Coalition against International Terrorism

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:19 pm on 16th October 2001.

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Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State, Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, Shadow Foreign Secretary 4:19 pm, 16th October 2001

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I would very much welcome that briefing, and I look forward to taking advantage of it.

I am sure that the Foreign Secretary would agree that there is an urgency in this regard. The worst and most dangerous alternative to the Taliban would be a vacuum of power. If the Taliban were in the near future either to split or to implode—both of which I am told are perfectly possible—it is vital that the vacuum is not filled by another faction or Government who will merely reignite civil war, or by a Government beholden to international terrorism. Any stable alternative must share our commitment to the removal of bin Laden and al-Qaeda from Afghanistan. If that joint intent were to become decoupled, our objective of removing bin Laden could become much more difficult and hazardous.

There is also the urgency of the onset of winter. Although I am given to understand that the problems of passage and communication are at their worst in about February, time is not on our side, especially in relation to the humanitarian element, which is the desperate part of the picture. Many of the starving in Afghanistan are in the north and west—areas that will be especially affected by winter.

We have made it clear that the humanitarian crisis is every bit as important as the terrorist threat within Afghanistan. Our commitment, along with that of our allies and the coalition as a whole, to the defeat of terrorism must be matched by a similar commitment to meet and resolve the unfolding human disaster in a real and effective way. If our fight against terrorism is in the cause of freedom and peace, so must be our fight against the scourge of starvation that faces millions within Afghanistan and beyond its borders.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House realise that a massive humanitarian response will be necessary to avert the growing humanitarian catastrophe in Afghanistan. Although we welcome all the money that the Government have allocated to deal with the crisis, we have to question whether the extent of the aid provided will be sufficient to save those desperate people from disaster.

On the first night of the bombing, United States planes dropped 37,000 rations on Afghanistan. Leaving aside the enormous practical difficulties that bedevil air drops, how can 37,000 rations—each one enough for one person for one day—have an impact on a country where 7.5 million are dependent on food aid each day? We currently manage to get 500 metric tonnes of food into Afghanistan every day in food convoys. The Secretary of State for International Development said that we have to try to double that amount, but even if we were to triple it we would still be 10,000 metric tonnes short every month of the 55,000 tonnes of food that the World Food Programme says is necessary to feed the hungry in Afghanistan.

Oxfam has called the current food aid levels a "drop in the ocean". I want the Government to assure me that every effort will be made to provide adequate provision for more than 7 million hungry Afghans before winter sets in. That is the greatest challenge facing the coalition. It is the measure of our humanity in the face of the inhumanity of terrorism.