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Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): Does the Secretary of State appreciate that those of us who have consistently supported intervention—whether in Kosovo, Sierra Leone or, more recently, in Afghanistan—are always confronted by a particular argument, which is that when the fighting is over, our forces will be turned into permanent policemen? In view of her answer earlier to her hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), about the need to have more forces in all parts of Afghanistan to maintain security, what contact is she having with her counterparts in other European countries to see if they can help in that policing, given that most of them contribute a lot less to the fighting than the United Kingdom has had to?

Clare Short: I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it has been honourable and essential for us to intervene in Kosovo, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan. There are other failed states in the world that are causing enormous suffering to their peoples and endangering the future security of the world. They include the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Angola, Sudan and, although it is much smaller, Somalia. It is part of our task in the 21st century to have the capacity to bring these conflicts to an end and to build effective modern states that will deliver order to their people and co-operation with the international community. We must, therefore, be able to engage and disengage with them, and to show that this is a sensible process.

In Sierra Leone, our forces are fewer in number but they have been engaged in building a new Sierra Leone army that is disciplined and properly responsible to the political authority there. The training team has now become an international training team. Something very similar has to happen in Afghanistan. The United Kingdom will hand over the lead of the international force to another country—Turkey is being talked about, and Germany might also take over the lead in the future. The question of whether countries will be willing to commit more forces so that the international force can maintain a presence in all the major cities has not been resolved, and will be an urgent matter for international discussion.

As in Sierra Leone, we must start the training of the Afghan army and the Afghan police force. The Germans are taking the lead on police retraining; we have taken the lead on a scoping study. The way out—the exit strategy—is to build the Afghan army and police force, and we must get on with that immediately.

Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow): I welcome what my right hon. Friend had to say about the register of skills, and about other steps that are being taken to help refugees to return. People should not, however, be forced to return, given that the situation in Afghanistan is still fragile and that there is not yet security across the whole country. Will my right hon. Friend take the time to draw that to the attention of her colleagues in the Home Office, who seem to be considering returning asylum seekers to Afghanistan?

Clare Short: I would be happy to ask my officials to draw my remarks to the attention of the Home Office.

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We are talking about a lot of different people in this context. The most needy are probably the millions of poor people living in very poor conditions in camps in Iran and Pakistan, who will want to go home if things get better and who will need help to do so. They should not, however, be forced to go home before the appropriate conditions are in place to receive them. Other Afghan people are spread across the world. There are a number of them in my constituency, some of whom have been given full refugee status—as my hon. Friend knows, that means that they will make their own choices—and some of whom are still asylum seekers. We shall all have to make sure that their interests are properly protected.

Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth): The right hon. Lady has given an impressive account of co-operation and conciliation in Afghanistan. What lessons learned there can now be applied to the middle east peace process? Does she agree that the failure of that process threatens not only the peace process in Afghanistan but the stability of the Arab nations in the area? She spoke about the pivotal role of the United Nations; does she recall that there are United Nations resolutions relating to Israel and Palestine that have not been implemented? Should there not now be just as strong a focus on Israel and Palestine as on Afghanistan?

Clare Short: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. The Prime Minister made that clear during some of his early travels, trying to consolidate the coalition so that the world would hold together to deal with the al-Qaeda problem in Afghanistan. The problem in the middle east is the cause of a great deal of suffering and death. The road that it is on, with both sides inflicting and suffering terrible injury, represents a tragedy that only deepens the bitterness and that must, in the end, be turned around. Both sides must find peace for all those people to have a future. It is a desperate situation, and we all need to work together to make things better.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that this is the biggest cause of anger and bitterness in the Arab and Muslim world. We must all commit ourselves to redoubling our efforts to turn the tragedy around and to give young Palestinians and Israelis the chance of a peaceful, better future.

Mr. Piara S. Khabra (Ealing, Southall): Will the Secretary of State tell the House how many women have been nominated to the Administration that has been set up in Afghanistan? Will she also tell us what will be the role of women in the Loya Jirgah, which is a very traditional institution that is 100 per cent. male dominated? The Loya Jirgah will play an important role in the setting up of a democratic Government in Afghanistan.

Clare Short: I cannot remember the exact number of women Ministers in the Interim Administration.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn): Two.

Clare Short: I met one of them, the Health Minister, in Tokyo. She is a surgeon, a professor and a general. She is quite a powerful woman; I saluted her, literally. I do not think that anyone would take her lightly.

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As I understand it, Ambassador Brahimi is about to make an announcement about the make-up of the commission that will prepare the Loya Jirgah. Each of those bodies is widening the ethnic representation and making it more proportional, to get some legitimacy into the new institutions. The announcement has not been made yet, but it is imminent; I know that there will be some women on the commission, but I cannot give my hon. Friend a number today. I very much agree with him that the next step will be to make sure that women are properly represented in the Loya Jirgah—the big informal consultation across the country that will agree on the transitional Government. My hon. Friend makes his point well, and it is important; there has been some progress, but we need more.

Norman Lamb (North Norfolk): I welcome the emphasis that the Secretary of State put on the need to eliminate poppy production. Can she give more details of how it can be eliminated in practice, and of how we can create a mechanism to incentivise farmers to go into food production, and also create a market so that they can get a price for the food that they produce? How concerned is she that there may be Northern Alliance leaders who are still involved in the drugs trade? Could that not undermine the effort to eliminate poppy production in Afghanistan?

Clare Short: I do not know any particulars about those who have made lots of money out of the drugs trade, but I am certain that they are still out there, and that they would wish to continue their activities. Of course, well governed states are the enemy of drug dealers who want to make vast sums of money, because to do that they need disorder and corruption. I am sure that those people are out there, and we must ensure that the space that they have to operate in is destroyed.

I want to be completely honest in answering the hon. Gentleman's question: there is not a firm strategy in place to deal with the poppy crop that has recently been planted and is still in the ground in Afghanistan. I promise him that we will engage both the Foreign Office and my Department in trying to ensure that such a strategy is in place.

There have been proposals to buy up the crop as soon as it is harvested, but that tends to be a disastrous strategy, because if we buy up a crop in a very poor country, what will the people with neighbouring fields think about growing next season? There is an urgent need to root out the crop so that it is not harvested—but then we have to offer people the chance of a better future.

The lesson of the anti-poppy work throughout the world is that bombing and destroying crops and then offering people seeds for another crop, but not a better, legitimate life, is not enough. We need to offer people the package. People do not want to grow drugs and be marginalised, and come under attack from their own army and police force, either in Latin America or in Afghanistan. If people can have legitimate crops and get themselves an income, put their children in school, and have health care and a vote in the governance of their country, they will all choose that—and we must put in place a package that makes them want to choose that. The need is extremely urgent, but that package is not in place yet.

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