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Yesterday there were apocryphal warnings about the future for UK troops in Afghanistan from both sides of the House. Unfortunately the Minister appears to prefer peculiar verbal vacuity and imagined insults to tackling the serious issues at stake.

Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab): How can we win the hearts and minds of the people in Helmand when the majority believe that we are there to get rid of their main source of income? With Karzai increasingly appointing warlords, ex-Taliban leaders, criminals and drug dealers as police chiefs and provincial governors, is not the likelihood that oppression by these provincial governors and police chiefs will greatly increase the danger to our soldiers? Should we not rethink the mission to consolidate the real progress made elsewhere in Afghanistan, because escalation could result in a situation that develops into NATO’s Vietnam?

Des Browne: I do not know who my hon. Friend has been talking to, but NATO and others in Afghanistan carry out regular tests of public opinion. If he wants to know the current situation, between 67 and 70 per cent. of people in Helmand province not only want the UK forces to be there....

My hon. Friend should be careful in what he says in this House, particularly if it is not properly informed. The description he has given of the governance of Helmand is far from the truth. Governor Engineer Mohammad Daud is a very brave, committed and non-corrupt individual, which is why we want to support him so much. He is a force for good in Helmand province. To suggest publicly here that that man is corrupt will feed straight back into his community and will put not only his life at risk, but the lives of those who support him.

I wrote to the Minister today highlighting the bizarre twist his answer had taken and out that he seems to have been answering an entirely different point.

Dear Des,

That was a cheap shot yesterday. Trying to turn what I said into an absurdity and attacking your own creation was unworthy of you. On reading Hansard you will see I did not attack any provincial governor, and certainly not one of the few good ones, Governor Engineer Mohammad Daud of Helmand Province

Unfortunately you have again failed to address the deepening impossibilist was which as Mark Lancaster pointed out could last for 20 years with a grievous loss of life. You also failed to answer the deeply serous point that we are not winning but losing hearts and minds.

Yours sincerely

Paul Flynn

Following the statement by Margaret Beckett on the North Korean nuclear tests there was another magnificent display of denial.

Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that there have been two American policies on North Korea? The first, pursued by Madeleine Albright and President Clinton, was one of rapprochement. It included the denuclearisation of the peninsula, and was very successful. Following that came the very damaging policies of President Bush, which wrecked the policies of rapprochement and increased the tension and fears, however ill founded, of North Koreans. It is right that our policies should be robust, but should not they also be intelligent and independent?

Margaret Beckett: I hear what my hon. Friend says, but I have to say that although there may be days when people in the House feel that it is time to have a go at the United States, this is not one of them. If we want to have a go at anybody, let us have a go at North Korea. This is North Korea’s policy, and that country is pursuing it wantonly. As everyone in the House well knows, in the process of spending on its nuclear weapons programme, North Korea is effectively persecuting its own people, who are undergoing terrible suffering. That is not something for which we should be seeking to find any kind of excuse or rationale. The example that I would put forward here as relevant to North Korea is that of Libya, which gave up its nuclear weapons—and quite right, too.