career structure and consideration for their families and other domestic needs. If they are unlucky and are killed or handicapped by wounds, then they must be adequately taken care of with a pension and benefits that match today's best practice.

Let me name and shame. Recent figures that I have seen indicate that, for the Armed Forces today, the death-in-service benefit payable to the surviving relative is 1.5 times salary compared to four times salary for an MP. There is a proposal to increase the Armed Forces benefit to three times salary in 2004, but that is still well short of the best. There are other comparisons that also indicate that the present, and even the future, proposed pension and benefit schemes for the services are not up to those of other public service groups.

Surely if we are to continue to recruit and retain individuals who perform as well as the Armed Forces do today, we must ensure that they are not discouraged by their pension and other benefit prospects. A young man or woman may not have a pension as their top consideration, but it is wrong to disadvantage such people by relying on their lack of interest. We should ensure that when the time comes their service will be properly recognised.

I urge the Government to think again about revamping a pension and benefit system which has been constrained from the outset by a diktat that any changes must be cost neutral. More money is required if the services are not to be shabbily treated. I hope that the Government will show that their admiration for the Armed Forces, often so eloquently expressed, will be matched by deeds in their review of service pensions and benefit schemes—a review which will impact on every soldier, sailor or airman who is on operations supporting Her Majesty's Government's policy in Afghanistan, over Iraq and elsewhere.

6 p.m.

Lord Judd

My Lords, I ought to declare an interest because of my involvement in Oxfam and other humanitarian agencies concerned with the issue we are debating tonight.

Whatever the conventions, I too must say at the outset how good it is to see the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie, among us. Those noble Lords who, over the years, have had an opportunity to know him personally not only unreservedly admire his military career, but also appreciate his wisdom and great sense of humanity. These will be tremendous assets in what he contributes in the time ahead.

I believe that the Government are to be congratulated on having come before us yet again for this debate. It can be nothing but to the good that they are so open about enabling us to scrutinise activity and to put forward our views.

My noble friend Lady Symons of Vernham Dean reminded us in her opening speech that at the forefront of our minds all the time must be 11th September. That is the essential point to make. Our firm and enduring friendship for the people of the United States demands no less. She also said that we must make sure that such an atrocity will never happen again. In that context I was glad to hear her emphasise the role of the United Nations, not only in what it has done already but in what it may be able to do in the future. I am sure that it would be appropriate at this juncture to pick out the name of Lakhdar Brahimi and to say that he represents all that is best in international service and leadership. He played a remarkable part in enabling the Bonn agreement to be reached and in enabling us to take the first tentative steps on the political way forward.

Tributes are due to a great number of people for the progress so far, especially our own armed services. At the time of Christmas we think not only of them but also of their families. As I have said before in our debates—because I believe it very deeply—a tribute is also due to our own Prime Minister for the critical leadership role he has played in the saga so far.

We have now to face the issue of winning the peace. I was interested that, in his remarkable maiden speech, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie, emphasised the long haul. This will have economic and social dimensions. It will not be cheap; it will be very expensive. My noble friend Lady Ramsay of Cartvale also underlined that point. It will involve reconstruction, institution-building and a tremendous educational programme. It will involve the rule of law. We are very apt to preach about the importance of the rule of law, but the rule of law costs money. It costs money to have judges and advocates in place, to run prisons and to look after prisoners and the accused decently.

In that context it will not be good enough simply to say that the rule of law is essential to the future of Afghanistan. If we want the rule of law, we must be prepared to resource it. It will involve the whole approach to governance and the resources needed for it. It will also involve the regional dimensions. The burden will not be simply upon Afghanistan but is already upon adjacent states. We need to make sure that the necessary support goes to them. I hope—I am not ashamed to say it in view of my past and present involvement in the non-governmental world—that in all of this there will be close co-ordination with the non-governmental organisations.

There are also the immediate humanitarian needs. My noble friend stressed that there had been a welcome increase in the amount of humanitarian assistance getting through and in place. Winter is upon the people who have already suffered so grievously, however, and the question is whether there is enough in place for the winter. Are the supplies reaching the country getting through to the displaced, not least those on the Iran border? Are the incredible needs of the camps, both inside and outside Afghanistan, being properly addressed? I hope that my noble friend, when replying to this debate, will be able to give us some precise estimates and answers on these points. I know that my noble friend will forgive me for stressing what I have always stressed: I believe that this involves close co-ordination with the non-governmental community.

My Lords, history will scrutinise this campaign in great detail. We have to be ready for that. If we seek to claim the moral high ground and to present our commitment as the stand of good against evil and as the defence of civilised values, then we shall rightly be judged by those standards.

The questions that inevitably will be asked of us will probably include whether the bombing has been proportionate, discriminate and justified in terms of the stated objectives. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, with all his experience, has just spoken about the complications this issue. How many civilian casualties have there really been and were they unavoidable? What has been the agreed policy on the taking, treatment and protection of prisoners and on the response to offers of surrender? What did happen at the Qala-i-Jangi fortress? Why did it happen and how thoroughly is it being investigated? What is the agreed policy on assassination as a method of pursuing the coalition's objectives? What arrangements have been agreed by the coalition on the procedures for trials, for forms of punishment to be applied, and on extradition? Specifically in this context, where do the Government stand on the death penalty? Other questions concern whether the overriding objective is to bring bin Laden and his followers to justice or to bring justice to them. Those objectives are not the same. Is there a determination to demonstrate our commitment to and confidence in the processes of the law? If there is not, have we honestly considered the messages to others? Have policy and action on all these matters and others been tested, and will they always be tested, against our existing commitments to the upholding of human rights? What is the policy of continuing explicit rather than implicit authorisation by the UN for action?

I believe that these questions will have to be taken seriously for two reasons. First, because of the ringing moral terms in which we have spelt out our mission. Secondly, because they are central to the battle for hearts and minds.

Around two weeks ago I was standing in a camp for displaced people—a dreadful place—in Znamenskoye, Chechnya. I caught sight of a group of young men in the camp. Their faces were a study. They had been through indiscriminate and disproportionate bombardments; they had seen the abuse of human rights; they were now faced with the grim circumstances of the camp. I wondered what was their stake in the future and in what direction they were beginning to see their futures lead.

We must uphold the finest qualities, as they have evolved, of our own military forces, as well as of those at all levels in our forces who strive to maintain them, as they have done repeatedly in immensely difficult circumstances in Northern Ireland and abroad. I also presume that it is for this very purpose that the international stabilisation force is being considered.

While we have to he decisive, firm and tough, we have to he certain that, as in domestic emergency measures, we never allow ourselves to be provoked into doing precisely what the coldly calculating terrorist leaders want us to do; namely, to indicate that, under pressure, our civilised values could begin to dissolve and be seen as largely rhetoric.

There are other issues which have to be addressed and they have been mentioned in this debate. Conceptually, the Middle East is highly relevant in terms of the issues of justice. There will never be a lasting imposed solution in the Middle East unless the issues of justice are properly addressed, and those are very deeply rooted in history. But there are other issues. Why are so many arms so readily available in the world, and what are we doing responsibly to control them? The Export Control Bill, which is to come before the House next month, is highly relevant to the kinds of situations with which we are now confronted.

During a lifetime working in humanitarian agencies and the rest, I have come to one conclusion. It is that we must not skip over the differences between peacekeeping and peace-making. Both are necessary, but peace-making is an infinitely more complicated and demanding task even than peacekeeping. One has to face the complexities of the task. One has to be ready to talk with those with whom it is not always easy to talk. In Britain, I believe that all that has happened in Northern Ireland under successive governments is an illustration of what is necessary if one is seriously to approach the task of making peace.

We hear a great deal of talk nowadays about "pax Americana". There is a difference between enforced order and participatory order. There is a difference between order which is imposed top-down and order which is rooted widely in the community. I listened with interest to Bill Clinton's Dimbleby Lecture on television last night. He spoke movingly and tellingly about the need to redistribute wealth and the advantages of our society throughout the world. However, he did not address one critical question in his interesting lecture. There are quite a number of people in key positions in the United States and around the world who do not always address this question. It is about sharing power. We lament the alienation in the world, but unless we come to terms with the political issue of the sharing of power, we shall not build enduring stability. We may impose order for a while, but the eventual cost may be higher than ever. We have to win that order by the conviction of the broadest cross-section of people in society. That means their participation.

I hate to disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Howell. I frequently find myself very much in agreement with him, and I have a high regard for a great deal of the work that he has done in this House and in the other place. However, I believe that some of the wisdom and experience in the European setting is relevant; we ought to encourage it—not in any challenging sense, not in any sense of animosity, but as a way of contributing to what will be the enduring and lasting solution to the situation.

We have an enduring friendship with the American people—I know that I have—based on many experiences. But it must be a mature and honest relationship. I worry that the grandchildren of the present generation of American leaders may say: "But what did you do with our supremacy when you had it? Why did you not throw yourselves into an unprecedented commitment to building viable world institutions instead of trying to run the world yourselves—because you could not do that for ever and it would not last for ever? The task was to build viable global institutions".

The news on ABM defence, on Kyoto, on exclusiveness in regard to Afghanistan and talk of extending the conflict is not altogether promising. In terms of real friendship, it is now that the Government and the Prime Minister—in the sense of the loyalty to their good friends across the Atlantic, which they have established beyond question—have got to speak honestly about these anxieties; to spell out what they believe is the way to a viable future. I think that they do believe that. If we do not do it now, we may never have another opportunity.

6.14 p.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

My Lords, it is my belief and that of the Green Party that this war was not an appropriate reaction to the events of 11th September. It is reinforced by the knowledge that the toll of civilian lives lost on that date is at least matched by the number of civilians killed in Afghanistan. However, that does not stop us being thankful for the success of the operation or feeling proud and having a sense of gratitude towards those who achieved it.

Nevertheless, we should not think that peace has been achieved. The Afghan war, when it finally ceases, will have spawned an escalation in the on-going war over Palestine which has lasted for so much of our lives; and perhaps we are threatened with another one in Somalia, Iraq or wherever. We should never forget that World War II did not become a "world" war until about three years after the invasion of Poland. It is easier to let slip the dogs of war than it is to kennel them.

But this debate is about Afghanistan rather than the wider field and there the damage is appalling. Irrigation systems, orchards, agricultural land and forests have been devastated, increasing the misery caused by a four-year drought. All this, and we have still not captured bin Laden, at least, so far as I know. As for what I understood to be an assurance by the Minister that the events of 11th September could not happen again, it is what Nathaniel Gubbins used to call "the good fairy, Wishful Thinking"—as a large number of speakers have pointed out.

Terrorism will continue. It has not been defeated and will not immediately be defeated. It has been here for a long time and is here, in a way, to stay. It is also fair nonsense—as ex-President Clinton said last night in the Dimbleby Lecture—to say that it is not effective. He spoke about Ireland. Does he really think that the Republic of Ireland would be where it is today if it had not been for a certain amount of terrorism? Kenya—a thriving nation, unlike one or two others in Africa—would not be where it is today were it not for some terrorism. We must face facts. It may be sad, but it is so.

The immediate future of Afghanistan, as noble Lords have said—and it is always a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Judd, in such debates—is one of dealing with short-term refugees and with immense hunger. It is to be hoped that we shall be able, through the non-governmental agencies, to come to the help of the people there and in the surrounding countries. As the noble Lord said, it will not come cheaply but we must not run away from it.

The needs are not merely short term. It is necessary to build a healthy, long-term democracy, and that will not come easily to Afghanistan. The country also needs a healthy agrarian system, which may take 20, 30 or 40 years to build up again. What plans do the Government have for rebuilding the agrarian system, and for re-afforestation, given the immense number of trees that have been destroyed in the bombing, quite apart from those that have died as a result of the drought? These are the areas which are of basic importance to Afghanistan.

There are other areas almost as important, although they may not seem so. Ben MacIntyre wrote recently in The Times about the need to restore the cultural heritage and, in so doing, to make sure that UNESCO, which at its best is a very fine body, can have an important part to play.

I deplore the war, but I can see that, if we really try, we can bring something to Afghanistan that it has not had for a very long time. The first reading in the communion service yesterday morning for the large number of Christians in different churches in this country was from Isaiah about making the desert blossom as a rose. That is the challenge before us. It is enormous, but it is one that we must take extremely seriously—as seriously as going to war.

6.20 p.m.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, I am sorry to have to disagree with my old friend, the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, but he appreciates insufficiently the evil that the government of the Taliban and the Al'Qaeda movement, which is protected by the Taliban, have brought to the rest of the world. The operation was fully justified. Had we not taken such firm action after 11th September to frustrate the activities of Osama bin Laden, he and his allies may by now have committed further atrocities. Their objective was not simply to destroy the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon; they were intent on destroying the United States and to spread their perverted mutation of Islam around the world by force, contrary to the holy Koran, which says that there must be no compulsion in religion.

If I may say so to my former noble friend, there can be few people naïve enough to believe that if the terrorists had been left to themselves, it would have been a long time before they perpetrated further shocking mass murders—and not only in the United States. I am sure that they never intended those crimes to be a one-off. As the noble Lord, Lord King, said, they were capable of mounting further operations. We have seen from the papers that have been discovered in great profusion in the bases captured by opposition forces during military operations that they were preparing and planning such attacks, including one in the City of London using a massive bomb.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

My Lords, the noble Lord must not attribute to me a naïvety that I do not have. I did not suggest that if we had not gone to war there would have been no more atrocities. I know what the terrorists wanted, but I do not think that by going to war we have put an end to terrorist attacks. There will be others. Going to war was an inappropriate way of dealing with terrorists. There are other, more appropriate ways about which I have spoken in previous debates. The noble Lord must not attribute to me a naïvety that I do not have.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, no one is suggesting that the operations that are approaching completion were the only method of combating terrorism. I have not heard that in this debate and I do not think that anyone believes that by eliminating Al'Qaeda and the Taliban we shall have solved the problems of terrorism.

Will the Minister say what steps are being taken to collect and analyse the evidence that has been reported by journalists about the further atrocities that Al'Qaeda proposed to commit? Journalists have had no difficulty finding the papers, but there has been no attempt systematically to collect from ruined buildings the papers and forensic evidence that apparently blow around the floor waiting for somebody to pick them up. Can individual terrorists be brought to justice? There is a strong case for a process that will examine the nature and intentions of the movement so that its offshoots and allies outside Afghanistan can better be countered and stopped.

It is also necessary to convince people in the Muslim world that there was sufficient justification for our actions. The tape showing that Mr bin Laden was fully associated with crime involving the twin towers has been published. That is an important and useful example of what should be done, but I am afraid that in spite of the Prime Minister and some of your Lordships saying that it is a matter beyond reasonable doubt, reactions from the Muslim world show that they are not absolutely convinced. Provenance is important and it has not yet been established how the tape came into the hands of the Americans. It would have to be proved that it came from an authentic source if it were produced in a court of law.

Will the Minister say what instructions have been given to our own forces about the collection of documents and tapes? What rules of evidence will apply if the information is ever used in a prosecution?

Public opinion about intervention in Afghanistan will be influenced in the long run not only by the success of the operation in closing down a particular source of international terrorism, but by the success of the Bonn agreement. If that works and a peaceful democratic Islamic state emerges from the rubble, not only will the Afghan people be rescued from the nightmare of the 22 years of repression and conflict that they have endured since the Soviet invasion of 1979, but it will provide important lessons for dealing with other failed states that may also be the laboratories of terrorism.

The big question from Bonn is the extent to which it will be accepted by the warlords, tribal leaders and ulema in Afghanistan. We shall be in a better position to assess the prospects, having opened our embassy in Kabul earlier than anyone else, as the Minister said in her opening remarks. But that does not make it easy for us to evaluate what people are thinking in Herat, Kandahar or Jalalabad. The noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, mentioned that there is some dissatisfaction with what was agreed in Bonn. She said that General Dostum was dissatisfied with his share of power under the agreement. Haji Abdul Qadir, who controls Nangarhar province, walked out of the Bonn meeting because he thought that the Pashtuns were under-represented, although I understand that they formed more than half of the participants in the meeting while constituting less than half of the population. The noble Baroness also mentioned Pir Gailani, the leader of the so-called Peshawar group, whose importance in the future may not be as great as those who control territory in Afghanistan. Perhaps the opposition of some of the people to the Bonn agreement is less important, but if they hold territory and maintain military forces, we have to find a way of getting them on side and approving what is being done in the name of the Afghan people.

It is impossible to satisfy everybody, of course, but the process is designed to keep the dissenters on board by focusing their attention on the next stage of that process. The 21-member special independent commission has to be established by 22nd January. It has the crucial function of making the rules for the indirect election or selection of delegates to the emergency Loya Jirga, which in turn will elect the head of state for the transitional authority.

The composition of the commission is much more important in the long run than that of the transitional authority, which takes office in less than a week. It appears that anyone claiming to be a civil society group can submit a list of candidates to the Loya Jirga, although an unspecified number of them must have expertise in constitutional or customary law. The agreement is silent on the vital question of how the selection will be made from the lists submitted, which could prove contentious. Will the interim administration, which is the repository of Afghan sovereignty, give final approval to the membership of the commission?

On the matter of the international security force, the Bonn agreement asks the Security Council to consider the early deployment of a UN-mandated force, initially to help to maintain security in Kabul and surrounding areas. One would have expected that force to be in position by 22nd December, but the Prime Minister said nothing definite this afternoon about its size and composition or about when it would be in place. Can the Minister say anything more about the timetable and about what happened to the idea that Islamic states should take part in the multi-national force? As the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, asked, is there a strategy for deploying forces to other centres of population after Kabul? What proposals are we making for escorting aid convoys along the lawless highways in between times?

The priority for the next three months is obviously the humanitarian aid programme, which I understand is going well, from all that I read about the World Food Programme's efforts on the borders of Iran and the opening up of new routes to bring humanitarian supplies in from the central Asian republics. We can look forward to adequate supplies reaching the country to prevent starvation or an increase in disease over the winter.

At the same time, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said, the programme for reconstruction has to start now. One way of persuading local leaders to disarm the militias could be to offer specific projects in their areas in return for handing in weapons. Some of the fighters might be employed in unskilled jobs associated with the reconstruction, or the agencies could undertake training in the various building skills that will be required for some years to come.

The chairman of the Anglo-Afghan circle in the UK, Mr Nasis Saberi, wrote to the Secretary of State for International Development suggesting that many thousands of Afghan professionals in the outside world would be eager to make their contribution and it would make a lot of sense if the UN and NGOs recruited from among those exiles, who would speak the local languages, when looking for engineers or other professionals.

It has been said that, in carrying out our task of bringing terrorists to justice, it is vital that we observe international law and use our influence with allies to do the same. The noble Lords, Lord King and Lord Judd, mentioned that. That does not appear to have happened in the Qala-i-Jhangi fort, where several hundred prisoners died, some with their hands tied behind their backs. Since the circumstances are disputed and members of our Armed Forces were involved indirectly in the tragedy, we ought to clear the air with an independent investigation into the deaths, as Amnesty International has demanded. As it is, we cannot be certain whether the all-out attack with heavy weapons and aircraft on the prisoners was a proportionate response to a situation in which a few of them got hold of some Kalashnikovs and started to attack the guards. We ought at the very least to ensure the protection of the 50 or so survivors, some of whom were badly burned and in need of medical attention. They must be at risk as witnesses to events that the Northern Alliance, the US and the UK appear to want to sweep under the carpet.

The treatment of prisoners generally has been pretty appalling in the conflict. Even when the television cameras are present, guards treat captives with great brutality. The practice of keeping them in old containers with no light or ventilation is barbaric. There may be a shortage of places where prisoners can he held securely and humanely, but why did we not anticipate that need and treat it as a priority?

If the future is to be better than the past in Afghanistan, institutionalised impunity must be brought to an end and human rights upheld from the word go. The interim administration is to establish an independent human rights commission, which will have the responsibility, inter alia, of monitoring human rights. It may wish to inquire into what happened in Qala-i-Jhangi, even if that turns out to be inconvenient for Mr Straw and Mr Hoon. If in the meanwhile the evidence has been destroyed and witnesses have gone missing, the objectives that we all share of making the new Afghanistan a state based firmly on the rule of law will he undermined.

6.34 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Rochester

My Lords, so much of great value has already been said, not least by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie, and latterly by the noble Lord, Lord Judd. I shall try not to repeat what has already been said.

We have reached a situation in which we need to take note of regional issues on the one hand and the rebuilding of Afghanistan on the other. The latter must depend on recovering the ever-elusive sense of Afghan identity, over and above mere tribal loyalty. The glory days of Afghanistan have always been those when charismatic leadership and external threat have combined to unite the Afghan people. The great Afghan nationalist and poet, Khushhal Khan Khattak, was able, through his oratory alone, to bring the different tribes together in the face of the threat from the Mogul empire.

Today also, the tribes, particularly the Pashtun tribes, must see that the interests of their own tribe are bound up with a strong, safe and united Afghanistan. There is a nation to be built.

As another Afghan poet, Mehrab Gul, cried out: Rome and Syria and India have changed; You too wake up 0 sleeping mountain warrior, Wake up to your Afghan identity, Wake up and seize your destiny!". I apologise for the translation, but I thought that it would be better than the Pashtun in this House.

In the meantime, the day-to-day work of securing the country must go on, so that food can reach the hungry, fuel the cold and medical assistance the ill and injured. For the foreseeable future, it seems that an effective international force will be necessary to guarantee the delivery of some of those services.

Just as the new government in Afghanistan should be broadly based, drawing on different ethnic, language and religious groups in the country, so also an international force must not he merely a European or American one. I cannot say that too strongly. In particular, it must include elements drawn from predominantly Islamic countries, such as Jordan, Malaysia, Bangladesh or Turkey. If that does not happen, there is a risk of alienating opinion in Afghanistan in a very delicate situation. The right size of force is important, but so is its make-up.

In due course, plans need to be made to encourage the return of millions of refugees from neighbouring countries and from further afield. If such movement is to be voluntary, it will happen only if the conditions are right for the refugees to return. That will mean extensive de-mining of the countryside and the disposal of numerous unexploded bombs. It will also mean the gradual rebuilding of Afghanistan's shattered infrastructure. If agriculture, for instance, is to be viable again, the irrigation system has to be made operational—and sooner than in the 10 or 20 years mentioned by another noble Lord.

It is important that prisoners of war are treated in accordance with international law. Britain is a signatory not only to the Geneva Convention, but to those protocols that govern conduct in the context of action against groups that are not representing nation states. The United States is not a signatory. Those who have been accused of crimes against the international community should be tried in duly constituted courts. Those who are accused of crimes within Afghanistan should be held in secure conditions until a broadly based administration is in place and a reasonably impartial judicial system is working. I fully endorse the plea of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, in that respect.

Taliban conscripts, sometimes no more than teenagers, who have often been pressganged into military service, should, after appropriate debriefing, be allowed home. Foreign prisoners not accused of specific crimes should be handed over to their country of origin. As has been said by the noble Lords, Lord King, Lord Judd and Lord Avebury, our values and methods should be different from those of the terrorist.

We must not forget security in neighbouring countries—especially Pakistan. Is that country receiving assistance for the deployment of thousands of troops and much hardware along its northern and western borders? That event is of deeper significance than just preventing Al'Qaeda leaders escaping from Afghanistan. For the first time in recent history, it may be possible to make those lawless borders more secure.

It is encouraging that internal security in Pakistan continues to improve and that the Government seem determined to regulate the activities of the Madrassas—the religious schools that produced the Taliban and other extremist movements. Are the Government offering any support to the revision of the curriculum at those schools and the introduction of modern teaching methods? A broadly-based Madrassa system will not only improve education in Pakistan but may produce more enlightened ulema or religious leaders—a task of the first importance.

As to international terrorism, restricting the flow of financial resources available to extremist organisations must continue—but that extends not only to drug dealing and money laundering but official and semi-official channels. Can the Government report on their dialogue with other countries about the measures being taken to prevent the use of such channels?

The Government of Pakistan are to be congratulated on the steps that it has taken to protect non-Muslim and Christian minorities during the conflict. The structural and legal causes of discrimination remain. A law that is ultimately un-Islamic—the blasphemy law should be repealed and meantime made incapable of abuse. The development of democratic institutions must be on the basis of universal adult franchise. The system of separate electorates is not commensurate with the return to full democracy that we expect. In the legal system, non-Muslims need to be accorded full equality.

The Indian Prime Minister said that the recent attack on the Parliament in New Delhi must be condemned as an attack on democracy itself. We do not know who or what was behind that attack but a large regional issue still looms in the background—Kashmir. Until that problem is resolved, the region will continue to be unstable. It is time for the international community to be proactive in bringing all the parties to that dispute to a common table. We cannot afford to wait for another crisis before steps are taken to defuse that particular time bomb. The international community needs to impress on the Governments of India and Pakistan that the matter has to be settled—not least so that the long-suffering people of Kashmir can live in peace.

As the imperial power ultimately responsible for creating the background to the Kashmir dispute, Britain has a special responsibility. Let us seize the chance for peace at this time.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Astor of Hever

My Lords, we are reaching, one hopes, the military end game in Afghanistan. That many of our objectives have been met is a vindication of the strategy pursued by the international coalition. I share unreservedly the aspiration of my noble friend Lord Howell that we should continue to support the Americans.

When the fighting stops, with winter getting a grip, the aid agencies must move fast. Humanitarian resources should be devoted to getting a picture of the needs as they really are. Non-governmental organisations have been speculating in the dark. They need good and impartial humanitarian information. I hope that the Afghans have survived better than we imagined but we need to know the details and to respond fast.

After more than 20 years of conflict, the resistance shown by some Afghans will be dangerously low. The United Nations estimates that 6 million people are in need of food in Afghanistan. Red Cross surveys conducted in Ghor province in the spring of 2001—long before 11th September—revealed a population of 500,000 too impoverished to survive the winter without external assistance. Many children will be prey to all manner of ailments and may not live long.

Serious drought is affecting remote provinces such as Ghor and Dar-e-Souf, where Afghans have been abandoning their homes for more than a year. Natural springs have dried up, livestock has died and food supplies are reportedly too low to last the winter. That is a real challenge to the aid agencies. Relationships between them and the military—international and Afghan—must be clearly defined and respected. Humanitarian agencies and the military have serious obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians and enable the necessary relief supplies to get through.

An NGO invasion must be avoided. Last week, 20 NGOs per day were trying to register in Pakistan. The arrival of the NGO circus is always a problem in a high-profile, well-funded emergency—when all agencies think that they must be seen to be there. That invasion should be kept to a minimum. There are agencies with many years' experience in Afghanistan. In Britain, they include Oxfam—mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, Save the Children, Tear Fund and Christian Aid. Internationally, there is the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations. Those organisations should be given the room for manoeuvre that they need.

The World Food Programme has food, trucks and staff in Quetta in Pakistan—ready to deliver when the situation improves. Distribution is the greatest problem faced by the humanitarian agencies. My honourable friend Caroline Spelman has just returned from Pakistan and reports that there are enormous difficulties in getting vital food to the most needy in Afghanistan. That is partly because of internal security—hardly surprising, when a war is raging. The country is still volatile and the area around Kandahar is particularly chaotic.

There are other obstacles for aid agencies to overcome. Serious looting is taking place. Sensitive negotiations are needed with a variety of local commanders and warlords. Rivers that must be crossed are swollen by rain. It will be a race against time to complete distributions before snow blocks access to remote villages.

Land mines—most of them dropped years ago by the Russians—are a serious problem. Afghanistan is one of the countries worst affected by mines and unexploded ordnance. I am told that clearance is not yet being addressed. I am not sure who will be taking a lead on the issue, the Government or the land mine charities, but if it is the latter, we should be aware that they are seriously under-funded. They desperately need ambulances, for example, to rescue the many victims who continue to be injured by mines. I should he grateful if the Minister will give the House some clarification on the land mine clearance strategy.

The WFP distributes food through its local partners, but some of them are exploiting the crisis to obtain the highest price. Lorry drivers—partly because of the danger, but mainly because of the crucial role that they play—are also exploiting the situation. With the cost of transportation skyrocketing, food networks are not running smoothly. Parts of the central highlands have not had food for three months. We do not want to be counting the bodies in February when we can do something now. Will the Government press for air-drops of relief supplies in the most remote areas? Clearly, however, the risks of increased mine casualties must be taken into account if there is a possibility that hungry and deprived Afghans will try to pick up relief supplies air-dropped across the country.

While we consider the situation in Afghanistan we must not forget the impact of the crisis on Pakistan. I agree wholeheartedly with the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie, and with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester that Pakistan deserves and must have our continued support. Some of its refugee camps are neglected and refugees urgently need food and shelter.

The cumulative impact of war, isolation, bad management and drought has brought Afghanistan to new levels of desperation. The Minister pointed out that the international community has previously let Afghanistan down. I was therefore delighted with her reassurance to the House that Afghanistan will not, once again, drop off the humanitarian agenda and that the Government recognise that this is a long-term commitment. I hope, as she said, that good will come out of evil.

I also hope that, although we are rightly focusing on Afghanistan, other countries suffering disasters—the forgotten emergencies—will remain firmly in the Government's focus.

6.53 p.m.

Baroness Greengross

My Lords, it is a privilege to participate in this important debate and I am grateful to the Minister for initiating it. We have heard some very wise and eloquent speeches by noble Lords who have great experience, and I refer particularly to the maiden speech by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie. My remarks will be brief and concentrate on the situation of women in Afghanistan, especially on the situation of older women, widows of all ages and very young children. We have to remember that they are just as much the victims of war as those who are on active service and are killed or injured. In such situations, those who suffer most are often the very young and the very old.

I am grateful to HelpAge International, of which I am a board member; to Margaret Owen, an expert on the situation of widows in developing countries who has given me a great deal of information; and to Joan Ruddock MP, who only last week raised the issue of women in Afghanistan in an admirable debate in the other place, and on whose remarks I shall draw briefly. Joan Ruddock does much excellent work as co-ordinator of the UK Women's Link with Afghan Women. The noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, serves on that organisation's advisory board.

I should like first to address the issue of widows and older women in Afghanistan. HelpAge International is working in Afghanistan, although it is very difficult to do so, and is ready to go into Ghor, Badakhshan and Konar provinces, areas where little aid has yet reached. My noble friend Lord Judd pointed out that winter is upon us. As we know, even in this country those most affected by the cold are the very old and the very young. Sadly, we can expect mortality rates to remain very high. HelpAge International is also working in the border regions, mainly in Pakistan, to which most of the refugees have fled. NGOs such as HAI do such wonderful work around the world, but very often they receive little recognition. Just as in this country, work with elderly people often does not grab the headlines.

The long period of war in Afghanistan, since the 1970s, has created many thousands of widows of all ages. It has been estimated that there are 700,000 widows in Afghanistan alone, which is an extraordinary statistic. Every time another soldier from either side is killed, it is likely that he leaves behind a widow, children, and sometimes also elderly parents.

Although widows have obviously suffered, they also have a crucial role to play in the future. In many cases they are the sole supporters of children and other dependants, and many of them are extremely young. Added to their plight is the fact that, whereas women generally suffer from a lack of basic human rights and the opportunity to participate, the situation worsens markedly for women when they lose their husbands. That reality is not unique to Afghanistan or to the current crisis, but is common in many developing countries around the globe.

The situation of women in Afghanistan has at last received much coverage and comment. Unfortunately, it has taken a long while for the international community to recognise the problems. I should, however, like to add a note of caution: the total disregard of rights and the cruelty to which women were subjected in Afghanistan by the Taliban regime did not start in 1996. The seeds were sown earlier by other governments in that nation, including those involving previous incarnations of the Northern Alliance. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will use their influence to help ensure that that does not happen again.

As the Minister pointed out, it is very good news that the new interim 30-member council includes two prominent women, both of whom are doctors: Suhalai Seddiqui as health minister and Sima Samar as women's affairs minister. Dr. Seddiqui is a striking example of the ludicrous situation initiated by the Taliban regime: first, it banned her from working, but then she was allowed to work because her skills were needed. Meanwhile, most other women were being thrown out of their jobs.

As we now know, the result of banning women from their jobs was that schools closed—the University of Kabul could not operate; health care suffered and mortality rates for women and children have been abysmal. It has been estimated that in Afghanistan one women dies in childbirth every 15 minutes, while one in four children dies before the age of five. I encourage my noble friend Lady Symons to ensure that we do everything possible to ensure that women are represented in Afghanistan, as they were at the Bonn talks. I think that my noble friend gave us that assurance in her earlier comments.

Any future international reconstruction and development initiative also has to ensure that those bodies involve women, preferably on an equal basis to men. The Minister knows as well as I do that, in a man's world, it is vital to involve women fully and not "tokenistically". In the longer term we should be aiming for equal representation in Afghanistan, although we have not yet achieved that in this country let alone in many other parts of the industrialised world.

I was encouraged to learn from the UK Women's Link that the Afghan constitution gave equal rights to men and women in 1964, and that as late as 1988, it had seven women MPs. We therefore have some positive precedents on which to build. However, the work to be done is immense. Once the current, immediate military crisis is over—thanks to the amazing achievements of the armed services, not least our own, it looks as though we may be nearly there—I hope that we recognise that we cannot walk away from Afghanistan again. We have a responsibility to the widows, young and old, to the young children and to the older people of Afghanistan as well as to the population as a whole to help them rebuild their nation.

7 p.m.

Lord Desai

My Lords, I am the 17th speaker and much has already been said. The quality of this and all our previous debates on Afghanistan has been so high, as the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, said, that perhaps we should publish them separately as a book. That would show how our perceptions have changed since we first debated the matter.

This is only the 105th day since 11th September. We have debated the matter since early October. However, events have moved rapidly. It is a good thing that the war came to a speedy end. As far as I am concerned, as I said in our previous debate on the subject, I want the destruction of the Taliban even more than that of Al'Qaeda and that has been achieved. The Taliban constituted a terrorist state. The Taliban probably caused more civilian deaths and more harm to its own population than have been caused by any amount of bombing in the past few months. However, I believe that the speedy end of the war has led to certain problems.

After 11th September we saw a great change in the attitudes of the USA as regards multilateralism, co-operation with allies and being open and co-operative with the United Nations and so on. We thought that this was perhaps a new dawn in American policy. However, I believe that the short war has probably confirmed Americans' previous assumptions that they do not need the rest of the world. They may return not to isolationism but to unilateralism as, after all, although our forces have made significant contributions to the war, the Americans perceive that they have done 98 per cent of the work and that they do not need anyone else, thank you very much. The war has ended dangerously quickly and that may lead to some problems.

One of the problems concerns the Middle East. I do not wish to discuss that now as it is the subject of the later Unstarred Question. The small window of opportunity to raise the Palestine issue has now been closed as now the Americans do riot need the co-operation of the Arab world as they considered they did in the weeks after September 11th. Therefore, although the speedy end of the war is a good thing, it will have other consequences in that regard. However, the speedy end of the war will probably ease the humanitarian problem. As many noble Lords have said, I too hope that the ending of the war will allow us to avoid as many deaths from starvation as possible in the coming winter.

I am somewhat pessimistic at the prospect of the new Afghan regime. In that I am more on the side of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie, who made an excellent maiden speech, and that of the noble Lord, Lord King, rather than that of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester. I do not think that Afghanistan is a nation. It was a kingdom and a territory but not a nation. Creating a nation is not automatic. If nationalism takes hold, ethnic rivalries get worse. It is difficult to construct nations, especially in a situation in which there are not only many ethnic groups but also family rivalries among tribes. Afghanistan is not merely feudal; it is a pre-feudal country with a nomadic pastoral economic base with some agriculture and hardly any industry. In that situation it is not easy to think of Afghan loyalty. People's primary loyalty is to their family, then to their tribe and then to their ethnic group.

We shall have to be cautious in approaching this problem and allow much time for its resolution. I do not believe that Afghanistan will suddenly adopt a modern constitution such as we are used to. It will have to recognise not only adult universal franchise but also give a balanced role to different ethnic groups. I refer to the process which has been tried in Northern Ireland where each ethnic group has some kind of veto so that it is not deprived of its rights by the majority ethnic group. It is important to build a multinational Afghan polity taking into account what is called a "consociational" arrangement in which minority rights are recognised and in which all the decisions are not made by the majority.

I refer to the reconstruction of the Afghan economy which many people have already mentioned. That will not be a quick and easy task. I am pleased to note that Mark Malloch Brown, the head of UNDP, has been put in charge of that. When reconstructing Afghanistan it is important that the relief agencies should concentrate their efforts as much as possible on the neighbouring economies and make demands on them to enable them to gain some prosperity in helping Afghanistan to recover. Rather than import everything from thousands of miles away and drop it into Afghanistan, let us try to create a common trade region, as it were, around Afghanistan so that the Uzbeks, the Tadjiks, the Pakistanis and the Iranians also gain something from the reconstruction of Afghanistan and do not merely bear the costs of Afghan refugees, as they have done. I hope that some imagination will be brought to bear in planning the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

Another consequence of the speedy end of the Afghan war is that the India/Pakistan issue remains unresolved. Here again, the window of opportunity we might have had to bring India and Pakistan to the negotiating table has, I am afraid, shut. What is more, as the latest attack on the Indian Parliament and the earlier attack on the Kashmir national assembly show, things are getting much worse rather than better. There is a serious danger that military hostilities may break out. There are many pressures on both governments to adopt a slightly adventurous posture on the matter. I hope that the Foreign Office is doing everything it can to warn the two parties against any such adventure.

However, it is not up to us to solve the Kashmir problem. It would be counter-productive for the UK or any other government to be seen to be meddling in that matter. It is one of those rather peculiar problems in which neither India nor Pakistan wants to admit third parties. I agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester that the people of Kashmir are suffering due to the selfishness of India and Pakistan in that respect. The only solution to the Kashmir problem is an autonomous Kashmir, but I do not know when that will occur. However, we can make progress in that matter not through the Government but through the multi-racial, multi-cultural civil society here. The many communities in this country should start a dialogue on Kashmir. I refer to people whose origins lie in India, Pakistan or Kashmir as well as to the majority community here. We should all get together and thrash out possible solutions to the Kashmir problem in a non-official capacity. That would have much more resonance than anything that the Foreign Office could do.

Finally, I turn to the longer-term problems that we have to address. We have not talked about them much today. How will the dialogue with Islam and modernity be addressed? It is not a question of reading the Koran. Far too many people have bought the Koran and read it. Reading the Koran does not help this situation, just as reading the New Testament would not have helped to solve the Northern Ireland problem. The problem is not about that kind of religious knowledge. We have to know about the fragments and divisions through history within the Muslim society. People have taken attitudes about modernity and western civilisation. Some have adopted modernity; others resist it. Our task is to appreciate those differences, learn from our friends in the Muslim community and harness their help to convince their brethren that some Muslim communities have gained from modernisation, westernisation and the new developments. Therefore, those developments should not be seen as a threat to Muslim culture or religion because all religions can live happily in the modern world. That is the message we have to send. I hope that the British Council will do its utmost to foster dialogue among countries.

7.11 p.m.

The Earl of Sandwich

My Lords, it is still too early to measure the success of the Afghan campaign because technically we have not yet met all the original objectives. However, I, too, should like to congratulate the Government again on their rapid response after 11th September and their share since then of the success of the US-led operation. I join with the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, in praising those diplomats who have worked behind the scenes. Like the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. I am not sure whether the coalition is still intact. Perhaps we shall receive some assurance on that. But it is consoling that other European states are subscribing to the peacekeeping force and that whatever difficulties lie ahead key countries like Iran and Pakistan are fully behind the new administration.

We have heard many deserved tributes—they came not only from noble and gallant Lords—to our Armed Forces. I wish to raise the question of civilians and follow the example of my noble and gallant friend Lord Craig. The Minister gave me last week an Answer to a Written Question suggesting that there had been no assessment of civilian casualties. Frankly, I find that unsatisfactory. His honourable friend Mr Hoon, after regretting injuries to our own Royal Engineers and other military casualties, properly mentioned in last week's debate the suffering of the Afghan people. I am sure that the Minister, too, will today acknowledge and regret the loss of civilian families as an indirect result of bombing. Will the noble Lord agree with me that any inaccurate targeting by highly sophisticated weaponry such as we have today, whenever properly confirmed and recorded, deserves some form of official statement, assuming that our policies are not being dictated by insurance companies?

In this context, the Minister will be aware of known civilian casualties from some of the 600 cluster bomb units containing about 122,000 bomblets, mainly used up to 3rd December by the US Air Force. Many of those bomblets were BLU-97s, with a failure rate of around 20 per cent in difficult terrain according to expert opinion from Landmine Action and the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fund. Although the US Department of Defense has modified the CB U-87 with a wind-corrected CBU-103, there are still tens of thousands of unexploded BLU-97s lying around from this war, sometimes close to villages where children may be playing.

Leaving aside military capability, given that the UN is currently reviewing the use of inhumane conventional weapons in Geneva, will the Government confirm that the disproportionate impact on non-combatants is now against international law and that users of munitions nowadays also have a post-conflict humanitarian responsibility? Will the Minister also agree that the specialised agencies which have been actively removing landmines in Afghanistan over many years—the noble Lord, Lord Astor, raised this point—and which always have funding difficulties should now be given the fullest support from DfID in coping with not only with mines from previous wars but also additional unexploded ordnance resulting from the war against the Taliban?

On the role of the peacekeeping force, it is premature to make judgments while the UK is halfway through the planning process. I welcome the common European initiative. However, I have noticed that the aid agencies have an underlying anxiety that a multinational force will retain a separate identity instead of putting its full weight behind the new administration of Mr Hamid Karzai. It is imperative that the Afghan people—remembering that fighting continues in some areas—do not see our forces as a continuing invasion but as an essential and temporary guarantee of national reconstruction as well as of humanitarian work. The training of police and militia in the protection of citizens will become an urgent priority. With Sierra Leone and Kosovo in mind, Britain is undoubtedly playing its part.

In debate on the Statement today, the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House said that he hoped that there would be no permanent garrison. Afghan has a long history of fierce independence. Surely it is out of the question that there should be any permanent garrison.

With some allies or elements of the Northern Alliance proving less than reliable as time goes on—religious leaders are already preaching against foreign forces—it will become more important to carry out visible short-term assignments such as protecting convoys on key roads so as not to indicate a permanent presence in the country.

Since 1st December, food distributions have gone up to 2,800 tonnes a day, higher than the rate before the bombing started. Non-governmental organisations are now delivering more than half the total reported by the World Food Programme. I believe that that in itself is a guarantee of safe arrival. However, since 11th September the daily average is still only 1,000 tonnes which means that there is an enormous backlog of food. Inevitably, while there is still political uncertainty and security is patchy it will be impossible to meet all the shortfalls.

Some remote areas like Ghor are at last receiving supplies. This may relieve pressure on displacement camps like Maslakh near Herat where conditions are very poor and Christian Aid has reported that arrivals have increased tenfold to over 1,000 people a day in one camp. But there remain mountainous parts—for example, Badghis and Faryab in the north-west. Despite the re-opened border crossings in the north, large areas are still either insecure or inaccessible by road.

Security is the biggest anxiety for the NGOs because there have been some attacks on their vehicles on the main roads. The road from the border to Kabul is still unpredictable. Trucks make it in two days but there is harassment at checkpoints and guns have been fired at drivers who refuse to pay a bribe. In Kabul some areas are still unsafe and aid agencies are subject to looting, thefts and threats even from soldiers who have a duty to protect them. Law and order, which did at least exist under the Taliban, has broken down and the people are often at the mercy of half-trained militia who have their own agenda.

None of this is surprising in a country recovering from civil war and still suffering from acute poverty and inequality. Foreigners bringing aid tend to be seen by the impoverished as legitimate quarry as much as sources of charity. There is now no overall shortage of food in the capital but much of it is being sold into the market and many other commodities are in short supply.

There is a lot of concern among NGOs about the future funding of the United Nations Inter-Agency Emergency Humanitarian Assistance programme since the assessment was made in Islamabad at the end of November. I gather that last week only half of the 662 million dollars required for the six months to March 2002 had been pledged. While immediate needs are vital, there are fears that long-term reconstruction may, for example, be held up by the insistence of the Asian Development Bank on guarantees for debt servicing payments.

Finally, many friends of Afghanistan are now concerned about the long-term future of the country. The Foreign Secretary spoke last week of the need for spiritual regeneration alongside physical rebuilding. That leads me to ask the Minister whether he believes that the views of the Afghan people and experiences of NGOs in Afghanistan over many years have been sufficiently considered in the international plans for rehabilitation.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Judd, I hope that DfID will continue its long tradition of having joint consultations with NGOs—I have attended them myself and know that they apply especially to Afghanistan—in order to plan for health, education and social programmes and the strengthening of civil society organisations. That will provide a firm foundation for long-term reconstruction.

7.21 p.m.

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, in her opening speech, the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, rightly widened the debate. I shall follow her example.

Many noble Lords will have visited the United States since September 11th. I was there for four days in October and went to Ground Zero on Saturday 20th. I stood with a multiracial and multilingual crowd of New Yorkers with the stench of terrorism in our nostrils. Water was still being poured on to the fires—the wreckage was still burning six weeks after the attacks. When the smoke has drifted away and the stench has evaporated, September 11th will still be a major factor in the American psyche, possibly for years or even decades to come.

I was in the United States to meet six different groups of sophisticated American fund managers. I noted their naïvety and their surprise and distress at the sudden arrival of terrorism in their midst. However, they made it very clear how determined they are to fight terrorism and how much they appreciated the support of our Prime Minister, who I suspect is probably the most recognisable foreign political figure in the United States today.

We must all recognise that one cannot fundamentally distinguish between the different faces of terrorism. The noble Baroness, Lady Symons, said—I hope that I noted this down correctly—that terrorism against civilians is never justified and that the Government are not prepared to condone terrorism on the grounds of fighting for freedom. That is why I was so glad that Her Majesty's Government at once agreed to an amendment to include domestic terrorism within the provisions of the anti-terrorism Bill. That amendment was passed by the Conservatives, without the support of the Liberal Party, in that first vote in this House. It was an essential change—if it had not been accepted on the grounds that it would damage the peace process in Northern Ireland, that would have involved a compromise with terrorism. Sadly, much of the so-called peace process in Northern Ireland has been a compromise with terrorism.

I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, is not still in his place. I was interested in his suggestion that history shows that terrorism has justified its ends. He cited the examples of Ireland and Kenya. I suggest that terrorism very often delays a move forward rather than helps it.

I follow the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay of Cartvale, about some of our domestic critics of the war in Afghanistan. They seem to be unaware of the realities of war. I give two examples. First, there has been much reference to collateral civilian casualties. With the amount of ordnance and air-power that has been used in Afghanistan, the extraordinary thing is how few collateral civilian casualties there seem to have been. The air campaign has in general been marked by astonishing accuracy. Some casualties have resulted from friendly fire.

Secondly, shock at the nastiness of war is astonishing. My Lords, war is nasty. It is no more and no less nasty when death comes from 30,000 feet than from a bullet or a knife in the stomach. Death is death, murder is murder and terrorism is terrorism. I sympathised with the Foreign Secretary when he expressed serious reservations and surprise at Amnesty's demand for an immediate inquiry into the events that followed the attempted escape of Taliban and Al'Qaeda prisoners after the fall of Mazar-i Sharif. Those prisoners approached their guards and then blew up themselves and their guards. Our soldiers should not be expected to take personal risks with their lives when faced by suicide fighters, any more than a policeman in the United Kingdom should do, when his life is personally threatened with a firearm. To shoot—and to shoot to kill—is the justifiable response.

I turn to bin Laden and his possible fate. The Government have got themselves into difficulty by indicating that if he fell into the hands of our forces, our constraints on the death penalty would have to apply in relation to any decision to hand him to the Americans. I know how the Americans feel—and are likely to feel for quite a long time. The tremendous good will that they feel towards the British Government, and particularly towards our Prime Minister, would rapidly evaporate if there was any suggestion that the British were standing in the way of the American desire to administer what they feel to be justice to bin Laden. That is a fact, regardless of our opinion one way or the other on the death penalty.

Some of these questions were raised—quite rightly—by the noble Lord, Lord Judd. They bring me to that crucial reservoir of hatred that nourishes terrorism. I refer to the Middle East, which is the subject of the next debate. The current tragedy is that Prime Minister Sharon has joined Hamas in making a peaceful solution impossible. He seems not to have recognised that the attacks by Hamas on Israel are equally an attack on Arafat and thus the possibility of a peaceful solution. That solution must involve withdrawal from the West Bank settlements and the creation of the state of Palestine, which should be as permanent and sustainable as the state of Israel.

I turn to the United Nations. The Security Council of the United Nations is the fastest legislature in the world. Its resolutions have the force of international law as soon as they are passed. Security Council resolutions are a source of great power and opportunity to the United Nations, and particularly to Britain, in view of our permanent "veto" membership of the Security Council.

If ever confirmation were needed of the end of the Cold War, the collaboration of Russia with the anti-terrorist coalition is it. It is perhaps one of the most encouraging glimpses of a silver lining in the dark cloud of 11th September.

The United Nations started rather well after the end of the Cold War with the expulsion of Saddam Hussein from Kuwait. However, since then things have not been so good. I believe that 11th September and the international coalition against terrorism, underwritten by the law enacted by the United Nations Security Council, could provide a fresh start. That applies essentially in the Middle East. The United States must now combine UN legal and moral authority with its own political and financial muscle to impose a peace solution on the Middle East. There is not much time to waste.

I believe that we have more to do in this country than was done in the terrorism Bill enacted last week. I think in particular of intelligence, referred to by more than one noble Lord. There is a need for much better intelligence, and this depends on a reliable system of identifying and, when necessary, tracing individuals. We should move as soon as possible in this country to a system of unique personal reference numbers, making the fullest use of the biometric methods of identification which are now available. The Americans are moving rapidly in that direction, and I believe that we must follow their lead.

Finally, terror, whether it is called "international" or "state" terrorism, is the chosen instrument of terrorists. Support for terrorism comes from two main sources: either hatred, quite often justified historically, or the subversion of tine ideals, both religious and political. Those sources have motivated and been used unscrupulously by Osama bin Laden. Let us not forget that the final phase of the French Revolution, which at the time was known as the "Great Terror", did not end until the death of Robespierre, its chief architect.

7.33 p.m.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, it is a daunting experience to take part in a debate of this kind following a former Defence Secretary and four former Chiefs of the Defence Staff, including the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie, who made an excellent and memorable maiden speech.

I want to use as a point of departure for my own remarks one aspect of the current operations in Afghanistan: the announcement that Britain is apparently to take the lead in the peace-keeping or stabilisation force which is now being planned for that country. Before I continue, I want to ask the Minister whether we were asked to take the lead or whether the Government took the initiative in proposing that we should do so.

I believe that there is an important point here. It was certainly right that we should play our full part in the operations which followed the outrage of September 11th. It may also be right that we should play a part, if asked to do so, in the peace-keeping or stabilisation force which may be needed immediately after the operations in Afghanistan are successfully concluded, as I am confident they will be. Indeed, as other noble Lords have said, one of the most satisfying aspects of this whole episode has been the speed with which the Taliban and Al'Qaeda have been overcome by the coalition of international forces led by the United States.

However, whether we should play a leading part or volunteer to take the lead in nation-building, stabilisation or whatever it may be called is another matter. Of course, if we were to do so and it all went horribly wrong, I should rather have our own military commanders in charge of the rescue operation than anyone else's. But there is a very real question of whether our Armed Forces should be involved in this kind of endeavour at all.

It is perhaps interesting and significant that one of the full-page photographs in the last defence White Paper showed a British soldier gently leading an old lady across a street. Of course British soldiers lead old ladies across streets; that is the kind of people they are. But it is not their primary role. There is a powerful argument that the primary role of our Armed Forces is national security, or the defence of the realm. But that, of course, is no longer a matter of defending "Fortress UK" or even "Fortress Europe"; it is much wider than that.

Indeed, the basic function of national armed forces has always been and always should be to support the nation's foreign policy. For example, it may be necessary for this country to take part in any counter-terrorist operations that may be required elsewhere in the world when the fighting in Afghanistan is over. As the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said, the destruction of the Al'Qaeda network in one country will not be the end of the affair. It is a network with tentacles and cells all over the world, and it may be necessary to deal with any state which gives it shelter and support. This is no time for anyone to make equivocal and hesitant noises about this matter. We all know the dangers to our preparedness for battle if the trumpet gives an uncertain sound.

This is not a question of giving the United States a blank cheque or any knee-jerk clichés of that kind; it is a matter of our own security and self-interest. There is no point in embarking upon a great endeavour such as this—the fight against international terrorism—if we are not prepared to see it through to the end, however long it may take and however much it may cost.

This country is fortunate in having military forces among the finest in the world. They are highly trained, well-led and—against the odds sometimes, it seems—their morale is high. But their training, skills and morale are directed primarily at the business of making war. They are not a gendarmerie, and they are not designed for such tasks as peace-keeping or humanitarian projects, however laudable those may be.

Already, our forces are committed to the limit of their resources. If they should be sucked into a long-term commitment in Afghanistan, they will simply not be available for real military operations elsewhere. I believe that it is worth reminding ourselves that we have troops in Northern Ireland, Brunei, Cyprus, the Falkland Islands, Germany, Gibraltar and the Indian Ocean, as well as with United Nations forces in Bosnia, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. If our Armed Forces are to continue to be committed at their present level and if we are, as is planned, to commit forces to the rapid reaction force or European army—I believe that it is very unlikely that that strange project will ever see the light of day—as well as to some type of stabilisation force in Afghanistan, and if we are to be ready, as we should be, to engage in a long and costly war against international terrorism, our resources will have to be increased.

None of our NATO allies has anything like the commitments undertaken by our Armed Forces. Yet our defence budget as a percentage of our gross domestic product is smaller than that of the US or France or even of Turkey and Greece. In 1985, in this country we spent more than 5 per cent of our GDP on defence. Today, in a world which poses even greater threats to our international stability and national security, that figure is less than 3 per cent.

It is all very well to say that the forces committed to nation-building in Afghanistan will not become involved in the internal conflicts that are a part of that country's everyday life, but, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, said, we have all heard of "mission creep"—a horrible phrase but one that conveys a clear idea. I ask the Minister in his reply to assure the House that any forces committed to Afghanistan will have clear military aims and some basic and clear rules of engagement. It would not be proper to discuss in this House what those aims and rules should be, but I believe that we are entitled to know that they will be clear and unambiguous.

Finally, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie, said in his first-class maiden speech, all this is only one element of a larger problem about our Armed Forces. We can pay tribute to the quality of our soldiers, sailors and airmen and their leaders, but we must do more than pay lip service. We must give them the resources—financial and otherwise—to enable them to continue to be the very best.

I understand that the Government are already giving serious thought to yet another reorganisation, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, has warned us. However, if the defence budget does not receive serious thought as well, only a limited amount can be done. I do not mean increases of the order of £100 million. The noble Baroness, Lady Symons, who is not in her place at the moment, knows from her previous ministerial experience that that is pocket-money in terms of the real needs of the forces. As any competent military historian will tell one, military preparedness is not merely a matter of money, but it is mainly a matter of money.

To some extent, I conclude where I began. The crucial question is: do the Government have aspirations to play a leading role on the world stage? If they do, are they prepared to sustain the military establishment that is essential to support a foreign policy of that kind? Perhaps the Minister will let us have his views on that in his reply.

7.42 p.m.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, but with rather more justification, I find it quite intimidating to take part in this wide-ranging debate. I rise to speak towards the end of the debate when your Lordships' patience is, no doubt, slowly coming to an end.

I want to concentrate on the position of Afghan women and on the democratic Afghan state that we all hope will one day be established. The education of women and their enjoyment of political rights are not novel ideas in Afghanistan. The first primary school for girls was set up in the 1920s and by the time of the Soviet invasion, 40 per cent of students at Kabul university were women. The 1964 constitution gave men and women equal rights and a few women were elected to Parliament in 1965.

In 1977 a UN survey showed that 70 per cent of teachers, 15 per cent of legislators, 50 per cent of government workers and 40 per cent of doctors were women. If one compares that situation with the current situation one sees a terrible decline. Women have been deprived of healthcare and they have been prevented from exercising their professions as healthcare workers. They have been denied education. As the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, said, every year thousands of Afghan women die in childbirth, and confinement in their homes is thought to have led to an increase in the spread of TB.

Women form a large proportion of the refugees, partly because so many men have been killed in the fighting in the past 20 years, but also partly because of the special difficulties that they have faced in trying to safeguard and to feed their children. Across the world, parliamentarians have campaigned for the full integration of Afghan women into the struggle to rebuild the country's government and institutions, its economy, its services, its society and its culture. In this country, they have been led, with real commitment and distinguished enthusiasm, by Joan Ruddock, as the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, reminded the House.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay of Cartvale, commented that some women saw a danger in asking for too much as that may cause a backlash. But why should women enjoy less active education, work and politics in the future than they had in the past? I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, does not agree with that.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

My Lords. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. I would not like it to be on record that I indicated that women should not receive such things. In fact, the woman whom I quoted said that she wanted education, work and politics and that they could build on those. She warned about political realities. She was an Afghan woman who knew what she was talking about.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

My Lords, recognise all the points made by the noble Baroness in her intervention. I do not associate her with the ideas that were expressed in her speech as she was quoting.

At all events, the recent conference of Afghan women in Brussels called for the establishment of women's rights to vote, to work, to healthcare and to education; the rapid re-opening of schools for boys and girls with a new curriculum—a point made by the right reverend Prelate—and new teacher training; the inclusion of women lawyers in the creation of a new constitution, including principles of non-discrimination; the rebuilding of a healthcare system; the inclusion of women in the Loya Jirgah: and the protection of women from forced marriages and sexual harassment. The women who voiced those claims came not just from the diaspora, but also from Afghanistan and from the refugee camps.

Last week in Portcullis House, those aims were wholeheartedly endorsed by a meeting of the Women's Link with Afghan women.

It is important to emphasise that the part played by women in a developing country—or in any country—is not just a matter of "feminism". The World Bank has finally recognised that countries where the gap between men and women in education, employment and property rights is smallest have lower child malnutrition and mortality and, more importantly in this context, more transparent business and government and faster economic growth.

Elizabeth King who is a co-author of the World Bank's recent report, Engendering Development, said: Societies that discriminate on the basis of gender pay a significant price in greater poverty, slower growth, weaker governance and a lower quality of life". Curiously enough, in the Victorian era, many thought that the influence of women upon society was benign, civilising and pacific. That was used as an excuse for preventing women doing anything in that society. However, the World Bank's cross-country studies show that increasing the participation of women in public life reduces corruption and that more equal education of women and men results in healthier families and makes the single largest contribution to declining levels of malnutrition. Economic development and institutional change are needed to improve the status of women. True to its new approach, the World Bank has projects in post-conflict reconstruction that include one to fund Afghan teachers' in-service training in the camps in Pakistan.

The current activities are quite reassuring, but we still need to be concerned for the future. Women, as has already been said, are already in the provisional government. But what about the forthcoming constitution-making projects carried out in Afghanistan and not in Bonn? Will Afghanistan women lawyers be involved in this process? Are the Government responding to the invitation, which I understand was extended by the German Government, to put forward a candidate to advise the EU mission to Afghanistan on gender issues.

It is extremely important that not just the United Nations—where Kofi Annan has made some splendid statements and definitions of standpoints in favour of equality and equal rights—but all the organisations that will be working in Afghanistan have the interests of women, and therefore of the new country of Afghanistan, in their minds and hearts.

One of the most splendid symbols of the fall of the Taliban was that the first TV broadcast was made by a professional woman, a journalist, with her head covered. What a splendid symbol that was of a free Afghanistan. Support for women's aims in Afghanistan is not a question of treading on cultural sensibilities; it is a matter of legitimate demand on the part of women and sensible provision for the future wellbeing of Afghanistan as a whole.

7.52 p.m.

Lord Tanlaw

My Lords, we have had a long and very interesting debate. I feel quite humble as I have not been to Afghanistan. My knowledge is somewhat limited. However, I bring a small and narrow facet to this fascinating question. I start by referring to the powerful maiden speech of my noble and gallant friend Lord Guthrie. It impressed the House as it did me. I refer in particular to his point about not making a hero out of Osama bin Laden. In order to achieve that the western coalition needs to understand where he is coming from and what are the ultimate objectives of the Al'Qaeda organisation.

In spite of having lived on the subcontinent for six years, I was never fortunate enough to get up to Kabul—or "Korble" as we used to call it in those days. But during my time in India I learned to appreciate the importance that religion played in the lives of Muslims and non-Muslims alike throughout the area. That was mainly as a result of having witnessed in Calcutta at first hand what happens when misunderstandings—often deliberately generated by politicians—arise between religious faiths. They create mayhem and death. We witnessed that from the comfort of our living rooms through our television sets in these last months.

Kabul in the 1960s was a relatively peaceful place, unlike today. It was by all accounts a beautiful tree-lined city, with fine, courageous and artistic people as its citizens, who made, among other things, I seem to recall, magnificent carpets. Hopefully, in the aftermath of the present conflict, this idyll will return to Kabul.

The few television images we have seen recently, brought to us by the magic of hand-held broadband satellite dishes and a journalist's palmtop computer, reveal an entirely different and desolate panorama. However, we have to accept this sombre landscape as part of the harsh realities of war. It is the result of the winning strategy played by the western military coalition against the Taliban forces. Our soldiers fought with fire the fire originally ignited by Osama bin Laden and his henchmen on September 11th. Colonel Gaddafi was quoted as saying soon after the destruction of the World Trade Center that America had the right to retaliate against such an act and that the Taliban and Al'Qaeda were, godless promoters of political Islam", in order to pursue their own evil ends.

How will the war against international terrorism be won? Will it be through total victory over the Taliban in Afghanistan, followed by a massive humanitarian aid and peace-keeping programme, as some noble Lords have suggested? Will it be won by returning the country to a democratic nation, friendly to the western coalition, with all the trimmings of the free world which have been denied to the people of Afghanistan for so long? Will the western way of life, which includes fast food chains, equality of women, free thinking newspapers, discotheques and tele-evangelism, do the trick in the long run of uniting a people who have been brainwashed to resist such things? I do not know, but I sincerely hope so.

The right honourable Jack Straw in his address on Afghanistan to the International Institute of Strategic Studies on 22nd October touched on these questions but did not, in my view, answer them fully when he said: Osama bin Laden and the Al-Qa'ida pose a clear and present danger to our way of life and we have to defend ourselves against it"; and that, the current military action in Afghanistan is not in itself the long-term answer to the threat of terrorism. But it is an essential first step". I am sure that most noble Lords agree with these statements, as I do. But does the Minister agree that humanity may be faced with an entirely new type of global terrorism, led and masterminded by Osama bin Laden and the top echelons of the Al'Qaeda? Have Osama bin Laden and his henchmen not only highjacked aeroplanes but also one of the world's greatest religions—Islam—to achieve their commercial and political aspirations? Immediately after the atrocities of September 11th he is quoted as saying that: God has blessed a group of vanguard Muslims—the forefront of Islam—to destroy America". That statement reveals his true motive, which is completely to distort the Islamic faith for his own ends. It has nothing to do with spiritual Islam, which individual worshippers have used for centuries to advance their personal spirituality.

But surely this is not the first time that upstart radicals from the Middle East have used this methodology to advance their political and commercial aspirations through deliberate misinterpretation of the Koran. Is it not possible that bin Laden is simply following the path of one or other of the so-called Muslim reformers of the last century such as Jamil ad-Din al-Afghani, Mohammad Abduh, the Egyptian radical, or the Syrian journalist Rashid Rida?

The author Karen Armstrong, in her definitive work Holy War, described on page 514 Jamal ad-Din al-Afghani, who died in 1897, as one such reformer. Her hook is, I think, available in the Library. I suspect that al-Afghani, who liked to be known as "The Afghan", was a possible role model and inspiration for bin Laden's recent crimes against humanity.

According to Armstrong, al-Afghani, "The Afghan", wanted all Muslims to band together so that they could face up to what he saw was the threat of western domination to their way of life. Only then did he believe they could take their destiny into their own hands. The noble Lord, Lord Desai, touched on this matter. But I think it is different from the modernity approach to a modern Islamic approach using modernity. This is something much more sinister.

He tried to build a new Islamic civilisation on classic Arab foundations. That was through the introduction of secular politics as part of fundamental religious doctrine. Al-Afghani wanted the new political Islam to be an allegiance rather than a religious faith. Al-Afghani's followers, like bin Laden's, also practised erhan, which taught them through their Muslim instructors the belief in total fearlessness and indifference to death in defence of the Muslim religion. Is that not the same training that made a collection of well-educated and reasonably intelligent people willing to sacrifice their lives on September 11th in the false belief that they were "defending their religion"?

On 12th September Osama bin Laden announced through his video: The wind of faith is blowing. Every Muslim must defend his religion". Al Afghani may not have succeeded in his ambition at the time, but he was followed by his disciple Mohammad Abduh from Egypt, who could have been the inspiration of the Egyptian element of the attack on the World Trade Center a century after his death in 1905. However, history recognises that Abduh succeeded in secularising and updating many Arab schools in his attempt to bring about the vision of pan Arabism. The Syrian journalist, Rashid Rida, then took the concept of pan-Arabism further across the many ethnic groupings of the Arab world, using a more commercial and political approach than his master, Mohammad Abduh, who died in 1935.

It is interesting that several ethnic groups were used by bin Laden in his attack on 11th September. That may have resulted in a number of different Islamic fundamentalist groups around the world offering support afterwards. I wonder whether the Minister agrees that Osama bin Laden and the Al'Qaeda. are quasi-religious terrorists whose intentions are to divide humanity through the misuse of the Muslim faith of ordinary people around the world.

Was that not confirmed when Osama bin Laden proclaimed on 12th September the chilling words: These events have divided the world into two camps—the camps of the faithful and the camp of infidels"? Is it not possible that the well-intentioned and conventional response of the western coalition and the United Nations to the international disruption created by Al'Qaeda may be the equivalent in terms of cinema to applying a "Harry Potter" solution to what is essentially a "Lord of the Rings" problem?

Was not the Home Secretary therefore not only correct but far-sighted in including the religious hate element, which was recently rejected by this House, in the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001? Should not the keepers of spiritual Islam ensure that their faith is safe from corruption through infiltration by agents of Al'Qaeda? Should not we as legislators give those responsible every support to achieve that?

I believe that September 11th heralded a new world order which will require redefinition of many of our previously long-held values—one of which is the role of institutional religion.

I conclude with the words of Sri Aurobindo in his works, The Future Evolution of Man and The Hour of God. He predicted that one day humanity might have to confront the forces of evil that it has not faced since the time of the Upanishads. He advises that if such a situation arises, we must have a starting point. He writes that that starting point should be, the spiritual religion of humanity", which means the growing realisation that there is a divine reality in which we are all one and that humanity is its highest present vehicle on earth. We might have to take his advice, if it is to survive.

8.2 p.m.

Lord Redesdale

My Lords, unlike our previous debates on the subject, this debate has focused on the future. However, I should like to start by saying that the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Desai, that we should produce a coffee-table tome of past speeches will not really be a winner. I cannot see that being a Christmas best-seller.

Lord Desai

My Lords, not a coffee-table book, a very dull but contentful book.

Lord Redesdale

My Lords, obviously, as a professor of economics at the London School of Economics, the noble Lord has spotted a gap in the market that I failed to spot.

I congratulate the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank, on his maiden speech, especially because he used it to champion the cause of the Pashtun service of the BBC World Service, which has done so much to provide information to those in Afghanistan. Indeed, by making his maiden speech tonight, the noble and gallant Lord ensured that we had the benefit of four former Chiefs of the Defence Staff speaking in the debate.

The collapse of the Taliban so quickly has been described by many noble Lords, and by many in the media, as surprising. However, the power of the ordnance dropped by the Americans—especially the truly terrifying Daisycutter—achieved the objective of breaking the Taliban. Few forces in the world could have stood up to such battering. However troops on the ground were needed to take control, and it was the Northern Alliance who were there and able to do so. It was a vain expectation that the Northern Alliance would not occupy the capital when the BBC had spearheaded its capture, but leave it for an international force.

However, the far greater problem of who will run Afghanistan remains. The achievement of the United Nations in Bonn and the formation of an interim government should not be underestimated, but it remains unclear how far their writ will run on the ground in Afghanistan. Boots on the ground will be needed. We on these Benches welcome the British commitment to send troops set out in the Prime Minister's Statement today.

The shape and membership of a peacekeeping force has yet to be fleshed out. It is essential that that force has a clearly defined mission. Will it be escorting humanitarian convoys? Will it be patrolling? Will it be manning checkpoints? Will it be mandated to intervene if it witnesses gross breaches of human rights? Will it have armoured personnel carriers? It will need robust rules of engagement if it is to be successful. Most importantly, it will need to know why it is there in the first place. I do not expect the Minister to answer those questions; they are rhetorical, especially as an assessment is currently being undertaken by Major-General McColl.

That assessment will have a political as well a military basis. The peacekeeping force will need to know where it is to operate. The size of the area of its responsibility will determine the numbers. It has been estimated that policing the whole of Afghanistan would require a force of about 100,000 troops. It is unlikely in the present climate that the international community would commit such a number, which suggests that the initial deployment may be much smaller and localised in its remit.

It has been suggested that a force for Kabul would be a sensible place to start. In fact, Kabul seems to have fewer problems than does most of the rest or the country. Nevertheless, it is obviously sensible to promote stability in the capital, and it would be a good place from which to direct the security of the humanitarian aid operation.

British forces, and those of other European nations, have plenty of experience of such operations, especially in Bosnia and Kosovo. I take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, who said that the Europeans may wilt. If the Americans move on to Iraq, the Europeans would wilt, and we on these Benches would wilt with them. However, it should be noted that members of the European Union have stood shoulder to shoulder with the Americans and provided assistance in the campaign. The Americans understand what assistance they have given.

Britain cannot go it alone. As other noble Lords have cited the current Chief of the Defence Staff, Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, it is fair for me to do so. He has warned of the danger of getting, our hand caught in the mangle", of Afghanistan. As the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, pointed out, British forces are stretched amazingly thinly around the international crisis management scene. They may be good at peacekeeping, but even the best soldiers can be in only one place at one time. The deficiencies in manpower in the services make the problem even worse. The Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary have the best of motives in their strategy for Afghanistan, but they may find that the defence cupboard is bare after the continuing lack of investment in the wellbeing of servicemen and women.

Many noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Chalfont and Lord King, and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, have suggested that a new defence review is needed—perhaps the son of the Strategic Defence Review or the grandson of Options for Change. I do not suggest that we go down that route immediately, but it is perhaps as well to start to consider the outline of such a review.

Mr Karzai's administration will assume its responsibilities on 22nd December, but it is unclear whether it will be assuming power. The warlords that ruled the roost before the advent of the Taliban in 1996, who were responsible for the levelling of Kabul and 50,000 deaths, are back in charge. Gul Agha in Khandahar, Ismail Khan in Herat, General Dostum in Mazar and Haji Abdul Qadir in Jalalabad. Mr. Karzai will have to treat with those people if he is effectively to exercise his mandate.

Afghanistan has not had a strong central government for decades. We cannot expect one overnight. However, the test for Mr Karzai will come in whether he is able to create the conditions under which the international community is able to look after the immediate humanitarian needs of his people. That issue has been raised by many noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich.

The immediate problem is getting humanitarian aid in. It is unsurprising that lawlessness has come to Afghanistan and that aid delivery mechanisms are difficult to put in place. The aid agencies estimate that 7 million people—about one-third of Afghanistan's population—are classified in the "very high risk" category. The first job of the Karzai administration must be to create the conditions to ensure the swifter delivery of humanitarian aid to all parts of the country.

There is good news according to DfID. The friendship bridge from Uzbekistan is now open; food tonnages entering Afghanistan have doubled in the past two weeks as the World Food Programme has scaled up its operation; and United Nations staff are beginning to return to the cities of Afghanistan in order to oversee distribution.

However, the situation is not clear. The humanitarian situation, particularly in the north, is extremely precarious. The World Food Programme estimates that 2.3 million people in the mountainous areas—that is, areas above 6,000 feet—may soon become stranded and inaccessible to large aid convoys due to the coming of the snow. Indeed, it is only lucky that perhaps due to global warming Afghanistan has had one of the warmest winters on record. When the snows come, air drops may be necessary and questions will be raised about who will fund or carry out those operations.

In initiating the debate, the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, mentioned that this would be a long haul. Estimates for the Bill of reconstruction in Afghanistan have run as high as £25 billion over the next decade. The international community cannot walk away from that bill. Afghanistan has been the breeding ground of terror. It has been shown that instability in Afghanistan can affect every part of the globe. However, one issue has not been discussed openly and it has caused me considerable concern. It is reported that farmers in Afghanistan are already considering next year's crop. They are not considering the planting of food but the planting of poppies. That will have a devastating effect, considering Afghanistan's main contribution to heroin in this country.

8.13 p.m.

Lord Vivian

My Lords, perhaps I may first thank the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, for bringing the debate to our attention today and once again thank her for bringing us up to date in her usual informative, clear and concise way.

Before I go any further, I would like to congratulate the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie, on his outstanding maiden speech today. His speech was highly significant and informative, and it gave the Government and all noble Lords plenty on which to reflect. There is no doubt that his wisdom, experience and knowledge will be most beneficial to your Lordships' Chamber and, as others have already said, we look forward to his future contributions.

It will come as no surprise to your Lordships when I say that I shall concentrate my remarks on the military aspects of the campaign and touch only briefly on the humanitarian aid aspects because that is really a subject for a separate debate.

Much progress has been made both diplomatically and militarily since our previous debate just over a month ago. We on these Benches have given our complete support to the Government on the actions taken so far and we shall continue to do so. I must at this point say how grateful I am to the Minister for the excellent and informative briefing he arranged for some of us last week. I would like also to stress how important it is that we, Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition, are kept up to date with the current situation and future policy which greatly assists us in our support of the Government.

I will not weary your Lordships with repeating yet again the objectives of this campaign which were clearly set out in an FCO document which is held in the Library. However, it is important that we know what has been and has not been achieved so far and that does bear repeating.

We have seen the fall of the Taliban regime, but some well-armed isolated Al'Qaeda groups remain which may offer stiff resistance yet. We have destroyed the training camps and have prevented terrorist training from continuing. The al'Qaeda, it would seem, is in total disarray. It is in retreat and unable to work its network within Afghanistan. We have yet to capture or find the bodies of bin Laden and Mullah Omar. Afghanistan is no longer in a position to be able to harbour or sustain international terrorism.

We have gained the position where the coalition can mount future operations and humanitarian aid can be delivered. Those military achievements are of great significance. And let it not be forgotten that all of them have been achieved in about nine weeks and have been a great contributory factor in making the Bonn meeting take place and its outcome so successful.

It is clear that rapid progress in Afghanistan has been made and momentum is there to drive future policy forward. Those who were faint hearted and doubted the coalition's resolve and tactics have been proved wrong. Furthermore, a clear signal has been sent to those contemplating terrorist actions or sponsoring them that retribution will be swift in the future.

It is worth noting some facts which can be drawn from the campaign so far. First, much of the Taliban collapse can be ascribed to the use of air power, the careful selection of targets and the critical importance of intelligence and aerial surveillance. The revolution in precision bombing has had a profound effect on the conduct of these military operations minimising the number of civilian casualties and yet causing significant casualties to the Taliban both in terms of men and equipment. Air power in the North precipitated the first Taliban retreat and set the scene for the Northern Alliance and other anti-Taliban forces to make rapid gains. Virtually all the territory and the major cities are now in the hands of the new regime.

Secondly, the need for flexible military capability, backed up by the abilities to deploy rapidly and provide sound and timely intelligence. Special forces are playing a key role in the effective deployment of anti-Taliban forces and the destruction of the enemy. Their effectiveness is out of all proportion to their relatively small numbers and they have been and will continue to be a vital asset in these operations.

In the previous two debates, I drew your Lordships' attention to the essential need for accurate and timely intelligence. I said on both those occasions that without more money it would be impossible to advise the Government of forthcoming threats and the Armed Forces would be unable to make use of intelligence so essential to successful operations. The extra £20 million recently announced to the intelligence services while a step in the right direction is totally inadequate for the future asymmetric threats with which we may have to contend. A minimum of hundreds of millions of pounds is required now and a substantial increase to the annual budget of the intelligence service will be required.

Intelligence is not the only area which requires more funding, as has been said today by noble and gallant Lords. More money is required for all three services if they are to continue to be successful. Without it, one day the Armed Forces could fail in their mission. It will not be their fault or, I believe, the fault of the Ministry of Defence. The fault will lie solely with the Prime Minister and the Treasury and they will be to blame for any operational failure.

I want to turn to what the United Kingdom has contributed to the operation so far. We have deployed some 4,500 members of our Armed Forces since 7th October; a Royal Navy task force remains in the area with a submarine presence; and Tomahawk land attack missiles were fired against the Taliban and Al'Qaeda on the nights of 7th and 13th October.

The task force consists of the aircraft carrier HMS "Illustrious", with a number of helicopters embarked, the assault ship HMS "Fearless", the destroyer HMS "Southampton", the frigate HMS "Cornwall" and seven Royal Fleet Auxiliaries. The Army has provided ground forces from special forces and specialist troops. There are Royal Marines at Bagram airport and lead elements of 40 Commando embarked with the task force for immediate support with the remainder in the United Kingdom at immediate notice.

Six British troops have been injured, and our sympathy and good wishes go to their families.

The Royal Air Force has flown a high proportion of the combat support sorties, and provided Tristar and VC-10 refuelling aircraft, giving refuelling support to the United States carrier-borne aircraft. Sophisticated E3D Sentry surveillance and control aircraft are deployed, as well as Nimrod reconnaissance and Hercules aircraft providing an air transport capability within the area of operations. The Royal Air Force successfully flew the interim government delegates to and from the Bonn conference.

I turn now to the difficult question of further deployment of British troops as part of the International Security Assistance Force. The first question to be asked is why should Britain once again contribute our over-stretched Armed Forces to an international security force, even though we are probably the most capable? Why is it not possible for the French to lead and contribute to this operation? Is it because, in their petty way, they refuse to have troops under the overall command of CENTCOM? Or is it because their Armed Forces are in such disarray, not ready and so ill-prepared? Why is it not possible for the Germans to lead and contribute to this probable force? Why could not the Americans take command of it, thereby relieving our overstretched army of this commitment?

Could the role of the International Security Assistance Force be carried out by a Muslim force led by Turkey, which has already offered to take on this responsibility and has said that it is ready to dispatch troops to Kabul once military operations allow? But would a Muslim force be acceptable to the Afghans?

I have grave reservations about the United Kingdom leading and contributing more troops to this force, even though we are the most experienced and most capable in these matters. In any event, there is a series of questions that need to be answered before any commitments are made or agreed, and I should now like to ask the Minister some of those questions.

Although the United States of America wishes to retain the overall command of this operation through CENTCOM, will it continue to provide air cover, and in what other roles will it be involved? What has been agreed with the Afghan interim government relating to the number of troops to comprise this force, and from what countries are they to come? It is appreciated that France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Turkey, Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, Malaysia the USA and Jordan have all volunteered troops.

Who will provide the heavy airlift for the insertion and extraction of the proposed force? Are the British the best suited to this role given that we are involved in search and destroy missions alongside the Americans? Does the interim government want British participation in the force? What will be the roles for the force? What will be its objectives? If the UK is involved in the International Security Assistance Force, how long will it be before British troops can be withdrawn?

I do not expect the Minister to be able to answer all of these questions now, but I should be grateful if he would write to me in due course.

Many noble Lords have spoken with great knowledge and experience about humanitarian aid and I am somewhat hesitant to make any further comments. However, the successful military operations have made it possible for humanitarian aid to start again, and the battle for the hearts and minds of the people of Afghanistan is an essential part of the restructuring of that country.

Food, clothing, medical aid and equipment, and children's school text books, are all being distributed on a large scale. The Friendship Bridge from Uzbekistan has been opened to traffic, and a train carrying 10,000 tonnes of food has crossed into Afghanistan. The Nijni Pyandj river crossing between Tajikistan and Afghanistan has been opened, and barges with humanitarian aid from Russia are crossing the river on their way to Kabul.

International staff have been redeployed to Bamiyan in the central highlands. UN staff have returned to Herat and international staff from NGOs are also returning.

Food tonnages entering Afghanistan have doubled in the past two weeks and there are food trucks in Quetta waiting to deliver food to 200,000 people in Kandahar. Thirty-three thousand tonnes of food have been dispatched to the central highlands for around 1 million people.

As your Lordships' have heard, our top priorities are to help immediate life saving needs in Afghanistan. The Government have allocated £40 million for humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan and a total of £26 million has been given to Pakistan.

In conclusion, I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to what has been called the "next chapter" to the Strategic Defence Review, which it seems is designed to rebalance our Armed Forces. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie, wisely warned us not to be so mesmerised by the Afghan operation that we change the structure of the Army. Any re-balancing must not be at the expense of doing away with our war fighting role. If we are able to train for war fighting efficiently, it is no great difficulty to adapt to counter terrorist tasks. To change from counter terrorism to war fighting, and become efficient at it, would take several years.

The four noble and gallant Lords, all who were Chiefs of the Defence Staff, and the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, are steeped in military experience. I very much hope that the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Defence will reflect carefully and take note of what they have said. I agree with the many points that they have made. The Government would be failing in their duty if they do not give them due consideration.

On these Benches we support strongly the remarks made by my noble friend Lord King, especially in relation to intelligence and the enemy, Al'Qaeda; those of my noble friend Lord Marlesford in relation to the points that he made about air power, the capture of bin Laden and intelligence; and those of my noble friend Lord Astor in relation to the points that he made about humanitarian aid.

From these Benches I wish to pay tribute to our Armed Forces of the Crown. I am sure that the House will join me in this, especially as a great number of families will he separated this Christmas because of so many operations. Our Armed Forces are highly professional and exceptionally well trained. They are determined to achieve success and to protect our liberty and freedom. They are brave and courageous and they are always prepared to make the supreme sacrifice. We owe them a very great debt. It is our parliamentary duty to look after these men and women who are such an outstanding example of loyalty to their country and dedication to duty.

8.28 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Bach)

My Lords, I apologise for my rather rough voice and the accompanying cough that goes with it.

I start by adding to the comments of other noble Lords—particularly those of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, and the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater—in marking the sad loss of Lord Carver, who died last week. As we have heard, he was a great soldier and a true free thinker. He was never afraid to challenge accepted thinking. He was always motivated by the highest principles and fortified by the keenest of intellects. He was a great asset to the House and his expertise and insight will be much missed.

On a much happier note, I welcome the maiden speech of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank. Everyone agrees that he gave an exciting speech, one which was full of wisdom and experience. I for one—and I know that the House is with me on this—look forward to hearing his future contributions. I dare say that defence Ministers generally will enjoy, and look forward to his saying on many occasions in the next year, what he said at the end of his speech about there being a need for more resources to be given to defence. That part of his speech went down very well indeed. Perhaps I may also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale. I believe that this is his first speech in his new position as defence spokesman for the Liberal Democrats in this House.

This is the sixth debate that we have had in this House on this subject, and much has changed. This is the first debate in which the massed battalions of military expertise have taken part. They are led by the four former Chiefs of the Defence Staff and there is also an ex-Secretary of State for Defence—a very distinguished Member of this House. There is the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, who claimed to be slightly frightened by all these eminent people. In fact, he himself has a record as a former Minister and also as a distinguished defence journalist. I shall not leave out the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, who was a distinguished soldier and is held in high regard. There is also a huge amount of other defence expertise in this House. If others were put off or frightened by this battalion, imagine how I feel, having to answer some of the points they made. I am tempted, perhaps misquoting Wellington, whose name has already been raised today, to say, "I do not know what they do to the enemy, sir, hut, by God, they frighten me!". I am very glad that they are on our side.

The situation has changed a great deal in the six weeks since our last debate, and very much for the better. At the beginning of November the Taliban regime and its terrorist allies, Osama bin Laden's Al'Qaeda network, still controlled the bulk of Afghanistan. Now the former has been shattered and the latter is being hunted down by the coalition. However, as my noble friend Lady Symons said, there is still a huge amount to do. We are in the forefront of that work and should be proud to be so. Your Lordships will know that part of that work will be of a military nature, and I shall return later to what that might involve. Before I do so, I briefly remind noble Lords of the reasons for our actions and for the strong contribution we have made to the coalition's achievements so far.

No one who saw on live television the attacks on 11th September—attacks that killed 4,000 people, 78 of them our countrymen—can doubt that we could do anything but respond in the way we have. That is why, with the greatest respect, I disagree profoundly with the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, and agree with the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, as to the suggestion that we had some sort of choice here. We did not. This is what we had to do. Otherwise, we would have been letting down not just ourselves but future generations. It was right that we joined the United States in her effort to form a global coalition against terrorism, and it is entirely right that we give the United States all the assistance and support we can to bring the perpetrators to account.

It cannot be stressed often enough that the United States has acted not in pursuit of revenge but, rather, justice. In another place the Prime Minister, on 4th October and again on 14th November, made the case against Osama bin Laden and the terrorists that he leads. But, as has been said in this debate, they stand condemned by their own words. A number of those words have been quoted from the video that was shown on our televisions last week. The particular phrase used that was as affecting as any other, in my view, was the frightful sentence from Osama bin Laden, "They were overjoyed when the first plane hit the building. So I said to them, 'Be patient'". Those are chilling words indeed. Any noble Lords who harboured any doubt about his guilt should harbour them no longer. He also added, having known five days before the attacks precisely when they would take place, that the hijackers themselves did not know what their crime was to be until shortly before they boarded the aircraft that they then seized. That betrays the callous cynicism of the terrorist. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, that Osama bin Laden himself hijacked Islam in a very profound way.

No one can doubt that we have achieved major objectives. When Kandahar fell, the last pretensions of the Taliban to govern Afghanistan fell with it. The training camps have been overrun. The Bonn agreement is the opportunity to restore peace in a country that has suffered from war for far too long. We believe that we have greatly damaged the ability of Al'Qaeda to threaten the peace and safety of civilised peoples throughout the world. However, bin Laden remains at large and many members of that organisation are still active and able to plan further barbarities such as 11th September. We are co-ordinating our researches into what the coalition found as Afghanistan was taken, in terms of future projects. I cannot say much about them, but noble Lords should not think that we are being careless about documents and exhibits that are found. The international community cannot afford to relax for a moment.

I am confident that we shall fulfil the tasks that we set ourselves. We have a broad strategy to rid the world of the threat posed by international terrorism. As the House has heard many times, it covers diplomatic, economic, trade, legal, humanitarian and military strands.

Senior Ministers have played an important role in building and sustaining the global coalition. We have frozen the assets of the supporters of terror. We have, as no doubt noble Lords recall, taken steps to close loopholes in our legal system that might otherwise be exploited, and we have always been conscious of the plight of the Afghan people. They already laboured under a natural disaster in the shape of a four-year drought, whose effects were made far worse by the rule of the Taliban, with its brutality and savagery, causing so many to flee their homes.

We were therefore forced, reluctantly, to take military action. Before I deal with that, I shall try to deal with a few questions that have been raised during the course of the debate. I do not for a moment promise to answer all of the questions. That would be impossible. It is more important that I should end my speech at the appropriate time. I will of course write to noble Lords if questions remain unanswered.

The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, asked about casualties. I replied to him in writing last week. I hope that he did not take the fact that I did not say in that reply that we regretted any casualties as somehow a sign that we do not. As the Secretary of State said in the other place last week, any civilian casualty is regretted by Her Majesty's Government and by all civilised people. I am afraid, however, that casualties are always the product of conflict and that is something which has not altered. I do not want the noble Earl to be under any illusions about how seriously we take the problem of civilian casualties.

As far as concerns land mines, military operations are still under way and the scope for de-mining operations is necessarily limited. We are very aware of the problem, however, and noble Lords know that one of our brave soldiers was seriously injured by a mine at Bagram only a week or so ago.

In taking this military action we had clear aims. They were as follows. First, to destroy the terrorist camps. Secondly, to pressurise the Taliban regime to end its support for Osama bin Laden. Thirdly, to create the right conditions for future operations in Afghanistan. As a coalition, we have effectively achieved them all. The Taliban broke under the coalition's pressure. The coalition and its Afghan supporters now control virtually the whole country. These are real achievements and ones in which we can be justifiably proud of our contribution.

That contribution has been significant, extensive and varied. It has embraced all three services in forming a valid, sustainable and often essential element of the wider coalition's military campaign. For example, the Royal Navy launched Tomahawk missile strikes at terrorist training camps. As we have heard, HMS "Illustrious" leads a large and versatile naval force in the Indian Ocean. Some of our ships are engaged in policing the waters of the Indian Ocean. Others form a base for operations for 40 Commando, Royal Marines and we still have a submarine presence in the area armed with missiles.

We have deployed our ground forces deep into Afghanistan. Noble Lords will understand that many of their operations are sensitive. However, I can say that our presence at Bagram, where we have helped secure the airstrip for humanitarian and diplomatic flights, is well known. This helped to make the Bonn negotiations possible by allowing the Royal Air Force to fly the Northern Alliance's delegation to Bonn.

That is not all. The RAF, together with helicopters aboard the fleet, have provided support to our forces in often dangerous circumstances. But that, too, is not the limit of the contribution made by the RAF. As was referred to in particular by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, it extends to air-to-air refuelling, airborne warning and control, maritime patrols and photographic reconnaissance. All are essential to the operations that have taken place. Our assistance has been welcomed by the United States and acknowledged for the crucial role it has played.

Our Armed Forces have not achieved this without risk. The most obvious is from hostile forces. But it does not end there. I have mentioned that one of our soldiers was injured by a mine—laid by goodness knows who, and goodness knows when. There has also been the loss of one of the United States' aircraft through mechanical failure. Its crew are safe, but its loss brings home to us dramatically the risks that are always involved in such operations.

We continue our operation against international terrorism. But we need to secure what we have gained. That is why the Bonn agreement is the key. But it is still a fragile agreement. War has torn Afghanistan apart virtually ever since the former Soviet Union invaded on Christmas Eve in 1979—almost 22 years ago. If the physical impact has been dire—and it has—we can imagine the effect on the morale and psychology of the people.

If Bonn is to work, then the Afghan people, some of whom consider the interim authority it created to be unrepresentative, must all be convinced that it is a better alternative to civil war. We have heard about the loya jurga that will assemble in six months' time. But if Bonn is to work, the international community must give the process its support. The Afghans who negotiated the Bonn agreement know that too. For that reason, they explicitly consented to, and welcomed, proposals to deploy an international security force to Kabul.

As the Prime Minister made clear on 11th December, and again in his Statement to the other place which was repeated in this House, in principle we are ready and willing to lead in the deployment of an international security assistance mission (ISAF) to Kabul once the United Nations has given its authorisation. I am sure that a number of your Lordships will have read the comments of Monsieur Michel with some interest at the weekend. But notwithstanding his enthusiasm, perhaps I may quote our European Minister, my right honourable friend Peter Hain, who said: The European Rapid Reaction Force … is not even walking yet let alone up and running". All I can add is that we have not yet made a final decision. The Prime Minister made that clear. In principle, we are content to lead, but no final decision has been made, although it can be said clearly that the ISAF will not be a European force. Our plans focused on creating a coalition of the willing—some European, some not. Crucially, too, we shall look to the United States to provide the support that only its unique capabilities can do.

Many noble Lords will know about the successful co-ordination meeting that took place on 14th December of countries which in principle are interested in providing significant deployable and sustainable forces or support for an ISAF. I shall not name those countries. Their names have been in the newspaper. They include our partners in Europe and they also include countries that are not European, and some countries that have large Muslim populations.

These countries welcomed our offer to lead an ISAF, but also agreed with our own assessment that for such a demanding and challenging task we must make sure that we get things right. None of us can make final decisions until the preparatory work is complete. We need to work through exactly the kind of questions that have been asked during this debate. We need to work through the logistics of deploying and sustaining an international force like this. For deploying such a force to Kabul is, of course, as all noble Lords acknowledge, an immensely complicated task both politically and militarily. There are still many uncertainties which we, our international partners and the Afghans must clarify and resolve before any final decisions can be made.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, while we are working all this out, who will provide protection for the transitional authority on and after 22nd December?

Lord Bach

My Lords, I am going on to advise noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, to be patient. The week is young—it is Monday—and Saturday is the 22nd. There may be events between now and then; there may not be. But there certainly will not be events unless we are satisfied that the questions asked in this debate have been answered satisfactorily from a British point of view. The last thing that we are going to do is to send our troops somewhere when we do not know the answers to a number of questions.

A number of difficult and complex issues have to be worked through. They include the mandate and the length of time that any force would be there, and the way in which it would operate in relation to other foreign forces asked for by the Afghans. There are other questions too. We accept that 22nd December is an important date in all this.

For these reasons, we and our partners agreed to send a small international reconnaissance and liaison team to Kabul over the weekend. Led by Major-General John McColl, the team included representatives from the United States, Canada and Italy. It built upon our already friendly and constructive relations with the interim authority in its discussions about the role, size and relationship with the interim authority of an ISAF.

General McColl has provided our partners and ourselves with an invaluable insight into the conditions in which an ISAF would operate. We are in the midst of incorporating that advice into our plans now. There is, of course, a great deal of interest in this potential deployment. But once again I counsel patience. We can make no announcement until our plans are finalised. This House will be informed as soon as we are able to do so.

Why are we thinking of doing this? The noble Lord, Lord Vivian, asked that question, adding the point: even though we are the most capable. That is certainly one of the factors in our reasons for considering such an operation. We do consider that we are among the most capable. The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, asked about clarity. Unless we have clarity as regards rules of engagement and our role there, we shall not undertake this task.

Perhaps I may refer briefly to the humanitarian crisis. Of course, it remains severe, but there are some grounds for hope. In November, the World Food Programme delivered some 56,000 metric tonnes of food aid—4,000 metric tonnes more than its target. The Friendship Bridge over the River Oxus has been reopened. Last week the coalition stopped its air drops of emergency aid to the Afghan people because there are now secure air heads to deliver food and other aid instead. Some have criticised those air drops but no one has proposed realistic alternatives. The Taliban was already attacking aid organisations well before 11th September. It is worth saying that it was a magnificent effort by the United States. More than 2.4 million ration packs were dropped.

The events on 11th September raised the threshold for terrorism. Today's operations, and those that we are considering for the near future are but the first response that we must make. We must look at the structure and shape of our Armed Forces. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, asked questions and made strong comments about the possibility of what was described as a new Strategic Defence Review. There is no intention to have a new SDR. We are right to consider—and there is no need to fear that consideration—whether we ought to make changes, given what happened on 11th September. It would add an extra chapter to the 1998 review, but that should not worry your Lordships. It will not be as wide-ranging as the review of 1998.

Surely it is legitimate for the Government to ask questions such as what are the threats we face, and what are their causes? What are our vulnerabilities, and how can we manage risk? What is the role of the Armed Forces and the right balance between homeland defence and overseas operations? What are the implications for international organisations and our regional and bilateral relationships? Those are important questions.

The noble and gallant Lord made some fun of the fact that it had been said that the Treasury would be involved at the start. It is arguable that it is better for the Treasury to be involved at the start than just at the finish. In a sense, one is damned if one does, and damned if one does not. In our judgment it is better to take the Treasury along with us. I notice the smiles on the faces of noble Lords who have been senior Ministers, or even Chiefs of the Defence Staff. It is important to take the Treasury with us because the case is so overwhelming.

I hope that your Lordships will give a fair ride to this enterprise. We are seeking the views of not only noble Lords but other experts on this important new chapter. Time is almost up. We have had an excellent debate, like all the others before it. There has been an increase in scope this time because of the many expert military contributions. Noble Lords hold many different views and have expressed them clearly, but the view of all noble Lords who have spoken in every debate is the abiding excellence of the British Armed Forces. The huge debt that we owe them, and which we shall continue to owe them has been expressed from all sides of the House. We know that we can depend on our Armed Forces; we must make sure that they can depend on us.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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