Coalition against International Terrorism

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:38 pm on 16th October 2001.

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary 3:38 pm, 16th October 2001

The coalition is an international coalition. We have provided active military involvement from the beginning of the operations. France is now providing military support, while other countries within NATO have offered it. The United States President is grateful for those offers and endorses the position of those countries as members of the military coalition. The extent to which those offers are accepted depends on military decisions made by the President of the United States. Where they have not been acted on so far, it is not out of a lack of appreciation of the generosity involved but because of the practical ramifications for the time being of the offer.

To pick up on the point raised by my hon. Friend Mr. Dawson, the people of Afghanistan have suffered for years from conflict and civil war, often fuelled by the outside world, which has not done nearly enough to help them. The nexus formed by the Taliban regime and the al-Qaeda organisation is only one of a long line of calamities to befall the people of that country. But it should be perfectly clear that we cannot give the people of Afghanistan all the help that they need until the influence of the terrorists is broken.

For years, the international community has tried to deal with the humanitarian crisis. For years, the Taliban regime has been obstructing these efforts. Even now, the Taliban regime is impeding the delivery of humanitarian aid and, astonishingly, trying to tax the food convoys that do get into Afghanistan. That is how much it cares for its people.

We are working with the other donors to relieve the suffering. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development has pledged a further £15 million, on top of the £25 million pledged since 11 September and the £32 million that we have committed to the Afghan crisis since 1997. But only a broad humanitarian coalition can feed and shelter the millions of Afghans who are homeless this winter and who, in most cases, were displaced from their homes long before 11 September.

The appointment of Lakhdar Brahimi, a distinguished international diplomat and statesman, to have overarching authority over these life-saving operations at the United Nations is the clearest possible signal of the importance that we attach to the humanitarian coalition. When my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I saw Ambassador Brahimi last week, we assured him of our wholehearted commitment to his task.

Relief is the most urgent task, but Ambassador Brahimi has also been given a political responsibility for the longer-term reconstruction of Afghanistan. This, too, is vital to our long-term security and to the fight against terrorism. Even before we embarked on this fight against terrorism, following the 11 September atrocities, Britain was taking a leading role in shaping international thinking on the long-term future of Afghanistan.

Before 11 September, Britain was working with other concerned members of the international community on a vision for the future at, for example, the conference that the UK organised at the request of the UN at Weston Park, a Foreign Office conference centre in Staffordshire, in July. The conference involved representatives from 20 of the nations with the greatest interest in the future of Afghanistan.

In the weeks since the atrocities in the United States, we have worked towards a shared vision with the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and the regional nations involved. Tomorrow, when I attend the European Union General Affairs Council meeting in Luxembourg, I shall share those ideas with my fellow Foreign Ministers—as well as in a speech in London next week. A senior Foreign Office official, Robert Cooper, has been appointed to develop our thinking on the future of Afghanistan and to work with the UN and our international partners on building a consensus on the way forward as the situation develops.