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Former Liberal Democrat Leader Lord Ashdow
Former Liberal Democrat Leader Lord Ashdow
BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: LORD ASHDOWN, Former Leader Of The Liberal Democrats NOVEMBER 11TH, 2001

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

DAVID FROST: In a few minutes I shall be talking to the Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon who's right here, good morning Geoff. And to the former defence secretary, and former lots of other things including deputy prime minister Lord Heseltine as well. But first, joining me from his home in Somerset, the former Liberal Democrat leader Lord Ashdown, of course a veteran military man himself. And Paddy, there's good news in the last 24 hours it sounds like, but until then at least, and maybe still, you felt we were taking somewhat the wrong tack.

PADDY ASHDOWN: No I'm not in the business of criticising decisions made by generals on the ground or who know what's going on, I don't think it's a very sensible past-time to try and second guess military decisions. No, what I was concerned about, and I think what everybody's been concerned about, from those who lead this campaign down to the lowest level, is the fact that this war is now in danger of drawing many other conflicts into its vortex. And for that reason, I mean if you think about it, it reminded me a little of a situation - oh heavens this is a very dramatic thing to say - that in Sarajevo of 1914 where a relatively isolated though important incident draws into it other conflicts, and this is now becoming a conflict which Malaysia and Indonesia are getting involved in. So my concern has been, as I guess have all anybody else's governing, who is running this campaign, to get the thing over and done with as quickly as possible. And in my view it's now more important to finish it quickly than it is to finish it prettily. And I'd like to see us get ahead and get this thing done before it widens further. And in that sense the fall of Mazar-I-Sharif fighting can be very important, very encouraging, and although we might wish to be delicate about the outcome of this, I think we have now to ensure that we keep this momentum up and make sure that this issue is closed as quickly as we can get it closed.

DAVID FROST: And so in terms of that, getting it done quickly and not necessarily prettily, what, do you feel we should continue to use cluster bombs, we should continue to use the new 50,000 bombs, we should stop for Ramadan? What do you feel about those things?

PADDY ASHDOWN: I think war's not a game and you use whatever means you can to get it over and done with, using the appropriate weapon at the appropriate time. So I'm not in favour of saying to an enemy, who's proving difficult enough to get on the run, okay guys this is a football match why don't you take a month off. The reality of it is with Ramadan that it's not Lent it's never been regarded as so, one of the great battles fought in the time of Mohammed, the battle of Fada was fought during Ramadan. The Iran-Iraq war didn't stop for Ramadan, the Taliban won't stop for Ramadan. There may be things we can do within the context of the military campaign to show that we are sensible to that, the 27th day of Ramadan, the day when Mohammed was given the revelation of the Koran, is an important day and perhaps we should consider what we might do in those circumstances, and at that particular time it would be important I think to ensure that we keep the pressure up on the frontlines and don't attack civilian targets unless there's an absolutely cast iron reason for doing so. Very important to get the aid flowing over the Ramadan period but should we stop the war and say to the Taliban you can have a month off? Certainly not. I think that would do two things - I think it would make it even more difficult for us to put them under the pressure we need to put them under in order to get rid of the terrorism in their midst, and I also think that, that the probability is David, that having stopped it after a month you wouldn't be able to start it again. So I'm not in favour of that.

DAVID FROST: Not in favour of that at all. And in terms that -

PADDY ASHDOWN: Look, this is a, this is, this is a very tough situation. War is not a game. You conduct it in order to be able to win. We're now down that track, we've chosen the tactics we've chosen, we've got to grit our teeth and see ourselves through - as quickly as possible - to the removal of the Taliban, because the removal of the Taliban is the only way that we get at this nest of terrorists who have now threatened the peace of the world, and we have to do that as quickly, as sensibly and as reasonably - and holding together the international coalition - as we possibly can.

DAVID FROST: And would you, would you find a space for moderate Taliban, if that's not a contradiction in terms, in a coalition government as we were talking to Mr Ecevit.

PADDY ASHDOWN: I think, I mean this is where I've been doing quickly if you'd have asked me three weeks ago I'd have said that it is very important that we do what we can to put together a coalition of the Pashtuns south of Kabul in Afghanistan. My friend Abdul Haq was a key member of that, unfortunately for reasons which may be revealed later on we have lost him and that's a terrible blow - we now have Hamid Kasai who is seeking, but not successfully, to put together that alliance interest. I would have preferred that the Taliban were removed by a combination of pressure of the Northern Alliance and the putting together of those anti-Taliban forces amongst the Pashtun tribes south of Kabul. I'm not sure how much that now is a viable proposition, so I do think that in the first instance we may well have to put more weight on the Northern Alliance than we would have wished to do. That may give us problems in the, as it were, post-war Afghanistan, it may give us problems because it will incorporate the civil war between the Tajiks in the north and the Pashtuns in the south in any outcome. But getting this thing over quickly is now, in my view, more important. And if we have to put more weight now on the Northern Alliance in order to achieve that, and cope with the problems that will create afterwards in forming the broad-based government in Afghanistan that I think we want, well perhaps we have to grit our teeth and do that too.

DAVID FROST: Paddy, thank you very much indeed, we'll turn now to - the words of Paddy Ashdown there, speaking to us from the West County.


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