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.