I am delighted that we are at last having a debate on the situation in Afghanistan and the deployment of British troops there. It does not reflect well on Parliament, our parliamentary structures or our democracy that the vote at 6 o'clock will be the first substantive vote by Members of Parliament on whether British troops ought to be deployed in Afghanistan. It does not do much for the role of Parliament that there has been insufficient scrutiny of this endeavour other than the quite correct memorials that have been read out to those soldiers who have tragically lost their lives in this conflict.
In preparation for this debate, I had a look at Hansard from 2001. During the relevant 2001 debate, the then Secretary of State for Defence, Geoffrey Hoon, said that he would set out the aims of the mission. He said:
"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."-[ Hansard, 1 November 2001; Vol. 373, c. 1014.]
He went on to say that other aims included capturing Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar. Well, the campaign has not been particularly successful on either the latter two aims or the earlier part.
At the end of that debate, the then Member for Linlithgow, Tam Dalyell, asked for a vote on a procedural motion and 13 Members voted against the proposal. There were four tellers, all of whom were against-one of them was my hon. and good Friend John McDonnell, who was, bizarrely, a teller for the other side-to ensure that a vote was recorded in the House on that occasion. It does not look good if a country and a democracy is so determined to go to war but those who are prosecuting the war do not want a vote in the House on the matter. I hope that those who support the war tonight will put up tellers to ensure that those of us who do not support either the amendment moved by Dr Lewis or the substantive question are able to record our votes against it on behalf, we believe, of large numbers of people in our constituencies and in the wider country.
The war came about after 9/11, which was obviously appalling, awful and wrong. Whichever way one looks at 9/11, there was nothing right about it-it was dreadful-but was it right, sensible or intelligent of the then President Bush to respond by leading us into a war in Afghanistan that has now lasted for almost twice as long as the second world war or the first world war? We are moving into the 10th year of the conflict in Afghanistan, and although President Obama talks about coming out within two or three years, I have a feeling that if the military is allowed to have its way we will still be there in five years' time or perhaps for even longer than that. The strategy does not seem to involve anything other than continuing the occupation of that country.
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