I am grateful for the opportunity to set out once again the Government's position on international terrorism. It is wholly proper that I should do so again. The threat posed by Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda network and our response to that threat are matters that the House should debate regularly. That we can and that we do are key differences between ourselves and the repressive regime that we are fighting in Afghanistan.
Yesterday, I returned from visiting Washington, where I had discussions with, among others, the United States Secretary for Defence, Donald Rumsfeld. We discussed the future direction of the campaign, how we can sustain its momentum and how we can strengthen the coalition.
I repeated again that the United Kingdom remains steadfast in its commitment to the campaign against international terrorism. Since
From the outset, we have responded positively to the United States' requests for military assistance by allowing them to use the airbase at Diego Garcia, by firing our own Tomahawk cruise missiles and by providing air-to-air refuelling and reconnaissance aircraft. As my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence announced last Friday, we have significantly increased our contribution to the continuing military campaign. An amphibious task force, maritime patrol aircraft and transport aircraft have all joined the forces that we had already made available.
The United States has made no secret of how much it values our support. Donald Rumsfeld made that clear in our joint press conference on Tuesday. He repeated that the United States values our involvement in the planning and prosecution of the military campaign. It welcomes our particular expertise in a number of key capabilities and the considerable experience, talent and skill that our armed forces provide. We have long enjoyed a uniquely close relationship with the United States and the tragedy of
At the start of the campaign we set ourselves a number of campaign aims. Let me take this opportunity to restate them to the House. First, I shall deal with our wider campaign aims—those that we hope to achieve in the longer term. We aim to do everything possible to eliminate the threat posed by international terrorism, to deter states from supporting, harbouring, or acting complicitly with international terrorist groups, to reintegrate Afghanistan as a responsible member of the international community and to end its self-imposed isolation.
Secondly, I shall set out again the immediate aims of the action that we are undertaking in Afghanistan. We aim to bring Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda to account. We aim to prevent Bin Laden and al-Qaeda from posing a continuing terrorist threat and we aim to ensure that Afghanistan verifiably ceases to harbour and sustain international terrorism and the associated terrorist training camps. Since Mullah Omar has not complied with the United States' ultimatum, we require sufficient change in the leadership there to ensure that Afghanistan's links to international terrorism are broken permanently.
It is important to remind ourselves that achieving those aims, particularly the longer-term aims, will not be possible by military means alone. The campaign will be fought on many fronts and by many different means. It will be fought with diplomacy, and we have already formed a strong coalition with nations of all religions from across the world. It will be fought with financial measures—we have frozen the bank accounts of terrorist paymasters all over the world. It will be fought with humanitarian aid—$700 million has already been pledged to house and feed the refugees in Pakistan. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development will say more about that later.
Does the right hon. Gentleman consider that his aim to require sufficient change in Afghanistan's leadership is a sufficient aim? Over 20 years of conflict and civil war in Afghanistan have led to the conditions in which terrorism has been allowed to breed. The country has the most barbaric Government, and has done for years, regardless of whether the leadership came from the Northern Alliance or elsewhere. We need to be more forthright in saying that we require that all the people of Afghanistan should have the right to decide who should rule them.
That is why I expressed the aim in terms of securing a Government in Afghanistan who do not support and sustain international terrorism. The hon. Gentleman rightly points out that what follows from that is a stronger and more sustainable situation in Afghanistan; but our immediate aim is to secure a situation in which that country is not supporting al-Qaeda or other terrorist networks.
As I have said, we will bring about those aims in a number of ways, but my immediate responsibility is the military aspect of the campaign. The Ministry of Defence's contribution to meeting the campaign aims is focused on achieving three specific military objectives: to destroy the terrorist camps, to pressurise the Taliban regime to end its support for Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda and to enable us to mount future operations in Afghanistan.
Will my right hon. Friend tell us how many cluster bombs, delayed action bombs or Gator bombs have been dropped during the campaign, and to which of the military objectives those bombs have been directed?
We have addressed five targets with cluster bombs so far. I shall deal with cluster bombs and their use later.
We know that many of those who carried out the terrorist attacks on
Our military objectives are being achieved.
Can my right hon. Friend give us an estimate of the number of civilian targets and international aid agency targets that have been hit by coalition forces? What estimate does he have of the number of civilian and military deaths in Afghanistan resulting from the campaign?
Let me make it clear to my hon. Friend that there are no civilian targets. As I will make clear in due course, an enormous amount of effort is made to avoid civilian casualties. There are necessary risks involved in military operations, and although we go to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties, I recognise that that risk exists in a military conflict. It is not possible to give any precise figures about the number of civilian casualties, but I caution my hon. Friend and other hon. Members to avoid relying on anything that the Taliban regime says about the matter.
Will my right hon. Friend remind the House of the number of civilian targets the terrorists hit in the United States on
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There is a clear contrast between the appalling carnage witnessed in the United States on
I want to emphasise that our military objectives are being achieved. Since military action began on
Our second military objective is to pressurise the Taliban regime to end its support for Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. We have attacked significant elements of their military installations. Nearly 40 Taliban military facilities have been attacked—all are damaged and many are destroyed. Taliban forces deployed in the field are being attacked. Significant amounts of armour, vehicles, equipment, and stores have been destroyed, including some 150 military vehicles and over 50 artillery pieces.
The focus of recent military action has shifted significantly towards attacking Taliban forces in the field, thereby aiding the Northern Alliance and others who are also fighting them. That is increasing pressure on the Taliban regime still further.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned armour-piercing ordnance. Can he tell us whether depleted uranium is now being used?
It is not being used at present. As I said a moment ago, I shall return to the question of cluster bombs.
We have not yet achieved our second military objective. The Taliban regime is still supporting Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. We do, however, have good evidence that we are getting there. The Northern Alliance is growing in strength, with reports of some areas of local disaffection with the Taliban regime—its brutality, its barbarity and its hypocrisy. There are encouraging signs that the regime is now feeling the pressure acutely.
I apologise for not being present at the beginning of the right hon. Gentleman's speech. May I ask him a question connected with what he said about dealing with the Taliban's front-line forces? Can he give us any estimate of their numbers, and can he tell us how successful the campaign has been in dealing with them over the past few days?
I think the hon. Gentleman will understand why I do not want to go into detail about the precise numbers, as far as we are aware of them. As I shall make clear in due course, however, a very determined attempt is under way to disrupt the front line, and to ensure that the Northern Alliance has every opportunity to take ground and to advance.
If the training camps have been seriously damaged in military terms, and if Taliban airfields and other military installations have been hit, does that not provide an argument for putting the bombing on the back burner rather than escalating it with B52s? It is having a tremendous impact on the Islamic world, and we need its support for our objectives.
I remind my hon. Friend that B52s have been part of the military campaign from the outset. What is different now is that they are targeting the Taliban front line. As for his suggestion of a pause in the bombing, it is important to maintain pressure on the Taliban regime and on al-Qaeda. A moment ago, I mentioned the possibility of terrorist training camps being rebuilt and reconstituted. We simply cannot afford such a development, which is why the military campaign must continue until we achieve the aims that we set out at the beginning.
I have made it clear that we have regard to sensitivities in the Islamic world in relation to a continuation of the military campaign during Ramadan. Equally, however, for reasons that I have just given, it is important to maintain the military pressure. It would not be militarily sensible to announce in advance our intentions for as long a period as Ramadan involves. I entirely understand why my hon. Friend has raised the issue, but although we have regard to those sensitivities, we also have a military campaign that we must prosecute successfully.
Does my right hon. Friend recall that, in the Iran/Iraq war, Iran bombed Iraq and Iraq bombed Iran during Ramadan? Does he recall that the Egyptians and the Syrians deliberately launched the Yom Kippur war on Israel during Ramadan? Some of my hon. Friends seem to misunderstand the nature of Ramadan, which those of us who live among thousands of Muslim constituents may understand better.
I apologise to the Secretary of State for not being here at the beginning, but may I take him back to what was said by Mr. Barnes? Following his deeply unhelpful comments, will the right hon. Gentleman explain the difference between very precise surgical strikes against targets of high value, and strikes against targets of a purely military nature in areas where—I hesitate to use this phrase—collateral damage is much less likely?
I will deal in due course with the kind of bombing that is likely to be an increasing feature of the campaign, but the targeting of military assets—fixed assets—has been largely completed in Afghanistan, and turning to the deployed military assets of the regime to facilitate an advance by the Northern Alliance is an entirely sensible military strategy.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that many Afghans who oppose the Taliban are criticising the action, saying that not enough has been done to attack the Taliban's front-line forces and calling for far more action against the Taliban military?
What the Deputy Prime Minister said yesterday made it far from clear whether the total removal of the Taliban was an objective in the campaign. Can the Secretary of State tell us whether there is any possibility that hostilities could cease and the Taliban could still exist, which would enable them to harbour terrorists in future?
There is no possibility of the Taliban's continuing to exist if they intend to harbour future terrorists and allow terrorist training camps. As we have made clear all along, if the existing regime chooses to give up Osama bin Laden and his main associates and to abandon its support for terrorism, and allows us to verify that, the military action could end very quickly; but I see no sign of the regime's agreeing to those perfectly reasonable requests.
Does my right hon. Friend believe, and does the intelligence community believe, that bin Laden and his associates will themselves pause in their planning and activities during Ramadan? Has there been any statement from the Northern Alliance or the current Afghan Government that either will pause in their activities? Finally, when my right hon. Friend reaches the subject of targets, will he tell us whether the poppy fields in Afghanistan that cause so much drug-connected trouble throughout the world are a potential future target?
It is certainly important to disrupt the Taliban's ability to sustain their operations, and their support for Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. That disruption will continue in a variety of ways. I see no signs of a let-up in the Northern Alliance's efforts against the Taliban regime during Ramadan; nor indeed do I see any signs of international terrorism abandoning its efforts during that period.
Ancillary to the military campaign is the campaign for hearts and minds. Bin Laden has been extremely skilful in exploiting modern techniques with mediaeval imagery, as Khomeini did in 1979. What are we doing to counter that? Are we going to recruit people from the private sector, as the United States has done, to put over the coalition's case?
My right hon. Friend makes a good point. It is important for us to get the case across. I can give one example of what we are doing: we have recently spent some time talking to the Arab media. I think it very important, certainly on the basis of my visits to the middle east, to get our case across to those who are influencing public opinion in the region, and that effort will continue.
I am grateful. Indeed, I am sure the whole House is grateful to the Secretary of State for being so generous.
May I return the right hon. Gentleman to the issue of the air campaign? Will he make it clear that there is no question of a separate air campaign and a separate ground campaign? We are embarking on military operations of which both air and ground operations are components. What we require is a fully integrated set of military operations. It is not possible to turn off the air campaign or turn on the ground campaign simply because of a particular date or time of the year.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman makes a very good point, which I shall address in due course.
I was dealing with military objectives. On our third military objective, we have certainly created the conditions for future military operations in Afghanistan. Nine of the Taliban's airfields have been attacked and put out of action; their air force is effectively no more; their air defence and early warning systems have been wrecked. The coalition has air supremacy at medium and high altitude; coalition aircraft can fly lower and engage targets in the Taliban's front line. Ground troops can be deployed, as the United States proved in the raids on Kandahar nearly two weeks ago.
We never expected military action to be easy or to produce instant results. It will take time and it will take patience. Some people, perhaps, have become too ready in recent years to assume that military force will bring rapid and effortless success. They assume that the campaign in Afghanistan will be like those to expel Iraq from Kuwait or to drive Milosevic's forces out of Kosovo. There are, of course, some similarities. An obvious example is the early use of air power; its use to gain air superiority enables other operations to proceed with much lower risk than would otherwise be the case. Another comparison is the need to deploy and sustain forces far from their usual bases. Yet another example is the importance of wide international support. The Gulf conflict saw, as now, a great global coalition, standing against Saddam Hussein. The Kosovo campaign, too, although led by NATO, involved many countries from outside the Alliance.
There are, however, significant differences. In Kosovo, the enemy was a major and sophisticated standing army. For our forces to operate in safety required an intensive effort, much more so than we have seen over Afghanistan, to reduce the military capability and the power of the Yugoslav army. In Kosovo, the enemy was a modern state, albeit a badly governed one, but still a country with a relatively advanced infrastructure that was being used to support its military forces. There were, therefore, more targets, and they were more obvious.
Compare that with Afghanistan and the Taliban regime. Afghanistan has seen 22 years of almost continuous war. Much of its infrastructure was destroyed or damaged long before the first coalition bomb fell on
A conventional military campaign aims to take control of specific territory; that was how we pursued our aims in the Gulf and Kosovo, but that is not how we will conduct the campaign in Afghanistan. We are fighting not a unified state, but fanatical terrorists and their obsessive supporters. At times, we may need to deploy forces within Afghanistan. At times, we will help Afghans opposed to the Taliban regime. Indeed, much of the current air campaign—80 per cent. or so—is directed against the Taliban front line with the Northern Alliance. Certainly, when the Taliban regime falls, we may need to help stabilise the situation in Afghanistan, but we do not need to focus on gaining ground to the same extent as in a conventional campaign.
I thank the Secretary of State for giving way with his customary generosity. A little earlier, he said that the Taliban could stop the campaign against them by yielding up bin Laden and, presumably, his closest associates. Has he thought how we should react if, when the campaign begins to press hard on the Taliban, they tried a move in which they announced that bin Laden and his closest associates had left the country, and if that were verified? Presumably, we would not just call off the campaign; we would still insist on proceeding until the rest of the network was destroyed.
The hon. Gentleman has answered his own question. I listed a number of conditions that we would require to be met before the military campaign and the wider campaign against international terrorism could be suspended, as far as Afghanistan was concerned.
My question arises from an earlier intervention. Will my right hon. Friend now kill the myth that the conflict will have some effect on the flow of heroin to this country and confirm what the United Nations has just said—that the Taliban have reduced their poppy cultivation by 91 per cent, but the Northern Alliance has increased its poppy cultivation threefold? A great deal of the heroin coming to this country comes from Burma, Pakistan and other countries. Whatever the outcome of the conflict, it will have no effect whatsoever on the flow of heroin into this country.
I am afraid that I do not agree with my hon. Friend, and I caution him against relying on the argument that, somehow, the Taliban regime had reduced the supply of heroin. In fact, the Taliban regime prohibited others from producing heroin so that they could exploit substantial stockpiles of heroin. Indeed, they were seeking to raise the price to derive further cash from that appalling trade. So I do not accept that there would not be a significant disruption of the heroin trade; it would certainly prevent the regime from trading in other people's lives to sustain its own appalling activities.
It is not possible to try to predict precisely how long the military campaign will last. What I can say, and what we have always said, is that we are in this for the long haul. Our assignment last week of additional forces—forces that we can sustain and support for long periods—is a clear demonstration of our resolve to see this through to the end. The campaign will continue for as long as it takes to achieve the aims that I have set out.
There were clearly difficult times during the Kosovo campaign, but we did not falter then. Look at the result: Kosovar Albanians have been able to return home; the region is already showing signs of stability; and two years after the end of military activity, Slobodan Milosevic is now in court. We will pursue those responsible for the terrorist atrocities of
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister told the National Assembly for Wales on Tuesday that the only hope that the terrorists in Afghanistan have of victory is if we lack the will or the courage to take them on. They think that we will lose our nerve. They could not be more wrong. We will not lose our nerve, because those responsible for the attacks of
The Secretary of State will be aware that Save the Children, which has about 200 members of staff working in the area, has become aware that many children have become separated from their parents, which will not help to garner support for the coalition over there. Is he willing to hear representations from Save the Children on that issue so that the Government may be able to assist in reuniting those families?
I am sure that my right hon. Friend is aware that Save the Children says that, before
I am grateful to my hon. Friend; I do not think that I need comment further on her observation.
We must ensure that those responsible are never again able to carry out such attacks, which is why we are acting in self-defence. The events of
My right hon. Friend rightly makes a great deal of bringing Osama bin Laden and his confederates to account. If bin Laden and/or his confederates were to be brought before a court of law—and mindful of the fact that Milosevic has been brought before an international court, as were the criminals of the Third Reich—what kind of court does he, as a lawyer, anticipate that that would be?
If Osama bin Laden were surrendered to a court process, there is one available in the United States or, indeed, the United Kingdom. Osama bin Laden has committed clear and appalling criminal offences in the United States; were he to appear before a court, that is where he should appear. Frankly, the analogy with the Third Reich is not appropriate because there were no appropriate legal actions that could be brought against those responsible at the end of the second world war in the places where they had committed offences; that was the legal difficulty that the countries of the west faced then. Indeed, lawyers at the time argued that the Third Reich had not committed offences contrary to German law.
We are in a wholly different situation. Those responsible for the attacks on
I wish to ask the Secretary of State how he would resolve the following dilemma. If Osama bin Laden were to come into United Kingdom jurisdiction, would we be able to surrender him to America, given the restrictions that we have adopted on not surrendering anyone to a country which has the death penalty?
I would have no hesitation or difficulty about achieving that.
We know that Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda can carry out these attacks only with the support of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. That is why they moved there some years ago. That is where they find a safe haven and the support that they need to carry out their terrorist atrocities.
We gave the Taliban regime the opportunity to end their support for al-Qaeda and to hand them over. We waited weeks before we began the military campaign, but the Taliban would not move. We were therefore forced to act. We always said that if they would not comply with our ultimatum, we would act to bring about sufficient change in the leadership of Afghanistan to ensure that their links to international terrorism are broken. That is what we are now doing. The Taliban could still comply, as I have said already. But unless they do, we will be forced to continue the military action that is now well under way.
It is important for those who would be critical of our action in Afghanistan to consider carefully what other course of action would achieve our aims. How else should we bring to account those responsible for the hijacking of the planes and the deliberate murder of thousands of ordinary people? How else should we act to prevent Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda network from killing possibly thousands more American, British or European civilians? How else could we exercise our responsibility to the British people to defend them from the threat of fanatical terrorist attacks?
I would much prefer Osama bin Laden and his associates to give themselves up. I would prefer the Taliban to surrender the terrorists and close down the terrorist camps. I would certainly prefer not to have to send British forces into action. But these are not choices that we have. We must not forget that the threat posed to us by bin Laden, his associates and Taliban supporters is very, very, very real. We are determined to bring them to account. Our means of doing so grow stronger by the day.
The increase in the United Kingdom's contribution to the campaign is a clear indication of our resolve. The retention of a substantial naval presence in the region, including Royal Marines, ensures that we have in place a highly capable and flexible military force. Other forces based here in the United Kingdom are also at a high state of readiness. We are capable of deploying these forces quickly and of projecting fighting capability when this is required. We demonstrated this in both Sierra Leone and, more recently, in Macedonia.
Let me explain what immediate readiness means. It means that troops are at very short notice to move and that their equipment is in battle-ready condition. It does not imply necessarily that they will be committed to action immediately, but depending on the nature of the campaign, they may be. I have already explained that this is a different sort of campaign. As it proceeds, intelligence will bring to light opportunities to take action. Once a specific action has been identified, we will need to give our troops the necessary additional preparation and training required to carry it out. Let me emphasise that, acting always in accordance with international law, the coalition is ready to do everything required to achieve our objectives. That includes, where necessary, the use of cluster bombs.
Certainly there is a determined effort to involve countries from around the world and the forces of different religions. We have already had offers of support from Islamic countries and I am most appreciative of them.
I must make progress, if my hon. Friend will forgive me.
Cluster bombs against certain targets are the best, most effective weapons that we have. Where that is the case, the coalition is entitled to use them; otherwise we could put any ground forces we might ultimately deploy at unnecessary risk. But we will not act in ways that are contrary to international law. I recognise that others will be concerned about so-called carpet bombing. This inaccurate and outmoded term gives the impression that the coalition is engaged in indiscriminate attacks.
Let me make some progress.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The coalition makes carefully directed strikes against legitimate terrorist and military targets. That includes heavy bombers dropping long sticks of bombs against large area targets, such as terrorist training camps or Taliban forces deployed in the field. As with any target, we take enormous care to avoid risk to civilians. When long sticks are dropped, the safety margins are appropriately larger than those for single bombs, as Patrick Mercer pointed out earlier.
The Secretary of State will know that I have long campaigned against land mines and, indeed, opposed the use of cluster bombs in Kosovo and former Yugoslavia. I oppose them in this campaign too.
Cluster bombs are not land mines. They are not defined as land mines in the Ottawa convention, for which I know my hon. Friend rightly and effectively campaigned. It is necessary to make a clear judgment on the threat to our forces. The threat to our land forces of dealing with armoured vehicles that will attack and kill them is far greater than any residual risk from cluster bombs. That is the difficult military judgment that must be taken. My overriding priority must be the safety of deployed British forces. No one in my position could stand up and say that we have not taken all effective means at our disposal to protect those forces.
The Secretary of State has said that cluster bombs are not land mines, but they are in effect airborne land mines. [Interruption.] I ask hon. Members to listen. The cluster bombs used during the Kosovo war contained on average 147 bomblets. The failure rate for each cluster bomb was between 5 and 10 per cent., so for any cluster bomb dropped there are bomblets lying in the soil for months to come, ready to be picked up and to kill or maim civilians.
These weapons are used against deployed military vehicles in areas where we are conducting a military campaign. I understand my hon. Friend's concern, but we must take the action necessary to defend our own deployed forces, should that eventuality arise. I could not stand here as Secretary of State for Defence and not take appropriate action to defend our forces going about what is ultimately a humanitarian operation.
I must make further progress. I have given way a considerable number of times.
I am aware that right hon. and hon. Members are concerned about the risk of causing civilian casualties. Military action is, of course, never without risk, but we do everything we possibly can to avoid risks to innocent civilians. The claims of the Taliban regime must be treated with considerable scepticism. They have been completely unreliable in the past and there is no reason to believe what the Taliban are saying today.
We do not take lightly the decision to deploy forces. No Government would want to put United Kingdom military personnel in harm's way. But we must not forget why we are engaged in this campaign. We must not forget what happened on
First, I apologise to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and to the Secretary of State and the House for failing to be present for the Secretary of State's opening remarks. I understand that he addressed issues that I wish to address, so he must forgive me if he has to go over the ground again. I apologise for that.
There may be any number of questions in our minds about the conduct of the Government's response to
As the weeks since
The enormity of the crimes is matched only by the enormity of their strategic significance. The most powerful country in the world—the United States—was subjected to a deliberate and calculated attack. It was a strategic strike. It was a military operation backed by people with strategic objectives, who not only killed thousands of people but created fear and paralysis far beyond the events themselves. They have caused massive economic dislocation. Now that they have seen the effects of their evil, and given that they still possess the means and the motivation, what is to prevent them from striking again and again unless we act?
The United States has been the ultimate guarantor of global security and stability since the end of the second world war. That guarantee has depended on the absolute certainty that the United States, backed by its allies, would defend itself. We in Europe have been the most obvious beneficiaries of that guarantee.
As Henry Kissinger pointed out in his lecture to the Centre for Policy Studies in London last night, if the United States fails the test now, after the most devastating attack on its territory in its history, the whole structure of post-war global security will collapse. That is what is at stake.
All around the world, there are tensions and potential flashpoints where ethnic and border disputes can flare up and where the slenderest threads of deterrence hold the forces of chaos in check. Unless the United States and its allies prevail over the terrorist aggressors in Afghanistan, aggressors everywhere will be given a green light, and they will be aggressors who care nothing for civilian casualties or whether they use cluster bombs.
Western democracies do not like fighting wars. We find it grotesque to weigh the balance of argument on the basis of that awful phrase "collateral damage". We grieve for every death among innocent people caught in a war that is not of their choosing, but we must be prepared to face that choice.
Our enemies are people without scruple who hope to exploit civilised values as a key weakness. Now is the time to stand up for our values, not to be weak and surrender them. That is why we welcome the Prime Minister's speech to the Welsh Assembly on Tuesday, in which he unambiguously reiterated the fundamental purpose of the military campaign in Afghanistan. It is crucial that we keep explaining, as the right hon. Gentleman has done, the absolute and vital connection between the security of people leading their daily lives and the continued prosecution of the military campaign. The Government have clearly found some difficulties with that in recent days.
Our constituents and their children appreciate the real threat of terrorism. We can trust them to understand that reality. Since
In leading our people through that, I urge Ministers not to flannel them. People naturally want to see that the bombing will lead to progress, but we should not give false reassurance when there is as yet none to give. Attempts to sweeten or dilute the message lead to confusion. People want the facts of the situation. They do not want spin. The debate about whether the Royal Marines are ready was not helpful. Ministers cannot complain about press speculation when all the briefings and public statements about a possible deployment of thousands of troops leading up to last Friday's announcement seemed designed to create that speculation.
Once again, I urge the Secretary of State to question the wisdom of using field commanders for the political task of backing up what he says and reassuring the public back home about the direction of the campaign. I urge the Government to reconsider their media strategy.
About the use of field commanders to back some political campaign. Quite simply, that has never been done, and I should be grateful to know why the hon. Gentleman makes that allegation.
I have nothing against Brigadier Lane or Admiral Burnell-Nugent, but it is clear that they have been authorised to give briefings. Brigadier Lane was interviewed on the "Today" programme. Those political messages would be better put across by Ministers, not military commanders in the field.
Given that the admiral, in particular, was briefing in the context of an exercise, is the hon. Gentleman saying that the Government should forbid senior military commanders from appearing on the radio or giving interviews?
They do not appear without the Secretary of State's permission, and I certainly do not think that Brigadier Lane would have appeared on the "Today" programme without the Secretary of State knowing about it. If that is part of the right hon. Gentleman's campaign to reassure the British public, it should not be: he should ensure that the primary objective is that the public are not confused by conflicting messages. I shall not tire the House by going through those again.
May I give the hon. Gentleman a piece of advice? During the Gulf crisis and the Gulf war, when I led for the Opposition, as a supporter of the rule of law, I looked for points of agreement with the Government. I did not niggle over points of disagreement. My advice is this: if he and his leader continue in that way, they will not win support in the country. They will arouse contempt.
I opened by making it absolutely clear where and how deeply we support the Government's objectives, and the Government should realise that. The right hon. Gentleman and the Secretary of State have shown a little over-sensitivity on this point. If they think that the presentation over the past week has been absolutely perfect, they live in a different world from the rest of us. I know that they do not think that that is true.
I intend to carry on with my speech.
I do not believe that the majority of the British public feel that they have to know so many details of the debate about military preparations. They would hate the idea that Ministers were feeding speculation that might help the enemy and even put the lives of British service men at risk. We are not talking about managing the media for the usual domestic political agenda. Our adage should be, "less is more." The less the Government say about our plans, the more confident people are likely to be that the right decisions are being taken.
A few moments ago the hon. Gentleman said that he would prefer the Government to deal in facts and not spin. Does he not therefore welcome the briefings given by Brigadier Lane and his colleagues? Surely he is getting the facts.
I do not want to drag the House through this again, but clearly there were disagreements. There were conflicts between what the Brigadier and Ministers were saying. Points of information given by the Chief of the Defence Staff did not accord with what Brigadier Lane had said. Unless we can clarify the messages, we will not give the British people the confidence that British forces deserve before they go into action.
The Prime Minister is right to clarify our objectives. The Government must also clarify their military aim. At the time of the previous debate on the subject on
We also agree with the Secretary of State that there is plenty of evidence to show that the bombing campaign is effective. It is degrading Taliban and al-Qaeda military assets. It is reducing the terrorists' ability to continue to operate and sending a clear signal to other terrorist organisations and the states that may harbour them that the west will act decisively against terrorism.
The Government's objectives reflect their overall policy and that of the United States Government, however. They are grand strategic objectives to be achieved by political, diplomatic and military means. They do not constitute achievable military aims. That, too, seems to be a source of some confusion. Apart from the appearance of the Deputy Prime Minister at the Dispatch Box yesterday, which I confess I had rather discounted, it seemed to be becoming clear from United States and British Government statements that a simpler military aim was being distilled from the broader strategy—namely, the removal of the Taliban Government.
When I asked the Secretary of State about that aim on Monday, he replied
"Yes, I can give that confirmation."—[Hansard, 29 October 2001; Vol. 373, c. 615.]
If there was any doubt left, on Tuesday, the Prime Minister said
"Our objectives are clear: to close down the al-Qa'ida Network, bring UBL and his associates to justice and because the Taliban regime have chosen to side with al-Qa'ida, to remove them."
Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to clarify that it is the objective of the Government and the alliance to remove the Taliban Government?
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was absent from the Chamber when I dealt with that matter. I made it clear that the purpose of the campaign—I set out the wider aims and the military aims—is to create a situation in Afghanistan where there is a Government who no longer harbour, sustain and support terrorism. That has always been and continues to be the aim.
I will give way to the right hon. Gentleman in a moment. If the alliance adopts that as its first and principal aim, I can assure the Secretary of State that the Government will have our fullest support. It is hard to see how al-Qaeda can be tackled effectively and bin Laden driven from his hiding places, or how we can begin to resolve the mounting humanitarian crisis, unless we remove the main obstacle to all those things, which is the Taliban. When I wrote those words, I did so with the thought that the Government's objective was to remove the Taliban. I still think that that probably should be the objective. We will support the Government in the use of whatever conventional military force is necessary to achieve that aim.
The hon. Gentleman says that he supports the big picture and the Government's objectives, but surely he is descending into a sort of mediaeval textual analysis of minor points of difference, which cannot be helpful in the big campaign. He is also being unrealistic and is failing to see the problems of coalition building, as elements of this disparate coalition have different views on whether some elements of the Taliban can be incorporated in a post-Taliban Government. Surely he is being unhelpful. We must keep the coalition going as it is at present, even though there may be certain ambiguities.
There are more than ambiguities, but I will let the point rest there.
I reiterate what my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said yesterday. Removing the Taliban does not conflict with our humanitarian policy—it is the humanitarian policy. No arrangements can be made with a Government who had already created a dire refugee crisis before
I raised this issue with the Secretary of State, but felt that his answer was not as full as it might have been. Surely it is the conditions in which the Taliban have thrived that must be ended. The last 20-odd years of conflict and civil war have led to those conditions and have resulted not only in refugees and humanitarian disaster but in disaster for the 50 per cent. of the Afghanistan people who are female as well as for all the neighbouring states. We must put an end to that Government and allow the people of Afghanistan the right to choose their own Government.
My hon. Friend is right. We must be prepared for a long campaign. It would be wrong to suggest that there is unlimited time, however. We need to prove the real value of the air campaign. That is only likely to become apparent when we move to the next stage of military operations, as both the Gulf and Kosovo military campaigns demonstrated.
I do not invite speculation about the nature of the next phase of the military campaign. Ministers will have our support if they continue to provide the Americans with whatever military support they may request and that we can afford them.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for having the courtesy to give way. The Leader of the Opposition gained much credit throughout the country for his unequivocal support for the Government in the war against terrorism. However, in what was widely perceived in the media as a wobble by an inexperienced new leader, the right hon. Gentleman seemed yesterday to set conditions for supporting the Government, as the hon. Gentleman has done today. Will he now reiterate on behalf of the Opposition that the Conservative party gives unequivocal and unconditional support to the Government in their fight against terrorism?
Yes, and—[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear!"] That yes means that we will continue to be Her Majesty's loyal Opposition, playing the role that the British people expect us to play in a democratic Parliament, asking the questions that they expect us to ask and holding the Government to account for the conduct of that campaign.
My hon. Friend is right. Nothing that I have said today detracts from that view.
The public rightly sense the dangers of a lengthening conflict. May I reassure the Government that the Opposition are not about to set any deadlines? However, the longer this part of the conflict continues and the longer the Taliban remain in power, the less effective the coalition appears to be and the greater is the threat to the political and military credibility of the alliance. That will also tend to obscure the wider issues presented by the threat of international terrorism that we must be ready to face.
There is no need to rehearse here the list of states that we know actively sustain international terrorist organisations. We must also address the underlying factors that give rise to such organisations: for example, the need to rebuild nations such as Afghanistan on the basis of a proper, legally constituted Government whose primary interests are stability and security and who show respect for basic human rights and for the territorial integrity of their neighbours. That is the agenda that the Prime Minister is rightly seeking to address on his visit to Syria, Saudi Arabia and Israel, and we wish him every success.
All these wider efforts will come to naught unless we are prepared to follow through the military action that we have started. The Taliban and al-Qaeda are the sworn enemies of every Member of this House. We know that up to 50,000 people have been through the al-Qaeda training camps. We know that they have the will to destroy us and everything that we value most highly. As the Prime Minister said in his first statement to the House following
"We know that they would, if they could, go further and use chemical, biological, or even nuclear weapons of mass destruction."—[Hansard, 14 September 2001; Vol 372, c.606.]
If there is a vote tonight, we will join Ministers and their supporters in the Lobby. Every Member of this House should use this opportunity to demonstrate once again their support for the Government's determination to defeat the Taliban and al-Qaeda before they get the opportunity to carry out further atrocities on innocent people. The Government are entitled to that support. That is how Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition see our duty. Every member of our armed services is ready to do their duty. The very least that we can do is to back them with the determination and clarity that they are entitled to expect.
Order. Before I call the next speaker, I remind the House that the 10-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches applies from now until the end of the debate.
I did not endeavour to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, or that of Mr. Speaker during the earlier debates on this extremely serious matter because I wanted to speak with the aid agencies and assess the humanitarian aspects of the crisis. I now want to address my remarks to that issue.
If there is a Division tonight, I shall support the Government because the arguments have led overwhelmingly to the conclusion, consistent with the view of the majority of the British people, that what the Government are doing reflects what the British people expect from a responsible Government.
I do not want to become involved in the war of words about news management between Mr. Jenkin and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence. However, the media's influence on public opinion is important. With the greatest respect to the hon. Member for North Essex, if there is a problem regarding news management—in fairness, perhaps there is—the media and the press have their responsibilities as well. It is probably better coming from me as a Back Bencher, speaking for myself alone, if I say that not only do the media have rights, which we are seeking to defend, they have responsibilities. They may from time to time want to address themselves to those responsibilities.
On Monday I listened to the "Today" programme on Radio 4 for about two hours. To the programme's credit, it ended with a brief discussion on that very matter. One of the contributors in the studio was Colonel John Hughes Wilson, formerly of the Defence Intelligence Service. He quoted Lawrence of Arabia's words:
"News management—the press—is the most important weapon of war."
It may be, but if it is, and given the complexities that we are facing, when the media choose whom they want to interview they should remember that a large number of people from the 90-odd nations that support the coalition come from Muslim communities. Perhaps we could hear from them from time to time.
On the diplomatic side, I strongly welcome what the Prime Minister has been doing during the past few days, particularly in seeking to influence Israel and Palestine. We all know that that is really at the heart of a solution to these problems.
Let me mention two countries, Pakistan and India, which Parliament holds in high regard, and the contribution of which they are capable. There are, of course, sensitivities—both countries are nuclear powers. However, on the diplomatic side it is right that we continue to press for fruitful negotiations on Kashmir, given the friction that there is, the three wars that have already taken place between those two nations and the enormous pressure on both in the current crisis. We want to be even-handed. India has 130 million Muslims, the largest Muslim population in the world after Indonesia.
I come now to the humanitarian challenge in Afghanistan. For more than 20 years, Afghanistan has been in the grip of a huge humanitarian crisis. There has been conflict; for the past three years there has been drought. There were many problems with refugees before
Famine and diseases such as malaria are increasing; and infant mortality is also increasing on a huge scale. I believe that everyone in the House wants to respond passionately to that challenge. We know of the big demands on the medical centres. We know, too—I say this with some pride—that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development has led in dealing with these problems. Of the EU contribution, 19 per cent.—nearly a fifth—came from us. That was well beyond what might be expected on a per capita basis.
I have listened, as have other right hon. and hon. Members, to the important views of the aid agencies, which for years, not just for the past few weeks and months, have been at the front line in trying to deal with the problems. I know that they are not unanimous in their view about, for example, whether there should be a pause in the war. Some, such as Oxfam, and others that speak from its perspective, take the view that that should take place. They tell us in all candour that the delivery of food by air is not reaching those whom it is meant to reach, and sometimes the food packages are confused with land mines. They tell us in all candour that they are suspicious of cluster bombs.
Other aid agencies make the point that for many years, not just in recent weeks, the Taliban's harassments, their looting and seizing of trucks, their objection to women working for the aid agencies even as they bring succour, and their threatening with execution people who use telephones to give their appraisal of the situation, do not make it easy for the Government or those involved in the coalition to deliver the essential humanitarian aid—food, medicine and the rest—that we are determined to deliver. It is precisely the humanitarian crisis that convinces me that our diplomatic, military and intelligence activities simply have to succeed. They cannot be seen to fail.
The efforts against terrorism and the provision of proper humanitarian relief rely on the possession of at least one other airport or some other secure method of bringing vital supplies to at least substantial parts of Afghanistan. That would be an enormous success story. I accept that we would have to work with the Northern Alliance to achieve it, but if we could take the key northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif we could open vital supply routes into Afghanistan. That does mean force, but in the circumstances, consistent with every effort to ensure that civilians are protected, it is not an ignoble objective. I sincerely believe that it is the only choice.
Beyond that—on this, I conclude, Mr. Deputy Speaker—we look forward—
I, too, shall be brief because I know that many right hon. and hon. Members wish to speak. I apologise for the absence of my hon. Friend Dr. Tonge. She has to deal with a personal matter. My right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Campbell will make a speech should he catch your eye later, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
The Liberal Democrats welcome the initiative that the Prime Minister is undertaking in the middle east. It has been suggested that American foreign policy and the situation in the middle east somehow justify the appalling attacks of
We meet here again today to discuss this war. We have never liked using the word "war"—we do not believe that we are at war—but the word is being used and I accept its use. We said from day one that we would support military action that was targeted, proportionate and within international law. We have always made it clear that we believe, and I know that the Government also believe, that the military campaign is just one aspect of the overall campaign that needs to be fought. On that military campaign, we again say that we support our armed forces. We must do all that we can to protect them. They go into action—if they have to do so—with our complete support.
Like many others, including the Secretary of State for Defence, I recently visited Oman. I found our forces there—as I find our forces wherever I see them—in good spirits. I had concerns about several items and I am glad that they have been dealt with. I am especially pleased about the new rifle that the Minister of State for Defence told us will be made available to them.
I want to tell the House about my correspondence with one of the marines whom I met—a young Muslim. He and his parents have written to me welcoming the visits that have been made. That Muslim marine knows—as we all know—that the action being taken and to be taken is in no way a war against Islam. It is worth repeating that the action that is being taken is against terrorism wherever it may be found.
That action is not only military in nature: it involves diplomacy and financial measures, as well as intelligence work about which we may never know. It also includes humanitarian aid. I seek several assurances about the humanitarian project.
I am delighted that no one in the House, in the Government or in the US Administration is prepared to ignore the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan. However, it must be admitted that there was a humanitarian disaster there before
Does my hon. Friend recognise the anxiety of many of my constituents that the humanitarian and human rights situation of the Afghan people will improve only if there is the prospect of a stable regime to replace the current one? Does he understand their worry that even if the Taliban regime were to fall tomorrow or next week, unless it is replaced with something better, we shall have created a humanitarian situation that is no better and may even be worse as the land falls into the hands of competing warlords? Does he agree that we need far more emphasis on what will come next, rather than merely focusing on what we want to get rid of at present?
My hon. Friend is right. It is true that any replacement regime, which will have to attract international support, cannot simply be formed, for example, by the Northern Alliance. To have any chance of success in Afghanistan, the regime will have to be representative of all the various communities and tribes in that country. We in the international community must work to ensure that.
The hon. Gentleman repeats what many hon. Members have said about the range of people who should be involved in a post-Taliban Government. Will he make it explicit that that must include women, who have been greatest victims of the Taliban regime?
I make that absolutely explicit. The treatment of women by the Taliban regime is appalling. Any replacement regime must understand that the human rights of all members of society in Afghanistan must be upheld.
Does the hon. Gentleman not understand that there is a great distinction between the appalling behaviour of the Taliban regime and the traditional behaviour of many Muslim communities? To attempt to impose western values on Muslim communities and nations that have a secure and sensible way of governing themselves is exactly the way to lose their support.
I certainly would not suggest to any nation that we should impose targets or quotas, but the hon. Gentleman must understand that the way in which women have been treated in recent years in Afghanistan is very different from the way in which they used to be treated there. Formerly, they were regarded as valued members of their society. I want to see that again. I have visited Muslim societies where women have that right—a point that bears repetition.
May I put a question to the Secretary of State for International Development through the Under-Secretary of State for Defence who is sitting on the Treasury Bench? The Secretary of State for Defence mentioned that $700 million of aid has been pledged during the war so far. How much of that has actually been delivered? It has been suggested that although it is easy to pledge money, actually to give it is a slightly different thing.
Will the Under–Secretary tell us whether it has been suggested that some of the non-fighting members of the coalition might use some of their military assets to speed up the delivery of aid to the area? That would go some way to alleviate the crisis that might shortly be upon us.
On cluster bombs, Liberal Democrats have to part company to a degree with others. We believe that targeted and proportionate military action is acceptable, but we also have to accept that the use of cluster bombs has a wider international and diplomatic consequence. In its excellent report on the Kosovo crisis, the Select Committee on Defence considered the use of cluster bombs and said:
"At the very least, their reputation as an indiscriminate weapon risks international condemnation, undermining popular support for an action."
I bow to the hon. Gentleman's considerable defence experience, but we both understand that a palpable confusion exists between mines and cluster bombs. They are not the same, and that difference must be made clear if we are not to have one hand tied behind our backs.
There is a difference between land mines and cluster bombs, and that is understood in the report that I quote and I understand it, too. If the hon. Gentleman will allow me a few minutes, I shall expand the argument and answer some of his concerns.
We believe that the concerns on the diplomatic front about the use of such weapons are very real. So real does the Ministry of Defence believe them to be that it has now written to every Member of Parliament to give its defence of those weapons. We believe that a sizeable proportion of the bomblets dropped clearly fail to go off. The Secretary of State for Defence suggested that the figure is 5 per cent. The Select Committee thinks that the percentage is higher—perhaps between 8 and 12 per cent.—and, of course, some non-governmental organisations believe it to be higher than that. Given the failure rate of some of those submunitions, which can cause civilian casualties and casualties to our own forces who may occupy the ground, the use of that ordnance seems to be folly, and it should be reconsidered.
Following on from the previous intervention, does the hon. Gentleman understand that, as acknowledged by a Pentagon spokesman in The New York Times of
I do understand that, and I can understand that there may be occasions on which the military use of cluster bombs should be allowed. We certainly would not withdraw them from the British Army's order of battle, but because of the concerns about them in other nations and in this country, we do not believe that they should be used in this conflict.
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that if he were the Secretary of State for Defence and his senior officers at the MOD advised him that it was in the interests of protecting the lives of British service men and women to use cluster bombs in certain circumstances in Afghanistan, he would say no and put the lives of our service men and women at risk?
The hon. Gentleman must understand that if using such weapons results in a much wider breakdown in the international coalition, that could have more consequences for the protection of our services than not using them. I shall not second-guess what I would do if I were in that position, although I look forward to being in that position, but currently in this campaign the use of cluster bombs is wrong.
On the calls for a pause for Ramadan, which the Secretary of State has discussed, I entirely agree with the comments of Mr. Kaufman and, indeed, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife. It has been suggested that if we were to pause for Ramadan or some other event, somehow humanitarian aid would suddenly flow. I see no evidence that that is really the case. To cease air strikes could possibly allow the Taliban to regroup and reassemble their forces, and it could possibly allow al-Qaeda to plan and execute another horrific terrorist attack. Therefore, we believe that to pause, or to announce a pause for an event that is coming up in over two weeks would be wrong. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton was right to say that history shows that Ramadan has never necessarily meant a pause in military action. At this stage, therefore, we do not support a pause.
I must try to make some progress because many hon. Members wish to speak.
I come to the home front, if we may call it that. The safeguarding of the lives of our constituents must be the principal activity of Her Majesty's Government. I want to know whether they will reassess the calls by some people, including my hon. Friend Sandra Gidley, for a newly appointed Cabinet-rank Minister to deal with home security. We must ensure that every possible provision is in place to secure the lives of our citizens.
It is clear that there is some confusion about who would control a terrorist event in this country. Would it be the Home Office, local government or indeed the devolved Assemblies? It is clear that there is some concern. I therefore believe that we should consider following the example of the United States and appoint a Cabinet-level person who would be responsible for co-ordinating homeland defence. I believe that the Territorial Army would have a vital role in that. I am glad that the Government are trying to improve the way in which the TA is organised.
It is clear that the war is now undergoing a different tempo and that the combined land and air campaign is changing its movement. We in the House must support that. We have made it clear from the start that we support targeted, proportionate action. Our view has not changed. Others may have changed their position, but we have not. If our armed forces go into action, they do so with our support. We pray for their safe return home. We have the best armed forces in the world. Again, that will be proven.
I have not attempted to speak in the House during the campaign, other than to make interventions on various Ministers. I stand here today with a heavy heart because I feel that we are facing an enormous humanitarian crisis.
For the past two weeks, we on the Select Committee on International Development have listened to various people from aid agencies, some of whom have been inside Afghanistan as recently as two weeks ago, some of whom have been expelled, but all of whom have particular knowledge of the situation there. They knew that there was a drought before
I am not happy to stand here and say that 100,000 children may die unless we can get that aid to them in time, but that is what the United Nations Children's Fund has told us: 100,000 children could die in that country. Therefore, we all have a great responsibility to ensure that not only the military objectives but the diplomatic and humanitarian objectives are met, as other colleagues have said. I do not believe that the humanitarian objective is being met at the moment, although at the beginning of the campaign we were told that humanitarian, diplomatic and military efforts would run in parallel and would be mutually supportive. Obviously, that is not happening with regard to the humanitarian situation.
It is not the fault of the people who are waging the war, because it is a complex situation. The Taliban previously attacked aid agencies and imprisoned people who worked for them. They did not allow them to work with women. They did not allow many of the things that we expect aid agencies to do in a country. That was before the bombing started. Now that it is under way, we must take notice of the warnings coming from aid agencies across the board, from Islamic Relief to Oxfam, Christian Aid and Care International.
Two weeks running, we have heard those agencies giving evidence to our Committee. They are not so concerned about the people on the borders who are trying to become or are already refugees, because there is usually somebody to look after them. They are concerned about the displaced people inside Afghanistan. Hundreds of thousands of people were already displaced before the war started but have become even more so. Many have fled in terror to the borders or to friends and relatives out in the country.
There are estimated to be about 2 million displaced people inside Afghanistan. The difficulty will be to reach those people once the snows start. The aid agencies have different views on how to get the food into the country. A lot of figures are bandied about, but one important statistic is that people are getting only 19 per cent. of the food that they need. Whatever we say about metric tonnes, 19 per cent. is clear enough to everybody.
People are underfed. Many are already suffering from malnourishment, exhaustion and fear. Women are particularly vulnerable. Thousands are already war widows and have to fend for themselves. Dropping food parcels from the air may have to continue as a last resort, but it means that the healthy and the strong can run to get the food, while the weak, the vulnerable and the children cannot.
I am told that truck drivers are reluctant to drive food trucks in Afghanistan. They are afraid of looting, of being attacked and of bombing, because they do not know when it will happen. However, there are donkeys and carts and other ways of getting food to people, and that has to be done before the snows come.
I cannot stress strongly enough that we have a responsibility to deal with the humanitarian crisis, which the aid agencies believe is of gigantic proportions and may become a bigger catastrophe than anything seen before. I am sure that none of us wants that to happen, so we must call on our own Government and on the others involved in the action to find a mechanism to ensure that the humanitarian problem is addressed, and soon, so that at least we can hold up our heads and say that we did what we could. Whatever happens during the military action, we must not allow hundreds of thousands of Afghans to starve, but unless the humanitarian crisis is addressed now, that is what will happen.
Ann Clwyd speaks with passion, knowledge and commitment on the humanitarian aspect of the conflict with Afghanistan. I know of no military engagement in which there has been such a strong humanitarian element. The precision with which munitions are delivered has been weighed to take into account the humanitarian concerns that she expressed.
Looking around the Chamber, I can see a great number of poppies. The majority of, if not all, Members of the House will go to their war memorial on Remembrance Sunday and bow their head in remembrance of those who, in two world wars and other conflicts, have given their lives in the cause of freedom. We will remember the massive loss of life that occurred, for example, on the Somme. Faulks's book "Birdsong" reminded us that, on day one, 40,000 were killed. We will remember them, and we shall not forget their sacrifice. They were fighting for freedom, democracy and the things that we hold near and dear. That is why we have to engage, again, in military activity against terrorism—in this case, against al-Qaeda. Its members are not democrats and they are not answerable to anyone. They showed not a hint of compassion in the action that they took on
Lest we forget that, I inform the House that, last night, I signed a passport application for a family friend. I asked the young man where he had lost his passport and he told me that it was at the bottom of the World Trade Centre. That brings home in a very personal way exactly what happened on
My constituency contains the headquarters of BAE Systems, which makes the majority of our military aircraft, and we understand what conflict is about. We provide the equipment to reinforce our armed forces to do a remarkable job. The Canberra PR9 flew 50 years ago and it is still flying in this conflict, providing aerial photographs and intelligence for our forces. All the nuclear fuel in the country is manufactured in my constituency, and if we do not contain terrorism, my constituents will be abundantly aware of the danger of an attack on that plant. In some way, we are all connected with the battle; we cannot ignore it.
Last night, some Members had the privilege of listening to Benjamin Netanyahu. Whatever they might think of his conduct as Prime Minister of Israel and whatever their views of the conflict there, they cannot have been other than struck by his message of passion and experience. He described what it is like to live in a country that is permanently engaged in a terrorist conflict and he observed that his country is a democracy that sits in a sea of non-democratic countries, many of which have given comfort and succour to terrorists. His assessment of the 11th was chilling. He said that we had received a wake-up call from hell and that we could either do something about it or press the snooze button—chilling and telling words from someone who has had to deal with the real-world effects of terrorism. I agree that we have to do something, which is why I support the action that has been taken.
There has been some discussion about the clarity of our purpose and whether we have explained our strategy. The Secretary of State and my hon. Friend Mr. Jenkin responded to such comments, but one of the problems that we face is that there are too many media, too much comment, too many conflicting views and too many difficult messages for ordinary members of the public to take on board. Too many retired generals and army experts pump out their version of what is going on. If there has been a lack of clarity, it is because the media are crowded with observations.
This is a difficult conflict; it is a different conflict. In his remarkable address to Congress, President Bush reminded us of that when he said:
"Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign, unlike any other we have ever seen. It may include dramatic strikes, visible on TV, and covert operations, secret even in success."
The one word that has perhaps not been emphasised so far in our discussions is "patience". We have to be patient and allow time for different military approaches to be tried to see whether they can successfully deal with a resourceful, clever and financially well resourced opponent who could strike anywhere at any time. To do nothing is not an option, which is why I believe that the action that has been taken so far is correct.
I have written to the chairmen of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the British-American Parliamentary Group asking whether they would seriously consider organising programmes of activities and visits to and from their member countries so that Members of Parliament may play their part in improving dialogue and understanding of the issues that underpin the fight against terrorism. It is only by learning and by conversation that we can make our contribution and understand the conflict.
Anyone who has any doubts about the purpose and intention of our actions to date should read the chilling article on the front page of today's edition of The Times. The facts of what the Taliban did to someone who chose to stand and fight against them constitute the most brutal report that I have ever read. The person involved was amputated to the extent of becoming a complete cripple yet still being alive to tell the story. The article shows that these are not people to be trifled with; these are people who must be dealt with. If that means massive military power in the first instance, so be it.
I have respect for those who challenge and question what we are doing. Mr. Matthew Parris writes with perception and clarity about our affairs in this place. Last Saturday, he wrote a challenging article about the relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States and our position in the conflict. Whatever we think about Matthew Parris's analysis and whatever we think about those who have doubts, as democrats we must respond to their concerns to ensure that the clarity of vision and purpose to which the majority subscribe is not deflected. Above all, we should not forget, as the hon. Member for Cynon Valley said, the word "humanitarian". If we do not deal effectively with the Taliban, we shall have ignored the humanitarian aspects of why we are at war in Afghanistan.
My hon. Friend Ann Clwyd made a powerful speech about the humanitarian crisis. We should all listen carefully to and read what she says. Mr. Jack spoke about the big picture, and I shall seek to follow that. In doing so, I shall build on the points that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made to the Welsh Assembly on Tuesday. He had two themes: first, remember; secondly, be patient.
We must remember why the conflict is happening—because of the atrocity of
The second theme of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was the need to be patient. Clearly there are problems as the campaign progresses. I re-read de Tocqueville's "Democracy in America", where he questions whether a democracy can continue a foreign policy consistently for any length of time.
When we read our press and see the debates of retired generals on how they would wage the war, alongside the tragic pictures of individual citizens in Afghanistan who have lost their children, there are many temptations to wobble. However, let us remember what happened in Kosovo. Yes, the circumstances were different, but the bombing lasted for 78 days, the refugees have now returned and Milosevic is before the International Court of Justice at The Hague. Yes, it is worth while viewing what is now happening in its proper perspective of
My next point is this: where are we now domestically and internationally? I want to raise three issues of detail. First, in the past few days questions have been asked about the small number of British Muslims who are going to fight in Afghanistan. I should preface my comments on the matter by saying how much I welcome the statements of the many responsible Muslim leaders in Britain who have made it clear that bin Laden does not speak for the Muslim community. I welcome also the statement by Muslim parliamentarians on
There is encouraging poll evidence in The Daily Telegraph showing that the British people, with their usual good sense, are not allowing the conflict to damage their relations with British Muslim citizens. Clearly, however, some British Muslims are leaving the country to fight abroad against our own service men. No doubt, the numbers reported in the press are exaggerated, but even if there is only a handful of such individuals, we need to take the matter seriously and ask how our law is equipped to deal with the problem. Of course, there must a due process of law—but which law? The Foreign Enlistment Act 1870 is not relevant, as it deals with states and not non-state parties. We may have to consider updating it. I suspect that the Terrorism Act 2000 may not be wholly appropriate because of the question whether the Taliban are a terrorist organisation. We need to consider the Green Paper on mercenaries that the Government are about to publish. Indeed, they have been about to publish it for the past two years.
We need to look at the whole battery of statute law that is available, not least in terms of passports, which are a matter for the Crown prerogative. However, there are two clear points: a clear and serious warning must be given to those who are tempted to go abroad; and statements are needed from leaders in the Muslim community telling people that they support the UK in this crisis or at least that they are ready to deter young people who are tempted to go abroad.
Secondly, on airline security, I want to make one point. Wearing a professional hat, in the past I have seen opportunities given for organised crime, drug running and so on because of lax recruitment of cleaners in aircraft at our airports. We must consider very carefully the recruitment of people who can go airside in our airports and procedures must be tightened.
I want to mention one final related matter: foreign students at British universities taking knowledge and expertise back to their countries that may be used against our interests, especially in respect of techniques for using weapons of mass destruction. How do we deal with the problem? We know, for example, that the woman who leads the biological weapons programme in Iraq was educated at the university of East Anglia. Of those who were involved in the atrocities in the United States, many were educated in the west. They do not come to the west to learn mediaeval English literature.
No. I understand that there is no injury time.
We welcome the enormous benefits derived from the diversity of different cultures, but there should be rigorous checks on students in certain disciplines who come from sensitive countries.
The coalition is holding at the international level. I admire the Prime Minister for his energy on his various visits. We need to be clear about our war aims. We do not know how long the campaign will last. In the fight against terrorism in general it will be a continuing campaign, because terrorism will go on for as long as there are disaffected people who are prepared to kill the innocent for their political ends. All we can usefully do is to try to reduce the water in which the terrorists thrive. That means addressing the problems of poverty, and dealing with the hot spots such as the middle east that give aid and succour to terrorists.
We must be one step ahead of the terrorists. They are unlikely to use the same technique again as they used against the World Trade Centre. They may use other forms of asymmetric warfare, such as crop spraying and biological or chemical weapons. We need the very closest international co-operation across the board to ensure that we are one step ahead of the terrorists, because there will be greater numbers of casualties if we do not stand in their way.
The whole House listened with great respect to the speech of Ann Clwyd. We are all concerned about the humanitarian tragedy that is unfolding in Afghanistan. Like my right hon. Friend Mr. Jack and Donald Anderson, I want to draw back from that terrible tragedy and talk briefly about the wider picture.
One of the Prime Minister's famous remarks was that we should be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime. That is also appropriate for dealing with the terrible problem of international terrorism. There is no question that we should be tough on the act of terrorism, but for two reasons. First, we have acted toughly, although with restraint, and we must continue to do so. If we show any sign of wobbling, it will send entirely the wrong message: that we are not committed to making the appropriate response.
Secondly, I am afraid that there are more terrorist acts to come. The appalling atrocity of
Every rational and caring human being should understand the criticisms and limitations of the bombing. It is clearly not doing much to unearth the whereabouts of Mr. bin Laden. There is a considerable danger that it alienates moderate opinion. We have seen how important that is, and the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition about hearts and minds were entirely appropriate. This is a crucial issue, and I was disappointed that some Labour Members took on my hon. Friend Mr. Jenkin, the shadow Secretary of State for Defence. I am glad that he referred to hearts and minds. Hon. Members should have a united view. We support the Government on the importance of winning hearts and minds.
Perhaps even more important than dealing with the act of terrorism is dealing with its causes. It is difficult for a white, middle-aged Englishman in this day and age to get into the minds of fanatical terrorists from an extreme Muslim sect, but one must try to find out what motivates them.
The events of
There is clearly much truth in those charges. The west has not been wholly even-handed on the Israeli- Palestinian problems. Israel is occupying—
Is the hon. Gentleman disagreeing with the remarks of his Front-Bench spokesman that the United States has been the guarantor of international security for the past 50 years? Is he suggesting that United States foreign policy over the past 50 years may have contributed to the growth of terrorism in recent years?
If the hon. Gentleman were to listen to my remarks, he would discover that I am trying to be even-handed. I am saying that we should consider, from an Arab terrorist's point of view, what blame we may have to accept. However right we might think we are, such terrorists feel that we must take the blame for some things that have occurred in the post-war period. Equally, there are things that the Arab and Muslim worlds need to look at honestly and begin to accept that some of their actions may have contributed to the terrible situation we now face.
Presumably, Arab terrorists adopt a fanatical and extreme version of the Islamic faith, which itself is posited on a strict and puritanical view of the world and a regard for the poor. In fact, those extremists see the leaders of their own countries as having given in to the materialistic values of the western world against the theism of the Islamic faith. They see a society that tolerates poverty and has not done enough to eradicate it. That is particularly true of Saudi Arabia.
As I have said, I have considerable sympathy with the views expressed by the hon. Member for Cynon Valley on the humanitarian tragedy in Afghanistan, but the real epicentre of all this may well be Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. It was significant that a Saudi prince said recently that it was surprising that the planes were not flown into a skyscraper in Saudi Arabia rather than New York. In the mind of an Islamic extremist, those princes in Saudi Arabia are just as much the enemy as the citizens of New York.
I will not give way because I have only a little time left.
All that is compounded by the oil situation, the historic ties between America and Saudi Arabia and the huge wealth that has come from all that. There has been a sort of Faustian deal between the leaders of Saudi Arabia and the extremists in their country. The provision of help for such extremists is how the leaders have attempted to keep themselves in power, and it has been highly dangerous
We support the leaders of countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and so on because, whatever their faults, they are not extremists. I feel, however, that just as we have a responsibility to look at how we have conducted our diplomacy in the Arab world, they have a responsibility to look at how they conduct their Governments. I think that, however carefully and tactfully we may go about it, we have an obligation to try to make them realise that, even if they do not go as far as democracy—I do not think that there will be much democracy in the Arab, or the Muslim, world—they should examine their societies and see how they can conjure up an atmosphere that would at least diminish the possibility of fanaticism breeding in the terrible way in which it has bred over the past few years, producing atrocities such as those of
References have been made this afternoon to the Prime Minister's visit to the middle east. My own view is that my right hon. Friend was right to go there, because it was necessary for him to expose himself to the sheer brutal starkness of emotions in the region and, indeed, to the double standards evinced by leaders in that region.
Yesterday the President of Syria attacked the bombings in Afghanistan, and spoke of the loss of life there; yet his father was responsible for massacring 10,000 people at Homs, in his own country. Today the Prime Minister has had the dubious experience of meeting the Prime Minister of Israel, a war criminal who was condemned by the Kahan commission's judicial inquiry into the Sabra and Shatila massacre in which 800 people were killed. The commission ordered him to be dismissed from the Israeli Government.
My right hon. Friend was then due to visit Gaza to meet Yasser Arafat, himself a former terrorist who, in a supremely and dramatically foolish act, rejected Barak's historic offer last autumn and who, to a considerable degree, is responsible for the fact that Sharon is Israel's Prime Minister today. Many of us—including me—who have wanted a Palestinian state, and still want one, view with horror the fact that Mr. Arafat presides over a regime that conducts public executions, among other things.
The sheer bitterness of the past is shown by the fact that today people in Gaza have marched on the 84th anniversary of the Balfour declaration—as if they did not have a great deal more to think about than the 84th anniversary of a document handed to a man, Chaim Weizmann, who as it happens lived in my constituency.
All those things show that whatever the outrage—whether it is the outrage of the attack on the World Trade Centre in September, or the outrage of Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait—everything comes back to the existence of Israel. Let us be clear about the hypocrisy involved. Bin Laden does not care one jot for the Palestinians. Neither does Saddam Hussein; neither do the Syrians. When I visited Syria, as I did on two occasions as shadow Foreign Secretary, their loathing of Arafat emanated from their very being.
What these extremists—these murderers—do is exploit the plight of the Palestinians as a cause round which they can rally, some sincerely and some certainly not. They would like to destroy the state of Israel if they could, but they know they cannot, so they do their best to disrupt it. Too many Israeli leaders, sad to say, play into their hands. They demand the world's sympathy, but themselves behave like bullies. The great Israeli novelist Amos Oz said on behalf of the Israelis:
"Our sufferings have granted us immunity papers, as it were . . . After what all those dirty goyim have done to us, none of them is entitled to preach morality to us. We, on the other hand, have carte blanche, because we were victims and have suffered so much. Once a victim, always a victim, and victimhood entitles its owners to a moral exemption."
That, unfortunately, is what the right in Israel—not the left—exploit. As a result, under Sharon's regime, more Israelis have been killed by terrorists within the pre-1967 borders than in any other period—plus, of course, 700 Palestinians, overwhelmingly civilians; that includes state assassinations. At the end of that brutal response by Sharon, an ending to the violence is no nearer—in fact, it is further away—and there is no progress whatever in finding the murderer of Rehavam Zeevi. It has therefore been a waste of time. There has also been terrible loss of life and the kind of destruction that we have seen in Bethlehem, which is an outrage. If such action were conducted against Muslim or Jewish holy places, it would be regarded as an outrage.
There has to be a choice for Israel. The Israeli regime regards that choice as being between the danger of its destruction—which has been an immensely serious concern ever since the state of Israel was set up in 1948—and the sterility of not being destroyed. There are alternatives; there is simply not a choice between the extremist Arab wish to eliminate the state of Israel and the belief of right-wing Israelis that it is their job to fight back, regardless of the effect both on the lives on innocent people and the world. If the Israelis are not going to look for a third way, my own view is that there is no justification for a Nobel peace prize winner like Shimon Peres humiliating himself by sitting in a Cabinet alongside the likes of Sharon and Zeevi, whose murder, of course, was abominable, but whose views were unspeakable; he wanted to chase all Arabs, by force if necessary, out of Israel. The United States and Britain must therefore offer the Palestinians, whose approach has been equally inexcusable, and the Israelis a stark choice; either they make a meaningful peace and get on with it right away or they lose the aid and military assistance that the west is giving them.
Mr. Jack talked about Mr. Netanyahu. I cannot share the right hon. Gentleman's regard for him; the only thing that can be said for him is that he is not as bad as Sharon. People like Netanyahu and Sharon say, "Don't get at us, we're an independent country. We've a right to pursue our own policies." Okay, we should tell the Palestinians and Israelis, "Be independent if you want, but be completely independent of western economic and military aid." I suggest that we offer that choice, and I do so as a Jew and as somebody who has been a Zionist all his life, and remains a Zionist: as somebody who was brought up as a Zionist and has close ties to the state of Israel. I also do so as the first Front-Bench Member to support the establishment of a Palestinian state, which I still support.
I must tell my right hon. Friends, the American authorities, the Israelis and the Palestinians that we have lost too many opportunities for peace in the middle east; it is sad that this too has become an opportunity, but it is an opportunity nevertheless and we must not lose it.
The Prime Minister deserves enormous credit for helping to put together the international coalition against terrorism after
"Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists", was understandable immediately after the crisis, although unhelpful. Some of the Prime Minister's rhetoric is most unhelpful. Indeed, it will make it more difficult to secure western objectives. If he persists with it, it could prejudice both United Kingdom and western foreign policy, and even our security.
I should like to make several suggestions to the Government on the conduct of the diplomacy and handling of Muslim opinion over the next few crucial weeks. At the heart of the west's strategy is a dilemma: while military activity in Afghanistan may succeed in eliminating al-Qaeda in an organised form, at the same time it may generate sympathies in parts of the Muslim world which could make terrorism more likely. Worse, it could destabilise Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, and make it more difficult to protect western interests there. It could make a settlement in Palestine even more difficult to reach. That crisis has been the source of so much of the sympathy for terrorism, however misguided it is.
The truth is that we are not engaged in a war on terrorism. Inasmuch as the language of war is appropriate, the outcome will be decided by a battle for the hearts and minds of Muslim opinion. Are we confident that our action in Afghanistan, particularly if it becomes prolonged, will not create the conditions for more extremism? That is the heart of the matter.
The Prime Minister, among others, was right to urge the Americans not to succumb to the pressure of public opinion for early action. But public opinion now may be right to argue that if the intervention becomes too prolonged, it may not be in the west's long term interests. I should like briefly to suggest some ways to put in train several diplomatic initiatives to assuage Muslim concerns about our intentions and to give us a bigger window of opportunity for action.
First, we need to make it clear that we have no intention of establishing an indefinite and permanent military presence in Afghanistan, still less an occupation, and we need to say so. Secondly, we should be negotiating with Afghanistan's neighbours to secure agreement that once the terrorist networks are removed, there will be no interference by her neighbours or us in the internal affairs of Afghanistan. Cambodia provides a precedent. We should say that loudly now. Thirdly, we need to set out in detail what we are prepared to do to assist the economic reconstruction of Afghanistan in terms of money and resources. We have not yet heard that package described accurately or with numbers. Fourthly, we should apply some more realism to an earlier stated objective of the Prime Minister, which was to create a "broadly based Government" in Afghanistan. By that I think we should mean only any government structure capable of expelling, and willing to expel, bin Laden and the terrorist networks. We do not mean that we are intending to construct a western style democracy in Afghanistan. Fifthly, we need to lead public opinion so that people grasp that when western leaders talk of an indefinite war against terrorism, they do not mean indefinite action in Afghanistan. That just worries public opinion at home and Muslim opinion abroad and at home. The purpose of the military action is, I hope, limited to closing down the terrorist networks harboured by the Taliban, as the Prime Minister has made clear. It is not the precursor to an endless deployment of military force against as yet unspecified threats. Nor is it our purpose to extend the war aims to Iraq.
The plain fact is that, ghastly though the prospect may be, terrorism is likely to remain with us, as is the war against drugs and crime. I fervently hope that at least the campaign against bin Laden and his groups can be won. I support the Government in their efforts to try to win it, although I realise that it will be difficult.
In the time that remains, I want to discuss my concerns about the Government's rhetoric. There is a growing contradiction between what the Prime Minister does and what he says. That contradiction, if sustained, could erode the credibility of British foreign policy. On the one hand, he has rightly played a crucial role in forming the coalition against terrorism, bringing together international society and drawing together all states in a coalition that rejects terrorism. On the other, he has called for a new international order.
The coalition that we are building is a coalition to uphold international legitimacy—the legitimacy that derives from the notion that only states have the right to use force in international society. Terrorists are revolutionaries—outlaws—in international society. That legitimacy is sustained by the principle that states should not interfere in other states' affairs. In that sense, the coalition that we are building is a coalition of the existing order.
We are forming a coalition against terrorism with states with whose human rights records we disagree and which, in some respects, we find repugnant, but it is a coalition of the current international order, not some putative one. But the trouble is that the Prime Minister's call for a new world order conflicts directly with that coalition building. In that new order, he has asserted the primacy of his and of western values. Of course I agree with him about those values, but he has suggested not just making a rhetorical case for his values, but intervening in other states.
The Prime Minister wants much greater intervention around the world to impose our notion of justice and freedom. He says that globalisation means that anyone's internal conflict may affect everybody and that that justifies interference, even military intervention. It is worth quoting exactly what he said at Brighton:
"This is a fight for freedom. And I want to make it a fight for justice too . . . justice to bring those same values of democracy and freedom to people around the world. And I mean freedom, not only in the narrow sense of personal liberty but in the broader sense of each individual having the economic and social freedom to develop their potential to the full . . . the starving, the wretched, the dispossessed, the ignorant, those living in wanton squalor, from the deserts of North Africa to the slums of Gaza, to the mountain ranges of Afghanistan: they are our cause."
In case we had not thoroughly got the message, he continued, "The kaleidoscope"—he means of the international order—
"has been shaken. The pieces are in flux . . . Before they [settle] let us reorder this world around us."
That new international order is to be an order based on our values, secured by western economic, diplomatic and, in some cases, military strength. The great danger of such talk is that, to the ears of leaders of many countries in the world and particularly to the very ears that the west has been bending in the name of the coalition against terrorism, that will sound very unappealing—even threatening to the stability of their societies.
We are saying, "Either adopt western values or we may be round to see you." We are saying that we carry sticks as well as carrots. Let me make my position clear: the west can and should be a huge force for good in the world. I share the Prime Minister's values, but if the west goes beyond persuasion, and acts of humanitarian intervention, and tries to reconstruct a new world order in its image, many countries in Africa, the middle east and elsewhere around the world that do not share our values will feel threatened. If we do that, we will be treading the path towards not a new international order, but a new international anarchy, for we have neither the military capacity nor the political will to make western values the values of the whole globe.
Now of all times, when we need to deploy military force in an effort to bring greater security to our citizens, is not the moment to shake up the kaleidoscope further. It is not the moment to frighten the leaders of other countries who do not share our values. Commenting on the Prime Minister's speeches, The Economist said:
"The only plausible explanation of Mr. Blair's planet transforming is that 'the poor man has let the war against terrorism go to his head.'"
Over the top perhaps, but I fervently hope that he puts away his dangerous messianic rhetoric.
I am delighted to follow Mr. Tyrie. I was fascinated by his speech and I will certainly re-read it tomorrow. It was well worth listening to.
In recent weeks, the Prime Minister has repeatedly told us that the war against Osama bin Laden and the Taliban is not about religion or Islam, but solely about terrorism. Such historical and theological ignorance does a grave disservice to us all.
Consider for a moment three recent and indisputable facts. The first is Mohammed Atta's last will and testament, in which he informed us that if he flew a plane into the twin towers, Allah would provide him with 72 virgins for the purpose of sexual congress in paradise. Secondly, shortly after the appalling atrocity on the twin towers had been committed, quite the nastiest and silliest response came from Islamic fanatics and evangelical American Christians. The Reverend Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson told us that the attack on the towers was God's vengeance on America, which had become a country of pagans, gays and lesbians, secular courts and secular schools, and of people who believe in civil liberties. For their part, fanatical Islamic clerics—some of them in the United Kingdom and some of them close to the area that I represent—expressed joy at the attacks. Thirdly, last Sunday, a group of murderous Muslims entered St. Dominic's church at Bahawalpur and killed 16 Christians—mostly women and children—and one Muslim guard.
More generally, the Islamic world seems to be in a state of denial. Our Prime Minister cannot confront the issue because, publicly at any rate, it does not suit him to do so. Denial, as I define it, consists of the failure of the people of the Islamic world to come to terms with modernity and to accept the true nature of what is going on. Denial is part of the deliberate and wrong-headed moves to separate Islam from modernity on the part of those ruling elites who govern theocratic and autocratic countries and, more dangerously, on the part of Muslim clerics around the globe, including some in Britain.
I am sorry, but I only have 10 minutes.
One result of that separatism is a refusal to engage in democracy, or to acknowledge human rights and rights for women in particular. One distinguished person who is in denial is Imran Khan, who on television last week refused to accept the evidence that Osama bin Laden is a terrorist, despite the fact—and ignoring everything about the acts against the two towers—that he must know that bin Laden issued a fatwa in 1998 calling for the killing of American civilians and that he recently had a video sent around the globe to incite Muslims to mass murder. If that is not terrorism, then the year that I spent studying the subject was clearly in vain. It is more likely, however, that it was Imran Khan's education at expensive schools in the United Kingdom that was in vain.
The reasons behind the separatist tendencies in modern Islamic thought are difficult to understand. I do not have the Koran at my bedside like the Prime Minister, but after a 30-year gap I am reading chunks of it again. Far from supporting separation, Islamic tradition holds that there have been 128,000 prophets—I will not list them all—including Moses and Jesus as well as Mohammed. Islamic tradition also holds that there have been 104 revealed books, the four most important of which are the Torah, the Psalms, the Gospel and the Koran itself.
The desire for separateness on the part of many teachers of Islam seems to defy both the Islamic traditions and such coherence as the religion has. How can hatred be created out of such holy and common roots? Why has Islam produced so many theocratic and autocratic states? Is it the power and control of clerics rather than God, faith, prayer, fasting, charity and pilgrimage that hold the worldwide ummah together? How is it that the so-called purest Islamic state, Afghanistan, is also the poorest and the most despotic?
By refusing even to address those questions, President Bush and our Prime Minister are not only ignoring fundamental issues but allowing confusion to fester and spread. Yes, they are right to say that we must get bin Laden, destroy his networks of terrorism and bring down the Taliban who have succoured him. Yes, we need to look at the role of others in succouring terrorism, including the house of Saud, which spawned and took no action against the Saudi Arabians who make up the majority of the terrorists thus far directly implicated in the attack on the twin towers. Are we going to defend the house of Saud or support dissenters who might wish to bring it down?
War makes cowards of us all. Perhaps the Prime Minister is right to call on us to be resolute when things go wrong. However, doing so would be easier if we knew the endgame, and if there were more clarity about the political, military, diplomatic and humanitarian aims, as well as progress in the conduct of the war. The Prime Minister was probably wrong to suggest that a serious humanitarian programme could be run in parallel with the bombing. The impossibility of it may even be dawning on my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development.
Ironically, the arrest of Osama bin Laden could ultimately be achieved only by a more judicial approach of a kind that President Bush and the Prime Minister have so far spurned. Today's heresies are often tomorrow's truths.
Sometimes—I say this in the friendliest spirit—the Prime Minister gives us the impression that the last place on earth he would go for advice is the Chamber of the House of Commons. He may not be listening, but I will say this. First, he should tell the Home Secretary that in the aftermath of
Secondly, I believe that the Prime Minister should devote more of his personal attention to the problem of supplying and distributing humanitarian aid, and give more help to the Secretary of State for International Development—although she may not thank me for saying so.
Thirdly, the Prime Minister should stop being so damned preachy about the alleged moral superiority of this backward, fractious island of ours off the coast of north-west Europe, whose culture sometimes seems close to irreversible decline. He should realise that not everyone wants to be British, thank God.
Finally, my right hon. Friend should accept that the British people, not to mention Parliament, expect him and the allies to improve their performance significantly if Operation Enduring Freedom is to succeed. In that regard, those pathetic and autocratic Ministers who seek to blacken the characters of those who challenge the war aims by likening them to the appeasers of Hitler should, in my view, be sacked. If this is to be a fight for democracy, as I believe, we should begin by reinforcing our belief in democracy in this Chamber.
I apologise for the absence of my hon. Friend Dr. Tonge. A family medical emergency is keeping her away from the Chamber, although she greatly wishes that she could be present.
In the brief time available to me, I want to concentrate on the middle east. Before I do so, I have a number of observations about cluster bombs and the humanitarian effort. I accept that cluster bombs are not illegal in international law. I also accept that for some military purposes they are extremely effective. However, there is no disguising the revulsion with which they are regarded by many people in the United Kingdom. A Government anxious to maintain a domestic coalition of support would be wise to heed that expression of public opinion. And a Government anxious to maintain an international coalition of support would be wise to do the same.
I cannot believe that the success of the military action in Afghanistan stands or falls on the use of cluster bombs on targets in or near areas of civilian population. It may well be that, in arguing that the use of cluster bombs should be inhibited, one is responding to a political or humanitarian imperative but it is sometimes worth giving up a military capability where the benefits of the political advantage that would be created are so substantial as to outweigh any military advantage that might be discarded.
Let me come to the humanitarian element. I said on
"Our moral authority for military action will be severely undermined if we do not fulfil our moral obligation to provide humanitarian relief."—[Hansard, 16 October 2001; Vol. 372, c. 1073.]
We must do that in practical ways. We should make a bargain with Pakistan and Iran to the effect that if they open their borders to allow unlimited access to refugees, the international coalition will pay all that is necessary to feed, clothe and house those who take refuge there.
We should continue to explore the possibility of safe corridors for the transport of humanitarian assistance. Leaving aside the military and political objective of the capture of Mazar-i-Sharif and its airport, we should accept that there is a humanitarian priority in the capture of that town owing to its potential contribution to the humanitarian effort and the access that it will give to Uzbekistan, from where aid could be provided by road.
I was much taken—as, I suspect, were many hon. Members—by the speech of Mr. Kaufman, who is no longer in his place. He speaks on the middle east with rare authority and, as a member of the Jewish community, no doubt with a considerable amount of courage. He was right when he said that the Prime Minister was right to go to the middle east. On that rather uncomfortable visit, the Prime Minister must surely have learned that the difficulty of achieving a settlement in the middle east is equalled only by the urgency of doing so. That effort cannot be postponed. It must be commenced now. It should operate in parallel with the military action in Afghanistan, because no diplomatic task is more urgent for sustaining the coalition than a demonstration of wholehearted commitment on the part of the European Union, the United Kingdom and the United States to endeavouring to achieve a settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
Such an effort is required to provide an antidote to the well-founded scepticism demonstrated throughout the middle east, born of decades of disappointment, and, in the past decade, of disappointment of the promise offered after the Gulf war, which took form in the Madrid conference and later in the Oslo agreement.
If the hon. Lady will forgive me, I am subject, like everyone else, to the 10-minute limit. The hon. Lady may have some sympathy with my next point. Israel has an unequivocal legal right to peaceful existence within secure borders, free from attack or the threat of attack.
What I am about to say next may not please the hon. Lady. Among Palestinians, the scepticism to which I have referred is made all the more acute by the Israeli Government's continuing policy of the expansion of settlements. The Prime Minister says that the Palestinians are entitled to justice, land and a viable state, but how can that be if the policy of settlements is allowed to proceed unhindered? The settlements are illegal at international law. No one in the House denies it. Successive Foreign Secretaries have said so outside the House and at the Dispatch Box.
We assert the primacy of international law as the justification for our military action in Afghanistan. Is it any wonder that we have mountains to climb in persuading many in the middle east of the justice of our cause when they look round at the daily breach of that same law in the occupied territories?
May I suggest two immediate steps—two initiatives that the Government could take? First, we should call upon the Israeli Government, when Mr. Sharon comes to this country in a week or two's time, to freeze the settlements. There would be absolutely no prejudice to the security of Israel if that policy were adopted.
Secondly, we should say to Governments such as the Syrian Government, with whom the Prime Minister spent a rather uncomfortable period yesterday, "We call on you to give no support to any organisation which opposes by the use of the gun or the bullet a peaceful settlement in the middle east." No prejudice whatever would attach to those countries claiming to favour the Palestinian cause if they were to adopt such a policy.
It is overwhelmingly clear that there is a need to break the logjam. There is a need for courage. As I was reflecting before I began these few remarks, we have seen that courage in the middle east already: Begin, Sadat, Rabin, King Hussein, Mubarak. Some of them paid for their courage with their lives, but it has been demonstrated, on so many frustrating occasions, that there is the opportunity for progress, if only the circumstances are favourable and courage is available.
We need that courage again, but on this occasion, when there is a burden and an obligation on the United States in particular, there must be a sense of commitment that will ensure that the courage of those in the communities will be supported by a guarantee—if not in legal or military terms, at least in political terms—on any settlement that may be reached.
Mr. Sharon said that there was a risk that we might treat Israel like Czechoslovakia. If Czechoslovakia had had a patron of quite such power and influence and such financial capability as Israel has in the United States, I very much doubt that Czechoslovakia would have disappeared in 1938.
We have a huge opportunity to rise from the extraordinary circumstances of
I do not seek to patronise the many Members who have already spoken, but I have never heard so many thoughtful and well-researched speeches. Dangerous precedents are being created in the House. I do not propose to follow those speeches in either their preparation or their thoughtfulness.
I agreed with much that was said, although not with Mr. Tyrie, who criticised the Prime Minister for daring to have a vision. Frankly, the status quo is a bloody awful place. We are witnessing an awful thing and, given my right hon. Friend's knowledge of the first world war and the disaster of expecting people to return to the same slums that they had fought to eliminate, surely it is right that a conflict such as this should raise the vision of the participants. If at the end of this conflict we still have the same world as when we entered it, we shall perhaps have failed miserably.
In the first world war, the second world war, Suez, the Falklands, the Gulf, Bosnia, Kosovo, and even in the limited deployment to Sierra Leone, dissent did not reign supreme, but it existed. That is why ours is a democratic legislature. I cannot say that I agree with those who have dissented from what the Government are doing, because I believe that the Government and the American Government have behaved and acted correctly, with the support of international law, the endorsement of the United Nations Security Council and under the Washington treaty of 1949. The response has been proportionate and, despite the mistakes that have clearly been made, the Government deserve support. The fact that some people are not prepared to offer that support is regrettable, but it is inevitable and in no way to be condemned, and I would never do so.
This debate is well informed. Some hon. Members may not yet have seen the Library briefing paper that was produced this morning—the second edition of its report on Operation Enduring Freedom—and I invite my colleagues to read it very quickly.
The Prime Minister has tirelessly endeavoured to seek to sustain if not consensus, then substantial support in the House. We meet regularly, and an enormous amount of information is available to us—not the full amount. I would not want all the information because someone would be on his mobile phone to Pakistan pretty damn quickly and that would not necessarily be in the interests of our armed forces.
I understand that the Prime Minister is meeting the consultative assembly in Saudi Arabia, which probably has about as much power as we do, so I hope that he finds the experience useful. In fact, the Consultative Assembly in Kuwait has more power than we do, so perhaps we should seek advice on the way in which it operates.
Only time will tell whether the Prime Minister was well advised to go to Syria, but he certainly could not be accused of ducking a difficult fight. It must have been infinitely worse than the worst of all Prime Minister's Question Times, which he must now look forward to with some relish in the light of what he experienced yesterday. However, it must have been deeply galling to be lectured to by a state that the United States considers a terrorist state, and galling to be lectured to by someone in whose nation the traditions of democracy are at best shallow and recent—even that is not an adequate description.
For the Prime Minister to go to Israel—a country to which he has said some rather harsh words—shows how courageous he has been, but it will be an uphill task to convince many in the Arab world. As my hon. Friend Mr. Sedgemore has said, many Muslims are in total denial. All the evidence has not been presented to us, but what has should be sufficient for most people to determine the source of the terrorist acts and that of potential terrorist acts.
When the United States operated on the principle of self-defence, it was clear that more terrorist acts were envisaged and that more would take place. If this is an attempt—I hope that it will be successful—to prevent such acts of terrorism from being perpetrated on anyone's territory, then that is clearly the objective. When people say that the objectives have not been presented, I wonder what television and radio programmes they have listened to, or participated in, because the Government have given ample expression to the goals of the United States and its supporters.
I do not regard what the Leader of the Opposition wrote yesterday as being substantial dissent; it was dissent on the margins of the argument. Frankly, the support that the Opposition have given to the Government in this conflict is rather greater than the support it ostensibly gave in the Kosovan crisis, which was initially all rhetoric and then almost all criticism. I support and applaud what the Leader of the Opposition is seeking to do and, generally speaking, has done.
It is critical that we sustain, if not consensus, which is not possible, at least substantial support. Some people will read Hansard. There will be people watching this debate elsewhere than in the Public Gallery and looking to see whether there is a vote this evening. Although I repeat that people have the right to go into a different Lobby from the overwhelming majority of Members of Parliament, people will notice and draw conclusions that hon. Members who dissent from the Government's view may not wish them to draw.
I have the privilege of representing a large number of Muslims: Pakistanis, Kashmiris who are Pakistanis, Indians and Bangladeshis. The overwhelming majority are—I will not say supporting what the Government are doing—keeping their heads down, which is sensible because race relations are in some form of balance at the moment, if not stability. I fear that things could happen that could be damaging and set race relations back for many years, if not a generation.
I am not trying to be apocalyptic. People will dissent. People can march, write to their Members of Parliament and talk among themselves, but I hope that the elders, if they have any influence—I suspect that it is declining, just like that of the Whips in this place—will express their views to younger members who are subject to influence. Going off and fighting a war against fellow Brits will not earn the respect or enthusiasm of the rest of the population. If they come back limbless, not everyone will be happy if they claim industrial injury benefit. They have a choice to make. I would not expect them to be so incorporated in British society that they are not able to wear any clothes they wish to wear and follow any religion they wish to follow, but there are some obligations, and I think that the overwhelming majority of the Muslim population are more than aware of that.
There are two elements to what Parliament is doing. One is what we are doing here in plenary, making powerful speeches, but more important is what is being done, or should be being done, in Select Committee. The Select Committee on Defence, which I am proud at long last to chair, is doing a lot.
I am delighted to follow the Chairman of my Committee, Mr. George. He has been a distinguished member of the Defence Committee for many years. I agree with what he said about a number of contributions this afternoon, particularly those of Mr. Kaufman, my hon. Friend Mr. Tyrie and Mr. Sedgemore. However, I hope that the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch has a quick getaway car available because I have no doubt that his Chief Whip will want to have words with him ere long.
I was slightly disappointed by the attitude of the Secretary of State for Defence. It seemed from what he said that, unless we utter platitudinous remarks or wholehearted support for the Government, we are seeking to undermine the Government's stand in this extremely difficult and important conflict. The thought-provoking contributions by a number of hon. Members have shown that it is possible to support the Government, but nevertheless to question their overall stance. We have a duty to do so. Our constituents may be required as members of Her Majesty's armed forces to go into battle on our behalf. It is entirely right and proper that we should be able to call the Government to account and not be accused of seeking to undermine their efforts.
I do support the Government in what they are trying to do. I do support the Prime Minister. As the right hon. Member for Walsall, South has made clear, so does my right hon. Friend Mr. Duncan Smith, Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition. We on the Conservative Benches support the Government. However, there are difficulties.
The Government face serious dilemmas in achieving the military objectives. The events of
The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton was absolutely right. We need to be able to prosecute the military campaign to its logical conclusion, but we must understand the sensitivities of the Arab world. It is important, if we are to maintain not only the coalition but the support of public opinion in the United Kingdom, that the momentum be maintained. If people feel that this is being dragged out while we sit here, at risk in our own country, not taking any real action to bring the perpetrators to book, it will be increasingly difficult to maintain support.
As the Secretary of State said, as far as we can determine, the al-Qaeda network has been largely flattened and we are now going against the Taliban ground forces. There will come a time when we have eliminated all their military assets and will be left with the need to remove the Taliban Government. The Prime Minister said unequivocally in the Welsh Assembly that it was the Government's intention to remove the Taliban regime, and I hope that the Minister will confirm that.
We must be under no illusions, however: when we remove the Taliban regime there will have to be something else in its place, and that something will not be achieved by means of universal suffrage in Afghanistan. It will have to be imposed. To achieve that will require the co-operation of a wide range of people, which is no mean undertaking. We should be mindful of the difficulties that the Government and the coalition partners will face in achieving the objective so forcefully declared by the Prime Minister.
We run the risk of engaging our troops in a lengthy battle to maintain in place whatever Government we impose in Kabul. Those are the risks that I perceive. It may be that Ministers have the answers and can further enlighten the House.
There is no suggestion of the coalition imposing a Government in Afghanistan. The people would never accept an externally imposed Government. Ambassador Brahimi, on behalf of Kofi Annan, is consulting all the different ethnic groups and leaders who do not support the Taliban—that is, most of the people in Afghanistan—to get a transitional Government with the approval of the bulk of the people there.
I am partly reassured by the Secretary of State's intervention, but unless she intends to have universal suffrage in Afghanistan, it will be a form of imposition. The coalition forces are going to change the Government there, and however it is brought about there will be some form of imposed Government. Clearly, there are risks. We could end up with British and American troops supporting the universally approved Government of Afghanistan and being shot at by both sides.
My next concern is the defence of the homeland. Much reference has been made to the attitude of Muslims in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. I reiterate that we all believe that this is not a war against Islam. However, it is not a war against international terrorism as such. It is a specific conflict against a specific threat and a specific enemy—Islamic fundamentalist extremists. Unless we accept that, we are, to an extent, deluding ourselves.
I welcome the fact that clerics in Luton, in particular, have denounced those young men who wish to go to fight against our troops who are seeking to rid the people of Afghanistan of the terrorists and the Taliban. If those young men return to the United Kingdom, they should be charged with treason under the Treason Act 1351 or any other measure that is to hand. One cannot enjoy the privileges of being a citizen of this country and a subject of Her Majesty if one goes out to shoot Her Majesty's armed forces who are seeking to uphold the security of the British people and to defend British interests.
I understand that leading Muslim clerics have a divided loyalty. They are conscientious Muslims and they owe an allegiance in that regard. However, they are also subjects of Her Majesty and they must ensure that that is their No. 1 loyalty. They must also proclaim that message to their followers.
I wish to pay a short tribute to the mayor of Rushmoor in my constituency. Charles Choudhary is a good Conservative councillor who comes from Kashmir. He has been an outstanding member of the Muslim community and an outstanding civic leader. When he held a civic service in Aldershot, he held it at the Royal Garrison church. That was a fine move on his part to demonstrate the need for reconciliation.
The Government face great dilemmas as we stand poised to risk engaging our troops in ground action. Although the Government have our overwhelming support, they must be mindful that, when we ask questions or even have the temerity to criticise, we do so only in the spirit of trying to be helpful. We do not wish to undermine their resolve to defeat this insidious and outrageous form of terrorism.
It is almost four weeks since the United States and its allies commenced military action in Afghanistan, and the initial concern among Members on both sides of the House was that the United States' response would be indiscriminate. That has not been the case. Although there has been inexcusable imprecision in some of the bombing, the response, in the main, has been proportionate and measured. As far as I am aware, it has been in accordance with international law and the resolutions of the United Nations.
Like most wars, one day this war will end. I hope that that will be sooner rather than later, but in the meantime we are dealing with a wide and perhaps rather shaky coalition. I hope that members of the coalition, including the Arab states, will sit down somewhere to try to analyse slowly and painfully the background that led to the horrors of
There is no need to waste time trying to discover why the leaders of al-Qaeda plotted their evil deeds or why the perpetrators carried them out. They were evil deeds carried out by evil men, and there is no justification or excuse for them. Terrorist groups, however, are like armies: they need foot soldiers and those soldiers need to be recruited. Therefore, we should at least try to find out why so many young men apparently wish to march behind the flag of such a disruptive, nihilistic and, ultimately, doomed project.
Such a meeting is probably a forlorn hope, but if we ever hold one, western countries should concede at the outset that among the leaders of Islam there is a deep fear that western capitalism—if I may so describe it—worships no God but materialism and that it will destroy their religion, faith and communities. As they see it, global capitalism is already destroying Christianity in the west. They perceive a western society without religion and without morality, in which family life is disintegrating and law and order is collapsing. Perhaps they see only what they want to see; perhaps they want to see only the bad and not the good. However, I do not think that we can say honestly that their fears can be dismissed as being entirely without foundation.
My right hon. Friend Mr. Kaufman has considerable knowledge of the middle east and I cannot speak about it with the same authority. Sadly, the conflict in the middle east must be a powerful recruiting sergeant for the foot soldiers of terrorism.
No. I am sorry, but I do not have the time to do so.
The United States is perceived as the great Satan. There is a rather simplistic conviction, in my view, that if the United States were to withdraw its support from Israel the conflict in the middle east would end. I do not believe that the United States or the European states could withdraw from that part of the world—the historical, cultural and religious pressures are probably too great.
It is fair to say that previous United States Presidents—President Carter some time ago, and President Clinton—worked hard to try to establish some form of even-handed settlement in the middle east. Mr. bin Laden and his associates were not and are not concerned about that. Nevertheless, a just, durable and even-handed peace in the middle east would be a major impediment for the recruiting agents of terrorism.
If I dare mention it, there is religion. I believe that all great religions must try to evolve and adapt to meet changing times and changing circumstances. The trick is to do so without destroying core beliefs and values. Some would argue that Christianity has almost adapted and evolved itself out of existence, but if religions do not adapt and evolve they wither and die.
Some would assert that, in what I might call the evolution stakes, Christianity has had a number of advantages over some of the other great religions purely because of the time and the place from which it came. It had to struggle at birth with Greek history, Greek culture and Greek philosophy. That may have led to compromises and different attitudes.
Christianity has two holy books, and the second is very different in essence and in nature from the first. From an early time its books have been translated, probably into more languages than the holy books of most other religions. Some would say that translation itself becomes an act of adaptation as the translator tries to struggle with the different concepts of the different countries whose language he or she is seeking to use.
Some would say that those advantages helped Christianity to try to adapt. Followers of Islam have said to me, or would say, that many do not accept that the factors to which I have referred are advantages. Even if they did accept that there have been advantages, I think that they would rightly and legitimately point out that despite the so-called advantages the most terrible atrocities have been carried out in the name of Christianity, and by supposedly Christian countries. Nevertheless, I think that, objectively, it is fair to say that over the years the factors that I have mentioned, and possibly others, have gradually ameliorated Christian intolerance and, in some instances, Christian fanaticism.
If the meeting that I described is still in existence, and if the chairman has not been thrown out of the window, I might finally mention democracy. Is it a coincidence that almost all the Arab member states of the somewhat loose and shaky coalition have authoritarian, if I might use a fairly benign word, and not democratic Governments? If countries in the middle east could move towards not necessarily a western form of democracy but some form of democratic representation, they would provide young men and, probably more importantly, young women with a diversity of outlets for their energies, idealism and skills. Some countries, including Bahrain, are already trying to move towards some form of representative democracy. Again, such an outcome would be one of the best bulwarks against the recruiting agents of terrorism. I do not know whether the United States would be comfortable with a democratic Saudi Arabia or whether the west would be prepared to accept an elected Islamic fundamentalist middle eastern state. The transition to democracy might be very shaky and difficult, but in the longer term everybody would still agree that a movement towards democracy in those countries would create more stability and make for more stable change.
Finally, military action is, alas, necessary to defeat the terrorism of
May I, first, make it plain that Plaid Cymru, the party of Wales, and the Scottish National party condemn utterly international terrorism and agree entirely with the aim of the international coalition to bring bin Laden to justice? Obviously, no one could ever allow the events of
Some three weeks ago, mine was the first political party to call for a stop to the bombing of Afghanistan. A few hon. Members from other parties joined our cause of stopping the bombardment that was putting the lives of innocent civilians at risk. We were then described as appeasers. Today, it seems that the situation has changed. It is now apparently right, or at least legitimate, that we should hold that view. There seems also to have been a change of opinion outside Government. A poll in yesterday's edition of The Guardian showed that 54 per cent. of those questioned wanted the bombing to be stopped on humanitarian grounds. One wonders whether the change of the Government view is coincidental with that poll.
At the outset of the crisis, the British and United States Governments stated that there was a need for military, diplomatic and humanitarian action. Unfortunately, it seems to many of us that action on the military front has at times been indiscriminate and is becoming more so, and that the humanitarian front is completely ineffective. The military objectives for the campaign have been rather vague, perhaps of necessity, and the tactics used have sometimes been questionable. Abdul Haq, the former mujaheddin commander who was recently murdered, said not long ago in The Scotsman:
"Before the attacks started, the Taleban's people were very nervous, and their support in the population was very low. Everyone was afraid. But once the bombing started, people began to say, Well, it's not so bad. We have known worse. We can stand it."
A few days after the first bomb was dropped on Afghanistan, an American military general was reported as saying:
"Afghanistan is not target rich at this moment in time".
Yet the bombing continues at an increased rate. One has to ask why. In the article to which I have already referred, Haq also said:
"The best thing would be for the US to work for a united political solution involving all the Afghan groups. Otherwise, there will be an encouragement of deep divisions between different groups, backed by different countries and affecting the whole region."
I think that that is fairly obvious by now, but it seems that there has been a switch at least in emphasis and objective. Although the objectives have always been vague, the ultimate goal is, rightly, to get rid of Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda network. It seems that the emphasis has moved and is now on overthrowing the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. We accept that there is a strong link between the Taliban and Osama bin Laden, but the Taliban are not the major threat: they are part of the terrorist network.
"like looking for a needle in a haystack", and that we will be lucky to catch him. Does not that lead us to question exactly what is being targeted in Afghanistan?
I am sorry, I have no time.
Some people have referred to a second Vietnam, and I do not know whether that is helpful.
I am grateful for that, Madam Deputy Speaker. I know that many hon. Members want to take part in the debate.
By using such terminology, we endorse the volatile climate throughout the western world that bin Laden is trying to create, and may help him to achieve his objectives of making us more aggressive towards nations that we do not understand, putting doubts in people's minds and inciting racial hatred among the paranoid and xenophobic minorities in our communities.
Osama bin Laden has succeeded in portraying the action as a war of faith. I think that is wrong, but he is apparently succeeding in that view. Hitherto, the west has not been successful in convincing people that this is a conflict with terrorism. By definition, terrorism is elusive: it has no permanent geographic base, no permanent leadership, not all terrorist groups have the same reason for being and the definition of terrorism is not clear.
Osama bin Laden is and must remain the target of any military action, and if further action is to be taken it must be properly targeted at destroying the al-Qaeda network, with bin Laden as its leader. He is the personification of this terrorism, but he is elusive, and finding him will be very difficult. He and the al-Qaeda network must be made to pay for the attacks on
As reported in The Times last week and confirmed today, cluster bombs are being used. One civilian a week is killed in Kosovo and one a month in Laos—30 years after they were dropped on the Ho Chi Minh trail. Those bombs are designed to massacre anything within 100 ft.
I endorse the eloquent comments of Mr. Campbell on cluster bombs. Those so-called dumb bombs do not automatically detonate. They are a threat to civilians in Afghanistan, and will remain a threat for many years to come. As for the semantic debate about whether they are land mines, 10 per cent. of the bomblets do not detonate on impact. About 15 per bomb do not explode, and the failure rate of cluster bombs reaching their targets can be as high as 50 per cent. They are pretty indiscriminate. They are bright yellow, so they attract children, who pick them up with horrific consequences. By using those weapons, we are definitely putting at risk the lives of thousands of people, not just now but in the future. We are unleashing weapons over Afghanistan that will blight communities for a long time to come.
During last week's statement, the Secretary of State for International Development said that she would come back to me on the subject of cluster bombs. I am sure that she will refer to them when she winds up the debate. We must question whether such weapons are appropriate in the action being taken in Afghanistan. If military action is to be targeted as we expect, the use of such indiscriminate weapons cannot be justified.
According to The Times last week, United Nations mine clearing officials in Pakistan have been begging the United States Government for ordnance details, flight paths and bomb footprints to help them to rescue people following an attack on the village of Shaker Qala, which was full of bright yellow bomblets.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Mary Robinson, Christian Aid, Oxfam, Islamic Relief, ActionAid, the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development and Tearfund have all called for the bombing to be stopped. They noted that from the outset there has been a huge humanitarian problem, which is getting worse.
Pressures are mounting. With the onset of winter, harsh weather conditions and snow there is thought to be about a fortnight left to deliver the aid to where it should be. The World Food Programme has estimated that it needs $700 million in aid for the next six months alone, and we know that much more investment will be needed in the long run to rebuild Afghanistan. That view is also shared by Islamic Relief.
Kofi Annan has called the crisis in Afghanistan the worst humanitarian crisis in the world at the moment. My party, Plaid Cymru, and the Scottish National party reiterate their calls for the Government to stop the bombing and to refrain from allowing the use of cluster bombs and Gator mines.
I hope that the Government will publish a strategy for the delivery of humanitarian aid as soon as possible. The Secretary of State for International Development confirmed the other day that she would do so. A total of 100,000 Afghan children are in danger of dying during the winter. The scale of the unfolding tragedy, exacerbated by the imminent onset of winter, requires the international community and the authorities in Afghanistan to place humanitarian needs at the centre of all plans and activities to resolve the wider crisis. Failure to do so will be to sit back and allow one of the worst catastrophes in human history. It will appear to some to be a ghastly and grotesque Old Testament reply to the atrocities of
Mr. Llwyd has done the House a great service by bringing to its attention the moving article in The Scotsman by the late Abdul Haq. I commend it to Ministers. It was written only a short time before he was brutally murdered. He made a powerful plea for an end to the bombing.
I have one observation and one question for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development. I commend her for sitting here throughout the debate. It is said time and again that bombing was a success in the former Yugoslavia and that it brought down Mr. Milosevic. That is twisted history. It was not bombing that brought down Milosevic; in fact, it strengthened him. Milosevic was brought to his knees because the rug was pulled from under him by the Russian high command in Moscow. It was the withdrawal of Russian support that brought about the current situation in former Yugoslavia, which is by no means satisfactory—ask the Macedonians.
I want to ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State about Iran. She has taken an interest in the refugee problem in eastern Iran. There are 2 million refugees in the area of Mashhad and eastern Iran. The Iranian Government have complained bitterly and understandably that 3,000 of their customs officers have been murdered by drug-running elements related to the Taliban. The Shia in Iran have no time for the Taliban—they greatly dislike them. At the same time, they tell the west, time and again, "For heaven's sake, stop the bombing because it strengthens rather than weakens the Taliban." People who might have imploded the Taliban—
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Iranian Government dislike the Taliban regime greatly because they persecute the Shia within Afghanistan. I am not aware, however, that they have called for an end to the bombing. They have criticised the injuries to civilians and the loss of the Red Cross warehouse, but they want the Taliban regime to be overthrown.
I have been active about Iran because I went there four years ago. Last Monday, I was invited by the Iranian ambassador in London to meet him alone. I imagine that he was speaking for the Iranian Government and the Iranian authorities—he is an extremely intelligent senior diplomat—and he was against the bombings. A matter of fact such as that can be checked—
I hope so, because I would like an answer.
I think that more attention should be paid to guidance from the Iranian Government. There are between 80 million and 90 million Iranians on the borders, and I think that their opinions should be listened to.
No one who has been following recent events in Afghanistan can have failed to be moved by the scenes of utter destruction and human misery there. Poverty and illiteracy in Afghanistan are not new, but unquestionably have been exacerbated by those recent events.
It may suit some commentators to suggest that the condition of Afghanistan is a result of the present Taliban regime, but that is not entirely true. We must recognise that the west, in abandoning Afghanistan in the period following the end of the Soviet occupation, in a real sense gave rise to—or at least contributed to—the problems we now face.
The defeat and withdrawal of the Soviet Union, and the subsequent washing of hands by America and the United Kingdom, left a power vacuum—a vacuum filled by many members of what is now the Northern Alliance. We are all fully cognisant of what happened then. The ensuing civil war was bloody, and there were faults on all sides. People turned to the Taliban in desperation, as a last hope—as a group that could stop the bloodshed and rebuild a country riven by war.
The problem is that the Taliban, at least the worst parts of it, allowed rogue elements to operate freely. In the absence of western influence, bin Laden and al-Qaeda were allowed to flourish under their protection. And it was not only al-Qaeda; I have recently heard bin Laden described as a sort of venture capitalist of terrorism, and if we consider the groups with which al-Qaeda or bin Laden himself has links we begin to see the scale of the problem.
I am thinking of groups such as Abu Sayyaf in the southern Philippines, and Al Gama'i al-Islamiyya, whose former senior member, Rifa'i Taha Musa, appeared on a video with bin Laden last year threatening retaliation against the United States. Then there is Harakat al-Mujahidin, whose new leader, Farooq Kashmiri, has been linked to bin Laden and who allegedly operates training camps in eastern Afghanistan. There is the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, another organisation with militant bases in Afghanistan; and there is one of the closest known associates of al-Qaeda, Al Jihad, the Egyptian Islamic group whose original jihad was responsible for the 1981 assassination of President Sadat.
Again and again, we see the same countries cropping up—countries suspected of harbouring, nurturing or turning a blind eye to such terrorist organisations. Syria, Iran, Libya, Iraq and even Saudi Arabia: the list is all too familiar, and may make uncomfortable reading. Those countries, however, now have an opportunity to forge new relationships and alliances in the campaign against terrorism, and the Prime Minister is surely right to try to bring them into the fold. Some such alliances may well be long-lasting, and could change the international scene significantly.
What I am endeavouring to illustrate is that the tentacles spreading out from bin Laden—the many- headed Hydra, as he has been described—are myriad. That is why removing him and al-Qaeda must be a priority.
The Prime Minister is on record as saying that the eradication of the Taliban regime is a legitimate objective; the Defence Secretary reconfirmed that this afternoon, and was right to do so. However, with what does he envisage replacing the Taliban? There are moderate elements in the Taliban—Taliban for reasons of expediency—that will have a useful role to play in any future Government of that country. I know that that was the view of the late commander Abdul Haq, of whom we have already heard this afternoon. His execution by the Taliban was a real loss. The west was afforded the opportunity to support Abdul Haq, who was pressing a policy that, had it worked, would have resulted in a power-sharing Government in Kabul made up of all elements ranging from the Northern Alliance to former Taliban members and, of course, to the Pashtuns, under the former king.
Now, because of Abdul Haq's death, the situation is more complicated. It is surely right that the coalition has effectively halted the Northern Alliance from advancing on Kabul alone, but we need to know what is planned, particularly with winter approaching. Members who have soldiers based in their constituencies—there can be few of us without a strong local military connection, such as in my constituency where we have a Royal Marines training camp at Lympstone—including my hon. Friend Mr. Howarth, wish to know what the clear aims and objectives are before the troops go in.
I agree with those who say that that will be a long process, but that does not mean that the aims cannot be clear from the outset. Unfortunately, there is a creeping feeling that, having started bombing, the Americans do not know what to do next. They cannot entirely be blamed as they are in something of a predicament, but the bombing cannot continue indefinitely. There is growing evidence that it is already hardening moderate Afghan opinion against the coalition. Domestically, we are beginning to hear the traditional muttering of Labour Members expressing discontent about the bombing; not far beneath the veneer of new Labour beats the heart of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and unilateralism.
We are therefore calling for clarification—not for operationally sensitive information, obviously—of what we hope to achieve before we commit British ground troops. The alliances that we make now are critical and will be the key to the post-Taliban Afghanistan. We cannot expect to rid the world of terrorism in one go; that is the work of decades. Indeed, it is the first real challenge of the 21st century. However, we can make a start, and we must do so in post-Taliban Afghanistan, a country which we must not abandon again. We must show the Afghan people this time that there is an alternative way and eventually encourage all those displaced Afghans in Pakistan, Iran and elsewhere to return home. We must help to rebuild the infrastructure of that country.
It is encouraging that the United Nations Special Representative Mr. Brahimi and President Musharraf of Pakistan agreed on Tuesday that the unity of Afghanistan and its territorial integrity must be preserved. There have been calls, not least from Government Members last week and from Joan Ruddock this afternoon, for women to be included in any new Government. I remind the House that we are talking about a backward Muslim country; we cannot insist on imposing our own liberal views on it, however right we deem them to be.
May I continue? I am just winding up my speech.
Of course, the rights of women must be respected in a post-Taliban Afghanistan, and that can come through education and organisations such as Learning for Life, a United Kingdom-registered charity which started educating mainly Afghan refugees in Pakistan in the early l990s. Learning for Life has been working closely with Pakistan's national rural support programme and helps to run over 160 schools in Pakistan, bringing primary schooling to young girls otherwise denied even a rudimentary education. Organisations like that, with their unparalleled experience, can play a major part in helping to emancipate women in tomorrow's Afghanistan.
Our challenge in a post-war Afghanistan is to help bring that country and its inhabitants, regardless of gender or ethnic background, into the 21st century. If we succeed, we can make Afghanistan a no-go area for terrorists in future.
I wish to make it clear from the start that I support the actions of the international coalition. I do not say that with any joy. I do not like our country being involved in a war. But, I regret to say, there is no alternative. International terrorism is a threat to us all and if we do not combat it, it will kill us.
The overwhelming majority of British Muslims unreservedly condemn the atrocities of
All of us who represent multicultural communities know stories about a minority of clerics who preach fire and brimstone versions of the Koran at Friday prayers. The vast majority of Muslims know that those contorted versions are untrue. Unfortunately, until now, they have tended to opt for the quiet life. Rather than confront, cause a row or have an argument, they have said that such clerics are talking nonsense and thought that if they ignore them, the clerics will go away. Sadly, that option no longer exists.
These fire and brimstone sermons preached by some unscrupulous clerics have had a huge effect on a number of impressionable young Muslims. Because the older members of the community have chosen not to confront those who twist and contort the Koran, some impressionable young ones have believed that what is being said represents what the Koran says. Those of us who represent multicultural constituencies all know that what I am saying is, regrettably, true.
The option no longer exists for the overwhelming majority of Muslims to keep their heads down. They must stand up and reclaim their religion. They must confront those people who, in my judgment, have hijacked it. If they do not, the great danger is that the vast majority of the non-Muslim population will judge the entire Muslim population and the entire Muslim community by the actions of the fanatics who carried out the outrages of
I want to make one more point. I have given my opinion on how the Muslim community has to reclaim its religion and not allow it to be hijacked. However, there are international issues that are of great concern to the Muslim community in this country. There is no relationship between the atrocities of
What is more, when we are discussing Palestine and Kashmir, we are discussing just causes. The right of self-determination for the Kashmiri people is a just cause. The right of the Palestinian people to have their own state, as our Prime Minister recently said, is also a just cause. Unless those international issues are addressed by the international community, they will continue to fester and to be a breeding ground for terrorists who want to use them for carrying out the activities that resulted in the atrocities of
Like Mr. George—[Interruption.] I am afraid that I cannot help having a bad cold. All that was available a few moments ago, at the last minute, was a bit of Members' toilet roll. I apologise for that humorous interruption, particularly to the Secretary of State.
I return to the right hon. Member for Walsall, South, which is where I started. He referred to the quality of the speeches and the fact that a common thread has crisscrossed the House today in appreciation of the situation that this country faces. Mr. Jack described the experience of listening to a former Israeli Prime Minister and talking to someone who had lived with terrorism each day. We would not have to go far from this building while remaining in the United Kingdom to talk to close on 2 million people who have lived with the trauma of terrorism each day for 30 years. Many Members of the House and of the other place have first-hand experience of the trauma of terrorism as it affected their lives and their constituents.
Mr. Kaufman spoke for a lot of people from the Jewish community in this country and many, many others when he talked with great sincerity and great depth about the truisms that apply to the situation in Israel and Palestine, and the clamour in the mind of any just-thinking person for a Palestinian homeland. Even if that were accomplished tomorrow, the likes of bin Laden and al-Qaeda, and for that matter the regime in Afghanistan, would not go away, nor would the acts of terrorism stop.
There are words in the English language that can accurately describe how people must feel about what happened on
Mr. Horam asked who was to blame. The one thing that is certain is that the 6,000 people who died in New York were blameless. They did not play any part in the cause of their deaths. They did not incite an act of such vicious terrorism.
The Prime Minister has been right to restate the aims and to say why we are in the coalition fighting this battle. The title of today's debate is the "Coalition Against International Terrorism" and I hope that the fight does not begin and end in Afghanistan. This war must surely go way beyond the bounds of the present problem. We need some commitment and vision from our Government. They must explain where they believe we are going in the campaign against world terrorism. Surely it will not end with the capture or death of bin Laden. It will not end when the Taliban cease to rule Afghanistan. It will not end just by bombing the training bases there out of existence. It goes much further than that.
As a nation, we are surely adult enough to know that in any conflict or war it will be impossible to avoid the suffering of innocent people. No military commander engaged in the coalition's effort against terrorism ever set out to harm or bomb innocent people. Mistakes happen. The authorities in Afghanistan have sited sensitive military equipment and even their own bases close to vulnerable civilians. They have done so deliberately to incite the sort of press coverage that we have seen in the past 10 days.
The Prime Minister has said on a number of occasions that once we start this war we must ensure that we are able to finish it. In the past month, many hon. Members have insisted on knowing the endgame. No one who has given what has gone on in the past 50 years any thought can believe that the Government can come up with a magic remedy and explain to the House today what the endgame really is. That would be impossible.
In the past three weeks, not a day has gone by when I have not received at least a couple of letters from constituents who are rightly concerned about the humanitarian situation. Many of those people were writing to me about the plight of the people of Afghanistan before the bombing started. Where was the concern of the Afghan Government for what was happening? Where was the help from the Saudis, Kuwaitis and the Gulf states for the 25 per cent. of all children who died in Afghanistan before reaching the age of five? Most of the aid was generated in the United States, the United Kingdom and European Union states.
The Americans are not fighting Islam and it is a myth to suggest that they are. Every time hon. Members mention Islam in the same breath as bin Laden, they give credence to the suggestion that this fight is based on religious grounds. It is not; it is a fight against evil and against those who will kill people without thinking and will do so again and again.
Of course we should respect the rights of Muslims and their religious festivals. Ramadan is an important festival. The terrorists will not recognise it, however, and when it has suited them, Arab states have chosen not to recognise it as they waged war either on each other or against the state of Israel, as many hon. Members have said. We have to be realistic. A month's respite from the activities of the coalition will allow the Afghan forces of evil and others to re-arm, re-equip and re-establish themselves in other locations.
We must naturally respect the Muslim faith, but this is not a battle against Muslims. It is a battle against evil people who continue to perpetrate crimes and are planning crimes now, probably even against this very building. Mr. Godsiff spoke of the need for the Muslim people whom he represents to stand up and be counted. I agree entirely. Many have done so and continue to do so. Many of the young Muslims whom I represent have made it clear that they distance themselves from what has gone on. They are proud to be associated with this country and want to continue to be part of the multicultural cocktail of which we are so proud. They should not be tarred with the awful brush of the evil perpetrators of crime. We should distance ourselves from justifying the likes of bin Laden and his cronies by linking them with the word of the Islamic faith—the Koran—or with Muslim rights.
Bin Laden is not winning the propaganda battle, or if he is, it is only among the cronies who support his evilness. I do not meet people who want to see replicas of the atrocities of
We must do all we can to help the countries involved, not just during this crisis and for a few months afterwards, but for as long as it takes. Mr. Swire spoke about rebuilding the infrastructure of Afghanistan. It is hard to imagine what that means in a country like Afghanistan. How do we put something back together that has taken 20-odd years to destroy? I went to Grozny—
Like my hon. Friend Mr. Sedgemore, I hope that the Government will listen to what I have to say. I know something about the Islamic world and have spent the best part of 10 years warning in this Chamber about the rising tide, the rising radicalism and the Islamicisation of the Muslim world and the terrible clash that would result. My warnings were not much listened to before; I hope that after
Let me respond to a number of difficult and troublesome comments made during the debate. Mr. Howarth should not ask British Muslims to choose between Her Majesty and their religion, for they will not do it. They will put nothing in front of their religion. They will not put Her Majesty in front of their religion any more than I would put Her Majesty in front of mine. It is an unrealistic and unfair demand.
I say to my right hon. Friend Mr. George, who has left the Chamber, that no one in this country should be told to keep their heads down during a period of national debate and soul-searching such as this. I appreciate that he may not have meant it in quite the way it sounded, but it sounded very bad.
I deplore the comments of Donald Anderson about foreign students at Britain's universities. I am married to a biologist—a scientist—who took her PhD at Glasgow university. She is a Palestinian with an Arab name, so I am acutely sensitive to this point. Foreign students in this country, whatever subjects they study in British universities, should not be made to feel uneasy or put under a searchlight, as the comments of the right hon. Member for Swansea, East seemed to imply.
Mr. O'Brien, a former Minister indeed, seemed to think that any Parliament anywhere should be required to give unequivocal and unconditional support to the Government. That might be the kind of Parliament that Osama bin Laden would have in mind; it is not this kind of Parliament. The only thing more depressing than the demand of the former Minister that Parliament should show unequivocal, unconditional support for the Government was the rapid surrender to it by the spokesman for what he himself described as the loyal Opposition.
I shall vote against the Government this evening, albeit on a procedural motion, because I believe that a substantive motion should be on the table to allow hon. Members to table reasoned amendments and the House to express deliberate judgment on the aims and conduct of the war.
I do not have time. I believe that some of my hon. Friends and some Opposition Members will join us in the Lobby and that a substantial number of hon. Members will abstain. We and the abstainers will only grow in number in the days to come.
There is a fantastic dislocation between the atmosphere in the Chamber and the atmosphere outside in the country, and still more in the wider world. One would not think, listening to the Secretary of State for Defence, that more than half the population of this country want the bombing to stop now so that humanitarian aid can flood in. One would not know, listening to some of my colleagues who often lecture us about feminism, that more than half the women in Britain are demanding an end to the war. One would not know, listening to the Liberal Democrat spokespeople, that more than half the Liberal voters in the country are demanding an end to the war. One would not know, listening to some Labour Members, that millions—if the opinion polls are right, some 12 million to 14 million people—in this country were demanding an end to the war, or that millions of them were Labour voters.
One certainly would not know from some hon. Members who represent constituencies with substantial Muslim populations that there was great unease and opposition to the war in our country. One would not know that the campaign was going disastrously around the world. One would not know that it is scarcely possible for an American politician to set foot in the Arab countries. Our Prime Minister has to go as what The Wall Street Journal unkindly described as "the American ambassador" to those countries.
When our Prime Minister goes to Arab countries, he receives short shrift from the leaders whom he meets. As my hon. Friend Mr. Dalyell said, countries such as Iran are unequivocally against the bombing. Syria lectured the Prime Minister yesterday against bombing. If anyone here thinks that public opinion in the Arab world is with them, they are living in cloud cuckoo land.
I have the benefit of watching Arab television, listening to the phone-in programmes and reading the Arab press. If Members of Parliament think that they have the support of the Islamic world—1.3 billion people strong—they are living in cloud cuckoo land.
Our new friend General Musharraf promised his people at the outset that the campaign would be short, sharp and targeted. The fact that it is neither short nor sharp is the reason why it is now a dagger pointed at his heart. Everyone in Pakistan knows it. More than 90 per cent. of the people of Pakistan are demanding that their Government desist from co-operating in the savage bombardment of Afghanistan. That is a fact. The Secretary of State for International Development may think that General Musharraf is secure in his post. I do not know anyone else who thinks that the self-appointed president of Pakistan is in any way secure.
Sharp? B52s, sticks of bombs, carpet bombing—is that sharp? We saw just how accurate the targeted, laser-guided weapons were. Now we have moved to carpet bombing from B52s. We are told that the bombing is of military positions, as if the military lines in Afghanistan were somehow wholly separate from the villages and towns in which people lived, not to mention from the displaced people in Afghanistan.
Sharp? Cluster bombs? I never thought I would hear Labour spokespeople defending cluster bombs. Is the military struggle with the Taliban so finely poised that we cannot eschew the use of cluster bombs? I watched the Secretary of State for International Development on the beach at Brighton—done up in her mine-clearing suit—weeping about the victims of land mines. She knows that in so far as cluster bombs are not land mines they are worse than land mines, because land mines at least are mapped—land mines dropped from aeroplanes are by definition unmappable.
I only have time to deal with a couple of additional points. The aims of a campaign such as this cannot be separated from its likely outcome. Members who wish it to be restricted to Afghanistan are fooling themselves: this war is going to be extended to other countries. If they do not want that to happen, they must join us now. If they do not want the Northern Alliance, they must join us. The Northern Alliance are the people who destroyed and beggared Afghanistan in the first place, whose mediaeval obscurantism put the women in chains, destroyed the towns and cities, took the women out of the universities, hanged the former President Najibullah from a lamp-post—they put his penis in his mouth and left him hanging to rot. That is the Northern Alliance—your new best friends whom you hope to put into power.
My last point is this: we want this war stopped during Ramadan—not out of respect for the Muslims, but because it would give the Government a chance, without losing face, to send a message to the Islamic world that they are going to pause during the holy month of Ramadan; that they are going to consider how the project has gone so far; that they are going to consult more widely; that they are going to try diplomacy; that they are going to try legal means and political means during that pause in the war; and that, above all, they are going to flood the country with humanitarian assistance—food and kindness—which will do far more to win the masses of Afghanistan to their cause than bombing them from B52s and bombing them with cluster bombs will ever do.
Mr. Galloway spoke with great passion and some knowledge of the Arab world, but he also spoke with inaccuracy and from a position with which I cannot agree.
One inaccuracy is about Najibullah. In fact he was the president of the amalgamation—the coalition that made up the Northern Alliance—and was hanged by the Taliban. Secondly, land mines are not neatly marked "Achtung Minen!". I am a trustee of a land mine clearance charity with 1,200 local employees in Afghanistan; they go through the ground bit by bit, trying to clear mines—whether they were laid by Soviets, Afghans or whoever. The mines are not neatly marked.
As regards President Musharraf, he was indeed self-appointed in a coup, but I happen to know that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Kelvin has spent a great deal of time in Baghdad, where he called Tariq Aziz "my good friend". Can he tell the House—not now, because I shall not accept an intervention from him—who appointed Saddam Hussein but Saddam Hussein himself, for whom the hon. Gentleman has spoken up so loudly and clearly in the past?
I shall turn back to the subject in hand: the international coalition against terrorism. I particularly want to associate myself with the excellent speech made by my hon. Friend Mr. Jenkin. It would be pointless to repeat what he said, but I stress that it is essential that we react to what happened on
The idea that we could reason with al-Qaeda is ludicrous. That organisation's aim is, as we understand it, to destroy the United States of America. Is there any negotiation on that from an American point of view? I think not. There can be none.
I should like briefly to consider four points—the aim of the coalition, the humanitarian actions, news management and how the crisis affects the United Kingdom. First, we must stick to our aims—that is why we have them—but we could be a little clearer. On the fourth immediate objective, the Secretary of State for Defence said that we would require
"sufficient change in the leadership of Afghanistan to ensure that their links to international terrorism are broken."
We have to go further and, as the Prime Minister has said, the Taliban have to be removed because, while they control Afghanistan, the barbaric civil war will continue; it is a breeding ground for terrorism.
The headline story on the front page of The Times today, which I commend to the House, was the most awful tale of barbarism, brutality and injustice. The regime acts in a horrific way, contrary to all international law and agreements and certainly not to the benefit of its people—in particular, its women and children.
We should not aim to impose a Government—that should not be our business. There may not be universal suffrage with voters' lists, but that does not mean that the people of Afghanistan, even if they are not on voters' lists, cannot say who they want to have as their leader or their Government. We should aim to allow all the people of Afghanistan, including the 50 per cent. who have to dress in the fearful burka, to have some say in a Government whom they accept. Of course, that is not easy. I have no idea whether it may involve the king, a Loya Jirga or a constitutional commission, but that should be our aim. We should not allow a barbaric, mediaeval regime to succeed or last. We certainly do not want to go back to civil war.
Lastly, on our aims, we should remember what happened in 1991, when people said, "You must not go on into Baghdad." We did not need to impose a Government on Baghdad, but we allowed Saddam Hussein to survive, because we did not cut off his republican guard. By allowing him to survive, we have had to put up with another 10 years of instability and terrorism in the middle east.
I pay tribute to the Secretary of State for International Development for what she has said about the humanitarian aid effort. She is quite right. We should know that there will be hardship, possibly disaster, this winter, even if we stop bombing now. In about two weeks' time, the snows will have descended and those in the mountains will have insufficient food. It will be awful and we must help the World Food Programme and others as far as we can, but the best solution for the poor, benighted Afghans is a successful conclusion to the war—for their sakes, not ours.
We must give as much as necessary to the subsequent reconstruction. We must be magnanimous in victory and use our influence over our Northern Alliance allies—if that is what they are—because they do not have a good record of behaviour in the past, and they are certainly not the Blue Berets of the UN. They are former mujaheddin, and anyone who has read the stories of that time knows that the mujaheddin could be very barbaric towards their captives.
A huge effort will be required by the whole world—the western world, in particular—but it may help with the hearts and minds that have been mentioned. Whatever happens, we must not forget Afghanistan, as we did in the past. When the cold war ended, we left those who had been sitting in refugee camps for 10 years to sit for another 10 or 12 years in ghastly camps in the dust in Pakistan.
I visited my first refugee camp, near Peshawar, in 1985. I visited another one with the International Development Committee in 1999. The former was run by the International Committee of the Red Cross and the latter by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, but whoever runs the camps, they must be controlled by those who pay for them. I need not remind the House of the dreadful situation outside Goma and other places in the Congo in 1994, when the UN was actually delivering food aid and other things to the Hutu Interahamwe, who had fled from the massacres that they had committed in Rwanda.
There is little proper education in the Afghan refugee camps. Frankly, they are like a bit of backward Afghanistan. The women are subjugated and segregated, and madrassars may or may not flourish. They provide a breeding ground for discontent and extremism. When we have camps in future, we must have no Taliban in control; it is very easy for the camps to be under such control. There must be no weapons. There must be no conscription into armies by the Taliban, Northern Alliance or whoever. There must be proper education and skills training for all. There must be good health care, especially for women. There must be good food, and seeds, and whatever is necessary, and those camps must be open for women, who should not be subjugated there. No one will ever accuse me of being a feminist, but it is outrageous that 50 per cent. of the population of Afghanistan, many of them educated people, should be subjugated as they are at present.
Finally, let me refer to the relationship between international terrorism and events in the United Kingdom. Perhaps the Secretary of State will answer a question on something about which I have been thinking for some weeks. Apart, thankfully, from a great difference in degree and scale, what exactly is the difference between the murderous attack on the World Trade Centre, and the attacks on the NatWest tower, now tower 42, in February 1993 and on Canary wharf in February 1996, both of which killed people and caused enormous damage? Will the Government pursue all the people who committed and assisted in those dreadful attacks on the two tallest buildings in London with the same vigour as they are pursuing the perpetrators of the attack on the tallest building in New York?
I support the Government's action to fight international terrorism. That means support for the military action, support for the strong attempts to destroy terrorist bases and networks, making great effort to minimise civilian casualties, and support for the action to break up international terrorist networks, which are passing both cash and information around the world with the sole objective of carrying out unacceptable terrorism. The work of the Chancellor of the Exchequer should be welcomed and praised in that respect. He is making efforts on the international scene to ensure that those networks are destroyed.
That campaign is difficult and will be long lasting, but it is essential that we recognise the uniquely lethal nature of current international terrorism. It knows no borders, it knows no boundaries. Its aim is to maximise the mass killing of civilians as a religious imperative, bringing personal salvation—activities fuelled by hatred. It might be as well to note the statement in the official Palestinian Authority daily published on the morning of
"these suicide bombers are the salt of the earth, the engines of history".
The suicide bombers to whom that publication referred on that fatal morning were the suicide bombers who had been attacking and killing the civilians of Israel.
We have taken a significant step forward in meeting the international threat of terrorism with the passing of United Nations Security Council resolution 1373 on
We, and indeed the international community, must also face the fact that Iran and Syria are the sponsors of terrorism that fuels major conflicts, including ones that have been referred to today. They fund and support groups such as Hamas. Indeed, in May 2000 a new headquarters for Hamas was opened in Damascus. Iran and Syria also support Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine—groups dedicated to wrecking any possible chance for peace in the middle east and bent on the destruction and elimination of Israel.
Let us remember what the former Hezbollah leader, Hussein Massawi, said:
"We are not fighting so the enemy will offer us something. We are fighting to wipe out the enemy."
I urge all those who believe that the heart of the conflict and the savage international terrorism that we now face is something to do with finding a just solution to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians to take heed of what is happening around them: the terrorist groups funded by, among others, Iran and Syria are dedicated to the destruction of peace and the destruction of Israel, and after that they will carry on to destroy more and more.
It is essential that we have a just peace in the middle east and that we see Israel and Palestine as independent states, living in peace, side by side in agreed secure boundaries. I want to see Jerusalem a shared capital. I want to see the end of settlements. I want to see land exchange and a solution to the refugee problem, to include the resettlement of refugees and compensation. I want to see the realisation of the vision propounded by Shimon Peres, that most courageous Israeli leader, in his book "The New Middle East", published in about 1994. He spoke about a vision of economic co-operation throughout the middle east, with Israel and Palestine, and other Arab states, working together.
When Barak made his proposals for a solution to the conflict only a year ago, and then later at Taba, it was the Palestinians who, regrettably, foolishly, rejected them.
Let us never forget, too, that the first suicide bombing in Israel happened on
The name of Mr. Atta is familiar to us. He is known to us as the pilot who flew the plane into the World Trade Centre, murdering thousands of people. The name is known in Israel, too, because in the 1980s this same Mr. Atta killed people by throwing a bomb at civilians on a bus. He was arrested, but Israel was then persuaded to release him as a gesture of good will as part of peace negotiations. The persuasion came from President Reagan. We all know what Mr. Atta went on to do.
I raise these points not because I believe that the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians is the cause of what we witnessed as thousands of people were murdered in New York and Washington, but because many Members have suggested that it is at the heart of the conflict. It is not. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict should be resolved—I have explained how that might happen—and I hope that pressure can be brought to bear on both sides to bring everyone back to the negotiating table to seek peace along the lines that I have outlined.
The threat that all of us—whatever our religion, ethnic identity or country—face is the threat from international terrorists who know no boundaries and no mercy. I listened to the speech of Mr. Galloway and I realise the strength of the opposition to those who seek peace. I realise the depth of their hatred against most of the world, and I believe that we should redouble our efforts to fight international terrorism while recognising that that will bring difficulties and that, inevitably, innocent civilians may be killed. Our target, however, is the terrorists and the breaking of international military, financial and intelligence and information networks.
The fight will be long and hard, but it is a fight for humanity. If we do not win it, we will find that the terrorists who planned and executed their deadly deeds in September of this year will simply work out new plans and gather and improve their access to biological, chemical and nuclear weapons as they devise their new crimes against the whole of humanity.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to speak in this important and timely debate.
Just five weeks before the terrible events of
As President Bush, in his address to a joint session of Congress on
"the enemies of freedom committed an act of war".
It was an act of war against every free nation and, equally, an act of war against all those in the Islamic world who believe in peace. To that end, it was absolutely correct for NATO to invoke article 5, recognising that an attack on the United States is also an attack on the rest of us.
It is the duty of every citizen in this country to stand by the campaign against terrorism that is designed to bring those capable of committing such terrible crimes to some form of justice. Those attacks could have been directed at any western freedom-loving nation, including the United Kingdom. That is why we must remain resolute.
I would, however, like to focus my comments on the humanitarian aspects of the war against terrorism. It is through many of the humanitarian issues arising from the war—particularly those that relate to the behaviour and the attitude of the Taliban towards their people—that the arguments for military action are most apparent.
The level of humanitarian need in Afghanistan is highlighted by the United Nations website. Under the somewhat dispassionate title "Crisis at a glance", it points out that 7.5 million Afghans may need aid to survive. Nearly 20 per cent. of those in need are children under the age of five and, since
The number of people who need aid in Afghanistan amounts to nearly a third of its population of slightly more than 25 million. That is a chilling statistic. Our response will mean the difference between a nation that can survive post-Taliban and a nation that is so destitute and starving that the path to recovery could be insurmountable.
That said, we must not let such shocking figures result in knee-jerk reactions that can only lead to a loss of focus on the task at hand. Governments and charitable organisations that are already undertaking invaluable work in attempting to alleviate the humanitarian crisis must be supported wholeheartedly and encouraged in their efforts.
Those who call for a pause in the bombing risk putting in place a strategy that would do much more harm than good. Of course we must show compassion. We must take responsibility for helping ordinary, decent and peaceful people in their time of need. When 60,000 families are entirely dependent on the World Food Programme for their food, there is a blatant need for our intervention. However, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition commented in The Daily Telegraph only yesterday, the Taliban disruption of aid efforts dates back to before the military action commenced. Fundamentally, most aid efforts are seriously curtailed. The regime that we are fighting actively prevents and blocks aid reaching those who most need it.
The most urgent and the most humanitarian action that we can take is to continue the military action until the Taliban are disabled and removed from power in Afghanistan for good. Until that regime is removed, there will be a need—it may not be extinguished for years to come—for risky aid missions to Afghanistan. Those will fail continually as the Taliban steal the produce for their soldiers and redirect medical supplies away from the sick and needy.
That does not mean that we should forget the estimated 6 million people who are still in Afghanistan and who desperately need aid to survive. These are people who do not have the resources or the ability to escape across the Afghan borders. Hundreds of thousands of them will be cut off from food and aid by snow and winter conditions in the weeks to come. Winter in Afghanistan is extremely harsh. There must be an emphasis where possible on bolstering supplies for those areas that may well find themselves isolated and impoverished through bad weather.
The World Food Programme is finding ways of bypassing Taliban blocks. However, with a lack of trucks, fuel and local knowledge, there is understandably an incredibly difficult task ahead. Taliban obstruction tactics may not let the World Food Programme's target of 52,000 tonnes of aid through into Afghanistan. While the Taliban remain in government, all the support necessary must be put into ensuring that aid can be delivered when the opportunity to do so unhindered presents itself.
It is those Afghans who have not managed to escape, especially those in the northern hunger belts where food levels are critically low, who must receive our most urgent attention. However, food supplies must not be our only concern. The Taliban regime can only be described as backward. The Taliban run a country contrary to the principles and beliefs that the vast majority of civilised countries hold sacred. For example, there is the situation of women.
Continued and focused military action to remove the Taliban and to reconstruct Afghanistan as a respected nation will bring greater recognition of the rights that we take for granted. Of course, our primary focus must be to defeat the terrorists. We must block the ability of those who seek to commit further atrocities to carry them out.
Those who harbour terrorists are also harbouring intolerance. They starve their people not only of food, but of basic equality. If the Taliban continue to rule in Afghanistan, not only will we have no guarantee that they will cease to give protection and a home to terrorists, but the humanitarian crisis will only worsen as thousands try to leave the country for a better life elsewhere, only to be persecuted for wanting what we take for granted.
This war is about standing up for democracy and for people who live in freedom and safety. The Taliban's support for and protection of terrorists is undoubtedly interwoven with their appalling domestic record. It is logical that a regime that does not care for its citizens will never care for the citizens of other nations. We must continue to prove that we have compassion for the Afghan people. That can occur only through achieving their liberation. Material aid is essential, but the removal of the Taliban will aid the people of Afghanistan far more in the long term. It can be achieved only through staying on course and continuing to stand together with the United States of America and the rest of the coalition determined and resolute in our aims. Those aims include delivering a future for the innocent people of Afghanistan. That is how we can best aid them and it is our true humanitarian mission.
I am very pleased indeed, Madam Deputy Speaker, to have the chance to speak in this very important debate.
The events of
Nobody will ever forget where they were when they first saw the pictures of those aeroplanes flying into the twin towers with the consequent horrific loss of life. Just as the mushroom clouds over Hiroshima have for ever been the image of death and destruction in the 20th century, I believe that those images of planes flying into the twin towers will be the image of death and devastation that symbolises the 21st century. No one has forgotten
Some colleagues who support the bombing cling to the notion of precision targeting. Some of them appear to believe that war can be like a video game and that technology can reduce civilian deaths to some marginal percentage. I urge those colleagues who are so quick to talk about precision bombing and new technology when some of us quote the figures of civilian casualties to look at the reports that were published in the aftermath of Kosovo on the actual accuracy of those bombs, as opposed to the accuracy that was claimed at the time.
An article in Flight International in August last year referred to a Ministry of Defence operational analysis that said that only 40 per cent. of the bombs dropped by the RAF in Kosovo hit their targets. Colleagues cannot comfort themselves with the notion of precision targeting that somehow drains warfare of its blood, its horror and its sacrifice.
Colleagues should be left in no doubt about the fact that a cluster bomb that falls to the ground with many of its bomblets unexploded is as brutal and as much a threat to civilian life as any land mine. Is the battle in Afghanistan so in the balance and in such a precarious position that we have to use weapons that have been condemned all over the world? I urge colleagues to consider the horror of yellow cluster bombs being lodged in the ground, and children and young people running to pick them up because they are the same colour as the humanitarian food parcels of which colleagues are so proud. I hope that we hear a little less about precision targeting and make a closer study of the accuracy of the bombing during the war in Kosovo.
I have a word to say to the tendency in the House of Commons that I would describe as "cluster bombs for feminism." It will be of no comfort to the women of Afghanistan to hear the protestations and concern about their civil rights when thousands of them have died from a war that may continue through the winter into the spring. Many thousands more will die as a result of the humanitarian disaster, which all the aid agencies, without exception, have said will happen if there is no pause in the bombing.
Any military action that is part of a long-term, complex political and diplomatic initiative to rid the world of the scourge of terrorism must be politically sustainable. I remind colleagues that, as a consequence of the bombing campaign, which is only a few weeks old, there have been riots in northern Nigeria and Indonesia, and that 70 per cent. of the population of Pakistan are against the bombing. In Europe, people are beginning to express their concern about the bombing in Le Monde and other journals. I do not believe that a bombing campaign—accompanied by a rising tide of civilian casualties—that lasts through the winter into the spring, which is the earliest there can be a proper ground war, is sustainable in the eyes of the public. If it is not sustainable in public opinion, it is not politically sustainable and it runs the risk of undermining the political and diplomatic objectives that colleagues profess to hold.
I cannot speak for Muslims in other constituencies, but if colleagues continue to assert against the evidence of their own eyes that the Muslim community in this country supports and is happy about the bombing, they will be leading themselves into error. Of course the Muslim community deplores the events of
Time is against us, so my final point is about the humanitarian crisis. I repeat that every aid agency has asked for a pause. We have 20 days to save millions of people in Afghanistan from starvation. Colleagues should beware of mixing up the humanitarian mission with the political mission. What the aid agencies are frightened of—more than the bombing—is that they are seen to be partisan. Aid agencies that are seen to be on one side in a war can no longer effectively carry out their mission. Mixing up the humanitarian rhetoric with the military rhetoric will make the job of the aid agencies very much harder in the long term.
The events of
It seems to be my lot to speak shortly after Mr. Galloway. He always speaks with enormous skill and persuasive powers, but again, he was inaccurate. I level the same accusation at Ms Abbott. We must make sure that we understand the use of cluster bombs. They are directed at airfields, area targets and specific targets such as armoured vehicles. They are not land mines and they are not designed to attack personnel.
Also, the term "carpet bombing" is not accurate. [Interruption.] We seem to have another aerial weapon. Our carpet has indeed been bombed!
Everything that is now being done is designed to shatter the cohesion and morale of our enemies in Afghanistan. People will get hurt, including those who are not directly involved. War is a dirty business and soldiers, civilians and the innocent may be injured. We have only to ask the relatives of the 6,000 people whose graves are in the centre of New York and Washington.
The Secretary of State for Defence said earlier that additional troops have now been committed and that we can sustain and support them over a long period. He said that that is a clear indication of our resolve.
Last week, I spent some time in Oman with members of the Select Committee on Defence talking to troops on Exercise Saif Sareea 2. It was clear that they were expecting to be committed for a further operation. I spent some time with the officers of the headquarters of Third Commando brigade. There were two quotations that were causing them some trouble. The House will be familiar with the first, because it has oft been quoted, but that will not stop me doing it again.
"When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains
And the women come out to cut up what remains
Just roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
An' go to your Gawd like a soldier."
Those Royal Marines had no doubt that the fight facing them would be particularly difficult.
The second quote, which they found even more contentious, is from Colin Powell when he was faced with the commitment of troops to the Balkans some years ago. He said:
"We do deserts, not mountains."
Both those quotations were giving the brigade commander and his staff considerable cause to think.
How does one decide whether that senior commander should have been "used"—as was suggested earlier—to make a political point? Let us think what is involved. The Third Commando brigade has been on exercise in hostile and difficult conditions for several weeks. It is only 60 per cent. manned and is short of one third of its combat power. It is under-recruited by a platoon—what the Royal Marines would call a troop—in each company. The commander of that brigade must now regroup. He must draw troops from two different commandos, 40 and 45, into a single cohesive unit. He must give them support weapons, artillery, sappers and the like. He must also winnow out the mountain leaders from his troops throughout the brigade. No wonder, then, he says he is not yet sure about his specific targets. He is not yet sure what specific training he will be asked to carry out; he is not sure about his tasks, his rules of engagement, or the operational command and control of his unit.
Those are all legitimate military points of view. Let us not be too harsh on the commander; but let us understand that what he says is very different from what the Secretary of State for Defence would suggest—that the troops are ready for immediate action. They are not, and they cannot be.
Absolutely not. We need to give our forces some breathing space. They need time to be ready. Let me add that any coalition war will encounter difficulties when one nation is leading and another is trying to follow. These men have our full support, but we need to understand what is going on.
Whatever gesture we are making, 200 men—a rifle company group—are not enough to be a
"clear indication of our resolve".
We can generate at least a brigade. I believe that we must generate a brigade, and I would like to see preparations for the training of the rest of our armed forces for the long haul that the Government tell us lies ahead. I see no indications of that now.
I spent some time talking to a warrant officer in the Royal Marines, who told me, "I have been in the Royal Marines for 18 years, and I have two years left to serve. During those 18 years I have spent most of my time fighting terrorism. I have seen comrades killed in Northern Ireland, and I have protected Kurds in Iraq. I believe in this cause, and I know that my men will do whatever you ask us to. I ask just one thing: do not require us to go with one arm tied behind our backs. Let us go with our gloves off, ready to do the job, and we will do it for you."
We have the finest troops in the world, and I believe that a vote tonight must be a vote in support of that warrant officer and those men who are ready to put their lives on the line for this country and for freedom.
I want to deal with some of the criticisms of the coalition's actions in Afghanistan. In doing so, I do not suggest that people do not have genuine and heartfelt concerns about what is going on—they have, and they deserve to be answered. I shall begin the task of answering them in the short time available to me.
The first criticism of the coalition's actions relates to the very basis of the action in Afghanistan. Shortly after the events of
"Declaring 'war' on terrorism is the worst possible response . . . True security will come from international co-operation based on equality, justice and the rule of law, through which conflicts can be resolved by peaceful means."
I do not know whether, seven weeks on, Mr. Alexander still holds that view, but it is profoundly wrong. The fact is that al-Qaeda poses a clear and present danger to us. What it did on
"international co-operation based on equality, justice and the rule of law" is to misunderstand what we are up against. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said on Tuesday:
"We have a group of people in Afghanistan who are sworn enemies of everything the civilised world stands for, who have killed once on a vast scale and will kill again unless stopped. They can't be negotiated with."
Far from undermining the rule of law, as Mr. Alexander suggested, our action is in accordance with it. Article 51 of the United Nations charter gives nations an inherent right to individual or collective self-defence in the event of an armed attack; that right runs alongside the right of self-defence in customary international law.
There can be no question, in this instance, but that there was an armed attack. The response of the UN Security Council in 1998 to the east African embassy bombings, and on
Another fallacy propounded by the critics concerns the means. Even if, the argument runs in its simplest form, we must act against terrorism, we should not bomb Afghanistan. I have already said that the action against Afghanistan is both necessary and legal. Some critics of the bombing seem to be suggesting that the coalition is somehow trying to colonise Afghanistan; others that the bombing is targeting Afghan civilians; and others that it is creating a humanitarian crisis. None of those strands of criticism is valid. Given the history of the Afghan wars in the 19th century and the Russian invasion in the last century, to carry out the first charge would be extremely foolish. The aim is to remove the Taliban regime with a view to allowing all Afghans to retake control of their country.
The bombing is certainly not targeting civilians. As in the Kosovo campaign, the attacks have aimed, first, to destroy air cover and air defence; secondly, to interdict, as far as possible, the operation of command and control facilities; and, thirdly, to attack military camps, installations and forces. All that is perfectly proper; it is necessary and proportionate under the UN charter's right to act in self-defence. It is necessary to prevent a repetition of armed attack and is proportionate as a means of achieving that end. It is also in conformity with the humanitarian laws of war, most authoritatively set out in the Geneva conventions and protocols.
The 1977 first protocol puts the matter starkly:
"The civilian population, as such, as well as individual civilians, shall not be the object of attack."
The Geneva protocols are located in the real world and recognise that there may be incidental loss of civilian life. The 1977 first protocol therefore prohibits attacks, which may be expected to cause civilian loss, when that would be excessive in relation to the anticipated military advantage. There have been, and will be, civilian casualties in this type of conflict, which can only be a matter of very profound regret. No one who is a parent can fail to be moved by photographs of children injured and killed in such conflicts.
I wish to make two points. First, the number of strikes that have gone completely astray—as opposed to falling just outside the target—is small. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said in opening the debate this afternoon, we cannot accept Taliban claims of numerous civilian casualties. I commend to the House the article in The Times this morning by the BBC correspondent, Simon Ingram. He visited a bombed building in Kandahar and wrote:
"And yet there were things that didn't fit. Where were the wounded or the bodies? Why had the building been targeted in the first place?"
It had been claimed that 15 people had been killed and 20 injured. In his account he points out that one building bombed was occupied by the Taliban religious police and that another bombed building was a short distance from four parked Taliban tanks.
The Geneva protocol makes it clear that states such as Afghanistan must not put civilians in that sort of position. Civilians must not be used as shields. Moreover, article 58 provides that parties must remove civilians from the vicinity of military objectives and avoid locating military objects, such as the tanks that Mr. Ingram saw, in populated areas.
No, I will not. The hon. Gentleman has had his platform.
As for the bombing impeding humanitarian aid, the more immediate threat is the Taliban themselves. The United Nations has complained that humanitarian aid and property is being looted at gunpoint. I am sure that the Secretary of State for International Development will address that point when she replies.
If I had more time, I would address other fallacies advanced by the critics—for example, that this is somehow a war with Islam or that the changes in domestic law proposed by the Secretary of State for the Home Department are unacceptable infringements of civil liberties. The bottom line is that what the coalition is doing is lawful, necessary and right.
I have supported the Government's action, to a certain extent with reluctance. That is true of many of us who do not want to see bombing and the loss of life. On
The Prime Minister has now given more clarity to our aims: to close down al-Qaeda and bring bin Laden to justice. He has made it clear that our attacks on the Taliban are intended not simply to downgrade their capacity to stand between bin Laden and us but to remove the Taliban from Afghanistan. We have been given a clearer idea of what has been achieved in the first three weeks of bombing. The Prime Minister said:
"We have destroyed the Taliban air force, put Taliban airfields and air defence systems out of action; destroyed all the main al-Qaida camps; profoundly damaged Taliban command and control facilities, and dramatically reduced their capacity to communicate with their forces in the field."
What targets are left, and what is their strategic significance? I am not trying to second-guess the armed forces, but in the coming weeks and months I want them constantly to make judgments about what will be necessary to achieve the original objectives and to carry out the minimum necessary, not the maximum.
It has been suggested that the United States military have been instructed to prepare plans for the possibility of a full ground invasion after the winter. If a full ground invasion is intended but not possible during the winter months, we cannot use bombing sorties simply to pass the time. Although the threat is specific, as Mr. Howarth said, the location of the people we are trying to flush out is not. The need for precision is so important.
No. I want to continue.
If there were a break in the bombing or a significant scaling down of military action in the winter months, could bin Laden or the Taliban take advantage in a way that compromised our position? I would be interested to hear a response on that. Would air action also grind to a halt as the snows arrived? Could our aims be better progressed by that approach, because of the opportunities it would allow for moving refugees, providing aid and easing relationships with the Islamic communities?
Fostering relations with Muslims in the region is surely key to our success, first during the military campaign and then during the campaign that will follow. That must be given political consideration, as Ramadan will soon begin. We have suspended bombing from time to time for Friday prayers and we must consider the impact of the most significant part of the Islamic calendar—one of the five pillars of Islam.
When we are all confirming our respect for those of the Muslim faith, we must be sensitive to the impression that we will give to others if we bomb throughout Ramadan. I hope that that will be taken into account by those who make the decision. There are those who say that Osama bin Laden is not representative of that community, but sadly, there are plenty who fail to hear that message.
There will also be plenty who perceive and use continued bombing as an act of hostility towards the Islamic world. Like many others, I have concerns about the use of cluster bombs. I understand the difference between land mines and cluster bombs. Nevertheless, the risk of damage, explosions and damage to civilians in the 100 yd radius around cluster bombs deeply concerns me.
The Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported this week that cluster bombs were dropped on the village of Herat in western Afghanistan.
I thank the Secretary of State.
Herat was littered with unexploded bomblets, restricting the movement of local people, who will suffer not only now, but for years to come. Using cluster bombs is wrong, and doubly wrong when we criticise the Taliban for their humanitarian record. The Prime Minister said in his speech to the Welsh Assembly that we are doing all we can to limit civilian casualties, but while we continue to use cluster bombs that cannot be the case.
We are working towards understanding the real situation in Afghanistan and many wise views have been expressed. We know that our knowledge is imperfect, but we also know that there is a greater food shortage than before and that that is partly due to current action. However, it is much due to three years of drought, recent events and 20 years of armed conflict, resulting in 3.6 million refugees. Tens of thousands of people are on the move.
Our response is not yet sufficient. Daily ration packs are inadequate to feed all but a few, and we have discussed the problems associated with that. With winter coming on, it is so important that we put not only food but shelter and fuel into the area. If a pause in or scaling down of military action allows much greater humanitarian aid to be given, we must celebrate that and make our message clear that the people of Afghanistan are important to us. We must invest in them by providing the things they need.
We must also recognise that help will be needed to distribute food in Afghanistan, as local drivers are rightly afraid to enter hostile territory. If we want borders with neighbouring countries to be open to refugees, that will require a massive effort not only by allied forces but by our coalition colleagues to support the provision of temporary help for the refugees.
The Government have told us that this is a long game. The longest game, however, must be building a future for Afghanistan—one in which the people of Afghanistan, both men and women, have a stake and which they can accept as being owned by them with their government. The United Nations should not be left by itself. There will still be collective responsibility.
I am sorry, but I am running out of time.
There will still need to be serious investment for the future for a long time. We must recognise that before the recent events Afghanistan was the poorest state in Asia. Having formed a coalition, we can use this opportunity to persuade its other members to give humanitarian aid and to offer Afghanistan the help that it will so badly need.
We support the aims of the coalition to bring bin Laden to justice and to remove the threat of terrorism. In doing so, I urge caution in the coming months on those who are taking the decisions on our behalf—caution in further bombing. They must ensure that any action has a positive outcome and can lead to meeting the objectives that we know so well. Efforts must continue to maintain support and relations between the allied forces and the Islamic community at home and worldwide.
I commend the Prime Minister's constant efforts to achieve a diplomatic solution. I urge that those efforts should continue, as far as is possible, because without those solutions we will have no future. They must continue not only for the next few months but for years afterwards as we try to achieve peace in the central and eastern areas of the world, as many hon. Members have said so eloquently. Before we do much more bombing, may we please consider why we are doing it? Please, may we call a halt to the use of cluster bombs?
I have been waiting for some time to deal with the remarks of Mr. Swire, who is no longer in his seat. He made some disparaging comments about the campaign to give the women of Afghanistan a voice in the new Government that will, hopefully, replace the Taliban regime. He should know that there are many Muslim women parliamentarians. Men and women are considered equal in Islam. They may be considered different, but they are certainly considered of equal status. I hope that the campaign that has been led by women in the Labour party to give Afghan women a voice will be successful.
The hon. Gentleman has only just arrived in the Chamber. I see no reason why I should give up any of my precious 10 minutes for him to intervene.
My hon. Friend Ms Abbott talked about people being happy with the bombing. I do not know one person who is happy about it. I am extremely uneasy about bombing, in particular when I see the civilian casualties. I was pleased to hear my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence express his reluctance for military action. We must ask ourselves, however, whether there is any credible alternative. We should not assume that people are happy and cheerful and do not care about the civilian casualties. Those of us who support the action that the Government are taking are very unhappy and uneasy about what is happening and we wish that there were an alternative. Unfortunately, there is not.
It is crucial that we prevent bin Laden and his associates from acting again and again. People who have been responsible for the deaths of 6,000 innocent civilians will never stop. They were deliberately murdered; it was not collateral damage in any sense; it was a deliberate targeting. The people responsible will not stop now. What is to stop them? They will attack again and again, so we have to track them down. We have to unseat the Taliban regime, which is protecting them. I know of no way of doing it other than the way we are doing it.
I have had about 500 letters and e-mails about the terrorism in the United States and the Afghanistan situation. Many express unease at what is happening. I have read all those letters and e-mails very carefully, although I have not been able to respond to all of them in detail. Not one has suggested alternative action that would be effective in unseating the Taliban and destroying the terrorist network.
There is a strong pacifist element in my constituency and a very active organisation called CamPeace. It is campaigning vigorously against the war and has campaigned against military action in the past. Many hundreds of my constituents have supported the organisation, signed its petitions and participated in vigils which are held regularly. I understand that many people are against bombing a poor country ravaged by years of conflict and poor governance. However, I hope that the people who support CamPeace understand what they are supporting.
CamPeace has never accepted that Milosevic could carry some guilt for the atrocities in Bosnia and Kosovo. I have taken some material from the CamPeace website. It says about Yugoslavia:
"The great majority of the refugees who were forced to leave Kosovo for the neighbouring countries fled after the start of the bombing. It is now clear that the NATO bombing, far from 'averting a humanitarian catastrophe', actually accelerated and intensified it."
CamPeace refers to Carla del Ponte as
"Chief Persecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia".
It highlights a news archive with articles such as
"Was the Srebrenica Massacre a Hoax? . . . Serbian ethnic cleansing scare was a fake, says general . . . Film proves death camp photos were lies".
That shows what kind of organisation CamPeace is. It does not even accept that it was right to intervene in the genocide in Kosovo against both Muslims and Christians. The organisation has no credibility with me and I hope that it has none with my constituents.
I hesitate to speak about the middle east after the excellent contribution of my right hon. Friend Mr. Kaufman. Peace in the middle east sometimes seems further away that ever. The vengeance attacks by the Israeli Government on the people of Palestine contrasts sharply with the attitude of the American Government, following the atrocities of
America's reaction was very different from that of the Israelis following the assassination of a Cabinet Minister. The incursion into previously unoccupied areas horrified many of us. Israel needs and deserves security. Palestine needs and deserves an independent state. Pressure must be brought to bear on the Israeli Government in particular to help bring about a Palestinian state and peace in the middle east. I believe that America, by its actions, now has the moral high ground and can bring not only financial but moral pressure to bear on the Israelis. That is extremely important.
I have been appalled by the many attempts to make this conflict into a conflict between Muslims and Christians. My local newspaper, the Cambridge Evening News, reported a short time ago an attack on two Muslim students who were wearing their traditional dress, their burkas. They had them pulled off their heads by some men as they crossed Parker's Piece in Cambridge. That has given rise to a great deal of anxiety. There was anxiety among Muslim women before this incident, and now there is more. I have tried to express my solidarity with the Muslim women's association in Cambridge. It does a good job. We need to stand firmly together and show that we are all on one side against international terrorism and for world freedom.
When I spoke during the previous debate, there was a sense across the House that we were at something of a turning point in the conflict. I firmly believe that, with the decision to deploy ground troops, that corner has been turned.
I should like to pick up some of the remarks made by Mrs. Campbell. She was right when she said that everyone supported the aims of the operation. There is no alternative. It is important to remember that no service man ever wants to go to war, but they do so on this occasion because they believe that the cause is just. Therefore, it is appropriate that the thoughts of the House are with the service men who are about to be deployed to that region and their families here in Britain.
This operation has a degree of complexity that we have never undertaken before in this country. Military operations thrive on one clear aim. We saw that clearly in the Falklands and the Gulf. The original war aims laid out by the Government were to bring Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders to justice, to prevent the network from posing a continuing terrorist threat and then to deal with the Taliban who support them. In the three weeks since then, we have seen an inversion of those war aims, for understandable reasons.
We are now trying to destroy the Taliban. We hope by so doing that we will destroy al-Qaeda and therefore smoke out, in the words of the American president, Osama bin Laden. That has produced a slight difference of opinion between the military men and the politicians here in London. It is nothing more serious than that. It is made worse by the desire of journalists to pick it up and make a story. It is important that they behave responsibly, as many of us here are trying to do.
Following on from all that, there is a clear need—I am sure that the Secretary of State will address this in her reply—for a clear alternative structure for Afghanistan after the Taliban. Laying that out will have an enormously beneficial effect on many of the Muslim countries that we hope to involve in the process. I have always thought that once the Americans started to carpet bomb it would probably be a great deal less time than we thought before something happened. It is easy to predict that the Taliban will see some defections sooner rather than later and start to melt away into the hills. I and many other people across the House are extremely worried that, if that happens, regions will start to fall to anti-Taliban forces such as the Northern Alliance before an alternative Government have been put in place.
Like many hon. Members, I hope that the alternative Government will involve some form of ruling council that is 10 to 12 strong, representing all the different tribes. We must be ready to dominate the situation and not allow a vacuum to occur. There is clearly a role for a NATO force—I hope that it will have a heavy Muslim contingent—and probably, and I hope quickly, a United Nations force in its wake.
Such a force would have three clear roles. The first would be to maintain law and order. I am sure that we all agree that there would be nothing worse than the cycle of reprisals that might occur, if the Northern Alliance came sweeping down to fill the vacuum left after the Taliban. Secondly, that force could guarantee the security of any embryonic Government who are put in place in Afghanistan. Thirdly, and most important if we are to win the hearts and minds of the local population, that force must safeguard the delivery of humanitarian aid.
Furthermore, it is clear that the international coalition will have to play a considerable role in the reconstruction of Afghanistan when the conflict is over. I am sure that the role of the Secretary of State for International Development will be crucial in determining our contribution to that. It is thus vital that we have a coherent and viable plan for the reconstruction of Afghanistan post-Taliban.
In addition, there are a large number of diplomatic considerations that we need to address. Many of us have concerns about the state of Pakistan as regards its internal politics and what may happen there. That applies equally to Saudi Arabia, which—rather curiously—has been the home of many of the terrorists involved in these actions. That is a difficult problem to solve. I visited Saudi Arabia some years ago and was very aware that there was a middle class, which in effect generates all the wealth but has almost no power in government. Finding a way through that will be one of the challenges that awaits us in the future.
The final component will be whatever happens in the middle east. I must admit that I have always been something of an admirer of the state of Israel. One can only have an admiration for a nation that pulled itself up by its boot straps to create a state from the wreckage of the second world war. The problem is that the Israelis have never really come to terms with their gains in the 1967 war, which created much of the current mess.
What is important at present is that we set out a plan for a viable state of Palestine alongside Israel. It is vital that the Israeli Government do not confuse our determination to rid the world of the threat of terrorism with an opportunity to grab more land and establish more settlements.
In conclusion, I wholeheartedly support the Government's efforts to win this war against international terrorism. However, as part of that multi-faceted effort, it is especially vital that we have a coherent strategy for the reconstruction of Afghanistan when the war is over. During our previous debate on this subject, I said that wars were easy to start but much more difficult to bring to a successful conclusion. Tonight, I fear that the difficult stage may only just be starting.
I am delighted to be able to speak briefly in this important debate. I do so in support of the Government, in the knowledge that no one lightly advocates or takes pleasure in military action, especially where civilians are so tragically affected. There is great anxiety throughout the House about those civilian casualties. That would be nothing, however, compared to the guilt I should feel if Osama bin Laden and others were allowed to continue their bloody reign of international terrorism, and if the Taliban were allowed to continue the governance of Afghanistan.
I respond to my hon. Friend Ms Abbott in the same spirit as she offered us her comments earlier. I say to her and those whom I describe as the radicals-in-favour- of-doing-very-little-at-all tendency: simply to pause, or halt, the bombing as they suggest—whether for the limited period of winter or for Ramadan, or perhaps, in the view of some people, such as my hon. Friend, for good—would merely allow the Taliban and Osama bin Laden to continue to prosper. They would see weakness, when in fact there is only determination on our part to weaken bin Laden and his organisation.
There are many things on which I could comment, but as I have only a limited time I shall raise a few concerns. As part of building the international coalition, we have lifted nuclear sanctions against India and Pakistan. I worry that we are perhaps stoking up some difficulties for ourselves, in that two nuclear powers could still be involved in a conflict over Kashmir a few years down the line.
I reiterate that I fail to understand why the poppy fields remain untouched and have not been included in the list of targets that we have identified. We should do all we can to end that grotesque industry, by providing agricultural support and investment so that the Afghans can grow decent crops that do not poison the people of their country or the wider world.
I wish to make another substantive point: some hon. Members have rightly concentrated on the terrible civilian deaths in Afghanistan, but I want to comment on the terrible civilian deaths in the middle east. The death of a civilian in Afghanistan is as tragic for the individual's family as is the death of a civilian in the west bank or in Tel Aviv, but I fail to comprehend those who advocate the view that the lack of a peace process in the middle east caused the actions of Osama bin Laden, or that the lack of meaningful dialogue produced Hamas.
Let us remember that when peace seemed most likely in the middle east, when Labour's Ehud Barak was in power, suicide bombings against Israeli civilians were a weekly occurrence and the attacks of
As the Prime Minister has said on his visits to the region, there is an urgent need to return to the Mitchell peace plan and for Israel to show all possible restraint, subject to its right to defend itself and its citizens and with the guarantee of security that it deserves. However, the Palestinians, along with the Syrians and the Iranians, should do more to rein in those terrorist organisations, whose guiding principle is not specific, but includes the very destruction of the state of Israel and the gross undermining, if not destroying, of the American way of life and American and European cultures.
In reining in the terrorists, the Palestinians deserve absolutely the right to statehood and a viable state, with defined borders. Anything else would be a recipe for insecurity, and the last thing that Israel and the Palestinians need is continued insecurity. The Palestinians also need economic prosperity, but that has not happened during the peace process. The poverty of the Palestinian population grew the longer the peace process continued, and we cannot tolerate that type of peace process.
In conclusion, it is high time to decouple any phoney connection between the actions of Osama bin Laden and the other terrorists with the lack of a peace process in the middle east. There should certainly be a solution to the problems of the middle east, but despite the events of
We are very glad to have this opportunity to debate international terrorism again. It has been very apparent this evening that, as the process evolves, we have fresh questions to ask, and it is important that we have the opportunity to do so. I particularly thank the Secretary of State for International Development for coming here yet again to debate the humanitarian aspects, especially as we understand that her Department is extremely busy now.
I have gained the impression this evening that two debates have been going on simultaneously—one on the rights and wrongs of the military action and the other on the effectiveness of humanitarian action—but the truth is that the two are inextricably linked. Our aim is to support the Government, and I am very glad that Mr. George, for one, was certainly clear about that in his speech. Of course, I sympathise with those who are asking for a pause in the bombing. That opinion was put with great passion—even epitomised—by Mr. Galloway.
No one likes war. No one unless there is something wrong with them, likes bombing people. No one likes to think that innocent people are being killed. To ask our service men to put their lives on the line, we must be clear about our aims.
Several hon. Members spoke of the nature of the threat that we face, the terror that has destroyed lives and compromised our normal way of life. Tonight on the wire comes news that anthrax has been found at an American embassy in Europe for the first time. The threat is present and on-going. The terror affects our ordinary daily lives. The President of the United States has had to go into hiding. We know the threat to have been very high in recent days. One of the fundamental questions is: do we want to go on living like this?
Several hon. Members—my hon. Friend Mr. Horam, Mr. Godsiff and Mr. Hancock—correctly defined the perpetrators as "evil", as an "extreme sect" and as having hijacked Islam. That is important, because it will differentiate the terrorists from their false claims. It is not a holy war; we must not let bin Laden take us into one.
The Taliban's behaviour towards its own country both before and after
"Removing the Taliban does not conflict with our humanitarian policy. It is the humanitarian policy".
Given all that, does the Secretary of State agree that the most significant humanitarian policy that the Government could adopt would be to rid Afghanistan of that brutal and oppressive regime, which has been the scourge of a country and a people for far too long?
Any war in any country will raise humanitarian questions. This war is certainly no exception. May I ask the Secretary of State about the news that 300,000 of the most vulnerable refugees have been allowed to enter Pakistan? We welcome that news, but has any similar progress been made in relation to opening the borders with Iran? What representations has her Department made to the Government of Iran regarding the refugees now gathering on the Iranian border? What extra help can her Department offer to deal with the real risk of political instability that that brings?
We welcome the news that some refugees will be allowed to cross the border into Pakistan, but unless care is taken that could exacerbate the problem. As I have said before, intermittent opening of the border causes people to mass at the Afghan border. What action is the international community taking to help those who have arrived on the border but cannot cross? Aid agencies report enormous difficulties helping refugees on the border owing to the presence of the Taliban themselves. How does the Secretary of State think we can best get aid to those people?
Does the hon. Lady agree that the United Nations should consider setting up a refugee zone inside Afghanistan, a safe haven that is protected from bombs, armaments and the Taliban and is provided with humanitarian aid? The people who wanted to get away from the difficulties could find a haven there.
I thank the hon. Gentleman. Of course, without the co-operation of the Taliban, it is particularly difficult to bring about anything within the Afghan borders.
The hon. Gentleman says "by force", but surely that is the point. I hope that he will concur with the Prime Minister that the removal of the Taliban is essential to the strategy.
Who will decide who is vulnerable enough to be allowed to cross the border? It has been reported that the Pakistani soldiers patrolling the border let through those who can pay, but not the widows and children who have no means of bribing them. Will the UN be able to monitor who can enter Pakistan?
The camp near Chaman is run by the Taliban. It was described by Ruud Lubbers as "like a prison". Are aid agencies allowed access to the camp? He also said that there were real fears that the camps would become training grounds for the Taliban. Are there any checks on refugee camps as potential recruiting grounds for the Taliban? Last winter, people throughout Afghanistan died of exposure in camps. I repeat the request of my hon. Friend Mr. Robathan that everything possible be done to raise conditions in the camps to internationally acceptable standards.
I appreciate that it is very difficult to know exactly what is going on inside Afghanistan, but can the Secretary of State tell us whether there have been any measures to improve relief and shelter for the 2 million internally displaced people this winter? So far, there has been no national appeal jointly organised by the aid agencies. Given the possible longer duration of the war in Afghanistan, will she endorse such a national appeal by the Disasters Emergency Committee to ensure that there is enough support to sustain the humanitarian effort in the longer term?
Last week, the Secretary of State said that only 10 per cent. of the aid pledged had actually come in. What is her assessment today of the likelihood and time scale of the pledges being fulfilled? In the International Development Committee this week, the aid agencies were asked how long a ceasefire would need to be to get enough aid in, but the answer is that it is already too late to get the past two months' supplies in, as well as enough stocks for the winter.
Great emphasis was laid on finding alternative means of bringing in aid. We welcome the news in today's press that DFID, with its Russian counterpart, has agreed a joint effort to deliver 9,000 metric tonnes of food in the north-east region. We understand that the programme is to be launched in the next two weeks, coinciding with the first snows. Can the Secretary of State assure us that the drivers will prioritise the areas most likely to be cut off by snow and not unload in more accessible areas?
In the International Development Committee on Tuesday, the point was made that there are gaps in the World Food Programme's aid, because staples are provided but not the complementary foods needed for babies, children, the sick and the elderly. Will the Secretary of State recognise those gaps and see what can be done to provide more appropriate food?
I hope that the Secretary of State will take these comments in the constructive spirit in which they are intended. The humanitarian situation unfolding before us could affect the whole course of the war. We face a terrorist threat that could cause great instability both here and in Afghanistan. These terrorists have no respect for our human rights and freedoms or those of the people of Afghanistan. We are not willing to allow them to compromise our way of life, and we should be equally determined to ensure that they no longer compromise the right to life in Afghanistan.
If we are to win the war—and I firmly believe that we owe it to the people of Afghanistan to win it for them—we must convince Afghans that the war is not against them. The people of Afghanistan could yet become our greatest allies in our bid to rid the country of the terrorists who have ruined it for too long. Let us do all that we can to build their trust.
This has been a good debate and most of the speeches have been extremely thoughtful and have addressed the real complexity of the situation facing us. It will be impossible for me to do justice to all the points that have been made, especially those relating to the humanitarian situation, and I shall be sure to write to the hon. Members to whom I am unable to respond tonight.
As I informed the House last week, the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan is dire. We cannot be sure that it will not get worse. We are succeeding in increasing supplies into Afghanistan, but the situation remains very worrying and very fragile.
No, not yet.
I shall come to the details of the present situation in a moment. Before doing so, I want to remind the House, the country, and especially my hon. Friends who are calling for a bombing pause, that the situation inside Afghanistan has been desperate, with terrible suffering resulting from endless war and misgovernment for very many years. For example, in 1998, the United Nations had to truck in 750,000 tonnes of wheat to keep starvation at bay. UN operations have been very difficult and harassed for very many years. The reality is that the Afghan people's plight has been desperate for a long time but until very recently too few people have been concerned about it.
As one of my hon. Friends said, a quarter of all the children in Afghanistan die before they reach the age of five. That is one of the worst figures in the world. Illiteracy was a major problem before the Taliban appeared, affecting 90 per cent. of girls and 60 per cent. of boys, and Taliban policies have worsened things terribly. Within three months of the capture of Kabul in 1996, the Taliban closed 63 schools in the city, throwing 103,000 girls out of school.
The Taliban also ordered that women could not teach. That meant 7,800 women teachers losing their jobs and 148,000 boys being thrown out of school. The Taliban also shut down Kabul university—it is not true that women were not educated in Afghanistan before the crisis—and that sent home 10,000 students, 4,000 of whom were women.
When the Taliban took Mazar-i-Sharif in 1998, a brutal and massive massacre followed, with thousands of corpses left littering the streets. There is continuing persecution of Shia and Sufi Muslims because the Taliban do not recognise Sufism or the Shia as legitimate traditions within Islam.
It is not true to suggest that there was not a terrible humanitarian and political crisis in Afghanistan before
These are just a few examples of the barbarism that the Taliban have inflicted on the people of Afghanistan. As Mrs. Spelman pointed out, we must be clear that the removal of the Taliban Government, which is necessary to secure our objective of bringing bin Laden to justice and closing down al-Qaeda's headquarters in Afghanistan, is also absolutely necessary if the people of Afghanistan are to have any hope for the future. Those objectives are not clashing; they are completely complementary.
Is my right hon. Friend not being disingenuous in accusing those of us who want there to be a pause in the bombing of being against all military action and of being naive enough to think that the terrible humanitarian situation will be relieved overnight? My position is that bombing is interfering with the delivery of relief. We cannot get any information from my right hon. Friend about its impact, but it must surely be having an impact. The priority now, and part of the campaign against terrorism, must be to get humanitarian relief delivered to the people of Afghanistan.
I have many faults, but being disingenuous is not one of them. Those who suggest that the only problem with humanitarian relief is the bombing are misleading themselves and misleading the country. They are not paying enough attention to the seriousness of the situation that we and that the people of Afghanistan face. I do not respect those who do not attend to the detail. I respect everyone's right to dissent—this is an enormously complex and difficult situation—but when people get up and pontificate, they really should do more work about the realities inside the country.
No, I will not.
The reality is that the needs of Afghanistan have been largely ignored, as a couple of Opposition Members have said, since the Soviet withdrawal in 1989. Since then, UN appeals have not been fulfilled. Warlords have devastated the country, and the brutal regime of the Taliban has made things ever worse. Afghanistan is suffering terribly. It has become like an economic black hole. It is causing intense suffering to its own people while sending out waves of insecurity and chaos to the surrounding region. The reliance of the ruined Afghan economy on the growing and sale of drugs has been undermining and corrupting neighbouring countries. It is an extremely dangerous situation for the people who live in the region and for the world as a whole.
Part of the nightmare—if we do not remain determined to succeed, it is one that we could face—that would result if we were to fail in our present efforts could be the destabilisation of Pakistan. Indeed, it could be the Talibanisation of Pakistan. We would then have a Taliban regime with a nuclear weapon facing another nuclear power with an unresolved problem over Kashmir. These matters are enormously serious.
I say to my colleagues and people outside the House—I am receiving thousands of letters, and thank heavens we live in a country where people are so troubled by the war and the bombing—that they are right to be troubled. War is always ugly. Bombing should always be regretted, but it is essential to the interests of the people of Afghanistan and of the world that we carry through our current efforts to success.
The reason why bin Laden and the Al-Qaeda network are headquartered in Afghanistan is the same reason why people are suffering so terribly. Afghanistan is a failed state. There is gross misgovernment by a brutal regime that twists and distorts all the teachings of Islam. We must bring the war to an end as soon as possible, and to achieve that we must do all that we can to support Ambassador Brahimi, who is leading the UN effort to bring together a transitional Afghan Government representative of all the people. That is the way in which the war will be brought to an end. That is the way in which the international community will be able to co-operate in bringing massive further humanitarian relief into the country and then helping in the rebuilding of Afghanistan.
I am in agreement with what my right hon. Friend says. However, has she heard the report on CNN today that cluster bombs are being dropped that are the same colour as the packaging of food parcels? Will she intervene so that that bombing is stopped at least until this matter is sorted out?
I am coming on to cluster bombs. I must confess that I try to avoid watching CNN. I will deal fully with the point raised by my hon. Friend and others when I made a statement on the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan.
Ambassador Brahimi's work is continuing intensively throughout the world, as is the preparation of plans for the rehabilitation of Afghanistan. The plans have not yet been published, but I agree that it is important that all who are troubled by the war know that we are deadly serious about sticking with this and helping the Afghan people to have a proper country and a decent future. Today I can announce that I am making available £1 million to Ambassador Brahimi to help facilitate his efforts.
We must ensure that food and other humanitarian relief is provided to the people of Afghanistan for as long as it is needed, and that refugees are properly cared for. I say to the hon. Member for Meriden that the numbers of refugees have been much fewer than we expected. The UN appeal expected 1.5 million. About 80,000 refugees have made their way across the borders. The borders are closed, and that is a problem. We are trying to get them open. We are giving commitments to the Governments of Iran and Pakistan that we shall ensure that all the costs are recovered to them. The problem is that they were both left with 2 million refugees after the withdrawal of the Russians from Afghanistan, so they do not entirely believe that. They are also worried about arms and Taliban supporters coming in with refugees and destabilising their countries.
We have to keep up the pressure and care for the refugees. At the same time, we must have some sympathy and concern for the worries of surrounding countries that fighters will cross the borders, as they have before, and bring about destabilisation.
No, I shall not do so for the minute. I am sorry; I shall give way later if I have time.
I can inform the House that food is getting into Afghanistan in larger quantities now than at any time since
No. I understand that my hon. Friend told the country that I was not saying what I meant. I resent that deeply. I would not dream of standing up and not saying what I mean about these matters. My hon. Friend should not have said such a thing.
The World Food Programme has increased deliveries and resumed them through the border at Chaman near Kandahar, where there are many displaced people. I am pleased to announce that the UK has agreed to contribute £600,000 to help fund a joint effort by the World Food Programme and the Russian Government to increase food deliveries from Tajikistan to north-east Afghanistan in the next few weeks. As a result of that effort, a further 9,000 tonnes of food will be delivered into Afghanistan in the next two months.
As I have said before, our information on food delivery inside Afghanistan is incomplete, partly because the Taliban will not allow humanitarian workers to use telephones. They do so under threat of losing their lives. So we cannot even get accurate reports about the situation inside the country. There have been more reports of looting and vandalising. The Taliban still have control of the World Food Programme warehouse in Kandahar and the 1,600 tonnes of food stored in it. Sadly, however, many tonnes of food were lost when the International Committee of the Red Cross warehouse in Kabul was bombed—something that we should all regret very much. There should be a very thorough inquiry into how that occurred.
As a result of all those difficulties, the World Food Programme has decided where possible to bypass its warehouses in urban areas and deliver food directly to rural areas and communities. That means that distribution is fanning out across the country and more deliveries are occurring in that way, which is highly desirable.
As I have said, I genuinely understand all the people who call in their letters for a pause in the bombing, as well as my hon. Friends who make such calls, because they feel emotionally that is unbearable to bomb a people that is hungry. The truth is, however, that a pause would simply incentivise the Taliban and other fighters to attack humanitarian convoys. It would make the situation worse and would not be a solution. We must restrict the bombing to military targets, be very careful in doing it and bring it to an end as soon as possible, but pausing for humanitarian purposes would be a grave error. Future supplies of food would become military targets in order to prevent the conflict from continuing. It would be an error of enormous proportions.
Liaison between the humanitarian effort and the military to ease the delivery of food has improved since the start of the conflict, but it could be much better. It is crucial that we learn the lessons of previous crises in Kosovo, Bosnia and East Timor. Those lessons must be put into effect so that the military can ensure that it minimises all possible obstacles to the humanitarian effort. We did that well in Kosovo, but it is not operating now as well as it could. It could be corrected and we must get on with that with great urgency. I have experts in this area in my Department. We are working very hard to improve matters and we must ensure that more is done.
On cluster bombs, I promised the House in response to questions asked last week and again today that I would find out all I could about their use. I understand that 200 such bombs have been used against five targets. One of those targets was a terrorist training camp, while the others were Taliban military positions. The cluster bombs used are armed with general-purpose bomblets designed for use against vehicles and buildings. They are designed to explode on impact. None of the cluster bombs dropped over Afghanistan contained delayed action minelets or land mines. Britain has signed the Ottawa convention—some of my hon. Friends can take pride in that—so no UK facility could be used if such bomblets were being used. That is an important contribution.
Despite the terrible difficulties that we are facing, more food is getting into Afghanistan and deliveries inside the country are continuing. However, the situation is fragile. Before
We must be intelligent and serious enough to pursue a number of objectives at the same time. We must be determined to bring bin Laden and his associates to justice and to close down the al-Qaeda network. That requires the replacement of the Taliban Government. At the same time, we must continue to truck in food and to provide for the refugees. We must unite the world around a plan for a replacement Government in Afghanistan who are representative of their people and want to co-operate with the international community.
Those objectives are difficult and complex, but they are do-able. Anything else is intolerable. Stopping the bombing and not taking action would result in more disasters like that at the World Trade Centre, and the people of Afghanistan would continue to suffer this abominable misgovernment that has brought them as low as they are today.
I shall now give way to my hon. Friend.
Has my right hon. Friend considered the viability of setting up United Nations runs and protected zones within Afghanistan for humanitarian aid to be delivered to people who would be protected from possible falling bombs?
Yes, indeed. In Islamabad, the representative of the UN special mission to Afghanistan said to me that we must have many different plans and enormous flexibility to be able to move forward, depending on how the situation develops on the ground. We hope that we will enable UN workers to return to parts of the country, so that trucking in food and humanitarian supplies will become easier in those areas—it will be areas rather than routes. It is difficult to negotiate with the Taliban to get any co-operation to bring in food. However, all such instruments will be tried.
As I said, my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South misled the country about my views without even talking to me, so I have no intention of giving way to him. [Interruption.]
It is important that the talk of a war against terrorism be tempered by our explanations to the British people of our strategy to deal with this crisis. [Interruption.]
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Lady. This important debate is coming to a climax, and the Secretary of State should be heard in greater silence.
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
The al-Qaeda network exists in 60 different countries, and its headquarters are in Afghanistan. We must bring different measures into play at the same time, one of which is the sharing of intelligence and information so that people responsible for co-operating with the network can be arrested and brought to justice, and the network dismantled. We must take much firmer action on money laundering. There is a big link between drug dealing and money laundering, which enables the network to function. Co-operation on action against money laundering can begin to dismantle the network.
We need military action in order to weaken the Taliban's military forces so that al-Qaeda cannot continue to operate in Afghanistan. We need to maintain our humanitarian effort to keep the people of Afghanistan fed. We must co-operate with the United Nations in preparing the ground for a new Afghanistan. Alongside that, we are working with the Governments of Iran and, most particularly, Pakistan so that they are not destabilised by our current activities.
My right hon. Friend has rightly pointed out the dreadful position facing women in Afghanistan. As we prepare for the future in Afghanistan, what can her Department do to ensure that women have a stronger voice in the future?
People sometimes talk as if the treatment of women and girls in Taliban cities such as Kandahar is an example of the traditional treatment and education of Afghan women. That is wrong. Herat, for example, is an ancient and civilised city. It is a centre of learning and education. It is 5,000 years old and is talked of as a great city in the history of the world. There have been many great women at the university there—scholars, architects and so on. Many of the educated women have now left Afghanistan as refugees, but we must lay the plans for the new inclusive transitional Government that will enable the educated people of Afghanistan to return and help in the restoration of their country. Restoring the right to education for girls and boys is crucial.
A couple of weeks ago, I visited the North-West Frontier province, where there is a great deal of movement across the border with Pakistan. The education Minister there told me that the answer to backwardness and extremism is the education of girls. On behalf of our Government I undertook to work with the Government in the North-West Frontier province to ensure that, as rapidly as possible, boys and girls are educated. We must ensure that the full wonderful glory and civilisation of Islam is properly honoured by us, across the world and in Afghanistan. There is no teaching in Islam that says that girls should not be educated or that educated women should not be respected. That is a complete distortion, and bringing it to an end will be a priority for all of us as we create a new Afghanistan.
These are enormously serious and sombre times. As has been said, this is probably one of the most complex military and humanitarian disasters that the world has seen in recent years, if not ever. We must hold to our resolve and be determined to succeed. Success is possible, but very—