Shabnam Nasimi: Introducing the long-overdue Conservative Friends of Afghanistan

Our goal is to build links between our Party and the Afghan diaspora, as well as stronger international connections.

Shabnam Nasimi is President of the Conservative Friends of Afghanistan, and is Ward Captain and CWO representative of Lewisham Deptford Conservative Association.

Conservative Friends of Afghanistan (CFoA) has a crystal-clear mission statement in seeking to build stronger ties between the Conservative Party, British Afghans, and Afghanistan.

CFoA is a working example of the progressive nature of the modern Conservative Party. The group will be launched in Parliament, Jubilee Room on 26th March 2018, in conjunction with the Afghan New Year, from 5pm to 6:30pm.

Over the last few years the Conservative Party has made huge leaps in winning support from ethnic minority communities, appealing to a far wider base than ever before. However, more needs to be done. We are, after all, a One Nation party and all peoples are part of this one nation, regardless of race, colour or creed.

The Afghan diaspora are a large community in the UK, accounting for up to 250,000 people – or more, to put it another way, more than two full parliamentary constituencies.

Afghans are very much a conservative people, with a small c. There is an emphasis on family, community, self-reliance, charity, hard work, religion and business – all true Conservative values. They should and could be the most enthusiastic supporters of the Conservatives. It is our duty to engage with this community, and all communities who often feel marginalised from the political system, to demonstrate that their values are also Conservative values.

CFoA aims to engage the Afghan diaspora in political issues so not only can they have a say in issues that affect them, but they feel represented in, and increase their understanding of, the British political system.

The Casey Review report, published in December 2016, points to salient issues for the British Afghan community, including challenges in integrating into British society, lack of English language skills, worrying levels of segregation and socio-economic exclusion, mental health and trauma from decades of war in Afghanistan, and that societal discrimination still exists in Britain which has yet to be fully addressed by political parties. The less integrated we are as a nation, the greater the economic and social costs we face, and central to CFoA’s aims is tackling social exclusion and promoting integration.

It is interesting to note that the five constituencies in West London with the highest British Afghan population, including Hounslow, Ealing, and Brent, are without a Conservative MP, and CFoA will be focusing its efforts on reversing this trend. In terms of engagement, we can learn a lot from our sitting MPs who represent ethnically diverse constituencies and who know what it is in their local area that certain groups feel passionate about. CFoA will act as a conduit for those MPs, helping them to spread best practice to all Conservative candidates.

The Conservative party has come on leaps and bounds in terms of ethnic minority MPs since 2011, and our key focus will be on creating a representative party and putting forward a Conservative MP that is receptive to issues that affect the Afghan community.

On the international stage, CFoA will continually make the case for aid programmes in Afghanistan to be continued, with the appropriate accountability measures, and focused on those areas with the highest levels of deprivation. As Sir Nicholas Kay recently stated at the Queen’s Birthday Party in 2018, the UK-Afghanistan relations are in extraordinarily good shape: vigorous, healthy, long-standing, and yet modern.

In a country where approximately 54 per centof the population live below the food poverty line, nearly half of Afghan children do not attend a school, and half of the adult population are illiterate, we as Conservatives must help those who have less opportunity to strive for a better life; a chance at building a meritocratic society should surely be the aim of every Government that has fairness at its heart.

With our mission statement and objectives clear to see, Conservative Friends of Afghanistan is indeed fortunate to have Sir Michael Fallon and Tom Tugendhat as Patrons. We are also proud to have Rory Stewart as an adviser to the group. It is through a combined effort that we will be able to lead delegations of MPs and peers out to Afghanistan, and hold the seminars and events in the UK that will further cement CFoA as a significant force within our Party structure.

There is a long road ahead in terms of reaching our goals contained in our mission statement, but with a clear focus on community engagement and delivering on a consistent message of social cohesion, we must succeed in bringing the Conservative Party closer to those aspirations and beliefs that the British Afghan community hold dear.

If you are interested in getting involved in our organisation, please email me at office@cfafghanistan.org.uk.

Observations of an ex pat: Afghanistan on the brink?

Afghanistan is in serious danger of a major outbreak of peace. Or is it? Certainly the signs are that the US is about to announce an historic deal with their foes the Taliban. The basic bones are that the US and NATO-led forces will withdraw. In return the Taliban will promise to never again allow […]

Afghanistan is in serious danger of a major outbreak of peace. Or is it?

Certainly the signs are that the US is about to announce an historic deal with their foes the Taliban. The basic bones are that the US and NATO-led forces will withdraw. In return the Taliban will promise to never again allow Afghanistan to become a terrorist base.

Withdrawal from the 17-year-long  $1 trillion Afghan war has been one of the key goals of President Trump. It was also a political target of President Obama. The problem is how to exit without leaving behind a vacuum of the kind that led to the rise in the 1990s of the Taliban and their Al Qaeeda guests.

The question has been exercising the minds of a succession of American diplomats since on-off negotiations started with the Taliban in 2011. During the Obama Administration these contacts controversially resulted in the release of five Taliban terrorists from Guantanamo Bay in exchange for Sergeant Robert Bergdahl.

The talks were held in the Qatari capital Doha where the Taliban set up a semi-official embassy paid for by the Qatari government. After the prisoner exchange the talks slipped into limbo with only the occasional diplomatic chat as the Taliban refused to deal with the Afghan government whom they called “American puppets. ” Neither would they talk seriously with the US without a date for the withdrawal of troops.

Then in November it was announced that American and Taliban negotiators were once again having serious discussions in Doha. The man heading up the American team appears tailor-made for the job. Ambassador Zalmay Khalizad was born and raised in Afghanistan and educated in America. His posts have included ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq.

He is clearly under instructions from President Trump to get American troops out of Afghanistan. He told reporters: “Let me be clear—the US wants peace…To achieve peace, we are ready to address the legitimate concerns of all Afghan sides in a process that ensures Afghan independence and sovereignty and accounts for the legitimate interests of the regional states. Urgent that fighting ends.”

Since November the diplomatic activity has been frantic. Donald Trump’s Senatorial ally Lindsey Graham flew to Pakistan for talks with Prime Minister Imran Khan who, for the past ten years, has been urging the US to talk directly with the Taliban. The political hierarchies of Afghanistan and Pakistan are dominated and linked through the Pashtun tribe, so Imran Khan’s support is vital to the success of any deal. Also key to success are the Qataris who, since 2011, have provided the Taliban with their only diplomatic outpost.

The next step is likely to be the announcement of a ceasefire by the Taliban. They are reluctant to do this because they now control half of the country and they are increasing their territory almost daily. But the US is unlikely to commit to a firm timetable for withdrawal without this gesture.

Another bugbear is the role of the Western-recognised Afghan government of Ashraf Ghani. The Taliban refuses to speak with its representatives and the Ghani government refuses to accept any deal unless they have a major say in it.

But the uncomfortable truth is that President Ghani’s government is the puppet that the Taliban claim. The danger is that in his rush to the exit, Donald Trump is leaving behind a political dwelling which is an economic disaster zone and hopelessly divided between rival Pastun factions and 14 other feuding ethnic groups.

The bones of a military deal appear to be there. Missing are any help with reconstruction, rights for women, an end to the drug trade and a power-sharing agreement. The Trump Administration says it is not in the nation-building business. But if it fails to build structures to succeed its departure it could face the blame for creating a failed state in Afghanistan—for the second time.

 

* Tom Arms is a Wandsworth Lib Dem and produces and presents the podcast www.lookaheadnews.com

Neil Shastri-Hurst: The fog of war – blurring the lines in the separation of powers

A new report by the Society of Conservative Lawyers argues that prior Parliamentary approval for military action is a dangerous game and has no constitutional law basis.

Neil Shastri-Hurst is a former British Army Officer, doctor, lawyer, and Conservative activist in the West Midlands

With Brexit dominating the political debate and headlines you, would be forgiven if news of the Society of Conservative Lawyers’ upcoming publication, Prior Parliamentary Approval for Military Action, had slipped by unnoticed. But this report, launched today in Committee Room 15 at the Palace of Westminster, addresses an important issue relating to the relationship between the executive and legislature, and the use of prerogative powers.

A V Dicey, the renowned constitutional theorist, defined the royal prerogative as “the name for the residue of discretionary power left at any moment in the hands of the Crown, whether such power be in fact exercised by the King himself or by his Ministers”. Traditionally, one such power has enabled the government of the day to take the country into conflict. It allows military operations to be instigated with the required level of stealth to ensure their maximal effectiveness.

Yet, since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, a new convention has developed: seeking parliamentary approval before committing troops to combat operations. Tony Blair went as far as stating, following the 2003 vote, that he could not “conceive of a situation in which a Government…is going to go to war – except in circumstances where militarily for the security of the country in needs to act immediately – without a full parliamentary debate”.

As evidenced by the 2013 vote on Syria, when the Commons defeated the Coalition Government’s motion on military action, Parliament’s approval goes way beyond an indicative vote of support with the executive’s plan. In essence, it usurps the Government’s role in making the decision. This is a dangerous game and has no constitutional law basis. Conventions, by their very nature, must be entrenched in parliamentary procedure. This is not the case here.

The role of the legislature is to provide checks and balances upon the executive. Its role is to hold the Government to account. By making decisions on the latter’s behalf, the lines between the separation of powers are blurred. It would be near on impossible for any Parliament which had voted for military intervention to legitimately hold the Government’s feet to the fire when analysing and critiquing the decision. The responsibility would be shifted to the whole of Parliament.

The UK’s recent experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan have divided opinion. There is a reluctance amongst many politicians to engage in major foreign policy interventions. There is a real risk that we will miss strategically opportune times to strike because of their fear that they may get it wrong. This fear is perpetuated by the sparsity of military intelligence briefings available to the Commons as a whole. The Executive, by contrast, has the full raft of intelligence and legal advice required to make these judgements. In truth, the new convention is setting parliament up to fail by providing only a fraction of the information required to make an informed and fully judged decision.

Lord Houghton summed it up by writing that the new convention had “caused unease within military ranks”. It would be an unwise Parliament that failed to heed the words of a former Chief of the Defence Staff. The general knows that without flexibility, speed, and the element of surprise military operations can rapidly lose their desired impact. For this reason alone, it is imperative that we do not allow our Armed Force’s efficacy to be undermined by our own Parliament.

Leo Docherty: No other country allows soldiers doing their duty to face perverse legal pursuit

The armed forces do not wish to be above the law. The Human Rights Act has had perverse consequences, which have caused injustice.

Leo Docherty is the MP for Aldershot. He is a member of the Defence Select Committee and a former soldier.

This week in the House of Commons I proposed a bill which would ensure that the UK derogates from the European Convention on Human Rights prior to deploying troops on combat operations. I did this because we need to ensure that our armed forces are protected from legal pursuit and that their resolve and capability to deliver hard fighting power, when needed around the world, is undiminished.

The legal pursuit of our soldiers and veterans is a particularly painful chapter in our country’s history and must be urgently resolved. Last year in my constituency, in the Aldershot garrison, I had a conversation with a senior soldier who had just left the Army after three decades of distinguished service serving in the most elite units, in the most brutal and demanding theatres of operation. His experience of sustained legal pursuit in relation to operations in Afghanistan left him with a deep sense of betrayal. Even though he was the son of a soldier and himself had served 30 years, he told me “my sons will not serve” which pained me.

Of course, soldiers do not wish to be above the law. They just want to be under the right one. For generations, the Law of Armed Conflict and the Geneva Conventions governed operations carried out by our soldiers, until that is, until 1998 when the unintended consequences of the Human Rights Act and the ECHR kicked in, leading to a catalogue of injustice involving hundreds of soldiers from all operational theatres; Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan.

No other country has such a perverse situation in which soldiers doing their duty face this kind of legal pursuit. Indeed, ten countries – including France and Spain have in effect opted out of certain aspects of the ECHR. So there can be a way forward, a way which my colleague Tom Tugendhat MP has tirelessly pointing out since his election to the Commons in 2015. The excellent Policy Exchange Report which he co-authored Clearing the Fog of Law makes clear the alarming manner in which our Armed Forces are entangled in Human rights law, to the extent that the ECHR applies wherever and whenever a British soldier employs forces. This means that foreign nationals, including enemy combatants can sue the UK for breach of the ECHR both in courts in London and Strasbourg following military operations. To prevent this we must – as other countries have done – derogate from the ECHR.

Another powerful voice is that of Johnny Mercer MP, my fellow member on the Defence Select Committee who has tackled head-on the outrageous scandal of the Iraq Historical Allegations Team and was instrumental – along with other members of the Defence Committee – in urging Sir Michael Fallon to close it down. The Defence Committee continues to investigate the scandal of legal pursuit and we have heard from witnesses about how the army is “running scared of the law”.

This is something that must end. And it must end, not only because of the past and the painful spectacle of legacy cases which cause so much distress to service men and women and their families. It must end because of future operations. Getting the legal basis of military operations right underpins the central mission of our national defence at this time; the rejuvenation of our armed forces to meet the complex new threats that we face.

Whether we like it or not we will need to, in the future, fight our enemies abroad. We need to be honest with ourselves about that. Soldiers are versatile and adaptable, they can be superb peace-keepers, aid workers, policemen, diplomats. They can and do perform all of these roles. But they are first and foremost, above all else, soldiers – whose task is deliver overwhelmingly military fighting power to kill and destroy our enemies.

And they must have the correct basis in law for them do that – in situations where domestic human rights law is simply not applicable. Soldiers need to know they can deploy and fight on our behalf by adhering to the Geneva Conventions and the Law Of Armed Conflict. They need to know they can deploy and fight on our behalf – and know that they will not then face spurious legal accusations decades after the event. And they need to know that they can deploy and fight on our behalf with the full confidence of our government, our society behind them.

For these reasons I hope that the government will back my private members bill, because as well as being a manifesto pledge and something all Conservatives can surely agree on, it is an issue, ultimately, of protecting the people of our Armed Forces and our national security.

WATCH: Tugendhat’s message to Trump – “In Iraq and Afghanistan, when it was -15 or 50 degrees, we soldiered on”

The US President opted not to attend a commemoration for the fallen due to inclement weather.