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I thank the Prime Minister for his statement and join him in strongly endorsing the sentiments expressed yesterday by President Obama. The Opposition wholeheartedly support the action taken by the United States to bring Osama bin Laden to justice. We are grateful to President Obama for taking the decision and to the US special forces who carried it out.
At this time we remember the harrowing scenes of death and destruction of 9/11, and we remember, too, all the other atrocities carried out by al-Qaeda before 9/11 and since, including in Nairobi, Dar es Salaam, Bali, Istanbul, Madrid, Amman and, of course, the 7/7 bombings here in London. The world is a better and safer place without bin Laden commanding or inciting acts of terror. We should never fall for the idea that he somehow stood for a particular community or faith. In each case the objective was the same: to kill and maim as many innocent men, women and children as possible, of all faiths and all backgrounds.
Our response now must be to seek to use this moment, not to claim premature victory in the fight against terrorists, but to heal the divisions he sought to create. We should do that by rooting out the perpetrators of terror, by reaching out to all those willing to accept the path of peace and, at the same time, by ensuring continued vigilance here at home.
All parts of the House will welcome the co-operative and calm response of the Pakistani Government over the past 48 hours, but there remains a great deal of uncertainty about who was aware of bin Laden’s presence and location in Pakistan, especially given his proximity to Pakistani military bases. Pakistan’s leaders continue to take a brave stance against terrorism, but when the Prime Minister talked to President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani, what discussions did he have about ensuring that the security apparatus in Pakistan fully supports their anti-terrorist efforts?
The developments of this weekend remind us why we took military action in Afghanistan, which under the Taliban gave shelter to bin Laden and to al-Qaeda, but those developments should also, as the Prime Minister said, reinforce the need for a lasting political settlement in Afghanistan as the only long-term guarantee of peace and security. Does the Prime Minister agree that we need greater urgency in the search for a political solution and to engage with those parts of the Taliban that are ready to renounce violence? Does he think that there are ways in which we can sharpen the choice facing the Taliban, including by deepening the political process in Afghanistan?
On Yemen and al-Qaeda’s remaining strongholds, we must do everything to combat terrorism and to increase pressure on their supporters, and we must also support movements that make it less likely that terrorism will take root, for is it not clear that the most effective long-term answer to al-Qaeda’s ideology of hatred is being provided by the peoples of north Africa and the middle east? During the Arab spring they have not been turning to an ideology of hate; they are demanding the right to control their own destinies with democratic reform and economic progress.
In that context, will the Prime Minister update the House on progress that has been made in consolidating the democratic gains in Egypt and Tunisia? What is being done not only to ensure that those Arab leaders who have promised reform stick to their commitments, but to force those still resorting to violence and repression, as in Syria, to stop doing so?
On Libya, it is clear that we cannot abandon the Libyan people to Colonel Gaddafi’s revenge, but will the Prime Minister also take this opportunity to reassure the House that, in all our words as well as actions, it will be clear that all the steps we take are in the terms of UN Security Council resolution 1973? Does he further agree that doing so is right in principle and essential to maintaining regional support for action to enforce the will of the Security Council?
On Israel-Palestine, does the Prime Minister agree that the reaction of Hamas, calling the killing of bin Laden an example of American oppression, is deeply regrettable? Does he agree that we should continue to make efforts to restart the middle east peace process? What discussions has he had with President Obama and the other leaders on that important area?
Finally, I support the Prime Minister’s call for UK citizens to show increased vigilance at this time. Al-Qaeda has suffered a serious blow, but it remains a threat. Can I also take this opportunity to offer my thanks and the thanks of the Opposition to the police and security services, which work tirelessly in public and behind the scenes to keep us safe, as well as to British forces throughout the world?
Above all, let me say this: 9/11 was one of the most horrific events of our generation, and for the victims and their families, including in this country, nothing can remove the pain that they feel, but the death of Osama bin Laden sends out a clear message that, in the face of terrorist acts, the world will not rest until justice is done.