DEFENCE – STRATEGY IN AFGHANISTAN – 9 September 2010

Dr Julian Lewis: Does the shadow Secretary of State [Bob Ainsworth] accept that the reason why both President Obama and our Prime Minister seem intent on setting deadlines is the high level of casualties being incurred? Does he accept that if they did not set a deadline and continued with the current strategy, we could end up having that high level of casualties for perhaps another 20 or 30 years? Will he consider the fact that given a choice between taking too many casualties for a very long period or, perhaps, very few casualties through precipitate withdrawal, we ought to go for an intermediate strategy that has no deadline but does not incur the same number of casualties? That is the basis of the amendment that I shall move later, which I hope the right hon. Gentleman might consider encouraging his party to support.

[Bob Ainsworth: I know the hon. Gentleman's views and that he has tabled an amendment to the motion. He has spoken on this issue previously, and he has given a lot of thought to it, but the reason he gave is not the one of the reasons given publicly for the strategies that are being pursued. Perhaps we need a debate in this country on whether we are sufficiently steely or enduring to pursue prolonged counter-insurgency conflicts, but that is not the reason for the Government's strategy. If it is, let the Government encourage such a debate and let us have it in the House. However, what he says is not what the Government are saying. He has added yet more complexity to the reasons for what the Deputy Prime Minister and Prime Minister are saying.]

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Dr Lewis: On a purely procedural matter, there is nothing in the wording of my amendment that commits hon. Members to backing any particular solution. I have given my own interpretation, but as long as the hon. Gentleman agrees with the wording of the amendment, there is no reason why he, and I hope other hon. Members, should not vote for it.

[Geoffrey Robinson: The hon. Gentleman is now at his most persuasive and irresistible best, and I will give the matter further thought during and after my speech ... The offer of talks, which appears to be serious, has emanated not from the top council leadership, which should encourage us to respond to it, yet as far as I can see, we are ignoring it. I entirely accept that the Government will say, "We can't tell you what's going on," but the Americans say that they see no prospect of talks going anywhere. Panetta says that the time to talk is when the Americans have increased the pressure so that the Taliban believe that they are losing, but I take issue with the hon. Member for New Forest East on that, because that approach would mean that there will never be a right time for talks. Either we are winning, and therefore we do not need talks, or doing badly, when talks would mean weakness. If we were doing better, we might think that if we did a bit more, we might win. There is never a right time. What we have learned from previous insurgencies of this kind, and much larger ones, is that the earlier we get talks going and see what we can get, the better people understand why we are fighting, and the better the chance of a solution.]

Dr Lewis: The correct time is when there is a stalemate, not when one side or the other thinks it is winning.

[NOTE: For Julian's speech in this Debate, click here]