Coalition against International Terrorism

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:07 pm on 16th October 2001.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Shadow Secretary of State for Defence 9:07 pm, 16th October 2001

I do not share the hon. Gentleman's suspicions of the democratically elected leaders of our country, the United States of America or other NATO countries. I do not think that any Government would manufacture a bogus excuse to go to war with another country and another Government. It is time that the hon. Gentleman showed a little faith in the Prime Minister—the leader of his own party—instead of constantly undermining him. I say that with the greatest respect to the hon. Gentleman.

One of the reasons for resolutely prosecuting the campaign in Afghanistan is to deter other potential terrorist states. It is clear that even the immediate objectives will not be achieved by bombing alone, a point made very ably by my hon. Friend Hugh Robertson. The Secretary of State has rightly said that all military and other options must be kept open. We must resist the temptation to speculate in public about what those options may be—a luxury that the press enjoys.

I share the view of some in this debate that a sustained deployment of allied ground forces in Afghanistan would be extremely problematic, but I do not press the Secretary of State to close down any option. I do ask him, however, to stress that the objectives of the United States and United Kingdom Governments are political and humanitarian as well as military.

The politics of Afghanistan are notoriously complex. The allies have been wrestling with many questions, and they have been raised in this debate. Who are the emerging figures from the majority Pash tribe around whom new alliances could be created to form the nucleus of a new Afghan Government? How many of the present supporters of the Taliban can be persuaded to abandon them, and what is the best means of persuading them to do so? As my hon. Friend Mr. Tredinnick asked, what is the best role for the United Nations, given that any direct western involvement would strengthen opposition to the anti-terrorist campaign?

We should take heart from Colin Powell's visit to President Musharraf in Pakistan today. They have agreed that any future Afghan Administration must be broad based and must include not only members of the Northern Alliance opposition, but moderate Taliban members, other tribal elders and Afghans who are living outside their country at present. That is evidence of an emerging consensus on the way forward, not a cause for some of the despair that we have heard by any means.

Finally, the humanitarian aid programme is not only vital to achieving those aims, it is a key objective in its own right, as my hon. Friend Mr. Duncan pointed out.

I echo the concerns expressed by my right hon. Friend Mr. Ancram, the shadow Foreign Secretary, and urge the Secretary of State for Defence to deal with them. Time is extremely short. In perhaps less than five weeks many of the mountain passes will be closed for the winter. That applies in particular in the north and west of the country, where the most acute famine problem already exists. We want the Secretary of State to say this evening that the allies understand the sheer scale of the humanitarian challenge. Even the doubled figures mentioned by the Secretary of State for International Development fall far short of the target identified by the World Food Programme of 55,000 tonnes of food required per month.

Writing in The Guardian today, the emergencies co-ordinator of Christian Aid, Anthony Morton-King, said:

"The World Food Programme estimates that a stockpile of 250,000 tonnes of food is needed in the country within the next five weeks, when the winter snows will cut off large parts of the country . . . Transporting these vast piles of grain would require 715 trucks full each day over the next five weeks. On some days last week just four trucks were arriving in Afghanistan."

That aid is needed not just to alleviate a huge humanitarian problem but to forestall an even more massive one. If the people in the villages run out of food, they will walk. That means not only the abandoning of their farms so that there is no planting of fresh crops in the spring, but that half of them are likely to die as they attempt to reach refugee camps often hundreds of miles away. If the allies are to avoid a mass exodus of people from the villages, we must collectively take action now. Perhaps this is an opportunity for countries that are unable to contribute to the military effort to help to confront the humanitarian crisis. Please will the Secretary of State deal with those matters when he replies to the debate? That is the way to demonstrate that this is not a war against Islam.

Talk of the reconstruction of Afghanistan after the removal of the Taliban and al-Qaeda will be empty words unless the military and humanitarian actions are prosecuted with the same vigour and resolve. Provided the Government do so, on behalf of the Opposition I can pledge our continued support for the action they are taking.