§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Jim Fitzpatrick.]3.38 pm
§ The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw)
This is the fourth time since 11 September that the House has had the opportunity to debate the international community's response to the threat of global terrorism. It is right that that should be so; whenever the country and the world face as grave a threat as they do now, the House should more than ever exercise its two central roles as the voice of the nation and as the means by which the Executive are held to account.
In the three prime ministerial statements and the three debates so far, there has rightly been much questioning of the decisions taken by Government, but the proceedings as a whole have been characterised by the widespread bipartisan support for our comprehensive approach. The breadth of that support has been a great source of strength to the country, those of us with responsibility for government and, above all, our armed forces. We in the House may sometimes put our reputations on the line in pursuit of a policy; those in our Army, Navy and Air Force put their lives on the line. They do it readily, they accept orders. They are the finest forces in the world, but the fact that the whole nation is backing them in their endeavours is hugely important to them and their families.
The last statement and debate in the House took place on Monday last week, which was 8 October. The military action had commenced the night before. It has continued for the past nine days. Cruise missiles were launched from a Royal Navy submarine on the first night and again on 13 October. We have continued to be involved in the military action through the provision of refuelling and reconnaissance aircraft and the use of our facilities at Diego Garcia. Our best assessment of the strikes so far is that we have severely damaged elements of the Taliban regime's military capability. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence will say more about that later.
However, few conflicts are resolved by military action in a matter of days. This was never going to be one of them. As both President Bush and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made clear from the outset, the terrain, weather and complexity of the targets mean that we can expect no early conclusion to this campaign. It will take months, not days or weeks. During this period, again as the President and Prime Minister have underlined, we will be considering a range of military options.
§ Mr. John Taylor (Solihull)
Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise, in the course of his coalition building, any limits to the maxim, "My enemy's enemy is my friend"?
§ Mr. Straw
I do not believe that that maxim is particularly appropriate in the current circumstances. I understand the implications of the hon. Gentleman's 1054 question, but we are being careful, especially in respect of military coalitions, to ensure that we are dealing with our friends' friends.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
Can the House be clear about the exact and precise objective of continued bombing after nine days?
§ Mr. Straw
Yes. If my hon. Friend will wait 30 seconds, he will hear me refer to a document—I am placing it in the Library—that sets out in detail our campaign objectives.
The strategy is clear. It is to ensure that the terrorism that the world saw on 11 September and the capacity to deliver it in future are eliminated. For the benefit of hon. Members, my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Defence and I are, as I said, today publishing a document that sets out in detail the campaign objectives. In short, acting in self-defence, our aims are to dismantle the terrorists' network; to break the power of those who harbour the terrorists; and to end the threat to security at home. We will achieve those aims by a combination of military, political and humanitarian means.
The military action has been carefully calibrated and every effort has been made to ensure that it is proportionate to the task and within our obligations in international law. All of us in the Government, the House and our armed services would have wished for a different path to the resolution of this terrorist threat. A peaceful and achievable path was laid out very clearly by the President of the United States and our Prime Minister from an early date: an ultimatum to the Taliban regime to hand over Osama bin Laden and his associates and to close down the al-Qaeda network and terrorist camps, and enable us to verify that. That cannot be emphasised frequently enough, and neither can the response of the Taliban. This is a regime that, for years, has ignored international standards of human rights, fairness and respect for innocent life. Then the same people, the Taliban, for whom justice for others means show trials or no trials, brutal imprisonment and summary execution, suddenly demanded the evidence against bin Laden.
As the House knows, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister published the evidence. It was incontrovertible, but just as conclusive the have been the damning admissions from the mouths of bin Laden and his associates themselves. How else are we to take their hollow warnings, which have been broadcast on television, that Muslimsshould avoid tall buildings and travelling in planes"?Bin Laden has killed before; his victims included many Muslims. As his warning shows, he will kill again if left to himself.
§ Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)
I take it that the document that the Foreign Secretary is placing in the Library is entitled "Defeating International Terrorism: Campaign Objectives." The Prime Minister's press secretary briefed the press about it last Thursday afternoon. Given the huge interest of hon. Members and the wider public, especially in the extent of the military aspect of the campaign, is there any reason for the delay of five days before placing the document in the Library?
§ Mr. Straw
No. It should have been placed there earlier. I am now rectifying the error.
1055 When military action is taken, some say that it is neither necessary nor proportionate and that there is another way. The response of those who hold an alternative view is that we should follow the example of Milosevic and take bin Laden to an international court. My answer is yes; let us follow the example of Milosevic, who now awaits trial before an international court. However, he stands trial not as an alternative to military action but because we took such action.
Milosevic engaged in repression on a massive, brutal scale against tens of thousands of men and women who happened to be Muslims. Like bin Laden, Milosevic was not open to negotiation, pleas of common humanity or United Nations injunctions. He believed that he was impregnable. If the world had not followed the decisive lead of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and agreed to military action, including 78 days of continuous bombing, Milosevic would still be in power, there would be no trial and many tens of thousands of Kosovo Muslims would be dead or living in abject deprivation.
If we will the end, we are obliged to will the means. Bin Laden, like Milosevic and other tyrants before them, has forced us to will the only effective means that we can: targeted, proportionate military action. Without war in the Balkans in the 1990s, we could not have established peace with justice and security there. Again, there will be no peace, justice or security for the people of Afghanistan or the world unless we take military action against the terrorist threat.
There is only one caveat to my comparison with Milosevic. The tribunal for former Yugoslavia, where he faces trial, was established to try cases that no states are able or willing to try in their courts. In the case of bin Laden and the al-Qaeda network, there is a state: the United States of America. Bin Laden committed crimes of mass murder against the USA and its people. He should therefore be tried under US law if he becomes available for trial.
The House must face the reality that bin Laden and his associates will not deliver themselves up. Those who call for him to go on trial are not so much whistling in the wind as evading the clearest and only choice: to indulge and appease bin Laden by doing nothing or to defeat his evil by taking effective military action within a comprehensive political strategy. I know of no other choice.
§ Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews (Medway)
We are repeatedly and rightly told that the events of 11 September constituted a crime against civilisation and the international community. Does the Foreign Secretary not agree that there are enormous advantages to setting up an international court now to draw the indictment and subsequently to try bin Laden in his absence or in his presence, and for it to represent international jurisprudence and include one or two Islamic judges? We could thus send the international community the clearest message that we regard the matter as an international crime to be tried internationally.
§ Mr. Straw
My hon. and learned Friend must face a fact that the House has faced and accepted: the choice is not that easy. I am afraid he must just get used to that brutal truth. There is to be an international criminal court; it is being established; we are in the vanguard of ratifying 1056 the treaty. The arrangements will not come into force until 60 nations have ratified the treaty. In any event—as my hon. and learned Friend will know, given his legal learning—under its statutes, the ICC has no retrospective jurisdiction. So no such tribunal exists, or is likely to exist, to try bin Laden. The sooner my hon. and learned Friend, and the few Members who share his view, accept that we are not seeking to evade the clear choice that lies before us, the better: there is no evading that choice.
As my hon. and learned Friend knows, international criminal courts are not a substitute for national jurisdictions, and never have been. They are there to take action against individuals who have committed crimes for which a relevant national jurisdiction will not take action itself. That simply does not apply in this case, or in hundreds of others that we could think of.
When we were faced with terrorist outrages, deaths and conspiracies at the hands of the Provisional IRA, we in the House did not say that we should hand these people over to an international criminal court; we said that we should deal with them here, because their crimes were being committed here. These murders—these acts of mass murder—were committed in the United States, on the terrain of the United States, against the law of the United States. Were bin Laden to offer himself up, it is there, according to the law of the United States, that he should meet his trial.
§ David Winnick (Walsall, North)
In view of the charge made against the international community—particularly the United States and Britain—that we are engaged in an anti-Islamic conspiracy and aggression, what justification was there for taking military action in Kosovo? Is it not the case that many, though not all, of those who oppose what is being done now were vehemently opposed to military action in Kosovo? Had that action not been taken, Milosevic would still be in power.
§ Mr. Straw
My hon. Friend has a good and a long memory, and he is entirely correct. I, too, remember sitting here when that military action was taken. I also remember not just that people said we should not take military action in Kosovo to protect the Muslim community there, but that when the action was taking place, my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary and my noble Friend Lord Robertson—then Secretary of State for Defence—were told repeatedly, day after day, that it would not work to dislodge Milosevic or to ensure the establishment of a different regime. That was what was said, and those who said it were wrong.
§ Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North and Sefton, East)
The high-level talks that took place yesterday between my right hon. Friend, our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and Chairman Arafat were welcome and significant. On a slightly different subject, however, will my right hon. Friend tell us whether the role played by Afghanistan in the supply and distribution of heroin throughout the world in the recent past is covered in the documents that he intends to publish today, and whether it will figure—as I hope it will—in any long-term solution? Will it be recognised that we need to tackle this evil trade?
§ Mr. Straw
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his opening remarks. I shall deal more widely with the middle 1057 east peace process towards the end of my speech, but yesterday's series of meetings with President Arafat of the Palestinian Authority was important.
Yes, one of the many evils perpetrated by the Taliban regime is its sponsorship of the heroin trade, which accounts for 70 per cent. of all heroin produced in the world and for 90 per cent. of heroin on the streets here. It is a state-sponsored trade: the Taliban tax those who produce the heroin to make money for themselves.
§ Mr. Campbell
When considering the question of jurisdiction, will the Foreign Secretary bear it in mind that after a terrorist atrocity had been committed over Lockerbie we insisted that, although the procedures and form of the court might have been changed, the case should be tried under Scottish jurisdiction?
§ Mr. Straw
The right hon. and learned Gentleman makes an acute point, reinforcing the point that I was making, that democratic states have not only a right but a duty to try people for crimes committed on their territory against either their citizens or those who happen to he there, as with the victims from 60 or so other nations who just happened to be present in the World Trade Centre on the day of the atrocities on 11 September.
I know of no other set of choices lying between appeasement and military action. I have listened carefully to those who have suggested that there is some other way, and I understand why people are uncomfortable about military action—we all are—but I do not understand why, faced with the stark reality of either appeasing the Taliban and allowing them to continue to harbour terrorism, thus wholly thwarting our purpose, or taking military action, they keep dodging those choices.
The international community has not dodged the choices, any more than, happily, have the vast majority of people in this country. Canada, New Zealand, Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Portugal have all offered direct military support to the United States, in addition of course to that being provided by the United Kingdom.
The 15 countries of the European Union and the 19 members of NATO have all endorsed military action. As the House knows, historically, for the first time, NATO invoked article 5 of its charter. The United Nations Security Council, in an unanimous resolution on 12 September, expressed its readiness to take "all necessary steps" to defeat this terrorism. The action that is being taken is fully consistent with article 51 of the UN charter.
We are making every effort to avoid civilian casualties in the present conflict by rigorously targeting military and terrorist assets only. We cannot always avoid them, but we are making every effort to do so. There is no moral equivalence between us and our enemy: the terrorists seek to maximise civilian casualties; we seek to minimise them. They want to destroy society in Afghanistan; we want to rebuild it.
§ Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak)
I remind my right hon. Friend that those who are directly responsible 1058 for the atrocities in the United States are all dead. Those who are being pursued are in other countries, and they are responsible for atrocities in other UN states—in Africa, for example—and are clearly intent on terrorising the whole world. Is it not therefore appropriate to set up an international court to try those people and bring them to justice?
§ Mr. Straw
I tried to deal with that point a moment ago. There is only one proposal for an international criminal court, and it is currently awaiting ratification. We cannot magic an international criminal court out of nothing. It will be established in due course. We are among the first to ratify it, but it will not have retrospective jurisdiction, so it could not cover the atrocities of 11 September.
I repeat that it is not only the right but the duty of democratic states to try people for crimes committed in their territory. Had the atrocities occurred in London, Edinburgh, Belfast or Cardiff, rather than the United States, the situation would be exactly the same. Some of those involved in the atrocities are now dead, but many of those who were more widely involved in conspiring and directing the operations are not. Had the crime occurred in this country, the fact that those people are currently in other territories would not in the least have prevented any United Kingdom jurisdiction from seeking their transfer to meet justice here.
Bin Laden and his associates have had every opportunity to give themselves up. They are not going to do so. This is a side issue, a red herring, a way of avoiding a stark political and moral choice that we have to take.
§ Mr. Hilton Dawson (Lancaster and Wyre)
In accepting the utter necessity of targeted military intervention at this time, may I ask my right hon. Friend to assure me that all partners in the coalition are giving every possible assistance to humanitarian agencies and efforts to assist the people of Afghanistan?
§ Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove)
The Foreign Secretary pointed out, rightly, that a broad range of countries in the coalition are in favour of the action and have offered support. However, there has been some sniping in the media that, so far, this has seemed like a largely American-based operation, with relatively minimal support from other countries; support has come from the UK only. Can the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that at some time in the future, troops or military aid will be given by other countries so that the coalition looks like a coalition and not like a covert American action under the guise of an international coalition?
§ Mr. Straw
The coalition is an international coalition. We have provided active military involvement from the beginning of the operations. France is now providing military support, while other countries within NATO have offered it. The United States President is grateful for those offers and endorses the position of those countries as members of the military coalition. The extent to which those offers are accepted depends on military decisions 1059 made by the President of the United States. Where they have not been acted on so far, it is not out of a lack of appreciation of the generosity involved but because of the practical ramifications for the time being of the offer.
To pick up on the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson), the people of Afghanistan have suffered for years from conflict and civil war, often fuelled by the outside world, which has not done nearly enough to help them. The nexus formed by the Taliban regime and the al-Qaeda organisation is only one of a long line of calamities to befall the people of that country. Bur it should be perfectly clear that we cannot give the people of Afghanistan all the help that they need until the influence of the terrorists is broken.
For years, the international community has tried to deal with the humanitarian crisis. For years, the Taliban regime has been obstructing these efforts. Even now, the Taliban regime is impeding the delivery of humanitarian aid and, astonishingly, trying to tax the food convoys that do get into Afghanistan. That is how much it cares for its people.
We are working with the other donors to relieve the suffering. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development has pledged a further £15 million, on top of the £25 million pledged since 11 September and the £32 million that we have committed to the Afghan crisis since 1997. But only a broad humanitarian coalition can feed and shelter the millions of Afghans who are homeless this winter and who, in most cases, were displaced from their homes long before 11 September.
The appointment of Lakhdar Brahimi, a distinguished international diplomat and statesman, to have overarching authority over these life-saving operations at the United Nations is the clearest possible signal of the importance that we attach to the humanitarian coalition. When my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I saw Ambassador Brahimi last week, we assured him of our wholehearted commitment to his task.
Relief is the most urgent task, but Ambassador Brahimi has also been given a political responsibility for the longer-term reconstruction of Afghanistan. This, too, is vital to our long-term security and to the fight against terrorism. Even before we embarked on this fight against terrorism, following the 11 September atrocities, Britain was taking a leading role in shaping international thinking on the long-term future of Afghanistan.
Before 11 September, Britain was working with other concerned members of the international community on a vision for the future at, for example, the conference that the UK organised at the request of the UN at Weston Park, a Foreign Office conference centre in Staffordshire, in July. The conference involved representatives from 20 of the nations with the greatest interest in the future of Afghanistan.
In the weeks since the atrocities in the United States, we have worked towards a shared vision with the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and the regional nations involved. Tomorrow, when I attend the European Union General Affairs Council meeting in Luxembourg, I shall share those ideas with my fellow Foreign Ministers—as well as in a speech in London next week. A senior Foreign Office official, Robert Cooper, has been appointed to develop our 1060 thinking on the future of Afghanistan and to work with the UN and our international partners on building a consensus on the way forward as the situation develops.
§ Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)
I have a simple point to put to my right hon. Friend, who will be aware of the deep unease in the British population, who know that one does not on the whole deal with terrorism by mass intervention at state level. That action is important and, indeed, there has been no criticism of it as an initial response. The British people will support the intervention as long as it is short and clearly defensible and if they can see an end to it. Before British ground troops are committed to difficult terrain without a clear view of what they are expected to do and what responses they might meet, will my right hon. Friend assure us that he will come back to Parliament and straightforwardly explain to us exactly what the British people will have to accept?
§ Mr. Straw
The British people will support action that is clearly defensible, as they have done so far. I hope that nobody in the United Kingdom believes that the campaign will be short, because no one has suggested that it can be anything but difficult and long. As I said earlier, the campaign cannot he short.
On the issue of ground troops, I assure my hon. Friend that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and the Chief of the Defence Staff have as their principal concern the safety of our forces in all circumstances, recognising the risks that they take. We can never give details of the disposition of our forces in advance, for reasons that are clear and obvious, but I hope that my hon. Friend will accept that ever since the action started, the Government have made every endeavour to come to the House to be held to account for actions that have been taken and to take account of the views of the House, as is our duty. We will continue to do that throughout the campaign.
§ Clive Efford (Eltham)
The military action is bound to impede the delivery of aid to those people caught in the humanitarian crisis that is mounting in Afghanistan. How effective has the aid that we have attempted to deliver been? That issue will certainly have an impact on the coalition and how well it holds together, because everyone is concerned about the impact of the action on the people of Afghanistan.
§ Mr. Straw
I have already given figures for how much money has been made available by the United Kingdom, which has been matched by money from other sources. There is no problem finding the money to pay for aid to Afghanistan: the problem arises in getting the aid through. That problem has been caused by the Taliban and not principally by the military action. A regime that taxes trucks as they cross the border has no care for the hunger or deprivation of its inhabitants. We are working as hard as we can to get the humanitarian aid through, but as far as I know no approach has been made by the Taliban to provide safe routes for it. Most of the people who are currently starving were starving and in poverty and desperate need before 11 September, and many of them had fled across the border before that date.
§ Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome)
The Government have taken great care to ensure that the 1061 coalition does not appear to be the air force of the Northern Alliance, and that is right. In the event of the Taliban Government collapsing, can the Foreign Secretary give an assurance that the United Kingdom would not recognise an alternative Afghan Government that comprised principally Tajik and Uzbek elements and did not include the majority Pashtun population of Afghanistan, because that could not be stable?
§ Mr. Straw
No. I have to make progress.
The world agrees that any future regime in Afghanistan should be broad based and representative of the great diversity of the country's ethnic groupings. The domination of Mullah Omar's faction and the groupings that produced it cannot simply be replaced by another narrow faction, because no regime will be sustainable unless it commands broad consent among those whom it governs.
We have a common objective with the Afghan people—achieving a stable, durable, representative regime that is committed to eradicating terrorism and to enjoying mature relations with its neighbours, and with which we can work on the humanitarian crisis, the drugs trade, human rights and longer-term economic and social development.
In all that, the United Nations will play a key role. I am sure that the whole House will join me in paying a warm tribute to the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, and his organisation, as worthy winners of the Nobel peace prize. In Afghanistan, they will have yet another opportunity to demonstrate their value to the world. Only the United Nations has the global reach, the instruments and the expertise to help the Afghan people establish the conditions for successful government in Afghanistan. Our task is to make sure that it also has the resources and the political will to make that happen.
Thirty years of war and five years of not existing as a functioning state at all have left Afghanistan with few serviceable institutions. So, as I have said a number of times already this afternoon, we must be prepared for a lengthy commitment. However, no one should be in any doubt about our will to build a better world for the children of Afghanistan. We will not turn our backs on them again.
§ Ms Oona King (Bethnal Green and Bow)
I support the action that the Government and the alliance have taken, but I am deeply concerned about how targeted our action is. Reports have just come in that a bomb has hit a Red Cross warehouse containing humanitarian supplies. Can my right hon. Friend give us any assurances that we will be better able to target the strikes that we are undertaking?
§ Mr. Straw
We all share my hon. Friend's concern about the need for accuracy in targeting. I can tell her, because I have witnessed the process, that a huge amount 1062 of care is being taken by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, by those who advise him and provide us with legal advice, and by those who do the same in the United States, to ensure that the targeting is on military and terrorist assets and not on civilian targets. I emphasise that, so far as is possible, civilian casualties and deaths are being avoided. We have had to say from the outset—I am afraid to say that this is a dismal truth of war—that one cannot avoid civilian deaths and casualties altogether when military action is being undertaken, but happily the numbers so far have been low.
I, too, have heard the reports that an International Red Cross centre may have been hit. I understand from a further ICRC report that one person has been injured—the only report of injury or death so far—and that no food or medicine was contained in that depot.
§ Mr. Straw
I am afraid that I must make progress. I have to make two more sets of remarks before I allow others to speak.
The broader objective of our campaign is to eliminate terrorism as a force in international affairs. That involves strengthening domestic legislation and international co-operation against terrorists and their funds. It will involve sustained pressure on those states that aid and abet terrorism. My right hon. Friends the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Home Secretary gave the House details of their proposals yesterday.
United Nations Security Council resolution 1373 is the centrepiece of those global efforts. It represents a significant crackdown on those who fund and provide safe havens for terrorists. Britain, as chair of the Security Council committee that oversees the implementation of resolution 1373, will be playing a key role in its success. We are now supported by the broadest possible range of countries—east and west, north and south, Muslim and non-Muslim—in our endeavours.
The Organisation of the Islamic Conference, the most widely representative of the organisations in the Arab and Muslim world, has, in a constructive and helpful statement, reaffirmed its condemnation of the terrorist attacks, and acknowledged the need to take action against the perpetrators.
As so many people of the Muslim faith have said, we are not at war with Islam. Nor are we seeking a clash of civilisations. Islam is part of our civilisation, and Muslims are part of our communities, and a part of what was attacked on 11 September.
Bin Laden seeks to turn the Islamic world against the west. We are, as the whole world is, determined not to let him succeed. The terrorists are the enemies of Islam, just as they are the enemies of everyone everywhere else.
§ Mr. Straw
I apologise for not doing so, but I must make progress.
1063 We all suffer from the threat of terrorism, and we all have an interest in removing it. The Government and people of Pakistan recognise this overwhelmingly. I praise their courage, and the courage of President Musharraf, in taking a firm stand against terror and supporting this military action.
To pick up a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth), we have to resolve the conflicts that terrorists exploit for their own ends. At a time when the rest of the world is coming together in the fight against terrorism, the fighting has, sadly, continued in parts of the middle east. Our efforts to secure a just, lasting and comprehensive settlement in that region are therefore more important than ever.
§ Mr. Straw
I am sorry, I must make progress.
Those efforts were important before 11 September as well. The Mitchell plan has been on the table for months. Resolving the middle east peace process has been a top priority for this country, the United States and the European Union since long before that.
Yesterday the Prime Minister and I discussed the way forward with President Yasser Arafat of the Palestinian Authority. Peace between Israel and the Palestinians will come only through a political process that implements "land for peace", delivers security for Israel within recognised borders, brings an end to occupation and leads to a viable, democratic and peaceful Palestinian state. It is time the political will existed on both sides to turn that into a reality, and it is time the men of violence had the wisdom to recognise that a concession which helps secure a lasting peace for the children of the region is not a concession at all but an immense gain.
We all want peace, but sometimes there can be no peace until we have fought for it. I understand—indeed, I share—the fears that military action evokes, but the action that we are taking with our allies is designed to make the world safer, not more dangerous. By far the greater danger would lie in leaving the threat of terrorism unchallenged.
Military action is essential to avert terrorist attacks, but it is not the only part of the fight against terrorism. Terrorism thrives best where conflict, poverty, racism and exploitation have brought about the collapse of government and of civil society. The surest way of defeating these evils is to build a more inclusive world, where the cries of the children of Afghanistan, of Sierra Leone, of Kosovo and of the middle east do not go unheard.
Because it is inspired by this vision, the coalition today is stronger and more focused than ever. It has united countries which once found it hard to see any community of interest.
We are neither deterred nor dismayed by the continuing threat of the terrorists, because we know that we are building a better, safer world, where freedom from fear may at last become a reality for all
§ Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes)
I very much welcome today's debate and I thank the Foreign Secretary for his speech. Once again, in these rather strange circumstances, I find myself in agreement with most of it.
1064 It is more than a week since the House last had the chance to consider and deliberate on the events in Afghanistan and their impact on, and implications for, the wider international community. In the past nine days, a large amount of explosive has been dropped on specific targets in Afghanistan. We are told that it has achieved a significant "degrading" of the terrorist facilities of al-Qaeda and of the Taliban Government and their internal communications.
The targeted softening up of the capabilities of the terrorists and their sponsors must be the first phase of the fight to bring them to book. Today, we are told—perhaps we will be told more later—that the airborne assault has become even more targeted.
The Foreign Secretary has set out the reasons behind the present offensive, which we support, but in reporting events there is an innate danger against which we must guard. Constant televised images of smart bombs and pinpoint destruction can give the impression of some distant and disassociated war game in which human life and limb are not involved. Dramatic pictures of bombed ruins claimed by the Taliban to be scenes of mass civilian casualties conversely convey the appearance of indiscriminate attacks on innocent victims.
As so often at times of conflict, the reality lies somewhere in between. It is important that Members deal with the realities and not the distorted images. The grim but inevitable realities and the consequences of any military conflict are that people will get hurt. An even grimmer but no less avoidable reality is that civilian casualties and deaths will occur, however intense the efforts to avoid them. In the attacks of the past week, every attempt has been made to avoid innocent or non-military victims but, as so often is the case in battle, it does not always work. Sometimes when we say that, however, we are accused of callousness or cynicism.
We must never diminish the value or importance of any innocent life lost or any innocent victim injured. We must ensure that everything viable is done to avoid that. At the same time, we must never pretend that such tragic events can be completely prevented. We must always feel enormous grief at civilian casualties and deaths, but at the same time we cannot be deterred from doing what is right. As the Secretary of State pointed out today, the objectives are clear and they justify what is happening.
The right hon. Gentleman also mentioned our armed forces, and we join in the tributes that he paid to them. They and their families are very much in our thoughts and prayers at this time.
§ Mr. Dalyell
The right hon. Gentleman asserts that the objectives of bombing are so clear. Could the House hear from him exactly what they are?
§ Mr. Ancram
I am coming to that part of my speech, so I will deal with that matter directly if the hon. Gentleman will allow me a moment.
It is important that every time we debate these issues we remind ourselves of the objectives. I have only just seen the document that the Foreign Secretary laid in the Library. I regret that the House did not get earlier sight of it, as it might have informed this debate. In my brief and hurried reading I discovered that it outlines the objectives at greater length than I intended to do on behalf of the Conservative party.
1065 I believe that the objectives are, first, to bring Osama bin Laden to justice and to destroy his al-Qaeda organisation. The second is the longer term but equally essential eradication of international terrorism and the very real threats implicit in it. The third is to enable the people of Afghanistan to regain their rights and to live in peace, not least by a determined effort to free them from the threat of famine that confronts so many of them.
The Secretary of State will tell me if those three objectives are in line with those in his document. According to my reading, I believe that he would agree with them.
§ Mr. Ancram
I am grateful for that reaffirmation.
As the right hon. Gentleman said, achievement of the objectives will be long and hard. Against continuous propaganda efforts to the contrary, we must constantly reassert that this is not a conflict against people or religions: it is a war against terrorism.
To underline that fact, we must demonstrate that it is not a geographically limited war. We will be robust wherever there is clear or incontrovertible evidence of terrorism or of the sponsorship or sheltering of terrorism. We must be clear that we will be as robust against home-grown terrorism as we will be against terrorism that occurs overseas. It is a complex picture, in which the present military action is essential but is at the same time only one part. Bombing is for the moment crucial; however, in the wider picture it is but the first phase. We need to understand and explore the whole picture.
We support wholeheartedly the Government's efforts to maintain the remarkable international coalition that now supports the fight against terrorism. We have to admire the coming together of powers that historically have regarded each other with at best suspicion and at worst open hostility. How many of us would have thought that in our lifetimes we would see a coalition of interest between Europe, the United States, Russia and China? Yet that is what we have today, and it shows the extraordinary binding effect that the war against terrorism is creating within the international community. Ironically, the suicide pilots who flew those planes into the World Trade Centre, hoping to blow the world apart, have succeeded, uniquely, in bringing it together.
It is important, too, that we understand the sensitivities that challenge that coalition, especially in certain Arab states and in Pakistan and India. I, too, would like to pay tribute to the courage and resolution of General Musharraf in Pakistan, who, despite pressures, has backed the fight against terrorism and who only today has again reaffirmed his country's position as part of the flexible coalition against it.
Sometimes in the past Pakistan has seen our friendship as somewhat short lived. This time, we must show that it is more firmly based, and that we can provide the aid that is so badly needed to help in certain parts of that country.
We must all hear with apprehension news of the renewed conflict in Kashmir. In calling for restraint at this most tense time, we must also be able to reassure our Indian friends that we are no less committed to the fight 1066 against the terrorism from which their democracy suffers than we are against the same evil phenomenon everywhere else. Their losses at Srinagar remain fresh in our memories today.
The stability of the coalition, particularly among the Arab states, has inevitably brought the middle east on to centre stage. I had the opportunity on Sunday night—as did the Foreign Secretary yesterday—of meeting Mr. Arafat. I had the chance to talk privately to him and our conservation gave me some cautious cause for hope. We do not need reminding of the crucial role that conflict in the middle east plays in determining the stability of the Arab world as a whole and of the damage to all interests that instability or conflict can cause.
In the current climate, Israelis and Palestinians know, as do we all, that instability in the region can only help the cause of bin Laden. He will seek to provoke instability, either directly or vicariously, and he is undoubtedly seeking to do so. We know that provocation is never easy to resist, particularly in the middle east, but we ask that it is resisted now because to do otherwise is indirectly to do bin Laden's work.
I remember with admiration the Israeli restraint in 1991. We know how hard it was then. They were our friends then and they remain our friends, and we ask for similar restraint now.
§ Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)
Is my right hon. Friend aware that broadcasters were summoned to Downing street yesterday to obtain a statement from the Prime Minister's spokesman as to what policy they were to take on the propaganda war, especially on bin Laden's statements and those of al-Qaeda broadcast on the Arab station? Would it not be appropriate for No. 10 to share with the House the advice that was given to broadcasters?
§ Mr. Ancram
My hon. Friend makes a valid point and I hope that, in the winding-up speeches, we may hear some more about the advice given to broadcasters. I have some experience of trying to control broadcasts from my time in Northern Ireland: it does not work. In the age of the internet and satellite television, the efficacy of such control is questionable. I merely say, in a generous spirit, that attempts to do anything about it may prove futile.
We look with hope for a resumption of the dialogue that alone can bring a resolution to the 50-year-old problem of the middle east. With good will at this time, progress can be made, but it has to be a free dialogue, not one brought about by threat or coercion. History teaches us that settlements arrived at in the shadow of war can create problems further down the line. Nor would it be right for progress to be brought about because of the threat of terrorism. In this instance, that would encourage the terrorists. Any settlement must, in the end, be balanced, freely reached and genuinely agreed if it is to have a chance of surviving.
In turn, that must mean that any resumption of the middle east peace process, which will undoubtedly help to maintain the coalition, should be based not on new propositions formulated since 11 September but on areas of agreement previously reached. I believe that revisiting the territory of the inclusive talks at Tabah last January might produce a valuable and useful start.
We should be cautious of the temptation to make bold propositions. Our role must be to encourage both sides to get back around the table and to refrain from conflict. 1067 We could also seek to create a more favourable climate for stability in the area by helping to reverse the economic downturn that the current problems have caused. For example, we could have a useful role to play in encouraging the building of further commercial interests between Israel and her Palestinian neighbours. I should be interested to know whether the Government have considered what encouragement we can give to gas gathering projects off Israel and Gaza, which provide a useful opportunity.
Alongside the maintenance of the coalition and the capture of bin Laden, the objective of seeking stability in Afghanistan must be in the broader picture. It has been ravaged by 20 years of civil and external war. Its people, as we have heard, have been brutalised by the current Taliban regime. Human rights have been jettisoned and untold misery has been caused to the Afghan people. It must now be a clear objective to see the end of the evil Taliban regime. It must equally be an objective to see them replaced by a Government who genuinely represent the whole of Afghanistan and who will be resolute in ensuring that Afghanistan will never again be used as a haven for international terrorism. It must also be an objective finally to bring an end to the civil war in Afghanistan, which has been responsible for so many of the current problems, including the presence of international terrorism there.
A fresh Government cannot just represent one tribal faction against the interests of the rest; they need to represent them all. I welcome the restraint being shown by the Northern Alliance in respect of the taking of Kabul. As Tajiks, most of those in the alliance would never be acceptable on their own to the majority of Afghans. I hope that, in their current military offensive against Mazar-i-Sharif, they will be able to create a bridge to allow further supplies of much-needed food to reach the starving refugees and displaced people in the area—they would win many friends in doing so. The replacement for the Taliban must be broad based. It should be clearly representative of the main strands of interest in Afghanistan. I hope that it would also clearly represent women in Afghanistan, especially after the depredations suffered by Afghan women in these last terrible years.
It is right for us to set out those objectives, but I hope that the Foreign Secretary would agree that it would be wrong for the west, or indeed any external country, to seek to impose a Government on Afghanistan. History shows that that would be counter-productive, but we can help to encourage the political environment in which such a representative Government can not only come into being but flourish. We can encourage the widest consultation in Afghanistan, from which such a Government can emerge. The best conduit for achieving that may be the United Nations.
I should be grateful if the Foreign Secretary or the Secretary of State for Defence would tell the House what discussions, if any, are currently taking place with the UN, specifically on the setting up of consultations from which a representative Government can emerge, and whether they have had any discussions with Lakhdar Brahimi about that matter.
§ Mr. Straw
As I told the House, the Prime Minister and I saw Lakhdar Brahimi last week. In fact, London was the first stop in his international discussions because of the work we in the United Kingdom had done before 1068 11 September in seeking an agenda for the future Afghanistan. The answer is, yes, we did discuss the matters that the right hon. Gentleman mentions, and those discussions continue. I am very happy to ensure that he and the other representatives of the other political parties in the House are properly briefed about those discussions.
§ Mr. Ancram
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I would very much welcome that briefing, and I look forward to taking advantage of it.
I am sure that the Foreign Secretary would agree that there is an urgency in this regard. The worst and most dangerous alternative to the Taliban would be a vacuum of power. If the Taliban were in the near future either to split or to implode—both of which I am told are perfectly possible—it is vital that the vacuum is not filled by another faction or Government who will merely reignite civil war, or by a Government beholden to international terrorism. Any stable alternative must share our commitment to the removal of bin Laden and al-Qaeda from Afghanistan. If that joint intent were to become decoupled, our objective of removing bin Laden could become much more difficult and hazardous.
There is also the urgency of the onset of winter. Although I am given to understand that the problems of passage and communication are at their worst in about February, time is not on our side, especially in relation to the humanitarian element, which is the desperate part of the picture. Many of the starving in Afghanistan are in the north and west—areas that will be especially affected by winter.
We have made it clear that the humanitarian crisis is every bit as important as the terrorist threat within Afghanistan. Our commitment, along with that of our allies and the coalition as a whole, to the defeat of terrorism must be matched by a similar commitment to meet and resolve the unfolding human disaster in a real and effective way. If our fight against terrorism is in the cause of freedom and peace, so must be our fight against the scourge of starvation that faces millions within Afghanistan and beyond its borders.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House realise that a massive humanitarian response will be necessary to avert the growing humanitarian catastrophe in Afghanistan. Although we welcome all the money that the Government have allocated to deal with the crisis, we have to question whether the extent of the aid provided will be sufficient to save those desperate people from disaster.
On the first night of the bombing, United States planes dropped 37,000 rations on Afghanistan. Leaving aside the enormous practical difficulties that bedevil air drops, how can 37,000 rations—each one enough for one person for one day—have an impact on a country where 7.5 million are dependent on food aid each day? We currently manage to get 500 metric tonnes of food into Afghanistan every day in food convoys. The Secretary of State for International Development said that we have to try to double that amount, but even if we were to triple it we would still be 10,000 metric tonnes short every month of the 55,000 tonnes of food that the World Food Programme says is necessary to feed the hungry in Afghanistan.
Oxfam has called the current food aid levels a "drop in the ocean". I want the Government to assure me that every effort will be made to provide adequate provision for 1069 more than 7 million hungry Afghans before winter sets in. That is the greatest challenge facing the coalition. It is the measure of our humanity in the face of the inhumanity of terrorism.
§ Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park)
I am interested in what the right hon. Gentleman says and entirely agree with him. Does he therefore support the request by Mary Robinson, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, for a pause in the bombing to allow substantial aid to go into Afghanistan before the winter?
§ Mr. Ancram
I fear that the hon. Lady is not facing up to the problem that any pause in the bombing would allow the terrorists and the Taliban to regroup from where they have been dispersed to and to rebuild the facilities that have been destroyed. It would prolong and worsen the campaign that is being waged. I say that in all seriousness. We have to understand that that is a fact, and the humanitarian crisis must be dealt with in the light of it.
§ Mr. Ancram
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding me of that. Mary Robinson, too, must have seen the dangers of calling for a pause in the middle of a campaign and the effects that that can have on prolonging it.
§ Tony Baldry (Banbury)
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the quickest way of enabling a pause in the bombing is for the Taliban to hand over bin Laden? We should never lose sight of the fact that the first United Nations resolution calling on the Taliban to hand over bin Laden was way back in October 1999, following the bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. There is a great danger of our becoming somewhat morally confused on the issue. All the injuries and difficulties of feeding people in Afghanistan have been caused by the Taliban's refusal to comply with their commitments and obligations under the UN charter.
§ Mr. Ancram
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding the House of that; he is absolutely right to do so. I reiterate what the Foreign Secretary said: many of the problems in delivering aid are being caused by the deliberate activities of the Taliban. In the end, it will be the removal of the Taliban Government in Afghanistan that will unlock and open many of the doors that we face in that regard. However, we must be certain that enough is being done. I do not have that certainty at this time, and would welcome the Government's firmest assurances on the matter.
§ Mr. Ancram
I made one suggestion about the north of Afghanistan, where the Northern Alliance is opening an offensive against Mazar-i-Sharif. If that is successful, it will, I hope, enable trade routes to be opened for aid to enter that part of Afghanistan. That is another example of how in the end the issue can be resolved only by removal of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Once that is done, the problems that we currently face will be very much reduced.
§ Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon)
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, as well as stepping up our aid programme to refugees in Afghanistan, it is equally important to step up the aid to Afghans who are already in Pakistan? Some of the surroundings in which they find themselves in the camps are woeful to say the least, and they have lived like that for many years. We could do a lot worse than to ensure that we better look after the Afghan people—for obvious reasons, in Pakistan as well.
§ Mr. Ancram
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. My hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State for International Development has made that point on many occasions and, indeed, asked for assurances of adequate and proper standards in the camps. We are all concerned to hear reports that that may not be so, and obviously we want to continue to put pressure on the authorities in Pakistan to ensure that the problem is met. When I talked about Pakistan earlier, I hope that I indicated that I thought it was proper that aid was made available in order to help in areas where such problems occur.
The coalition must be sustained in its task. That task is not without risk. As the Foreign Secretary said, we must be on our guard. At the end of the day, terror is simply about creating fear. Terrorists succeed when people do what they would not normally do because of terror. We must never allow terror to divert us from the undertaking on which we are engaged, or to allow it to distract us from our normal ways of life. No fight can be undertaken without risk. We know the risks, and in light of them we have given our full backing to the Government and the United States of America. So long as their determination to eradicate international terrorism remains undiminished, and so long as their commitment to relieve the humanitarian crisis remains to the fore, we will continue to back them. What is being done is right. I once again offer the Government our support.
§ Mr. Doug Henderson (Newcastle upon Tyne, North)
The Government, in partnership with other coalition countries, face taking the most grave decisions that any British Government have faced on the international front for a very long time. The House of Commons will have to face up to supporting or not supporting the decisions that the Government make independently or with other countries. That is evidenced by the fact that, for the first time in the institution's 40 years of existence, NATO has invoked article 5: NATO countries have for the first time said that they will come to the aid of another NATO country that has been attacked.
1071 I would find it difficult to say anything that might endanger a strategy that will ensure our future security or that is dependent on the actions of our troops. Even if I thought that I was right, I would be extremely wary of saying anything that might endanger troops who were carrying out the desires of the Government and of Parliament. I believe in proportionate action; I also believe that we must ensure that any action we take is effective; however, I do not believe that we Members of Parliament should remain mute or refrain from making observations that we believe are germane to the achievement of international security and stability, or that address the issue of international terrorism.
I shall focus first on current military actions, then offer some observations on some options that I believe the international coalition is considering taking in future. I understand why military strikes are necessary if a course of action using ground troops is to be attempted in future. We cannot endanger helicopters, aeroplanes or people that might be involved in some future project, so perhaps some military installations in Afghanistan should be taken out by military action. Where a need to do that can be demonstrated—I know that Ministers are extremely anxious to ensure that it can—I have no reservations about such action. If we decide that the right strategy is to intervene on the ground in Afghanistan, we must do all that we can to make it as safe as possible for whoever represents our interests.
Although I understand the need to take military action, I am concerned about some of the actions that television and newspaper reports reveal have been taken. When I see pictures of an airfield in Afghanistan where 14 Russian Mig fighters are lined up on the runway with a civilian aeroplane at the end of the runway presenting a target for our military action, I begin to think that the Taliban, for some reason, want us to carry out military strikes.
I know only a little about such matters, but no military commander in his right senses who was in so serious a position would line up his fighting capacity on an airfield, ready to be attacked by an enemy that had already declared its intention to attack. Any strategist would disperse those aeroplanes by any means possible—even hide them under haystacks—rather than line them up at an aerodrome. If a force had 10,000 Mig fighters, it might have nowhere else to put some of them and he forced to put them on that runway, but no one who had only a limited number of fighters would line them up in that way. That scene suggests to me that either those fighters were inoperable and useless, or that they were of some use but for political reasons the Taliban wanted television screens around the world to show their destruction.
§ Mr. Paul Marsden
Is my hon. Friend aware that some military analysts have identified some of those aeroplanes as having been around since 1988? They are of no use at all, so when we declare that they are wonderful targets that we have managed to blow up, we miss the whole point. In fact, we are dropping bombs and blowing up kids, and it should stop now.
§ Mr. Henderson
I hear my hon. Friend. I have explained my position; I am not against military action, but it should be effective. Initially, a military purpose should be pursued consistent with a political purpose. Questions are now being asked. According to reports in 1072 The New York Times, the American Defence Secretary himself has been crying out for another strategy that would develop the coalition action from the form it has taken over the past nine or 10 days into something different. He has expressed what many of us are expressing; we want some military action, but it must have a purpose. If that purpose is achieved, the action should stop. I know that it is difficult for Ministers to respond on such an issue, but the public are asking those questions, so it is right for Parliament to debate the matter. Ministers must demonstrate that the action is necessary and is leading to something else.
§ Mr. Marsha Singh (Bradford, West)
My hon. Friend spoke about the need for action to be precise and when it should stop. Does he accept that the House has heard about the coalition and how it is supported by the Muslim world? In reality, popular Muslim sentiment throughout this country and the world is against the bombing. The longer that it continues, the more unstable certain regimes in the world and our own British Muslim population will become. Incidentally, the British Muslim population should be highly praised because the majority has remained calm, although extremely perturbed. However, the longer the action goes on, especially the bombing, the more dangerous the world situation gets, especially in Muslim countries.
§ Mr. Henderson
I hear my hon. Friend and agree with a lot of what he said. I shall come on to that and shall try to keep my remarks as short as possible.
If we had a dilemma in deciding our initial action, we have a critical dilemma in trying to decide where we go from here. Essentially, there are two options. The coalition can say that there is only one way to deal with the problem; continue the bombing, perhaps extend it to other countries, send in ground troops, root out the Taliban regime and, if necessary, undertake a military campaign to achieve that. Military experts would recognise that that would take many months, if not years.
To try to ensure any degree of safety for our troops, we may estimate that we have to outnumber the other troops by a ratio of three or four to one, although military strategists will argue about the precise numbers. If the Taliban have 100,000 people prepared to fight, we need 400,000. If they have 200,000, we need 800,000; everyone can do their own calculations. If we went down that road, we would have to be prepared to face up to the issues raised by that strategy and their implications for public opinion in this country, Muslim opinion worldwide and the Governments and people of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Malaysia. If we took that route, it could lead to the huge consequence of our eventually creating a 21st century Vietnam.
It is all very well removing the Taliban Government under that strategy. What would be the next step? How would another Government be created in Afghanistan, and where would they come from? How would they establish any kind of law and order? If the United Nations had to establish a protectorate—that is an attractive idea—how would it be kept in power? Who would provide law and order and external security?
Those are difficult questions and reservations have already been expressed about handing over a position to the Northern Alliance to allow it to try to fill the vacuum. That would be an unacceptable solution.
1073 The problem is that if one enters the arena on the basis of backing forces that begin to struggle or are removed from power, one has a choice: to desert them and allow further anarchy, or to be trapped for a very long time, as the Americans were in Vietnam, before it is possible to extract military force and hand over power to a civilian Government. There is a genuine danger of such circumstances arising in Afghanistan.
The House may have gathered that I have grave doubts about a so-called all-out ground war. Even if bin Laden were apprehended and brought to justice by such an approach, would not the downside—the effect on the rest of the Muslim world—outweigh the benefits? Such an outcome might even encourage new bin Ladens to appear, day in, day out, not only elsewhere, but here in Britain. Serious questions must be asked about such an approach. I know that debates are occurring in the United States and inside the Government. I hope that the Government, who recognise the dangers, will acknowledge that there are hon. Members who are not afraid of taking military action or supporting a long-term campaign, but who would back them in holding such discussions. That applies internally, in relation to the British Cabinet, and externally, in terms of dealing with coalition partners.
We are all equally outraged about the atrocities that occurred in New York. The realistic option is to explain to the public that the campaign against terrorism cannot be waged in the short term or by ordering massive troop incursions. People here and elsewhere will ask why, if it is so easy, we have not solved the problem in Northern Ireland.
We must take a much longer-term view and be prepared to use stealth. The time to strike is when the terrorist is not awaiting action and does not expect to be apprehended and brought to justice, or eliminated if such an outcome is not possible. We would, however, have to prepare public opinion for the adoption of such an approach and tell people not to expect quick results. If we are extremely lucky, we may achieve such results with bin Laden, but in the light of the probabilities that are suggested by intelligence information, that seems unlikely. We should not be saying that the problem can be dealt with quickly. Our actions must be sustained for a long period and we must carry with us international and domestic opinion, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) pointed out.
§ Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife)
The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson) was right to draw our attention to the potential pitfalls of a massive ground operation of the sort that he described. The fairly recent experience of the Soviet Union would lend corroboration to the points that he made. I do not understand, however, that such an operation is being contemplated by Her Majesty's Government. I believe that they would be equally seized of precisely those elements of such an operation that would be so difficult and dangerous to accomplish.
I found a great deal with which to agree in the speeches of the Foreign Secretary and the shadow Foreign Secretary. Despite our directly relevant and recent experience in the Gulf war and Bosnia and Kosovo, there 1074 are still some people—I suspect that their number is decreasing in the House—who cling to those two enduring myths that apply to modern military action, especially when it is taken from the air: that it guarantees the achievement of quick results, and that it can be executed without civilian casualties.
If the mood of the House has been sombre in the past, today it seems that it needs to be sober. As has been made clear in previous contributions, we are concerned not so much with the rhetoric of our outrage—or, indeed, the eloquence of our sorrow—but with the reason that is necessary for coping with the circumstances in which we now find ourselves.
The campaign is only nine days old, but its success will never be measured by conventional means—the number of missions flown or targets struck—because we are not dealing with a conventional enemy. There will be no conventional surrender, and it may be long after the campaign before we know the point at which a successful and terminal blow was struck. We must curb our impatience and hope that our example will curb that of the laptop generals of Fleet street.
We must recognise our moral obligation to provide maximum humanitarian assistance. Our moral authority for military action will be severely undermined if we do not fulfil our moral obligation to provide humanitarian relief. I have heard those who argue for a pause in the bombing. Whether Mary Robinson said one thing or another is not relevant; the fact that the issue was raised means that we should apply our minds to it.
If the bombing stopped, I do not believe that the Taliban would open all the entrances to Afghanistan, wave the aid through and say, "This is the support and assistance of an international community, fulfilling its humanitarian obligations under the auspices of the United Nations." I wish I could he confident that that would happen, leaving aside the propaganda advantage that would be taken of a pause and the question whether pausing would prejudice the overall military objectives.
There is no moral equivalence between the operations against the Taliban and the events of 11 September. It is disingenuous to argue otherwise. Unintended civilian casualties in Afghanistan do not alter the fact that the events of 11 September were conceived in cold blood, planned with skill and executed with deliberation and no regard for the consequences. By contrast, minimising civilian casualties in Afghanistan is a specific operational requirement of the current military action.
It is an unpalatable fact that any military action, however targeted and proportionate to need, runs the risk of civilian casualties. We have been seduced too often by videos; no bomb, however smart, is infallible. I do not want any civilian to die or be injured in Afghanistan, just as I did not want thousands to die in New York or Washington. However, it is not possible to guarantee that none will.
We must also bear it in mind that military action is not an end in itself, but a means of achieving political objectives. Mine are couched in slightly different language from those of the shadow Foreign Secretary, the Foreign Secretary or those with which the Prime Minister began his statement 10 days ago. They are: bring Osama bin Laden to justice; fracture the terrorist network over which he presides; try to remove the threat of terrorism wherever we find it in the world, and allow the people of Afghanistan a Government of their choosing.
1075 I do not believe that the final objective needs to await the achievement of others. As the shadow Foreign Secretary said, it is essential to avoid a political vacuum when the Taliban fall; otherwise, the Northern Alliance may replace an odious regime with one that many people in Afghanistan would find equally distasteful. We should therefore identify a clear role for the United Nations in rebuilding the nation. There is no better time to do it than, as the Foreign Secretary reminded us, in the week when Kofi Annan and his organisation have been awarded the Nobel prize.
We should make it clear that our purpose is to install a Government chosen by the people, not Washington or any other capital. If we do that, we shall assist in maintaining the coalition to which hon. Members have already referred. We should not underestimate its fragility. That is why I applaud the Prime Minister's initiative in relation to the middle east, because it is important in itself—I have argued that case in the House on many occasions—but also because of it influence on the coalition.
It is clear that the events of 11 September were not designed to achieve a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. The objective was to loosen, or even remove, United States military and political support for the ruling family in Saudi Arabia, to try to make their replacement by a more fundamentalist regime much easier. The fate of those poor Palestinians in the Shatila camp in Beirut, which many Members have seen, is no concern of those who turned aircraft into flying bombs and flew them into buildings in the United States.
Even if there had been a peaceful settlement in the middle east, the attacks would almost certainly have taken place, and even if there were a settlement tomorrow, it would not prevent other such attacks. The lack of a settlement, however, is an important factor in Arab capitals throughout the middle east, which we ignore at our peril. It is an issue not just among Governments but, perhaps more particularly, in the streets, where there is sincere—sometimes bordering on the hysterical—support for the Palestinian cause.
Let me suggest a formula: we must make progress on the Palestinian issue, and be seen to do so. Action, not articles, will be more persuasive. In doing so, we must help as far as we can to check the fervour of support in the streets. That in turn will assist the Governments and Arab capitals to give more support to our coalition; but it must be based on Israel's right to live in peace within secure and recognised boundaries, free from threats and acts of force.
If those last few words sound familiar, they will sound familiar to those who have most recently read resolution 242 of the United Nations Security Council, of 22 November 1967. Some 34 years hater, it could be argued that they are even more relevant today.
It appears from his meetings with the shadow Foreign Secretary, with the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary—and, indeed, from the meetings that my right hon. Friend the leader of the Liberal Democrats and I had with him—that President Arafat clearly recognises that there is an opportunity, perhaps a better opportunity than there has been for some time. He must have been encouraged by the recognition in Washington that the Palestinians must have justice and, as the Prime Minister put it, a viable Palestinian state. A certain ironical smile must have crossed the face of the Foreign Secretary when 1076 he heard the Prime Minister use that language: he may have thought that his immediate experience of the middle east had been, if not brushed away, certainly pushed to one side.
Let me remind the House of what I sometimes call the theory of raised expectations. If we do say that there is a better opportunity—if we do say that there is a demand, a requirement, a necessity for something to be done about the middle east peace process, even if only for the pragmatic purpose of securing the coalition, and then fail to do anything about it: if we raise expectations and then dash them—the position will be very much worse afterwards than it was before.
Finally, let me say something about the widening of military action. The last time we debated this issue, I said that I thought there was quite a bit of loose talk, particularly about Iraq. I think we would be well advised to get the military action in which we are currently engaged right, before talking about extending it to other countries. We should also understand—the hon. Member for Glasgow, Kelvin (Mr. Galloway) perhaps knows this better than any other Member—that there is great sympathy throughout the middle east not for Saddam Hussein but for the people of Iraq, given their privations and suffering over the last 12 years. Any extension of military action against Iraq without clear and specific evidence would, in my judgment, rupture the coalition.
Equally alarming is the possibility that Saddam Hussein, repeating the provocations of the Gulf war, when he targeted Israel with missiles, would seek to draw Israel into conflict. The most sanguine of us must have some apprehension at even the remote possibility of a missile exchange between a nuclear power, Israel, and a regime hellbent on achieving capability in weapons of mass destruction, as Iraq is.
There is a further compelling reason against an extension of military action without clear and unequivocal evidence: it is precisely what bin Laden wants. If we turn this into a conflict between Christian and Islamic countries, we play precisely into his hands. We could not hand him a better propaganda weapon.
These are difficult and even dangerous days, requiring cool heads and determination. Those qualities are at a premium. Because we recognise them in the Government, they have our support.
§ Linda Perham (Ilford, North)
On 11 September, I was in my office in Portcullis House when my husband rang me to say that his head of department had just called him out of his classroom to ask him in which city in the United States our 20-year-old daughter was studying, because he had heard that two planes had flown into the World Trade Centre and that the Pentagon had been hit. I remember saying to him, "Well, of course, she's on the west coast, so she's not affected", and then putting the phone down, thinking that the whole thing was completely unbelievable. Then someone came into the office and said, "Put on the television—this thing is really happening." That shows my reaction of disbelief.
My other daughter is 22, the same age as the youngest British victim of the atrocities, Vincent Wells, born on 17 September 1978. I went to his memorial service last Sunday, which 600 people attended. He worked for Cantor Fitzgerald on the top floor of the World Trade 1077 Centre north tower, so he had absolutely no chance of getting away. He was a football fan who both played and watched, and he was one of three people with Redbridge connections in the World Trade Centre that day.
Michael Cunningham, who was 39 and a former pupil of the same Catholic school as Vincent Wells, was working for Eurobrokers on the 84th floor of the south tower. He was the father of a three-week-old baby and had just returned a couple of weeks before to work in New York again.
Richard Duncan, who was 54, was the father of a son of 19 and a daughter of 14. He was a former local hockey and cricket player who had celebrated his silver wedding anniversary a month before the tragedy. He was working for the US firm Aon on the 99th floor of the south tower.
My local community is mourning those three hard-working and enterprising men, ranging in age from my daughter's age to my own. They were part of an area of London that has, in general, seen a peaceful move to a multicultural community over the years. My constituency has one of the largest Jewish populations in western Europe, but also now has an increasing number of people of other faiths and none, from south Asia, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, as well as people from Greece, Turkey, China and many other countries.
On 12 September, on the advice of the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, my local borough commander called a meeting of groups representing the local community, the council, Redbridge Refugee Forum, Redbridge Racial Equality Council, the Jewish Community Trust, the League of British Muslims and others. Not long after that, a statement was issued bearing the names of many organisations and individuals, including all four borough Members of Parliament—including the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith)—local council leaders and many organisations. The statement read:We, the representatives and leaders of different political, ethnic and religious groups in the London borough of Redbridge, are united in our condemnation of the murder and mayhem inflicted on human beings in America. We join together to extend our sincere condolences to those who are suffering as a result of the terrible events inflicted on them during Tuesday, September 11 2001.In our borough, people from many diverse communities live side by side in a way which is largely harmonious and secure. Although differences of opinion are freely expressed, mutual respect and a will to live peacefully side by side creates a local way of life that we can all be proud of.Times as testing as these unite people in ways which may not have been possible before. We have the opportunity to see each other differently. It is our hope that the enormity of this crisis leads to a legacy of peace for the future.These are testing times indeed, and there are opportunities to unite. I join my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) in paying tribute to our armed forces. This time last year, I—along with the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) and my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Rachel Squire)—was on HMS Cumberland in the Arabian sea, travelling from Bahrain to Kuwait. I would recommend that experience to other hon. Members, who would learn what our armed forces have to go through and the training that they receive.
I want to emphasise the importance of talking as well as acting in such a crisis. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, Colin Powell and others have gone around the 1078 world building alliances and maintaining the international coalition against terrorism and for humanitarian support for Afghanistan and other poor countries in the world.
For my sins, when I entered this House I quickly became involved with groups seeking settlements in Cyprus and the middle east and I visited Cyprus and Israel. Those who took part in the delegations talked to all sorts of people on different sides of communities and from different political parties, as well as human rights workers and academics. When we went to Israel in 1998, we were told that there was an opportunity to meet Yasser Arafat. Before and after we met him, there were those who wondered whether the Labour Friends of Israel group should meet Yasser Arafat. However, we felt that it was important to talk to him yesterday—as other right hon. and hon. Members have done during his visit—to get another side of the argument. We cannot rely on hearing only one side.
Talking and acting together to tackle international terrorism and to fight world poverty is the best thing that could be done. Some good may come out of those dreadful acts if the global community can join together to confront those twin evils. If so, the twin towers will not have been vaporised in vain and our three local lost sons will have a worthy memorial.
§ Mr. Francis Maude (Horsham)
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Linda Perham), who has made a valuable point that sometimes escapes attention—what happened on 11 September was not just an attack on America and Americans; we could not find another two buildings in the world that contained a greater variety of people of different nationalities, faiths and backgrounds. It remains the case that more Britons died in that attack than have died in any single terrorist attack on mainland Britain. When we say that the attack was not just on America but on us all, it is a literal truth, and the hon. Lady did a service to the House by reminding us of that.
It is right that a debate on a matter of such gravity should not follow a pattern of slavish adherence to a consensus viewpoint. That would be a negation of the democracy and values for which we are fighting. It is proper and desirable that Members of Parliament should use the opportunity of such a debate to question whether military action is necessary, whether it is proportionate and whether it is likely to be effective. We should not suggest that those who ask such questions should be condemned as unpatriotic or cowardly, because that would be wrong. We should have a proper debate, because that is what a democracy stands for. It is proper to question the propriety of what our Government and others, especially that of the United States, have embarked upon.
On the question whether the military action is necessary, several hon. Members have suggested that it is not. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), whom I greatly respect, is not in her place, because she suggested that people could tolerate short-term action but that they would not have an appetite for longer-term action. She compared the current action with what was done in Kosovo some two years ago. With respect, that is a false comparison. There was much questioning of what was done in Kosovo. My party 1079 rightly supported the action that was taken, but widespread concern was expressed about whether British forces should be engaged in such action. That was for the simple reason that no direct British interest was involved, although we had plenty of indirect interests.
The current action is different. What happened on 11 September was on a different scale of gravity and immensity from anything that we have seen before. I was in New York 10 days ago and I visited the site of the World Trade Centre. We have all seen the television pictures and read the stories, but when one sees—and, frankly, smells and tastes—the devastation that was wrought on that day, one understands that what happened was of a different magnitude to anything of that nature that has happened before.
Is military action necessary? Yes. The hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) talked earlier of the desirability of parallel action in the international court to bring an indictment against bin Laden and he was chided by the Foreign Secretary for suggesting that as an alternative to military action. However, I do not think that the hon. and learned Gentleman was saying that. He was making the point that it would look politically more attractive to the wider world, especially those sceptical about what is being done, if we went through the motions—if I can put it that way—of criminal proceedings against someone whom we all believe, with good reason, to have been responsible for what was done, although the Foreign Secretary was right to say that no international tribunal exists today that could undertake that activity.
§ Mr. Marshall-Andrews
What the Foreign Secretary said on that was completely misconceived. Of course there is not an International Criminal Court, although we have been trying to establish one for a long time. However, two international criminal courts, now sitting at the Hague and Arusha, were set up by the United Nations Security Council to act retrospectively under article 29 of the UN charter. I think that the Foreign Secretary knew and understood that it was precisely such a court to which I was referring.
§ Mr. Maude
That is a perfectly fair point. There is no doubt that it would be legally and physically possible to establish a court that would have retrospective jurisdiction, just as the international criminal tribunal for the Balkans has had. However, the Foreign Secretary makes a good point. I confess to being a sceptic about the International Criminal Court. I doubt whether it would be effective and I think that there are some dangers involved in setting it up.
The terms of the statute that establishes the International Criminal Court do not permit criminal proceedings to be brought against someone who is accused of war crimes unless there is no national court that is able or willing to bring proceedings against him. However, the Foreign Secretary rightly said that the national legal system in the United States has jurisdiction in this matter and that that country is very willing indeed to bring proceedings. Establishing an international tribunal is therefore not really a practical possibility. However, the Foreign Secretary's point is a fair one—that it is not a question of taking military action for the sake of military action—and it is important that that point is widely conveyed. I have no doubt that military action 1080 is necessary. There is no practical alternative. If it is necessary, it has to be pursued with utter relentlessness and with an absolute determination to make it effective.
That brings me to the question of whether what is being done is proportionate. In previous debates, when Parliament was recalled last month and earlier this month, a number of hon. Members expressed surprise that the Administration in Washington were so measured in the way in which they responded, with no instant fireworks and no knee-jerk, immediate sending-off of cruise missiles. That none of that happened should not have been a surprise to those who know the members of that Administration. They are very serious, experienced people, who would not have had any sympathy for the kind of gesture politics that might have been involved in instant reaction, but who have a completely steely determination to ensure that the terrorism that inflicted such brutal damage on so many tens of thousands of lives is rooted out.
Is the response proportionate? Yes, I think that it is. What was done on 11 September was an act of enormous scale, savagery and immensity, so a proportionate response to that is one that is savage and relentless and which has to be made effective. We should have no doubt about that.
§ Mr. Harold Best (Leeds, North-West)
I was interested in what the right hon. Gentleman said about proportionality and about rooting out those who are alleged to be responsible for the offences that have taken place. No one in this House or anywhere in this country would dispute that those events were horrendous, but they raise serious questions about when a policing action—with such force as is necessary for the arrest of the perpetrators of the crime—differs from the force that is being used right now. That force is being described—quite accurately, it seems to me—as war, and is a qualitatively different process. Will the right hon. Gentleman comment on those differences?
§ Mr. Maude
Indeed I shall. We should not try to persuade ourselves that what is going on is a process analogous to sending for the constable to apprehend the villain and sit on his head until help arrives. That is not what is going on here, because we are not operating in a law-abiding environment where there is help of that sort to hand. A widespread criminal gang or network is being harboured in a state that gives it active support and receives active support from it.
The only way to exterminate or eradicate the source of that evil and terrorism is to take military action, and that is being done. We cannot send in the international constables to clap handcuffs on people and feel their collars. Military action must be taken. We all know that the chances of bin Laden being led away by the scruff of his neck are not high. The chances are that he will be killed in the military action, and that is probably a pretty good thing.
The analogy with law enforcement is confusing. Terrible harm is being done and all of us—here, in America and elsewhere—live in daily fear that further great damage will be done. It has to be stopped. Whatever needs be done should be done, and I hope that it will attract widespread support. The point was made by the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife 1081 (Mr. Campbell) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) that even in a modern conflict, with modern weapons and all the artistry and science that is available, war cannot be conducted with such pinpoint accuracy that civilians do not get hurt. The politicians involved, the military commanders and those flying the planes take the utmost care to ensure that civilians are as safe as possible. Equally, we must accept that civilians cannot be absolutely safe and that some will be hurt and killed in the process. We must hope that the numbers will be minimal.
§ Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)
The right hon. Gentleman calls for effective military action to bring the terrorists to book. The whole House would agree that there should be effective military action. However, for military action to be effective it has to be sustainable. The Americans had to withdraw from Vietnam not because they could not out-gun the Vietnamese, but because their action was not sustainable in the face of world opinion. How long does the right hon. Gentleman think that world opinion, especially in Muslim countries from Nigeria to the middle east, will support the inevitable rising civilian death toll in Afghanistan?
§ Mr. Maude
I want to come later to that important point, which the hon. Lady is right to raise.
We all accept that the utmost care will be taken to protect civilian lives, but they cannot be completely protected. However, to tailor military action to such an extent that no civilians were ever put at risk would make it ineffective. That would be wrong. Nothing could be better calculated to erode public support in the west—and more widely—than the sense that the action was unnecessarily protracted and becoming ineffective. The more effective the action is the quicker it can be taken and the less difficulty there will be in sustaining public support. I accept that public support outside the west is not nearly as extensive as we would like.
The building of the coalition has been crucial. Many right hon. and hon. Members have spoken about that. I commend the Government, and the Prime Minister in particular, for the part that they have played, with America, in assembling the coalition. It is crucial that it continues to be sustained. The Prime Minister's role has been important, and it illustrates what some of us have been saying for some time—that although Britain has not been a superpower for many decades, we can none the less exercise influence and make a big difference by dint of who and what we are, what we have been and what we can be. We do not have to be a pale shadow of the United States, nor do we have to allow our diplomatic effect to be subsumed within a European Union common foreign policy.
The Prime Minister and the Government are rightly illustrating daily the fallacy that some people seem to believe—that because we are no longer a superpower and cannot pretend to do everything, we cannot do anything. Britain can do and is doing a great deal and I am delighted. It has played a great role in assembling and sustaining the coalition.
I agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Miss Kirkbride) said when she intervened on the Foreign Secretary to point out that it would be 1082 helpful if other European coalition partners were taking a more visible part in the military action. The right hon. Gentleman properly said that these are military decisions that must be left with military commanders; military demands must be paramount. However, to make this look and feel less like a unilateral United States action, a more visible deployment of a wide array of international military assets would be helpful. I hope that the Government understand that point.
In assembling the coalition, it is right that an opportunity has been taken to take steps on the crucial issue of middle east peace—the Israel-Palestine issue. The Prime Minister was right to take the opportunity to progress that. Again, Britain can make a serious difference. We will never have the clout of the United States in the middle east, but that does not mean that we can do nothing. Britain has credibility with Israel. We have rightly been a long-time supporter of its right to exist in safety and security. At the same time, we have ancient links and friendships with much of the Arab world which enable us to play an intermediary, facilitating role in the promotion of peace. The British Government should be heavily engaged in that process. The coalition has not only to be built but to be sustained. No one would claim that the propaganda battle has been won outside the west and it must continue.
The hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Singh) pointed out in an intervention that many Muslims inside and outside Britain deeply oppose the military action. That is an observable fact. However, we should not just accept it, say that it is difficult and leave it at that. That is where political leadership comes in. I hope that the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members who have some influence with the Muslim community here will use all their powers of persuasion to make the case that what was done on 11 September was a defamation of Islam. The present action is not in any sense opposed to Islam. The events of 11 September and the fact that they were done in the name of Islam were as damaging as it was possible for them to be to public perception of Islam.
That propaganda battle is by no means won—perhaps it has not even been properly embarked upon. All political leaders should do all that they can inside the country and beyond to make the case that this action is not about Islam.
§ Mr. Salmond
The right hon. Gentleman misunderstands the nature of the problem as regards Muslim opinion. The problem for the great majority of Islamic opinion is not what happened on 11 September, which overwhelmingly Muslims condemn as an atrocity; it is much more with the action to bring to book terrorists, which involves the bombing—as it seems to the Muslim population—of an entire country. That is the argument that has to be engaged.
§ Mr. Maude
That comes back to my first question: is this military action necessary? Most people in the House and beyond believe that there is simply no other way to bring to book those who committed and organised that act and to ensure that they cannot repeat it. That is the case that has to be made. The Foreign Secretary put it starkly. He said that there is a choice between appeasement and military action. He seemed to fight shy of saying that there is no third way, but I think that is what he was really trying to say. That is the point that must be got across. 1083 It is part of what I mean when I say that political leaders have to make the case for what is being done. That will be crucial. Pakistan is central to that. Of course, there must be enormous sensitivity about the position of the Pakistani Government and great support should be given to General Musharraf, who has behaved with enormous courage—personal and political. He deserves great support for that.
I mildly counsel the Government against being too categoric in saying that the military action should never be extended beyond Afghanistan. Of course, we still cannot be certain that the anthrax attacks emanate from al-Qaeda, although there is inevitably a strong suspicion that that is the case. No one has suggested that al-Qaeda itself has the capability for such manufacture. It is well understood that Iraq has the capability to manufacture such evil products, so there must be a suspicion. No one suggests that one embarks on military action against a country such as Iraq on suspicion; that would be absurd. However, it would be unwise for the Government to rule out at this stage the possibility that further action may be necessary.
§ Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Kelvin)
I ask a simple question: is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the anthrax bought by the Iraqi regime in the 1980s was sold to it by companies in the United States of America?
§ Mr. Maude
That may well be the case. I have no knowledge of that so I cannot argue about it. However, that does not alter the fact that we know that Iraq has such a capability, which it has been developing for overtly aggressive reasons. Given the links that we know exist between al-Qaeda and the Iraqi regime, there must be a suspicion that that is the provenance of the anthrax germs used in various attacks. It thus seems wrong at this stage, without being intemperate or precipitate, to exclude as a matter of dogma the possibility that military action could go beyond Afghanistan.
I close with a reflection on the domestic effects. Yesterday, we heard statements from two senior Ministers who made proposals for urgent legislative action. Much of what was said was persuasive. The case being made for particular new provisions is well understood and, on the face of things, it is hard to argue with it. However, Ministers should be aware that Whitehall is riddled with desks whose drawers contain numerous schemes for more regulation, more intervention and more interference with people's lives, which will tend always to alter that crucial balance in the relationship between the citizen and the state.
We should be aware that those schemes—perfectly properly thought up and developed—are always awaiting a political opportunity for their deployment. We should be aware of the "something must be done" syndrome, which is too often operative in politics. The Government of whom I was a member were as guilty of that as any. Something comes up, we want to show that we are doing something and new legislation and regulation seem an easy answer. However, that is rarely the answer, so I counsel the Government to exercise great caution in the schemes for new regulation and new intervention that they propose, and I urge the House to scrutinise any legislation with very great care.
We are not being pettifogging or difficult, but such legislation will affect the balance of power between the citizen and the state, and if the House exists for anything, 1084 it is to protect that balance. We are asking our military forces to go into action to defend democracy, civilised values and the rule of law—all of which were set at nought by the wicked people who set in train the events of 11 September. We honour the memory of those who were killed in those dreadful atrocities if we exercise our functions as a democratic, legislative Chamber as properly and fully as we can.
§ Mr. Dalyell
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I should like you to draw to the Speaker's attention the fact that no Minister from the Ministry of Defence is present, even though a Minister from that Department will be responsible for making the winding-up speech. Irrespective of whether hon. Members agree or disagree with the right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude), he has just made a thoughtful speech, and it should at least be reflected on by the Minister who will make the winding-up speech. I ask you to raise this issue with Mr. Speaker, because the House of Commons is in danger of talking to thin air. Frankly, the Secretary of State for Defence made the winding-up speech in last Monday's debate, and to anyone who heard the speech, as I did, or read the report of it, it was only too clear that the Government were not listening to what had been said in the House. Not only is that bad manners, but it is a pity, as there is a great deal more knowledge and sense among those on the Back Benches than among those on the Front Benches.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal)
That is not a point of order, but I will ensure that Mr. Speaker is made aware of the hon. Gentleman's comments. Does the Minister wish to comment?
§ The Minister for Europe (Peter Hain)
I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for that invitation. I will certainly pass on my hon. Friend's comments. I am making a note of the points that are made. Indeed, I have described the speech made by the right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) as thoughtful in my notes—precisely the point that my hon. Friend makes.
§ Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon)
I wish to address the concerns that many of my constituents, not least those from the Muslim community, have raised with me about the activities of the fundamentalist extremists in London who have sinister international links and provide support, aid and comfort to the Taliban and bin Laden. I first raised those concerns in parliamentary questions in January and May last year, and I am pleased that some action at least has been taken in respect of several of those involved, but others remain at large.
I shall begin with Sakina Security Services, which was raided a couple of weeks ago. Sakina is an Islamist security organisation with extremely close links to al-Muhajiroun and Supporters of Sharia. Sakina sends people overseas for jihad training with live arms and ammunition. It is hostile to the British Government, police and security services, and regularly issues threats to British interests in the United Kingdom and overseas. It is also particularly anti-semitic and appears to have singled out the Jewish community as its direct adversary.
In October 2000, Sakina launched an appeal for donations to the Al Aqsa Liberation Fund to raise money to support the Palestinian jihad. The bank account was 1085 held with the Woolwich and was also used to solicit donations for the Taliban. I am pleased to say that that bank account has now been closed. Sakina also had a website on which it advertised training courses, the most impressive—if that is the right word—of which was called "The Ultimate Jihad Challenge". Sakina advertised a two-week course in the United States and emphasised practical live-fire training, using 2,000 to 3,000 rounds of mixed-calibre ammunition. The website said that students would be taught,live fire engaging multiple targets; live fire concealed carry; combat jungle run; live fire sniper; live fire shooting at, through and from vehiclesand many other terrorist skills.
Sakina also organises training in many different sites in the United Kingdom. However, its activities are not limited to that. A bulletin board posted on its website a year ago today claimed that Sakina operatives were inoccupied Palestine, sisterly Lebanon and in Jordanready to fight in the Palestinian jihad. Although the police have acted, I regret that the Department of Trade and Industry has done nothing to close the company. So far, only one Sakina associate, Sulayman Bilal Zain-ul Abidin—also known as Frank Etim—has been arrested and charged with offences under the Terrorism Act 2000.
The al-Muhajiroun organisation is inextricably linked with Sakina. It was founded by Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed who was given indefinite leave to remain in the UK in 1993. It is also linked to Supporters of Sharia, founded by Abu Hamza who was given UK nationality in 1986. Al-Muhajiroun is dedicated to establishing a Muslim state in Britain. Bakri is openly contemptuous of Britain and the very idea of democracy. He told the Daily Mail on 17 September,My job is to speak about Islam. I don't agree with manmade laws. In Britain I engage in opposition to manmade laws and expose the weaknesses of manmade laws. I don't believe in democracy or dictatorship, they are both manmade. They are the two faces of the same coin.For years al-Muhajiroun has been engaged in training and recruiting young Muslims and is now banned from university campuses. It has engaged in fundraising for terrorist causes, including Hamas and Hezbollah, and has organised violent demonstrations against the Jewish community and the United States. Some of its supporters have been jailed for violent attacks.
In an interview with the Arabic newspaper al-Sharq al-Aswat, Bakri Mohammed boasted that al-Muhajiroun sent Muslim youths on jihad training courses in Virginia, Michigan and the Missouri desert where they learned various techniques for guerrilla warfare, for making explosives and using shoulder-mounted missiles. He stated that between 300 and 400 people were sent on such courses each year, travelling as Europeans on British, French and German passports so that they did not need entry visas for the United States although most were of Asian or Arab origin. The training was organised by a British security firm that is managed by a Muhajiroun member. I believe that to be Sakina Security Services and the Muhajiroun member to be Mohammed Jameel.
In the same article, Bakri Mohammed said that financial contributions to cover the costs were regarded as a grant that the youths had to pay back after their return 1086 by working part time in the Muhajiroun's jihad and call networks which recruit Muslim youths to prepare them militarily. He was asked to name the countries that the youths went to and said that after completing military trainingsome went to Kashmir, and others to Chechnya and to Kosovo before that. Some remained in Britain because they were not fully trained ideologically.More recently, on 21 September, Bakri told supporters outside the Pakistan High Commission that his brother had left to fight in Afghanistan. He said:Like me he has received training in Texas and in the north of Scotland where he undertook a one-year course in weapons and evasive vehicle manoeuvring.On 30 September Omar Bakri Mohammed told activists in Birmingham that theyhad an obligation to help and support Afghanistan and to fight with them.An additional close link is provided through Mohammed Jameel, one of the organisers of Sakina. He is still at large and has made speeches at many al-Muhajiroun public meetings at which he has been billed asco-ordinator of Sakina Security and member of al-Muhajiroun.In an article for Al-Wassat, another Arabic newspaper, entitled, "Yes, we have camps for the training of the mujahidin", Jameel revealed that Sakina has trained more than 150 youths. He also revealed that it trains Supporters of Sharia members at the Finsbury Park mosque. In the same article, Bakri Mohammed revealed that young men had been sent to camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Abu Yaya is another operative of Sakina. On 26 June 2000 he gave an interview on the "Today" programme on Radio 4 in which he explained that he had just returned from Kashmir having spent four months on military training where he learned everything necessary, including making bombs, using artillery and a Kalashnikov and how to mount an ambush. He cropped up after 11 September as a spokesperson for al-Muhajiroun. On 24 September he said that he hada divine obligation to join his brothers and sisters. My allegiance is to Islam, not to Queen or country—if I have to shoot British soldiers, then so be it … There is no law in the UK that can stop us going. I have already had military training, I know the area and I am ready to return to Afghanistan.There are many similar quotes from other al-Muhajiroun activists. Omar Brooks, speaking to a newspaper on 16 September, said:There are a sizeable number of Moslems undergoing military training in the UK … If America decides to bomb Afghanistan, then we'll wake up. If they're going to attack Afghanistan then what's my duty? It's going to be a new chapter.Zahir Khan told a meeting in Birmingham on 17 September:If Britain helped attack Afghanistan, it would be allowable for Moslems to attack military targets in Britain.Shah Jalal Hussain, another al-Muhajiroun activist, spoke on 19 December of how he and many of his friends who are British Muslims believe that Whitehall and Downing street are "legitimate targets" if Britain helps the US in any strike. Those are not simply the words of hotheads. Those people have had serious military training and they pose a threat that must be taken seriously.
Abu Hamza al-Masri is widely known as one of the people behind the Finsbury Park mosque. In 1997 he ran Al-Ansar, an Arabic newspaper that supported the 1087 Algerian Armed Islamic Group—GIA. The newspaper was originally established by Rachid Ramda, an Algerian who arrived in the UK in 1992 and is accused by France of organising and funding a series of terrorist bombings in France in 1995. He is still fighting his extradition to France.
Abu Hamza closed Al-Ansar in 1997 and in its place launched the Supporters of Sharia, another serious organisation. In 1999, eight British Muslims were convicted in Yemen of plotting terrorist attacks. The Yemenis accused Abu Hamza of organising the plot in conjunction with Islamic terrorists in Yemen. Abu Hamza also often acts as a mouthpiece for Yemen's main Islamic terrorist organisation, the Aden Abyan Islamic Army. When it kidnapped a group of tourists in 1998 its leader decided to announce the news first to Abu Hamza, whom he telephoned.
Recent reports reveal that Ahmed Beghal was a regular attender at the Finsbury Park mosque. He is the leader of a terrorist cell of Takfir wal-Hijra which planned terrorist attacks in Europe, including a suicide bombing of the US embassy in Paris. Beghal lived in London during the late 1990s and was part of a clique of Takfir wal-Hijra supporters, who are still active at the mosque. In July this year he was arrested in Dubai.
Abu Hamza has used his position at the mosque to promote a message of violent and radical extremism. In two speeches at mosques in Burnley, which were broadcast in the "Dispatches" programme on Channel 4, he said:Get training … What are you training for? So you can get the kufr"—the non-believer—and crush his head in your arms, so you can wring his throat, so you can rip his intestines out … Forget wasting a bullet on them—cut them in half … if you could put a balaclava on your face and walk down the road and stick one on somebody then do it. As long as you're going to get away with it.He has incited people to attack Jewish causes, with which he identifies the "Zionists of the west", America and Britain. He incites, provokes and propagates hatred and the killing of the enemies of Islam.
In October 2000 Supporters of Sharia, al-Muhajiroun and the Islamic Observation Centre, led by the Egyptian terrorist Yasser al-Sirri, held a demonstration outside the Egyptian embassy. Abu Hamza implored his supporters to donate moneyto somebody who you know will use it to blow up these Jews, to blow up these Israelis".Abu Hamza has his own theory about what happened on 11 September. He does not accept that the twin towers were demolished by aircraft: he believes that it was a Zionist plot and that the towers had been stuffed full of explosives. That might be laughable, but his comments have to be taken seriously. It may not be a coincidence that on Saturday night before last the Finsbury Park synagogue was virtually destroyed in an arson attack.
Yasser al-Sirri is wanted by Egypt because of a car bomb that killed a 12-year-old girl and injured scores of her classmates eight years ago. It was recently revealed that he is implicated in the recent suicide bomb murder of the Afghan opposition leader by helping two assassins posing as journalists to obtain Afghan visas. I believe that he is still at large.
1088 Abu Qatada is another person about whom we need to be extremely concerned. The US Treasury has recently named him as one of those whose assets have been frozen there, yet he remains at large in the UK. Abu Qatada, whose full name is Omar Mahmood Abu Omar, is a Palestinian-Jordanian who is closely associated with Jaish Mohammed, a proscribed organisation. In September 2000, he was convicted in his absence in Jordan for the millennium bomb plot. He is a close associate of Omar Bakri Mohammed and Abu Hamza al-Masri, and ran what was known as the Baker street mosque in Marylebone from a youth club, the Four Feathers club, which I believe recently moved to another address in the Harrow Road. One attendee of the youth club was shot dead at an Islamic school in Yemen.
Qatada has built a reputation for spreading extremism and division in the Muslim community in this country. In Brighton, he led a group of radicals who unseated the moderate imam of the mosque there. He has been to both Afghanistan and Bosnia, and been highly involved in many activities. Zacarias Moussaoui, the suspected 20th hijacker, regularly attended the Baker street mosque run by Abu Qatada, who has twice been convicted for his role in terrorist attacks in Jordan.
Surely it is time to take action against such extremists. The Crown Prosecution Service and the Director of Public Prosecutions have not adopted as aggressive an approach as they should have in dealing with these individuals. However, our laws must not permit companies, organisations or individuals to be used as fronts for terrorist fundraising or money laundering. We cannot permit the continuing organisation of package tours for trainee terrorists, on which they learn to kill with modern weapons and tactics. We must prevent the sending of youngsters to every troublespot around the world, where their lives are at risk or they threaten the lives of others, including British service personnel.
I am pleased that our race hate laws are to be strengthened to include religion, but in protecting our Muslim communities, that review must also deal with the incitement to violence and conspiracies of the extremists. There can be little doubt about what al-Muhajiroun, Supporters of Sharia, Bakri Mohammed, Abu Hamza and the rest are up to. They are bin Laden's fellow travellers. We must proscribe their organisations under the terrorism legislation.
As we review our asylum and immigration law, we must not just speed up extradition but respond to those who seek extradition of people such as Abu Qatada. The Home Secretary's powers to revoke indefinite leave to remain must be clarified and strengthened. It should be extended to the revocation of recently granted UK citizenship, so that those who abuse our democratic system and actively seek to destroy the society that protects them from the regimes that they would themselves impose on others can be removed if it is conducive to the public good and their own security to do so. We cannot allow the human rights of everyone else to be threatened any longer by such extremists.
§ 6.2 pm
§ Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth)
I apologise to both Front-Bench teams for being unable to be present for the winding-up speeches owing to a prior private engagement.
I was in New York last week; I got back on Sunday. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude), who might have been the shadow Foreign 1089 Secretary but for one vote, I experienced the very strange atmosphere in the city, especially the strange smell which once experienced is never forgotten. I add to that the sound at night of empty and loaded trucks carrying masses of rubble and remains from the city. To grasp the scale of the catastrophe, we must remember that only one fifth of the rubble has been removed and that those trucks will be rolling for at least a year. That is a staggering thought.
One lesson of the conflict is that we must not alter our lives for terrorism. I say that having had some experience serving in Northern Ireland at the start of the troubles. The Government should try to persuade us to maintain our life styles wherever possible. When we change them, we give in to the terrorism and give the terrorists what they want. Maintaining our life styles may not be possible in all circumstances, but there has been much panic and it is unnecessary.
Let us consider that, since the troubles in Northern Ireland began in 1969, terrorism has claimed 3,000 lives—very few on the mainland—yet every year there are between 1.600 and 1,900 accidents involving buses and pedestrians in Britain. So, the chances of being hit by a bus are infinitely greater than being involved in a terrorist incident. The Government should try to stress that.
I was at the NBC studio on Sunday when the issue of anthrax was discussed. Indeed, I met someone who had been in contact with the gentleman who had been diagnosed as having contracted it. I spoke to some of the medical specialists present. They stressed that cases of anthrax had been quite common among textile workers in America. I represent what used to be a textile constituency—we have lost so many factories—but we have never had a case of anthrax in Hinckley. The medical specialists stressed two points: first, that one should not take an antibiotic if one has not contracted the disease, and secondly, that the medicines for treating it are potent and effective. We must try to avoid being frightened to death, which is exactly what the terrorists want.
Another impression from the United States was the worry—it was present in the United Kingdom last week, too—about public relations, how we are carrying our cause and whether we are effective. We have made one glaring error in talking about crusades. Such talk was probably instinctive for those of a particular religion, but it was unfortunate.
This morning I was talking to somebody who is very close to a broadcaster on an Islamic radio station in Britain about the mistake of linking the words "Islamic" and "terrorism". We are dealing not with Islamic terrorism but with terrorism that is perpetrated by a very small proportion of a particular community. We must not talk about "Islamic terrorism", which tends to bring the whole of Islam into the matter.
We have heard the eloquent comments of colleagues such as the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson) about the concerns that we all feel over the loss of civilian life in Afghanistan. My right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham highlighted the difficulty of conducting military campaigns without the loss of civilian life. However, the Government must keep pointing out that what happened on the site of the World Trade Centre, which is now called Ground Zero, was the 1090 worst single civilian massacre in living memory. There was no military target. The massacre included victims from the Greek, Jewish, Muslim and Christian communities; every religion was represented in that catastrophe.
We must at times take very determined action against terrorists. Such action had to be taken against Colonel Gaddafi, and we did not hear much from him afterwards. We had to take tough action in the Gulf. I was then secretary of the Conservative Back-Bench foreign affairs and defence committees. We were a little wobbly at times; we felt very concerned about what was going on. It was not pleasant. The situation in Bosnia has been mentioned. How would we have brought Mr. Milosevic to book had we not taken action? What awful ramifications would there have been for Macedonia and the whole theatre if we had not acted?
We must not just wield a big stick but carefully consider the carrots. I say that sincerely. We must get across in a much more concise and understandable way what the west intends to do to help not the rich countries in the theatre but some of the poorer ones. We need to come up with a few phrases that catch on, such as "Aid to Arabia" and to get across the fact that we are concerned about the nations in the area, that there is a western plan measurably to improve the standard of living, and that that is an integral part of our strategy.
America's history of war and reconstruction provides telling evidence of the two processes going hand in hand. The last great shock to strike America before the catastrophe occurred at the World Trade Centre was Pearl Harbour. The Americans talk all the time about that shock attack by the Japanese, and there was great hatred in the United States for the behaviour of the Japanese during the second world war. However, at the end of that war, General MacArthur went to Japan not to demand the emperor's head, but to reconstruct Japan. Why do the Japanese now love playing golf? Why do they wear American baseball caps? Why do they play in the American baseball league? It is because they could not comprehend the United State's kindness in coming to their defeated nation and reconstructing it.
Other examples include the Marshall plan in Europe and the reconstruction of the southern confederacy after the civil war. The book that President Bush is currently reading is "April 1865", which is about events in the month preceding the conclusion of the American civil war. It tells of the reconstruction planning and attempts to find a solution that would ensure stability in the south. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for Defence is thinking as a doctor and wondering how we can treat the patient—although we might have to adopt a rather tougher approach than he takes in his surgery.
§ Mr. Tredinnick
I had better not take up the opportunity that that comment provides, lest I be called to order.
In the emergency debate a couple of weeks ago, I stated my belief that what we needed was a United Nations solution for Afghanistan. I believe that even more strongly now, especially when I consider that if the Northern Alliance take Kabul, it will be extremely hard to get rid of them. Think about what happened in Berlin at the end 1091 of 1945: the Russians surged across the lands of the Third Reich and did not hand control of Berlin to the four powers until they had thoroughly sanitised and bugged it. It took lengthy negotiations before our forces got to Berlin, which made matters extremely difficult.
We have to look beyond Afghanistan. Many hon. Members have spoken eloquently about the problems that confront us in that theatre, and I do not propose to repeat their remarks. I think that there is a momentum toward change in many places, and when drawing up a settlement after the war in Afghanistan ends—however it ends—we should include other troubled areas. Pressure should be exerted to resolve the Kashmir conflict, and to end the troubles in Sierra Leone. We have an opportunity to change our relationship with Iran, which was once our staunchest ally in that region. However many Chieftain tanks Iran bought from the United Kingdom, they are still there. In the old days, Iran was a great trading partner for us. There is work to be done, but great opportunities to change things for the better arise out of tragedy.
In all our debates, we hear about Israel and Palestine—whatever we are supposed to call it. I know that the Government got into some difficulties with descriptions of Palestine. I met Yasser Arafat many years ago in Tunis, when he was still classified as a terrorist. Like the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Linda Perham), I thought that that was an important mission that we had to undertake if we were to build bridges.
Currently, there are two fundamental problems in the region that must be resolved. The first problem is the settlements. It has caused problems throughout the Arab world. I checked the figure in the Library: there are 200,000 settlers in approximately 150 settlements and according to current reports settlements are still being built in contravention of existing arrangements. Another problem, left over from the Yom Kippur war, is that there are 607,000 registered refugees in the west bank and 852,000 in Gaza—displaced Arab people who have never found a home. Those two problems form a double powder keg in the region. Having visited the region, I think that the settlements have to be stopped. Peace will never be possible unless that happens.
I strongly believe that the greater the disaster, the greater is the potential for good. Now is the time for the Government—whom I commend on their handling of much of the crisis—and the United States Administration and all brave men to stand up and try to resolve as many of the conflicts in the world as we can. That might sound rather grandiose, but it is something to bear in mind, even though we are faced with an extremely difficult struggle. We have one ghastly statistic in common with the former Soviet Union: we both lost about 16,000 men in Afghanistan. That region will never be an easy theatre—
§ Patrick Mercer (Newark) indicated assent.
§ Mr. Tredinnick
I see my hon. Friend, who is a distinguished soldier, nodding. We will probably not be able to achieve our aims simply by dropping matériel from the air. However, with God's help, we will prevail.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
To be frank, in 39 years I have never heard so much cosy self-delusion as has been uttered by those on the Front Benches during 1092 this debate. What on earth do we mean by "carefully calibrated reactions"? The truth is that there will be massacres of civilians and that these events will go on and on.
We talk about "effective military action". What on earth is effective about dropping bombs from 30,000 ft, trying to attack the heartland of bin Laden, which is almost certainly tunnels, at high altitude? It is sheer cant to pretend that after nine days we are involved in effective military action.
The Foreign Secretary tells us that there is no alternative, but there is an alternative: it is to do something on the intelligence front, to follow every lead in the background to the atrocity. Some of us simply do not believe that the atrocities against Manhattan and the Pentagon were in any way honed or finalised in some cave in Afghanistan. The truth is that they were honed and finalised much nearer home—in western Europe, in Hamburg, Harburg, London and Leicester, and in the United States itself. What is being done to follow up the leads to those who were actually involved in committing the crimes?
We are told by the Secretary of State for International Development that the Law Officers are asked to give approval every time there is a targeting. I want to know whether that is a fact. No answer has yet been given by way of parliamentary question. Are the Law Officers consulted on every target? Do the Americans consult us? I should like the Minister who winds up the debate to tell us whether we are consulted or not.
I believe in short speeches, and many hon. Members want to speak. I have made the points that I think are relevant.
§ Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park)
The Foreign Secretary made many comparisons between the action against Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden and the action in Kosovo, which I supported at the time it was being carried out. It strikes me, however, that there are two glaring differences: first, in Kosovo we knew the enemy—we knew who was in charge and where he was—and, secondly, there were not 7.5 million people on the point of starvation before the action started.
When this all started two weeks ago, we were promised a three-pronged approach, including military action delivering justice, not revenge, through proportionate action. I certainly agree with the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), as I assumed that that action was going to be mainly intelligence work to find out what was going on behind the scenes, and that it would not be indiscriminate.
We were promised diplomatic action, which continues and in which the Prime Minister has played a great part, but we were also promised humanitarian action, on which I shall speak later. Military action has now gone on for 10 days. We were told by an American general that there are few military targets left, but the psychopath Osama bin Laden and his gangs are still at large.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Does the hon. Lady agree that bin Laden and his gang will be simply delighted by the bombing? They foresaw the trouble that would be stirred up in Pakistan and the great difficulty that would be created in Saudi Arabia. Might it not be that bin Laden's object is 1093 to stir up such trouble in Saudi Arabia that the house of Saud falls and, according his own perception, be it realistic or not, he can return to Saudi Arabia, as Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Iran?
§ Dr. Tonge
I agree entirely. I was going on to say that bin Laden is still at large and that the fragile coalition, which has been painstakingly crafted by the Prime Minister, is showing signs of strain. That is precisely what bin Laden wanted.
The Taliban may eventually crumble and have to be replaced by another—we hope, better—Government. I have always worried and wondered—this is genuine and I hope that the Minister will address it—whether that will affect bin Laden and his gangs. Will he not just go somewhere else? I suspect that he has always ruled the Taliban, rather than be controlled by them, evil and horrible a Government though they are. When the Taliban are gone, Afghanistan is destroyed and bin Laden and his gangs are still at large, who do we bomb, and what will the Muslim world think of us? What is the future?
My other main concern is the humanitarian action promised after 11 September, which so far has been quite inadequate; continued bombing is making the humanitarian situation far worse. We know that transport, particularly road transport, is fundamental to the humanitarian effort, yet experience in other recent conflicts such as Bosnia and Kosovo suggests that high-level bombing can often lead to the destruction of transport infrastructure. The risk of that happening is higher if the conflict in Afghanistan is extensive and prolonged. Indeed, one cannot rule out the possibility of those under threat deliberately destroying key transport infrastructure themselves, making it even more difficult and perhaps impossible to provide and distribute food and essential non-food resources to those in need.
In his winding-up speech, will the Minister address the Foreign Secretary's suggestion that charges are being made on aid convoys going in and out of Afghanistan? If that is true and convoys are getting there—we understand that 500 tonnes of food are getting in every day—who is paying for the trucks? Is that why the Secretary of State for International Development announced a £15 million increase in aid? Is it to pay for trucks? If we are not paying, what is happening to the trucks? May we have a little more detail to make sure that that is not just a story that is going around?
Whatever people think, Mary Robinson, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, definitely said:Are we going to preside over deaths from starvation of hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of people this winter, because we didn't use the window of opportunity before winter closes?That window is getting smaller and smaller; four weeks, probably, are left to deliver aid. By contrast, the UK's Chief of the Defence Staff, Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, now says thatwe must expect to go through the winter and into next summer at the very least".Does he mean that we will be bombing all that time, and, if he does, what on earth are we going to bomb?
§ Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)
Will the hon. Lady clarify one point? is she speaking for her party 1094 or entirely as a Back Bencher? We have heard a different line from her right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell). It would be interesting to know whether she is given free rein to speak as she wishes or whether she is speaking as her party spokesman.
§ Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion)
Whether or not the hon. Lady is speaking officially for her party, she is speaking for many in the House.
§ Dr. Tonge
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention.
The aid agencies tell us that the only effective way to address the unfolding humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, with its hilly terrain, is to bring in necessary food and non-food items by road, and to administer that using people familiar with local needs, conditions and customs. That must be done now, before winter comes.
The right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) pointed out the mammoth task ahead: 120,000 tonnes of food is needed, which breaks down to 343 trucks a day taking in 3,430 tonnes of food. At the moment, 500 tonnes are going in; I do not know how many trucks that represents. All I know is that it means an awful lot of people are going to die. Unless action is stepped up, famine will be upon Afghanistan in the winter.
Some people have accused me of being unhappy about the Americans dropping food parcels, having originally said that we should bomb Afghanistan with food and aid. However, the food parcels dropped alongside the bombs are extremely dangerous and are an insignificant way of providing aid. Not only do they drop into fields where there are land mines—local people can be blown up trying to retrieve them—but they are unsuitable provisions that are no good for Afghan people to eat. Moreover, they link aid with bombing, which is very dangerous indeed for the aid agencies, as they have repeatedly pointed out to the international community.
I still do not rule out the possibility that there may have to be some form of air lift over the winter to bring food and aid to the Afghan people. I do not see how we will get essential aid there if we do not do that.
A successful humanitarian approach has three critical ingredients: transport, security and speed. The opening up of the road system while it exists is necessary, as is the guaranteeing not only of a safe passage for those trucks bringing in essential supplies but the safety of those monitoring needs and overseeing the distribution of food and non-food items—a difficult procedure. With winter fast approaching, speed is of the essence if we are to avoid the catastrophic consequences of inaction.
The situation is desperate. We must ensure that the international community puts the needs of millions of innocent people in Afghanistan first and creates the conditions whereby all those people in need receive sufficient aid. As international development spokesperson for my party, I feel that we must call for a pause in the widespread military action in Afghanistan so that aid channels to all those in need can reopen in the few 1095 remaining weeks before winter. If we do not, we not only condemn hundreds of thousands to death by starvation but endanger the coalition against terrorism.
§ Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney)
I was in the United States on 11 September, and I want to begin by taking us back to the atrocities, because it seems that several weeks later the magnitude of the disaster has begun to diminish in many minds and in the press, where we are now seeing pictures of what is happening in Afghanistan. I witnessed the horrific events of 11 September and their aftermath live on the US media, which are a bit different from our own. Over the next 10 days, I talked about what happened as I continued to travel around meeting American people. Thus, I felt that I shared their experience, even though, thankfully, I did not experience close up the suffering of New York and Washington.
For obvious reasons, I could not return to the House on 14 September, but I watched events in the Chamber live on American public broadcasting at—I think—2.30 am mountain time. The House was solemn in and very moved, but a number of contributions of all types made it clear that it was very difficult for people in this country to feel the same sense of outrage as was felt in the United States. That was made even clearer when I returned home. I found some media reports very offensive, especially the anti-American streak that was evident at that time.
The events have now become known simply as 11 September, and that is what we all call them. I am concerned lest that term should become another example of the classic British understatement with which we always use the terms "Falklands conflict", as if what occurred was not a war, and "the troubles in Northern Ireland", as if what is happening there is of minor importance. In the United States, what happened was unanimously and spontaneously called an attack on America. That is what it was—an act of war. I suppose that using that term in this country would have made the events seem remote and not especially relevant, but we now know that it could have been us on 11 September. We know that attacks were being planned at the same time in a number of European countries and targeted on European Union institutions. What occurred was an attack on us all. I repeat what has been said so often: it was an attack on our basic freedom and on our democracy and economy. Worryingly, that attack is continuing.
We should not ignore the targets and the symbolic importance of the Pentagon and the towers of the World Trade Centre. I call what happened an attack on our whole way of life. We witnessed a level of terrorism that was unprecedented and that had previously been unthinkable. Sadly, it made me reflect that we had got used to some acts of terrorism, such as the hijacking of planes. Executives who travel around the world are given guidance by their companies on what to do in the event of hijack. That is why so many of the passengers on the first three planes sat still, thinking that they were going to be taken somewhere else. It was only on the fourth plane, when they learned through mobile phones about what was in store, that they tried to resist. We have become used to the planting of bombs in city centres. We are not even surprised any more when aeroplanes are blown up, as happened over Lockerbie.
It was sad that we had come to tolerate terrorism before 11 September, but we must remember that turning civil aircraft into flying bombs four at a time and slamming 1096 them into buildings is co-ordinated warfare. That is why we must adopt a response to terrorism that is different from that which we have used previously. Surely, we are not going to become used to flying-bomb aircraft attacks on buildings or germ warfare.
We know that what happened was not the act of individual fanatics, but the deadly deed of a terrorist organisation whose network covers the world. We now know that it is principally based in Afghanistan. That is why I do not see how we can possibly pursue the sort of judicial, Lockerbie-style approach of conducting a criminal investigation and lengthy extradition procedures, and then putting two or three people on trial about 10 years later. That is not a sufficient response and it would be unrealistic to expect the American people and their Government to accept it as a way forward. We would not accept such a response if the attack had been made here.
The scale, sophistication and depth of the terrorist organisation that inflicted disaster on America had never before been fully appreciated. Certain targets must be destroyed by military means. Some people say such means will not work, but they are advocating the do nothing option. If we did nothing, terrorists would laugh at our inaction, which would go down in history as another form of appeasement.
Other people ask what can be done and how terrorism can best be tackled. Some of them say that it is impossible to defeat it. The suggestion that nothing should be done because any action is difficult makes us feel as though we are facing the mythical creature whose teeth came alive when it died. However, there is a time for us to stand up and do something, and I believe that now is that time.
I mentioned the anti-Americanism that pervaded much of the debate about what happened. I find such an attitude especially difficult to understand at this time. We know that the target was not only the United States, but the whole of the so-called western world—a world that is now diverse. We are not all white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. When one travels around America, one sees that it is an incredibly diverse country. It was born out of people who were seeking refuge and asylum, and it has continued to develop along those lines throughout its history. Those who were responsible for 11 September used the freedom of America to enter the country and sign up at flying schools. They used all the freedoms of that country to construct their plot, which is very difficult to understand.
Some people were concerned that the Americans would respond in a stereotypical way and recklessly blow up half the world. They have shown themselves to be better than that. I believe that their approach has been patient and calculated. Let us not forget that this was not the first attack. Two horrific attacks were made on embassies abroad. They targeted not rich, western capitalists, but poor people in Africa. Previous attacks were also made on the World Trade Centre and the American warship USS Cole. In addition, various other attacks on America were headed off at an early stage.
We know where anti-Americanism comes from. I was opposed to America's actions in Vietnam and I still do not agree with what it did, but let us not forget something else about American history and foreign policy: America supported us in our time of need during the second world war. Last week, I heard a radio programme—I think that it was broadcast on BBC Radio 5 Live—whose topic was 1097 whether this was our war and whether the action had anything to do with us. We should thank America for not taking such a line in the second world war.
Some people place great emphasis on tackling the problem by dealing with the underlying causes of terrorism. Of course we must pursue that approach, which is what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was doing yesterday, and we all wish him the best in that respect, but before suggesting that that is all that we should do we must bear in mind the people with whom we are dealing. The only way in which we could stop al-Qaeda by such means would be to give it absolutely everything it wanted, which would merely encourage groups around the world to make demands on the basis of violence and to stop only if every single demand were met. Even then, they would probably think up more demands at the last moment.
Some people are so fanatical that, to them, terrorism is almost an end in itself. That is shown by groups such as the Real IRA. Earlier, it was said that if the Palestinian problem were solved tomorrow, al-Qaeda would continue its work. I share that view because that organisation comprises a bunch of people who hate the world in which they live. They believe that they can purify it by killing people throughout it, not only in the United States and Europe. In their countries, they kill people of their own religion whom they do not deem sufficiently pure.
The Taliban regime is the modern form of Nazism. I read that, in the Taliban's Afghanistan, people from minorities are told to wear armbands; women are treated despicably, and the regime even take it out on Buddhist statues. I therefore make no distinction between the Taliban and bin Laden's organisation: one represents the home front; the other, the foreign legion. We should not forget that more people have suffered death in Afghanistan at the hands of the Taliban than died in Washington and New York on 11 September.
Afghanistan was not always like that. The Afghan people are not evil. Some years ago, I spent several weeks in Afghanistan, and I know that they are a proud and decent people, but they entered a dark age with the Taliban. Consequently, many Afghans have left in desperate predicaments and many still want to leave. The Government's stance is therefore necessary not only for our international security and to protect our way of life, but to rescue the people of Afghanistan from that terrible regime.
I am pleased about the bipartisan support, which is an important aspect of the coalition. I wish that all parties could unite in it. It is important to keep other Muslim states on side. It was easy for people to condemn the attacks on 11 September, but it is more difficult for them to take military action. However, we must maintain the diplomatic initiative; otherwise, bin Laden will succeed in his aim of provoking the third world war—the west against the Muslim countries. That would not be in the interests of the moderate, more sensible Muslim states. Their interests are not served by that; they clearly want a peaceful existence and trade. However, the campaign is a test for their Governments.
No Government is being tested more than that of Pakistan. I join in the tributes paid to that country tonight. When General Musharraf took over, many of us criticised the coup. However, he has been put to the test and he is 1098 currently passing it. Demonstrations of 10,000 or 12,000 people in Quetta and Karachi are substantial, but they are a minority in Pakistan.
The coalition is one not simply of countries but of various strands that our action must include. I should like more humanitarian aid to be pledged to those inside and outside Afghanistan when the campaign is over. The action must also include the financial measures that the Chancellor outlined yesterday; the new drive, which the Prime Minister is currently advancing, on the Palestinian question—that must involve the establishment of a Palestinian state—and the military campaign. Those strands must be combined in a strategy. If we continue to do that, the Prime Minister will have my support in taking forward the fight against international terrorism.
§ Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)
I begin with two observations. First, the attendance is disappointing, given the extent of the crisis. Last week's debate was far better attended. That could lead to the conclusion that the House is better attended in the recess than when it is sitting. More hon. Members should be present to discuss the situation.
Secondly, I hope that the Government have noted the mood of most of the contributions so far. Substantial questioning has occurred, and there is a sober, cautious tone. No speech could be described as gung-ho. Unlike last week, Tory Front-Bench Members have made no such contributions. I hope that Ministers who are present will take that into account.
I have been interested in the Government's position on the extent of the conflict in which we are engaged, and in ascertaining to what, exactly, we have signed up. Last week, I considered the legal basis for the conflict. To some people, those points appear pernickety. However, we should know the legal position and the war aims and objectives when engaging in a military conflict. I was present 10 years ago during the debates on the Gulf war, and I have noticed that many hon. Members are less interested now in the aspects that I am considering. Perhaps that reflects the fact that many hon. Members with experience of military conflict have left the House and that such voices are not heard to the same extent.
As I said earlier, the Government did not publish the document, "Defeating International Terrorism: Campaign Objectives", when Mr. Alastair Campbell briefed the press about it last Thursday; it was placed in the Library today. That was not an oversight. I asked 10 Downing street for a copy last Thursday, and my request was refused. It is disappointing that the document was not published then because it is reassuring in many ways. It confines the military aspect of the campaign to Afghanistan. It is reassuring, especially for me and for several other hon. Members, because the last sentence states:Any action taken to achieve our objectives will need to be in conformity with international law, including the United Nations charter and international humanitarian law.I do not understand the Government's reluctance to publish the document last Thursday. As the campaign proceeds, I hope that the Government will be prepared to share important decisions with a wider public and hon. Members and that they will not be refracted through the prism of Mr. Alastair Campbell's interpretation of events and what he believes that people want to hear.
1099 Last week, I believed that it was important to press the point of article 51 and the United Kingdom letter to the Security Council, which we were bound to produce under international law. Thanks to the good offices of the Secretary of State for International Development, it was published. Lo and behold, there was an important difference between the letters of the United Kingdom Government and the United States Government. The United Kingdom letter did not contain a phrase that appeared in the United States letter. It stated:We may find that our self-defence requires further actions with respect to other organisations and other states.In the United States letter, that phrase appeared directly under the paragraph that dealt with military action. It would be impossible to read the letter without taking the broad hint, as the press did, that military action was being planned against other states.
I welcome the fact that the phrase did not appear in the United Kingdom letter. Its omission suggested that there was no support for broadening the military aspect of the conflict. However, it would have been better to state the aims and objectives earlier. I hope that that lesson has been learned.
Some of the items that have appeared in the press purport to reflect the views of some members of the United States Administration. On Sunday, The Observer cited officials close to a group in the American Administration that supports an early strike against Iraq and quoted one as saying:We see this war as one against the virus of terrorism. If you have bone marrow cancer, it's not enough to just cut off the patient's foot. You have to do the complete course of chemotherapy. And if that means embarking on the next Hundred Years' War, that's what we're doing.I do not know how highly placed the unnamed official is. However, the duty Minister is a psychiatrist; I should have thought that anyone who in the space of four short sentences can combine the concepts of virus, bone marrow cancer, amputation, chemotherapy and the hundred years' war is badly in need of psychological profiling.
The Leader of the House is in his place. He has talked about the targeted nature of the military action on several news programmes. It is important to maintain that focus in contrast to the loose talk in other quarters.
I said last week that the real, immediate battle would not take place in the skies above Afghanistan, because there was virtually no contest. We were talking about the deployment of all the modern apparatus of warfare against what was, effectively, decrepit anti-aircraft machinery and small-arms fire. The real battle would take place for public opinion, on the streets of a variety of Muslim countries. The Government should make some attempt to recognise what is happening, and to tell us what they intend to do about it. Over the last week that battle has been lost, and lost overwhelmingly, as far as we can tell from Islamic opinion.
The results of a Gallup poll have been released by CNN. The fact that the results were released by CNN and the poll was conducted by Gallup should give us some indication of the veracity of the findings, which suggest that 83 per cent, of Pakistanis who were consulted supported the Taliban against the United States. Some 82 per cent. termed Osama bin Laden a holy warrior, not a terrorist, and only 12 per cent. believed him to be responsible for the attacks on 11 September.
1100 Given our own perspective, those are dramatic—and dramatically worrying—figures. I would have appreciated some indication from the Foreign Secretary of what is being done to try to combat a feeling that I suspect is far more representative of the Islamic world than many Members would care to admit.
On the same subject, let me say that the last thing a Government engaged in what may seem to be a propaganda war but is, surely, a war about principle, truth and liberal democracy—all of which we are meant to hold dear—should do is allow Mr. Alastair Campbell to give the BBC, ITN and other news organisations a dressing down about how they choose to cover the international situation. Perhaps Mr. Campbell's efforts and skills would be better devoted to trying to win the battle of public opinion where it has to be won—in the Islamic world—rather than to engaging in what looks like panic at best and extreme foolishness at worst.
I also think that it would be useful not to read reports that pressure is being put on Qatar to try to close down Al-Jazeera, which, in contrast to many organs of the press throughout the Muslim world, shows a degree of independence, objectivity and freedom of editorial comment that we in the west would presumably like to see applied, given our belief in liberal democracy. Surely our analysis should conclude that the lack of those elements in many if not all Islamic countries is one aspect of the problem. It was therefore depressing to read in a newspaper that an attempt was being made to curtail the station.
My next point relates to the bombing campaign itself. I do not share the Foreign Secretary's confidence in the efficacy of bombing campaigns, and, unsurprisingly, I do not agree with his view of the bombing campaign in Kosovo. A serious analysis of that campaign suggests that the only thing that was not hit to any great extent was the Serbian army. Lots of other things were hit. It is also possible to argue with some force that, if anything, the conduct of that campaign prolonged Milosevic's hold on power in Serbia rather than loosening it, and that the decisive intervention was the diplomatic intervention of the Russians, who abandoned support for the Milosevic regime.
Even given the best possible interpretation, I hope that no Member would be satisfied with the accuracy of a bombing campaign like that employed in the Kosovan and Serbian conflict. I remind the House that trains, buses, civilian convoys and the Chinese embassy were hit. I cannot believe that anyone would want to see a similar impact in Afghanistan over the coming days and weeks.
It has been argued, with substantial force, that there is no moral equivalence between a campaign that targets civilians and an essentially military campaign in which civilians are collateral damage. I agree with that, as a moral point: in that context, a distinction can be made. I would only make the additional point that for someone who is killed or maimed as a result of action, there is total equivalence, whether death is caused by friendly fire and good intent, or by a directly attributable terrorist atrocity.
§ Dr. Julian Lewis
The hon. Gentleman is right that bombing alone did not win in Kosovo, but does he not accept that there is a difference between what the Government were saying then and what they are saying now? There was an argument then that bombing alone 1101 might win in Kosovo; I am not aware that the Government have said that bombing alone will win in Afghanistan. I believe the Government's position to be that bombing is a necessary precursor to other military action to win in Afghanistan, and if that is their position I think that Opposition Members owe it to them to support it until we see whether that other military action is indeed effective.
§ Mr. Salmond
The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. One mistake that I think would be generally acknowledged, even perhaps by Ministers in retrospect, was the announcement at the start of the Kosovo action that no other military intervention was being considered. That, I feel, is the equivalent of an announcement during the second world war that only a bombing campaign against continental Europe was envisaged, without a D-day landing. I do not think that the Government would wish to make the same mistake again.
Let me now refer to what I suspect people should hear. I want the Government to take Macbeth's advice:If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well It were done quickly".The most important aspect of the present situation is the necessity for speed, and that is why I feel extremely concerned. I know that the wise words are that it will take months and years, and that there cannot be a quick result or an effective early conclusion; but months and years are extremely dangerous in the case of this conflict, for three reasons.
First, the humanitarian clock is ticking. The concern expressed by Labour Members, by the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) and by my colleagues in Plaid Cymru over the last week will be shared by a growing number of people. Indeed, I think that everyone is now concerned about the fact that between 5 million and 7 million people risk starvation, but there is overwhelming evidence from aid agencies that in the current circumstances aid cannot get through. The Government say that it is the fault of the Taliban, and they are probably right—it probably is the Taliban's fault in many cases—but if a substantial number of people starve in Afghanistan over the coming weeks and months, believe me, it will not be the Taliban who are held responsible for that humanitarian disaster. The Government and the allies must therefore consider military action that will look for a conclusion sooner rather than later.
It was suggested from Pakistan this evening that 17 November—the onset of Ramadan—is being set as the deadline for the bombing phase of the campaign. Members would be interested to know whether the Government will confirm that during the debate. It is probably impossible to set deadlines, but the importance of Ramadan in the Islamic world, and also the fact that speed is of the essence, suggest that such deadlines might be welcome.
The second factor in favour of quick, early, effective action is public opinion in the Muslim world. Referring to the hitting of the Red Cross depot today, the Foreign Secretary said that no medicines or food had been involved. That is not what the International Committee of the Red Cross is saying, although it has confirmed that, thankfully, no Red Cross personnel were killed. All 1102 actions that result in civilian casualties will be as banners throughout the Muslim world, and the longer the action continues, the more difficult things will be.
The third and, in some ways, the strongest reason for an early end to the conflict is the fact that during the military stage of a campaign the chance of action spilling into neighbouring states and other conflicts is at its highest. We have already seen evidence in the past 24 hours of the danger of the simmering cold war in Kashmir becoming a hot one. The chances of spillover are at their greatest when military action is taking place.
Many hon. Members have said that good might come out of evil, and I share that view. I depart from some in believing that it was not possible for the American Administration, as indeed Nelson Mandela has said, simply to fold their hands in the face of the atrocities committed in Washington and New York. However, if we are to have action that, as the Foreign Secretary put it, makes the world a safer place as opposed to an ever more dangerous one, much more thought than we have witnessed today from Government Members needs to be given to the end game of the military action, as well as to the speed with which it is progressing.
I hope that the balance of the contributions that we have heard show that, although the Government have broad support, that support cannot in any way be taken for granted.
§ 7.1 pm
§ Mr. Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool, Walton)
My hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard) made several references to anti-Americanism. That reminded me of a comment made by an American friend of mine, Irwin Stelzer, who would happily be described as on the right of the American political spectrum. He charged me with displaying a visceral anti-Americanism for daring to make some comments about American, and indeed British, policy pertaining to the terrible events of 11 September. I replied that, despite my rather pronounced viscera, there is not one iota of anti-Americanism therein. We have a duty in the House to discuss these issues, but we are having to do so against the background of a charge of anti-Americanism.
Within a week of the terrible events of 11 September, a broadsheet Lobby correspondent had a story about a Cabinet Minister spiked. It was entirely unrelated to the Departments concerned with the events post-11 September and certainly nothing to do with those events, but it was deemed by the editor to be unpatriotic in any way to criticise a member of the Cabinet at such a time. Frankly, there is a dereliction of duty on the part of both the fourth estate and ourselves if we do not raise the issues that are important to us with the candour that should be expected of us.
It is in the context of that constructive candour that I want to respond to some of the points made by the Foreign Secretary. He referred to the overwhelming evidence of the involvement of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. I do not doubt that they are terrible people, guilty of terrible crimes, and that there is evidence against them, but the truth is that the document placed in the Library contained conclusions, not evidence. As I recall, there was a caveat on the top saying that it would not stand up to scrutiny in a court of law.
I do not object to that, but I would like to know, given that there is a Muslim view that we in the west have been less than even-handed in events such as Srebrenica and 1103 Sabra and Shatila, what evidence was presented to Muslim members of the alliance to convince them of the truth of the charges against Osama bin Laden. I do not ask to know what the evidence is, but has it been shared with those people, in order to cement the alliance?
The Foreign Secretary repudiated the notion that bin Laden and his accomplices could be arraigned before an international court. There are learned Members, both Government and Opposition, who will raise these matters with far more eloquence and knowledge than I could ever hope to have, but a question occurred to me: if we accept that the only effective way of dealing with Osama bin Laden is to apprehend him, if that is possible, and arraign him before an American court, where does that leave Muslim public opinion as regards Sharon?
Would the Lebanon be justified in demanding that Ariel Sharon be arraigned before a Lebanese court for the events in Shatila and Sabra? We are talking about international terrorism. I agree with the Foreign Secretary that the International Criminal Court will not have retrospective jurisdiction, but could Cambodia or Chile arraign Henry Kissinger on charges of international terrorism? I ask because that is the history that has informed the Muslim view.
I was taken by the reference to drugs as part of the post facto justification for the military intervention in Afghanistan. I do not recall any suggestion in the past that we should use military force to eradicate that source of narcotics. I also wonder whether the Northern Alliance, as an even greater trafficker in narcotics, would also be fair game for military action. I doubt it, because the realpolitik and the military exigencies dictate otherwise.
If we are talking about international terrorism, let us switch to another part of the world. What do we say to those who support $1.8 billion being dedicated to the fight against the FARC on the ground of combating drug production in Colombia? Leaving aside the fact that defoliants are being spread—memories of Vietnam come to mind—over the areas controlled by the FARC and have infected more than 10,000 Ecuadorians, and that the Brazilian Government will not allow the Colombian army to cross the border in pursuit of alleged FARC supporters, we must consider that that money is being used to support elements within the Colombian Government and its supporters in the Colombian establishment who finance the right-wing death squads and are more involved in the drug trade than the FARC is. We are opening an enormous can of worms. We are told that action is being taken on that matter, but I wonder how consistent it is.
I echo the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson) about the military dangers. We seem to be using traditional modes of warfare to deal with, in the jargon, an asymmetrical threat. I am unclear, and hope for illumination, about whether the bombing is intended to break the Taliban and bring them to the bargaining table or to prepare for ground troops to go in. If it is the former, I presume that it is already failing, because there are no signs, after a second week, that the Taliban are breaking up and are prepared to hand over bin Laden—even if they knew where he was.
If the bombing is to prepare for ground troops, we will shortly have the snows upon us, so it is a preparation for a very long haul indeed. I have not yet seen the publication on objectives that has been placed in the 1104 Library, but when I do I shall examine the objectives closely in the context of what I supposed was to be a short-term military action in Afghanistan.
Intelligence is also very important. Al-Qaeda has been set up as a deliberately nebulous cell system in which normal modes of intelligence such as electronic eavesdropping do not appear to work. Given the signal failure of the intelligence services to do anything to prepare for the terrible events of 11 September—I did not expect them to know the detail—I wonder how much better informed we are about the present disposition of al-Qaeda. How good is our intelligence, because that is the basis on which we must judge the military action that is taking place? I fear that we are literally and metaphorically shooting in the dark.
My greatest concern is the voice of those who wish to widen the war. The way in which elements in the American Administration have sought to shape an agenda that is dramatically different from that of the British Government is no secret. I would like to put on record my support and admiration for the Prime Minister's attempts to rein in those who wish to widen the war aims to include those other countries.
On British television on the night of 11 September, Richard Perle, the chairman of the Defence Review Board—a not uninfluential position—and a man formerly known by the sobriquet "the Prince of Darkness" urged that we ought to widen our aims beyond Afghanistan. He named those other countries that he felt should be the object of our military ire, including Iran, Iraq, Syria and Libya. Subsequently, that has been reinforced by Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, John Negroponte and others who would be fairly described as fully paid-up members of the hawkish tendency within the present Administration. Our Prime Minister has his hands full in trying to counteract that within the alliance.
I do not see that as an anti-American comment; quite the reverse. I wish all power to the elbow of Colin Powell, who seems to be trying to pursue a far broader and more consensual path in resolving these admittedly difficult issues.
We have to be patient and cautious in how we deal with the matters facing the alliance. My mind races to my reading, many moons ago, of Thucydides on the Peloponnesian war. While Pericles carved his name out for posterity with fine and warm words that have gone down through the ages, I recall the words at the same time of King Archidamus, the leader of the Spartan league, who, in a typically laconic speech, said:slow and cautious may be seen as wise and sensible.I do not have to remind all the erudite Members who surround me that the Spartans won that war. These should be the watchwords for the alliance as we go down this difficult path: slow and cautious.
§ Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe)
Having heard the concise and cogent speech of the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) and the reception from Labour Back Benchers to the speech of the Foreign Secretary, I am not sure whether there is more support for the Government's position from Opposition Members than from Labour Members. However, the robustly pro-American contribution of the hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard) has perhaps put me right on that point—but who knows?
1105 Let us suppose that news was brought to the House now that bin Laden had been captured, in the phrase of President Bush, "dead or alive". Would that bring to an end the current anti-terrorist conflict, as it is best described? The answer clearly is no, for at least three reasons.
First, the American Government have made it clear that their aims in the counter-terrorist struggle are not restricted to the capture of bin Laden, dead or alive. Having heard the statements of the Home Secretary and the Chancellor yesterday, and the Foreign Secretary's speech today, I believe that the British and American Governments are at one on this. Clearly, the capture of bin Laden would not bring the anti-terrorist conflict to an end.
The second reason is that the humanitarian effort in Afghanistan would clearly continue. Now that the Government have begun to undertake that commitment, I do not believe that they would renege on it. Of course that humanitarian effort would be impeded by the Taliban, so the conflict must continue in that second sense.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it is a fundamental truth that the west remains as open to terrorist attack today as it was on 11 September. Mercifully, we have, so far, largely been spared such events in this country, but we have no guarantee that such events will not happen over the next six months, year or period of years to come. In short, to use one of the Government's own phrases, we are clearly in this for the long haul. I believe that the public are beginning to note that now, although it has always been the case.
Hon. Members may detect the first signs that a minority—I stress that it is a minority—of public opinion is beginning to seem uncertain and somewhat confused. Why is this so? There are many reasons. We live in a consumer society in which people expect things to be done quickly. We also live in a society dominated to a degree by the media—in which I once worked—and a society in which questions are put to the Government, of whatever composition, all the time. The Government are open to all sorts of probing and piercing questions that can cause public doubt and division. Finally, civilian deaths have begun sadly to occur. I can say no more on that than was expressed eloquently by my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) and the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell). These are the reasons that help to explain why there is a certain mood of public doubt that did not exist a week ago.
I wish to apply all of these matters to my constituency which—according to the Muslim Council of Great Britain—contains the largest proportion of Muslim voters in any Conservative-held seat. As has been the case throughout the country, there have been racist and Islamophobic attacks in High Wycombe, which should be utterly condemned. I pay tribute to Mr. Ranjit Dheer, the chair—as he would style himself—of the local Commission for Racial Equality, who last week drew a fine balance between condemning such attacks and seeing them in their correct proportion. It is fair to say that, so far, things have gone reasonably well in terms of race relations and how they have been affected by the conflict, although I would not wish to be complacent.
1106 Now that the mood among a section of the public may have changed, it is right to ask what could happen if things went wrong or if there were a terrorist incident here of the kind that I have described. One thing is vital. Whether we are black or white, Muslim or Christian—or of no faith at all—we are all in this together. I urge all my white constituents—I cannot find a more convenient phrase—to think about the perspective from which the Muslim community sees the conflict. The Muslim community is of course utterly condemnatory of the attacks of 11 September, but they see them in a different context from the majority of my constituents. They are especially worried about the situation in Pakistan and what could happen to the Government there if things go wrong.
Many of my constituents come from Kashmir and apply to Kashmir the same standards that they see the west apply to the situation in Northern Ireland and the middle east. They are highly critical of the west for not paying Kashmir as much attention as it has sometimes paid to other issues. I scarcely need add that they have a particular point of view on the middle east and are affected by the very tense relations between the Muslim world and the west. I often think that the Muslim world feels at a recent disadvantage, having been for many centuries—I use the next word in a generalised sense—"ahead" of the west in the middle ages and other times.
It is also important for the Muslim community—if I may say so without appearing to lecture or patronise that community—to understand the point of view of those of us who have lived longer in the west. The hon. Member for Waveney made some telling and poignant points about the collective memory in Britain of the American contribution to this country's freedom in the last century. The Americans helped to save Britain in the first and second world wars Many hon. Members will have memories, however distant or handed down, of lend-lease in the second world war. It is sometimes difficult for the Muslim community to understand the reason behind the ties between Britain and America, but it is important that it should try to do so. Certainly, many Muslims in my constituency have agreed with that point of view when speaking to me.
Conservative Members wish the Government well and support their actions, but I note that over the past few days their command—and that of the American Government—of the situation has seemed a little less certain than it was. We may be heading towards a cloud.
§ Mr. Calum MacDonald (Western Isles)
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary drew parallels between the choices we face in this crisis and conflict and the choices that were faced in Kosovo. I have strong memories of the debates on Kosovo and the Gulf war. On both occasions, I supported the military action taken by the then Government. Indeed, in the case of the former Yugoslavia, I called for military intervention in Croatia and Bosnia long before the need for it was accepted by other hon. Members and when I was in a tiny minority.
I fully accept the need for the United Kingdom to use military force on occasions when there is no other alternative, when that force is proportionate and targeted, when it is in line with international law and when it has a good prospect of success. However, there is no hiding 1107 the fact that what we are facing in Afghanistan is immeasurably more difficult, more fraught and more complex than in the Gulf or in Kosovo. I believe that the action is right, as long as it continues to be targeted and proportionate. It also has a good chance of success, as long as we are clear headed about our goals, but we must be honest about the scale and the difficulty of what lies ahead.
Intervention in the former Yugoslavia was always going to be fairly straightforward. Tackling the Serbian paramilitary regime was like kicking in a rotten door. Regardless of the Yugoslav army training that many people mentioned or the considerable weaponry at the disposal of the paramilitaries, no real deep self-belief was felt underneath their nationalist bravado. When they were confronted by determined western intervention, they collapsed. The same was broadly true of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. In neither case was an extensive or protracted ground campaign eventually necessary.
In the case of the terrorist network we face today, however, and especially given the protection it receives from the Government of Afghanistan, the situation is very different. The terrorist network has no lack of self-belief. On the contrary, we face an enemy that is confident, even fanatical, in its views and determined to impose them on the world. That self-belief is the most powerful weapon that the terrorists have and that is why, as several hon. Members have already said, winning this battle will require a battle of minds as well as a military battle.
If it is to succeed, our military campaign must be embedded in and shaped by a much wider political strategy. The military campaign must be accompanied by sustained political initiatives, especially with those countries where the terrorist networks find their sympathy, their support and, of course, their recruits. Those initiatives must involve not only the Governments of those countries but must engage as much as possible with ordinary opinion in those societies.
We face a paradox, because the geographic focus of the military campaign in Afghanistan will be different from the geographic focus of the wider political campaign that has to happen at the same time. The military strategy must remain firmly targeted on the Taliban regime and the bin Laden network. We must be clear that the immediate goals are the removal of the Taliban regime and the destruction of the bin Laden network, because the latter will not happen without the former. Incidentally, I believe that it would be wrong, and indeed foolish—as several hon. Members have already said—to widen the military goals further and to consider any new action against the Iraqi regime.
The focus of the wider political strategy that accompanies the military conflict must be the middle east, to tackle the Arab-Israeli conflict and to try to end the dangerous hostility between the Arab world and the west. We must drain the swamp of discontent and frustration that feeds that hostility, which is based on decades of economic and political failure in those states. That will require an economic—as well as political, ideological and cultural—engagement with the Arab world on a scale that we have not envisaged before.
We are used to thinking of the middle east as an area in which American interests are most obviously engaged and in which European Governments are largely spectators. However, Europe could be said to have an 1108 even bigger stake than the US. The Islamic states of the middle east are Europe's nearest neighbours. The Arab world is our backyard, not America's. Of course, we in Europe are also the backyard of the Arab world, which is why some 20 million Muslims now live in the European Union. For that reason, we cannot allow US interests alone to dictate western policy in the middle east and the wider Arab world. That is not an anti-American sentiment. Indeed, I lived for eight years in that country and still have close connections with it. We must have a genuine partnership between the US and Europe that involves a fundamental re-analysis of our policies towards the middle east, including our relationship with states such as Israel and Saudi Arabia. That does not mean that we should turn our backs on those Governments or abandon them, but the present policy is unsustainable and we must try to find a new way forward.
I warmly welcome the effort that the Government are putting into the middle east peace process and the meeting with President Arafat yesterday. However, we must have a collective European effort if it is to have a real impact. It must also be sustained and pursued beyond the immediate horizon of the conflict in Afghanistan.
I also applaud the way in which the Government have gone about fulfilling their humanitarian obligations to the refugees in Afghanistan. Particular credit must go to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development for the way in which she has raised this matter and pursued it on an international stage.
In addition to relieving the immediate humanitarian need in Afghanistan, we should also consider the wider need in the region. There have been reports of malnutrition, and there is the prospect of hunger in bordering states such as Uzbekistan. That must also be covered by the humanitarian effort.
Several hon. Members have mentioned the post-conflict political goal in Afghanistan. I support the idea that the Taliban should be replaced by a broad-based Government under UN auspices. It is desirable that the political structure to emerge in Afghanistan after this conflict should bring stability, economic progress and sensible law to that country. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, we must not walk away from Afghanistan after the conflict has ended, but it is even more important that we do not walk away from the middle east.
Our post-war political aims in Afghanistan are desirable and correct, but we must not forget that the main, long-term political effort must be focused elsewhere in the middle east. Unless we make progress in that region, we will be back in this position inside a decade. We missed the opportunity that arose after the Gulf war, and we are suffering the consequences. We must not miss that opportunity again.
§ Mr. Peter Duncan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale)
I come to the debate with little experience of foreign affairs, but I have had five weeks experience of explaining recent events to two children aged five and seven. Along with millions of fathers, in this land and many others, I have faced the challenge of explaining and rationalising to my youngsters what has happened to humanity in the wake of the events in New York, Washington, Philadelphia and Afghanistan. There is nothing more critical than the eyes of a child.
1109 I have therefore attempted to rationalise in my own mind recent events, and especially the role of the coalition in the past few days and weeks. I consider the coalition's role to have three aspects, each of which has a critical part to play in winning the conflict. It is important that the coalition remains focused on the target that has been set. That target is Afghanistan, and more specifically the Taliban regime. We must not be diverted into seeking a wider remit throughout the middle east until the time is right. The coalition's first target is to find and bring to justice Osama bin Laden. Many hon. Members from all parties have stated already that that is a challenge in itself, but the coalition accepts that it has to play a complicated role.
I commend the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) for bringing to our attention the lack of objective statements to the House in the past few days. That omission does not reflect well on the Government, especially when it comes to maintaining the coalition that exists in this Chamber on this very complicated matter. Moreover, the project will last a long time. As the Foreign Secretary noted earlier, it will not be over in days or weeks. We must manage expectations and prepare the British people for that. They are entitled to a rational explanation of the duration of the expedition that is under way, and to a realistic assessment of the demands that will be placed on this country, and on others.
The second objective of the coalition is to return stable government to Afghanistan. It cannot be acceptable that in many conflicts over the past few decades, we have left the theatre of conflict in a poorer state than when we found it. That cannot be allowed to happen in Afghanistan. We have a critical role to play in introducing an inclusive and fair administration to Afghanistan. It is tempting to foresee an easy solution to the question of the post-Taliban regime, but I respectfully suggest that the easiest solution in that context might not be the fairest or the most inclusive.
The coalition's third—and equally important—objective has to do with the humanitarian effort in that part of the world. Many hon. Members today have noted that the aid now reaching people there amounts to 500 tonnes per day. That is nowhere near an acceptable amount. We have little time left in which to accelerate provision, and time is against us. I consider the response to be pitifully inadequate, as I understand that it amounts to only one seventh of the amount needed to maintain a population threatened by the onset of winter. I look to the Government for some reassurance that they accept the fact that the war will be won as much by the aid convoys as in the air. Some people have estimated that as few as four weeks remain to make a significant impact in that regard.
In addition, it is important that we manage people's expectations, both in our constituencies and in the wider world, about how long the campaign will last. It is likely to last months or years, not weeks. The challenge is to maintain the high level of support that exists in the country. I do not agree with the view expressed today that there is a great groundswell of doubt about the legitimacy of the action being taken. My experience is that support for the action being taken by our airmen and troops is resolute and strong, rather than doubting and dubious. 1110 However, we must manage expectations, especially when it comes to explaining that the action is a means to an end, and that that end is the end of the Taliban regime.
I believe that this war is the second media war. We must accept that much of that manipulation of the expectations of people in the UK will be done outwith this Chamber—by CNN, the BBC, and so on. Two images prevalent over the past days and weeks have presented a false picture of the unfolding conflict. First, as happened in connection with Kosovo, we are presented with images of smart bombs and laser precision. Although we have those capabilities in our armoury, the dangerous impression is given to people that the conflict is clinical and clean. If we try to convince our constituents that that is the case, we will be misleading them. The conflict is complicated, and is not a matter of laser precision. Lasers may play a part in it, but the conflict will remain dirty. It will no doubt get worse as time goes on.
Secondly, we are presented with images of destruction and so-called collateral damage that contrast starkly with notions of laser-guided bombs. We must accept that images of destruction are influencing people. There are early signs that members of the al-Qaeda network are now masters of public relations, and that they realise that they have the power to manipulate the media. This week's media tour of a bomb site is part of a worrying trend that will continue to develop in the weeks to come.
We must balance the critical reception of television images of collateral damage with courage in the knowledge that civilian casualties are inevitable. That does not mean that they are in any way acceptable, but I am afraid that in this conflict they are inevitable.
It is important to keep the anthrax threat in proportion. Anthrax is a remarkably difficult part of the armoury with which to deliver any threat to this part of the world. However, it is effective in creating terror, and that is what the terrorists are after, rather than a huge impact. The danger is that images in the newspapers of people with blue suits and helmets give rise to terror in the United Kingdom, and that is a win for the terrorists. We all have a part to play in a dignified and rational response to the anthrax threat, but let us not get it out of proportion, for that would be a win for the terrorists.
Much has been made this evening of the link to the middle east peace process. I listened with interest yesterday to the Prime Minister's comments on a viable Palestinian state. I concur entirely with the views of many in this House that solving the middle east conflict is crucial to this problem. However, we have to be careful about the messages we are sending. Now that Yasser Arafat has come for meetings in London in the aftermath of the atrocities in New York and Washington, we must be careful about how we present the way in which negotiations develop hereafter. This is not about the Palestinian problem, as was shown in the information we were given a couple of weeks ago. This plot was hatched when the middle east peace process was in a promising state. Even at such an encouraging time for the peace process, the al-Qaeda network was plotting this atrocity against the western world. Of course, resolving the peace process in the middle east is important, but there is a danger that risk and reward will become connected in the minds of the terrorists.
I remain committed to support for the Government's position. We believe that their response is proportionate and just. Earlier this week, my five-year-old asked me 1111 whether wars were okay. It was one of the most difficult questions I have been asked during the past six weeks. I responded with a wee bit of politicians' faff—a bit of flannel. Ultimately, after rationalising things in my mind, it came down to the fact that although not all wars are just, this is a just war.
§ Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Kelvin)
I apologise for the sound quality of this contribution, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but, although unwell, I wanted to contribute to a very fine debate, and I am grateful to you for allowing me to do so.
The right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude), who is not in his place, made a fine and thoughtful speech. The Conservative party must be well off indeed if such a man can be on their Back Benches. However, in praising his speech I take issue with a fundamental error that he made.
The right hon. Gentleman was right to describe his visit to Ground Zero in the awesome way that he did. He was right to talk about the sight, the taste and the smell of what he found there. He was wrong, however, to say that the crime committed on 11 September was of a dimension that has never been seen before. I submit that that error of analysis leads us to the current juncture and is intrinsic to the weakness of our position internationally. No one could have said that if they had walked with me through the ruins of Beirut in 1982 where, for week after week, General Sharon reduced an Arab capital city to ashes. He presided over a massacre in two Palestinian refugee camps the like of which had not been seen since the second world war. The stench of dead men, women and children pervaded the whole of the western part of the city of Beirut. The terror instilled by the fragmentation and phosphorus bombs, the fuel-air explosives, the napalm and the butchery in the camps remains a potent factor in the lives of the Lebanese and Palestinian people to this day, almost 20 years later.
I accept that the right hon. Member for Horsham believed what he said to be true. That is the point. It is because what happened in America is being invested with so much more value and horror than equally horrific things that have happened in Arab and Muslim countries that our position is so weak and difficult internationally.
I was not going to mention this, but as the Foreign Secretary scolded us so in his rather schoolmasterly way in his opening comments, may I say that there are no supporters of the Taliban or bin Laden on our side of the argument? In fact, the only supporters of the Taliban are in the Government's coalition. It contains the only countries which, until a few days ago—and, in one case, until now—maintain diplomatic relations with the Taliban and with the Arab Afghans, to whom I shall return, who are the core problem in this conflict.
The American and British Governments invented the Taliban. I do not say that to score points, although that is irresistible for those of who stood in the Chamber and bored the House stiff with warnings of the dark night that would ensue under those holy warriors—those freedom fighters—whom the American and British Governments were arming, financing and training. After all, bin Laden's guards were trained in what can only be described as a terrorist training camp near Fort William by the Special Air Service of the British Army. So there are no 1112 supporters of the Taliban or bin Laden among my right hon. and hon. Friends. To sketch out a simplistic argument saying that there is no alternative, as was done from the Dispatch Box today, is a grave error. In politics, there is seldom only one alternative. There is seldom no other way to skin a cat than the way advanced by the Government.
I rise to speak against the iron consensus of the three Front Benches. It is clear that they have their forces here this evening behind their position. I hope that they are not fooling themselves that their voters and supporters do not feel great unease about and considerable opposition to the course on which they have embarked.
After all, even if the opinion polls are correct, my friends and I speak for about 10 million people in this country. They are Labour and Liberal Democrat voters and, judging by my postbag, they are also Conservative voters. Let us not imagine that that iron consensus really speaks for the whole country, as anyone who has read a correspondence column in a serious newspaper, has listened to a phone-in programme on a serious radio show or seen the growing demonstrations—not only in this country, but 250,000 people in Italy on Sunday and 500,000 people in India on the same day—will know.
Neither should the Government believe—this is an even more serious error—that the support of juntas, potentates and western-dependent leaders for their course of action represents opinion in the countries that are under the heel of those juntas, potentates and dictatorships. I have heard hon. Members on both sides of the House this evening praise someone called President Musharraf. He appointed himself as President. He is a military dictator who seized power and imprisoned for life the elected Prime Minister of Pakistan.
As was stated admirably clearly by one hon. Member on the Opposition Benches, 83 per cent, of the people of Pakistan entirely oppose the policy of the self-appointed President of Pakistan and yet he has been praised here for his courage. Courage in what? In usurping power from the elected Government and ramming through a policy that is opposed by 83 per cent. of the people he governs? Apart from the questionable morality of that policy, it is hardly a stable basis for a coalition.
If this conflict stretches, as it seems it must, through a difficult winter, with large numbers of casualties through hunger and for other reasons, there is a real danger that Pakistan will be tipped into what I would call a Talibanisation of its politics. I do not need to remind the House that that Talibanised Pakistan would be a nuclear-armed Pakistan.
That is the truth. We have assembled in a coalition for "enduring freedom" some of the least free countries in the world. It is their lack of freedom that contributes to the swamp of grievance and injustice that is felt by many in the Islamic world—a swamp from which the monstrous mutations who created the havoc and destruction on 11 September came.
Listening to the Foreign Secretary as he swung across the present world position, one would not have gained any smattering of an understanding that this war is going extremely badly. Frankly, in the no doubt unintentional misreading of the findings of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference in Doha, the Foreign Secretary did not tell the House that the Governments of the Islamic community beseeched the Americans and British to avoid civilian casualties. Nor did he mention the finding of the 1113 Foreign Ministers of the Arab League, who declared, in an echo of NATO Ministers, that any subsequent attack on any Arab country would be regarded as an attack on all Arab countries. I mention that because it is clear from a cursory reading of the newspapers on Sunday that Afghanistan is not the only target in this coalition against international terrorism.
I accept that the British Government have been making noises that would tend to restrict the conflict to Afghanistan—I do not know if it is because some hard cop, nice cop/good cop, bad cop routine is being played out or whether it is genuine, and frankly it does not matter. However, the decision overwhich snakes in the swamp",to quote Richard Perle, the United States military goes after will be made not in London, in Downing street, but in the United States. If the US decides to launch an attack on an Arab country or Arab countries, it will pitch us from what is shaping up to be a disaster into an international catastrophe.
Why do I say that the war is going so badly? In every war we are told that the bombardment is aimed only at military targets. We are told that the targets are being scientifically and forensically calibrated and that the weaponry is of a new generation that will minimise collateral damage. In every conflict in which that charade is played out it proves to be absurd, as subsequent examination of the accuracy rates of the ordnance that was fired and dropped and the most cursory examination of casualty wards in the countries attacked makes clear. In this conflict, it is more absurd than in any other recent conflict.
Do you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that one of the main weapons being deployed against the cities of Afghanistan—the poorest country in the world—is the B52 bomber? Indeed, in some cases it is the very same aeroplanes that carpet-bombed Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. That is what a B52 bomber does. It does not even pretend to be forensic, laser-guided or targeted. It is a large aeroplane that opens its bomb doors out of which fall huge piles of high explosives. The poorest country in the world, Afghanistan, is being bombarded 24 hours a day, with a brief pause in a mockery of religious acknowledgement during the daylight hours of Friday. There has been a 10-day round-the-clock, massive bombardment of a country which before the conflict started was best described as being on the verge of the stone age.
I was in a debate in Trinity college, Dublin, on Thursday with a very brave woman—Marie Colvin, who is a supporter of the war and a journalist on that most doveish newspaper The Sunday Times, whose eye was gouged out in Sri Lanka recently. A heroic war correspondent, she ridiculed the idea that we are bombing military targets in Afghanistan and was in a good position to do so as someone who has spent many weeks there. She ridiculed the idea that we would be attacking command and control centres at Kabul airport, as the Defence Secretary said in his press conference the other day. She laughed at that, saying, "I've been in Kabul airport and the airport building is practically a mud hut that can only receive incoming phone calls." That area is being bombed, we are told, again and again. She ridiculed 1114 the idea that Afghanistan could have enough military targets for even one day's bombing, never mind 10, 20, 30 or 40, or that one could bomb Afghanistan round the clock and not be killing large numbers of innocent Afghan civilians.
This will be my final point, as many hon. Members wish to speak. This war is being waged on the wrong target. The attack on 11 September has nothing to do with the Afghan people. None of the terrorists who attacked America were Afghans. As my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) said, the attack was planned from European and north American bases. The Afghan people have been hijacked by the Afghan Arab formations of extremists, paid for by Saudi Arabia during the war against the Najibullah Government, armed with American weapons and, as I said, even trained in our own country. It is the Afghan Arab terrorists who flew out of that swamp of grievance that I talked about. It is not that the Taliban are shielding bin Laden: it is the other way around. Bin Laden's forces are the only organised force in the whole country with money and with the logistical ability to run themselves as a quasi state, so to pound mercilessly the civilian population of Afghanistan is morally grotesque. To expect to keep international opinion on one's side with the equivalent of Mike Tyson in a ring with a five-year-old child, beating it mercilessly round after round, is ridiculous beyond words. If we leave morals aside and talk only about efficacy, we see the real danger in what we are doing.
In my speech of 14 September, I warned that if we embarked on an unwise course we would create 10,000 bin Ladens. Does anyone watching the flames, from Kuala Lumpur to Karachi, from Quetta to Jordan to Oman where our own forces are—where the biggest demonstration in the country's history took place last week—to the streets of all the Arab capitals, think that I was exaggerating and that from that great mass of anger there will not come 10,000 bin Ladens? I submit that the course of action on which we are embarked and in which I predict we will still he involved next year—perhaps next year at this time—with casualties beyond imagination risks becoming the very third world war that the bin Laden fanatics set out to achieve with their attack on the World Trade Centre on 11 September.
§ 8.2 pm
§ Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford)
It is always a difficult task to follow the hon. Member for Glasgow, Kelvin (Mr. Galloway), who always speaks with such passion and determination. Although I do not agree with everything that he said, he speaks for a valid view that exists—quite rightly—in all three political parties and among those people who do not subscribe to any political party. It is a view that we would be wise to listen to, because the hon. Gentleman has direct experience in these areas.
As a spokesman from the Liberal Democrat Front Bench, it is also difficult for me to follow my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) in a debate where he has made one of the opening speeches. He, too, speaks with passion, conviction and eloquence and it is sometimes difficult to follow him.
Through the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, I thank the Ministry of Defence for keeping me and the Conservative spokesman up to date on events. Yesterday, 1115 I attended a briefing with the three service chiefs and the Secretary of State which was extremely useful. It enabled us to put into some context the military aims of the Government and the coalition that has been assembled. At that briefing one thing was clear: the action in which we are engaged could take a long time—as the hon. Member for Glasgow, Kelvin pointed out. Tonight, I do not want to speculate on the level or degree of action, on the tactics that may or may not be used or even on the equipment that might be used. There are enough armchair generals filling our television and radio stations doing that. However, it is right, as Sir Michael Boyce, the chief of defence staff, said, that we could be in for some long action.
§ Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)
As regards the length of that action, does the hon. Gentleman support the call made by one of his spokesmen, the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge), that there should be a pause for humanitarian aid to be brought into the theatre?
§ Mr. Keetch
As I have just said, we should not speculate on the degree, intensity or movement of that action. I simply suggest to the hon. Gentleman that tomorrow morning he reads in Hansard my speech and the speech made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife.
Last week, I said in the House that protection against civilian casualties—in Kabul as well as in New York and London—is for us a duty. However, we have to accept that in any military action—no matter how well targeted we believe it might be, and whatever the sophistication of the equipment we might use—there will be civilian casualties. War is not some kind of Nintendo game that is played by merely pressing buttons: it involves death. In the planning that has taken place at the Ministry of Defence and, I hope, at the Defence Department in the Pentagon and at Tampa, I am sure that every effort has been made to minimise the casualties to which action by our armed forces might lead. However, we should remain vigilant, in that securing targets from distant satellites and aircraft can sometimes prove mistaken.
It has been said before, and it is worth repeating, that our armed forces are some of the best in the world. Indeed they are. Whether they are in Macedonia or Sierra Leone, in the Gulf or simply fighting foot and mouth, they are some of the best trained in the world. The Prime Minister spoke today about public services, and we should remember that the members of Her Majesty's armed forces are also our public servants. We should be proud of them.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Kelvin spoke about Pakistan. I am glad that Colin Powell has recently been in Pakistan. I am also particularly glad that Chairman Arafat was in London yesterday. He met my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife and my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy), who expressed to him our support for the Government's effort to put the middle east process further up the agenda. It is not true to suggest that American foreign policy in the middle east, or anywhere else in the world, justifies in any way the events of 11 September. That is grotesque. However, it is true to say that if, as a result of those grotesque efforts, there is an impetus to increase the momentum of the peace process that could be a good thing. That is something that 1116 will be supported by all of us in the House. It would be opposed by only one man: Osama bin Laden. He does not want to see that peace process succeed. He is the one person who desperately wants to bring the middle east into the catastrophe that we heard about earlier. Although I may not agree with all that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Kelvin has said recently, he and I both want to stop that catastrophe and agree that bin Laden wants to see it happen.
Maintaining that international coalition—that worldwide consensus—is incredibly important. It is the most important thing that we have to do. That is why I share the concerns expressed on both sides of the House about talk of extending the military action beyond Afghanistan. We should do what we are doing at present. Let us get that right before we start talking about other targets or other countries. I particularly welcomed the words of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle).
During the past 10 days, I have spoken to a number of people about what is going on. I spoke to someone who was involved in the training to which the hon. Member for Glasgow, Kelvin referred. I received an interesting e-mail from Mr. Mark Evans. For 12 years he was a civil servant—a defence analyst who worked in the UK Ministry of Defence and the US Department of Defence. He is a former member of the Conservative party and was chairman of the Bow Group defence committee for some time.
§ Mr. Keetch
Indeed, he is a great man-he has joined the Liberal Democrats. He said:What is needed in the current situation are calm, sensible actions, designed to alleviate Muslim fears and isolate terrorist individuals.I agree with him entirely. That, by and large, is certainly what we support and what the Government and the coalition aim will involve, because it is understood that the problem will not be solved by military action alone.
The huge humanitarian effort about which my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park spoke so eloquently is needed. Diplomatic action and financial action are needed, as are the legal and extradition changes, which is why Liberal Democrats said yesterday in response to the Government's various statements that we shall support the necessary action. We need to carry out the kind of long-term intelligence work that the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) mentioned. However, I must tell him that we shall not be able to make judgments about that intelligence work because of its very nature. As has been said before in quoting what an IRA terrorist said after the bombing, the intelligence community has to get it right every time, but the terrorist only needs to get it right once.
I shall not speak for much longer because many other hon. Members wish to speak, but it is important that time be spent now on beginning to plan what kind of Afghanistan should exist when the action ends. Far too often, the west has wandered in, intervened, done something and then wandered out. We must not do that this time. Whatever the shape and future of Afghanistan after these events, it must not simply be the preserve of one group—whether the Tajiks, the Uzbeks in the north or the Pashtuns in the south. The former king may have a role to play—I hope that he has—but whatever the 1117 outcome, it must involve international security and the UN. That is why my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West was right when he said in The Times on Saturday:Faced as we are with the menace of global terrorism, which endangers all nations and all governments, our protection lies in an international consensus.My party has always been an internationalist one. That is why we support this international action now, and why we look forward to an international resolution in the future.
§ Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone)
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch). I agree with much of what he said, but I shall take a different approach. I want to deal with four points that are essential for a sustained peace. I have not yet read the objectives document, but the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), who has seen it, says that it does indeed refer to the boundaries of the conflict being those of Afghanistan and that the conflict will be pursued within international law.
Before I make my four points, it would be disingenuous of me if I did not tell the House about my stance on the issue. I believe that the perpetrators of the atrocity should be brought to justice, that the quest should involve bringing them to justice and that that should be done within the confines of international law. That is why I support the suggestion that the people who have carried out the atrocities should be tried by an international criminal court.
The first of my four points has been mentioned time and again. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles (Mr. MacDonald) dwelt on it. It concerns the need to develop, in the peace that follows the conflict, an understanding with the Islamic world. The west, including all of Europe and north America, must engage in a closer relationship with the world of Islam. From that understanding, we can develop a new relationship that can pave the way to a more peaceful world.
This week, I was heartened to note that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister had taken the initiative and invited Yasser Arafat to London; I understand that the Foreign Secretary also attended the meeting. I believe that there will be a meeting with Ariel Sharon, which I hope will pave the way towards peace in the middle east. Nevertheless, peace in the middle east can be guaranteed only if the Americans fully support the solution. Without American support, there can be no lasting peace in the middle east.
I also believe that the United Kingdom and the USA must consider a review of their bombing of Iraq. If we are to engage with the Muslim world to begin a new relationship, the bombing of Iraq must be reviewed and we must develop a new dialogue with that country. Those two events have fuelled the undercurrent of unrest in the Islamic world that has led to the terrorist atrocity. What has happened in the middle east does not provide an excuse for the atrocity, but it does begin to explain it.
My second point is that drugs are used not only to raise money but as an instrument of terrorism, and there is evidence to support that fact. My colleagues and I who 1118 sit on the NATO Parliamentary Assembly heard a presentation by the deputy director of Interpol. Some of the information that she gave was quite astounding.
Before I refer to that information, I should like to deal with the comments that my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) made about drugs in Colombia and the FARC. Like him, I am sceptical about the Colombian plan. Nevertheless, we can clearly see a difference in the situations in Afghanistan and Europe.
In last week's presentation, we were told that the majority of heroin used in Europe—75 per cent.—comes from Afghanistan and that 3,275 tonnes of heroin were trafficked into Europe in 2000. The transit trail goes either through the former Yugoslavia and Albania or through central Asia, Russia and into Europe. Intelligence shows that several Algerian terrorist leaders were present at a meeting in Albania, which was probably attended by Osama bin Laden and at which they planned the route that the heroin would take through that area into Europe. Although there is conflicting evidence, I believe that that meeting took place some time in 1998.
Another link associates bin Laden with the heroin trail. The brother of one of the leaders of the Egyptian organisation that operates with him led a Kosovo Liberation Army unit during the Kosovo conflict. Evidence clearly shows that the heroin route into Europe goes through areas that were under KLA control and links the trade to Kosovo and Albania. The deputy director of Interpol put that evidence to the civilian dimension of security committee.
My third point relates closely to my fourth. In considering the conduct of the conflict, it is essential that we bear in mind the fact that other central Asian areas face dire problems because of terrorism. For example, the Republic of Uzbekistan is confronting a terrorist movement called the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. The IMU has made it clear that it opposes democratic secular Governments. In understanding how the conflict could go beyond Afghanistan, we must be aware of the fact that some of the new democracies may be threatened by terrorism.
In that context, NATO must develop a taskforce and its remit should include an anti-drugs activity. It would have to work with the intelligence services of Europe and north America, as well as with organisations such as Interpol. NATO must face up to the challenge because hard drugs are being used as an instrument of terror. Many of my colleagues know from their constituencies that hard drugs sap the strength of a community and break down people's confidence in their police force's ability to protect them. For that reason, hard drugs should be treated in the same was as any other terrorist activity. They threaten our security and should come under NATO's remit.
Finally, in the aftermath of the conflict, we must be aware that people who believe in national missile defence will suggest that it is the solution. Close examination of that system clearly shows that it would make the world a more dangerous place. National missile defence or European ballistic missile defence would halt or even reverse the progress that has been made in the former USSR to reduce nuclear arms. The number of nuclear warheads has fallen to about 5,780 and additional strategic reduction measures will reduce that further to 3,000 by 2007. However, if national missile defence goes ahead 1119 we can expect the Russians to retaliate by not reducing warheads or, indeed, by adding more. That would make the world a more dangerous place.
As other hon. Members want to speak, I conclude by stressing that the west must react positively to the challenge that it will face in the aftermath of the anti-terrorist campaign in Afghanistan. It must harmonise relations between the two great civilisations of Christianity and Islam because that will reduce the threat of terrorist activity. Moreover, as part of the framework of the anti-ballistic missile treaty, a new economic and political relationship with Russia will pave the way for a much safer world.
§ Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid-Kent)
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to speak in this debate.
I start by adding my support for the Government's handling of the crisis thus far. I wanted to speak not merely to do that but because I believe that we have reached a turning point in the conflict. I asked to speak not because I have any great history as a moralist or the legal expertise of some Labour Members, but simply because when this country last went to war I went as a young soldier of 28 years old. I wanted to bring some of those experiences to bear on the debate.
I pay tribute, as the House might expect, to those in our services, and most critically to their families. In my experience of the Gulf, the most difficult part was what happened at home. When I got back, my parents told me of their many sleepless nights and the many mornings they would turn on the television at 6 o'clock to see the news. All of us in the House should remember that and do all that we can to look after the families of those involved in the action.
I should like to make three points based on my experience 10 years ago. The first is the importance of maintaining a firm diplomatic alliance across many countries. Again, I pay tribute to the Government in their efforts thus far in that direction. Such an alliance is important not only in giving us moral authority but because of the effect on the service men who are called on to carry out the actions. It is worth stating once again, and always in those countries, that the war is against terrorism and not against Islam. That is particularly important in this conflict because there seem to be so many different and varying aims.
The second point that is worth making—it has been made by several Members—is that bombing alone will not solve the conflict. In the very near future, we will have to have a plan for the economic, political and humanitarian reconstruction of Afghanistan following the fall of the Taliban. We have seen in a number of stages in Afghanistan's history the penalty for not doing that. It was clearly evident in the Mujaheddin era, when the people of Afghanistan felt that the Americans had let them down badly by helping them to fight the war but not reconstructing their country.
It is easy to foresee—the scenario may arise sooner than we think—the Taliban melting into the hills following a period of heavy shelling. If we are to prevent reprisals as the Northern Alliance sweep down through Kabul, we must have a plan that we are ready to implement. I believe, although I am no advocate of 1120 ground troops, that it will be impossible to influence such a situation without a presence on the ground. I urge the Government to give considerable thought to using the offices of the United Nations to bring some influence to bear on the ground once the Taliban have left. If Afghanistan is to be reconstructed and, therefore, the causes of terrorism removed, a period of political stability is crucial. Like the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch), I welcome the intervention of the former king, and I hope that there will be some form of Marshall plan for Afghanistan once the bombing is over.
The third point worth mentioning is the importance of renewed momentum in the middle east peace process. I was delighted to see the Palestinian leader in London yesterday. I believe strongly that we should recognise the right of the Palestinians to a proper and viable state, while at the same time guaranteeing the security of Israel.
I have had great admiration for the state of Israel over many years. I have admiration for the courageous and determined way in which the Israelis forged a state from the wreckage of the second world war. However, they must realise now that they will lose the sympathy of the international community if they believe that the international community's desire for a world free of terrorism presents them with an opportunity to occupy more land. Therefore, I support the Government's desire to add impetus to the middle east peace process. Osama bin Laden's intervention and use of that was a repellant and deceitful hijacking. We can never hope to defeat terrorism while the middle east is in turmoil.
The international dimension is only one aspect of the problem before us. Once the immediate crisis is over, there will be considerable implications for United Kingdom defence and intelligence policy. The first, as everyone has said, will be the need to acknowledge that terrorism has presented a threat on a new scale since 11 September. The Secretary of State for Defence will need to think carefully about the configuration of the armed forces to meet that threat. I was personally involved in the last large-scale defence review, "Options for Change", and I know that much of the thinking that went into that was based on cold war calculations. The balance will have to be altered to meet the new threat. We will need a larger number of lighter forces and greater heavy lift capability. I welcome the news that we are to re-equip our carriers.
Secondly, we will need to expand our intelligence services to meet the threat. We are now in the third phase of terrorism. In the 1960s and 1970s, terrorist groups first started to appear in Europe; there was a pause in the late 1970s, when we came to terms with those groups, but they re-emerged in the 1980s. As we can see in the Provisional IRA, terrorist groups have become far more tightly organised, with active service units comprising four men. Hardly anyone outside those units knows much about them. It is that above all other developments that has caused many of the intelligence problems that face us today. We shall need to adapt our forces and our intelligence services if we are to penetrate terrorist cells in years to come.
Finally, we in this country need to reconsider establishing an integrated disaster recovery plan. I am much impressed by the apparent ease with which authorities in the United States call out the National Guard. This summer, while working with the Kent ambulance service, I was worried to learn that it cannot 1121 operate alongside the police or the fire service: there is no means of common operation. We need to introduce such systems and to ensure that the Territorial Army is involved.
I pay tribute to the Government for their handling of the crisis so far, but I believe strongly that the most difficult phase lies just ahead. Awkward decisions will have to be taken about the political, economic and humanitarian reconstruction of Afghanistan and the international framework within which that can be achieved. If there is one lesson that I draw from history and from personal experience it is that it is always far easier to start a conflict than to bring it to a successful conclusion.
§ Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews (Medway)
There are, one perceives, three leaders in the world who believe that the bombing of Afghanistan—including the bombing of the pitiful remains of its infrastructure and the death of hundreds, perhaps thousands of civilians—is in the interests of their cause and should be a part of their strategy. Those three leaders are first, of course, the President of the United States; secondly, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and perhaps those in NATO who support him; and thirdly, Osama bin Laden himself.
No one should doubt that that psychotic international criminal knows full well—no doubt, it is part of his plan—that with every single bomb that drops on Afghan soil and every cluster bomb and bunker buster that is dropped on a defenceless enemy from 30,000 ft, we sow the dragon's teeth. As in classical mythology, from that soil will emerge not our warriors, but warriors who will fight for Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda and whose numbers will multiply. Above all, they will be armed with the hatred of the United States which brought them into being. That fact is not lost on our fragile and uneasy allies and neighbours in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, who know and have said that the words and actions of the so-called coalition and America have proved collectively to be the biggest recruiting tent for terrorism since 11 September that one could possibly dread.
We began by announcing a war, first, on terrorism. That is an absurdity, as one cannot make war on an abstract noun, although it is possible to make war on most types of syntax, as has occurred since 11 September. As one cannot make war on abstract noun, we were told that we were at war with Osama bin Laden, which endows him with the precise status that he seeks. From being a criminal, he has become a warrior, and he will move on to become a martyr. Having said that we were at war, we then waged it. It is difficult to describe the black pessimism that came over people like myself and many Labour Members when we learned of the method that was going to be employed—large-scale bombing from 30,000 ft. Such bombing creates a precise equation; it removes risk from combatants in the air and imposes it on civilians on the ground.
That is precisely what we did in those dark 78 days in Kosovo, to which I shall return in a moment. The black pessimism that we all felt grew when we learned about the enlistment of the Northern Alliance. Again, the 1122 memory of Kosovo overshadowed us—something which my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Kelvin (Mr. Galloway), in one of his great speeches in the House. described as the dirty dozen. We who remember Kosovo recall the poisonous embrace of the Kosovo Liberation Army. As my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham) pointed out, it has been discovered that 90 per cent. of our heroin comes from Afghanistan, but we could have told people a long time ago that it is brokered, moved and laundered by the KLA, our friends in the south, and it always has been.
I want to say one or two things about Kosovo, which has been employed as a shining example of military intervention and success. As a rewriting of history, that is as depressing as the present war. The operation in Kosovo was a humanitarian disaster of epic proportions, largely of our own making. When the treaty of Rambouillet broke down, we decided to bomb a helpless, defenceless and mainly civilian target from 30,000 ft—the same method is being used now. After we started the bombing, we created 500,000 refugees, who were driven from Kosovo by the unleashing of the Serb army; they saw the tracer trails of aircraft and cruise missiles which passed over their heads on the way to Belgrade. The prejudice and anger of centuries was then unleashed.
While all that was happening—as the Albanians in Kosovo were the subject of a murderous assault—three tanks of the Serbian army were destroyed and we were lied to day after day about the degradation of that army. While those Albanians suffered, the largest army force mustered by the west and NATO stood on the borders in Macedonia and did precisely nothing. That is why those of us who remember Kosovo so well blanch at the idea that it is being held up as an example for the current war. We perceive that, as sure as can be, history is repeating itself and that we will see bombing for days and days from 30,000 feet while no intervention whatever is made to save those whom it is affecting.
I do not want to be entirely condemnatory and I certainly wish to be constructive. I should like to make a suggestion that I have already put to my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister on the action that we should now take, in addition to the cessation of bombing. We must create an international criminal court—a body that would be more important than the sum of its parts. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary was not being disingenuous when he said that we did not have an international foreign court. Of course, we need 60 members to set up the international foreign court to which he referred and, unhappily, one of the reasons why we cannot do so is the opposition of the United States.
I am referring not to that court, however, but to one that is comparable to those that were established in The Hague in order to deal with the atrocities in the Balkans and in Arusha in order to deal with Rwanda. It is precisely that sort of court that should be set up now, so that we can signal to the world that we expect and desire a judicial end to the conflict. It is asked why Osama bin Laden should not be tried in America. I can think of a very large number of reasons why it would be highly undesirable for him to be tried by a jury in that country. There are many reasons why that could not happen, and I very much doubt that the Americans wish or hope that it does so.
1123 However, one cannot walk two ways in a conflict such as this. We are told that the attacks were an assault not on America, but on civilisation. For what it is worth, I and many others accept that analysis, but as an assault was made on the international community, it is to that community that the criminal who is responsible should be answerable. No one would doubt that the international court should have an American president. Of course, it should also include Islamic jurists, so that we can say to the Islamic world "This man will be tried in a court of fairness and justice."
Having established the court, we must get the criminal, and I am not suggesting that that will be easy. I have known criminal courts of one sort or another for a very long time and from both sides of the fence. Nobody knows better than me how difficult it is to obtain, track down and arrest dangerous criminals. None the less, we must do it, and it will not be done by bombing civilian targets from 30,000 feet. If I were asked how we should go into Afghanistan or wherever bin Laden is and get him out—I am surprised that nobody has intervened to ask me that question—I would have to answer that I did not know. Unlike an uncomfortably large number of my colleagues, I am not a duvet or eiderdown general. My military training was cursory and utterly useless, but I accept that, as we are reliably informed, we have the finest armed forces in the world. This work is what they are for. It will be hard and there will be military casualties, but nobody begins to suggest that the task should not be undertaken. If we do not go down that road, but continue into the spring the bombing of civilians from 30,000 ft, day after day and month after month, the international support that we have will disappear like the Afghan snows. If that happens, we can stop parroting the idea that we are not at war with Islam, as Islam will be at war with us.
§ Patrick Mercer (Newark)
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak. I pay tribute to the short but powerful speech of the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), but I also wish to take issue with a couple of his points.
I believe that the operation is based on intelligence. The aircraft and weapons are as precisely targeted as military technology, and the gallant men of special forces—American and probably British—on the ground will allow.
Although the speech of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Kelvin (Mr. Galloway) was excellent as usual, his emotive language, which conjures images of B52s, carpet bombing and the weapons pictured on the cover of the Evening Standard, such as Puff the Magic Dragon, give the impression of a campaign in which we are not involved. We are not engaged in the Vietnam war or campaigns in the Balkans; we are prosecuting a different campaign, that has been marked so far by restrained, small and targeted operations against an enemy who has been sought out by some of the best intelligence assets that have ever been deployed.
Let us consider the propaganda aspects, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) mentioned earlier. As a former war correspondent, I hope that I can speak about that with some authority. Any dramatic footage, which will hold the public's attention, 1124 will be used mercilessly. The Taliban have not allowed western camera crews into Afghanistan by mistake. That country is hostile, the Taliban do not favour westerners, and it is difficult to travel inside Afghanistan. Many hon. Members have expressed that much better than I have. Yet television crews are being allowed in to film what is being done.
There is nothing novel about suffering, but it makes compelling television, and good copy in the newspapers and for the radio. It is a weapon that is being used against us as surely as those aircraft were used against the World Trade Centre on 11 September. Why did not we see suffering in America on 11 September? Because there were more dramatic scenes to film. There is nothing novel about watching death and carnage, but the sight of jet airliners flying into buildings is new.
It is worth remembering the extent of the casualties and why we did not see scenes of suffering. Most of those killed on 11 September died instantly; they were not available to be photographed. Their monument is the smoking ruin of the twin towers, which are mute testimony to bin Laden's random butchery.
If we engage in war, we must understand that it is a nasty business. Indeed, this war will be nasty, brutish but, I fear, not short.
I should like to discuss the idea that humanitarian aid is alien to military aims. We have heard about the three British campaigns in Afghanistan in the 19th and early 20th centuries. All were more or less failures. We have heard about the Soviet campaign in the late 20th century. However, we should consider two remarkably successful British counter-terrorist campaigns: the Malaya campaign and the little known Oman campaign. The latter was fought on the Jebel Akh'dar, largely by small numbers of special forces. However, an integral part of both campaigns was humanitarian aid.
The Americans adopted that concept for their campaigns in Vietnam—some would say that they applied it less successfully—and labelled it "hearts and minds". In "milspeak" or army speak, it has gone a stage further and is now called G5. It is an accustomed, accepted and fully understood part of the operational spectrum.
To suspend bombing—to suspend offensive operations—will make the prosecution of G5 operations difficult. No Taliban anti-aircraft gunner is likely to between a fighter or bomber and an aircraft carrying aid. To get humanitarian aid through, and to push forward the boundaries of "hearts and minds", anti-aircraft defences must be degraded. I suggest that the two things are not mutually exclusive.
Then there is the style of operations. There is talk of armchair generals. Heaven knows, I have become something like that, although I have never aspired to be a real general! The maps in the newspapers all show bin Laden's camps—al-Qaeda training areas—conveniently located around the borders of Afghanistan. Why are they there? Because that is all that our intelligence shows us. It is exceedingly difficult for even satellite imagery to get good fixes inside this hostile country; therefore, operations against the Taliban, al-Qaeda or whoever will be relatively simple around the border areas.
However, if we are serious about pursuing our enemies—if we are serious about pursuing bin Laden into his lairs—the time will come when we must establish forward operating bases deep inside Afghanistan. History 1125 tells us that there are three ways in which to operate inside that country: on foot, by donkey and by helicopter. If we accept that most of the operations will involve short-term, hard, quick and relatively clinical strikes, helicopters will have to be forward-based. They do not fly very far: they do not have much endurance, particularly at high altitude—operating in the mountains—and in cold weather. Any forward operating base will have to be secured not by special forces, because they are a precious asset, but by ordinary forces—in the American terminology, "grunts": the same people who fought the Vietnam war, with all the illusions that we covered earlier. That is why elements of Tenth Mountain Division are in Uzbekistan. There is nothing elite about them; they are not special forces.
It will be manpower-intensive. Securing the high ground around any airport that is taken will require infantry, supported by light support weapons and perhaps armour, but definitely helicopters. Then will come the casualties. It should be borne in mind that the campaigns conducted by this country were fought largely by indigenous forces—Sikhs and Gurkhas, troops who knew the country backwards and understood the skill and art of mountain warfare. They found it tough. The pick of Britain's regular Army found it tough. This is a new area—a completely new theatre—for American forces, and they will have a difficult time.
I return to the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Hugh Robertson). Should the Taliban collapse, should they be shattered militarily, should their centre of gravity be destroyed, they will return to what they know best—guerrilla warfare in the mountains—and that is when they are at their most dangerous.
How ready are British troops to stand—I borrow the phrase—shoulder to shoulder with American troops? I hope they are ready. I am delighted to learn that 150 specialist reservists have been called up. That is clearly only the tip of the iceberg, but I am told that those men and women have been asked to volunteer to be compulsorily called up. When they are compulsorily called up, their jobs and livelihood are protected by law, but one or two employers are saying that this is a scam and that these people have in fact volunteered. Industrial tribunal action may be forthcoming. Reservists have not been called up in such numbers before, and there may be difficulties. I want them to be protected from that threat.
I am glad to see that something is being done about the debacle of personal insurance. A soldier currently going through the Reserve mobilisation and training centre just outside my constituency in Nottingham said, "We want to commit ourselves to our country, but we're not sure if our country wants to commit itself to us." We must not allow that to happen. As has been said, we have the finest fighting men and women in the world. We must make sure that they are prepared in the best way that we can, and I wish them godspeed.
§ Vernon Coaker (Gedling)
It is a pleasure to have the opportunity to speak in what has been an interesting and thoughtful debate encompassing many different points of view. I had heard people say that there would not be much 1126 new to be said, but I have learned a lot from listening to all the points of view. I say that as one who supports the military action.
I listened especially intently to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow. Kelvin (Mr. Galloway). I disagree with his views, but he challenges every single one of us who supports military action to think more deeply and clearly about why we support it. This Parliament is sometimes decried as not being the debating Chamber that it once was, but the speeches that we have heard tonight, from both Government and Opposition Members, belie that. We have had an important and passionate debate on an issue that is clearly crucial to us.
I take issue with one point made by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond). He said that we had not seen tonight the gung-ho that had been present in previous debates. I have sat in many of the debates, and I have not noticed a gung-ho attitude, because everybody, of all points of view, has recognised the seriousness of what we are debating and the intensity of the arguments that will take place.
I support the military action, not because I want to see us bombing from 30,000 ft and forgetting about it, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) said, but because I genuinely do not believe that we have an alternative. Following an attack on our democracy and freedom, an attack not only on the American people but on British citizens and people from many different ethnic groups, we cannot stand by and do nothing. The challenge is what we do about it. I think that the use of force, as pursued by our Government, was the only option available.
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Kelvin is absolutely right to make the point that Muslims in other parts of the world will point to attacks on and outrages against them that no one has done anything about. If he had visited Rwanda, he would have seen a place where horrors occurred that no one did anything about. We should use this outrage to say that whether someone is Muslim or African, or from the north, south, east or west, this marks a turning point in the international order so that one life lost in this way will not be tolerated by the international community. We must use this as an opportunity to look forward to that new order.
I see no alternative to the use of force. It gives me no pleasure to say that. I do not know anything about the armed forces, other than what I have learned from talking to people such as the hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) and others who have a much greater knowledge of the military than me. Like anyone, I am aware of some of the horrors that can be the consequence of bombing that goes wrong. I feel a responsibility, as one of those who support military action; I am sure that we all do. However, the fundamental point is that I see no alternative to the taking of military action to try to stop a repeat of what we witnessed in America a few weeks ago.
Contrary to what others have said, I believe that if we took no action, we would encourage more terrorism. That is a matter for debate between us. From my perspective, I believe that we need to take action to deter terrorism but, in taking the military option, we need to be clear about our aims in Afghanistan. Like other hon. Members, I am worried by some of the signals coining from Washington about an escalation into Iraq and other places.
1127 In terms of Afghanistan, our aims seem to be clear: the destruction of the Taliban and the elimination of bin Laden and his network. I hope that the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Defence will reiterate that we want the creation of a new Afghanistan where human rights and the entitlements of everyone are catered for.
Having given my support for military action, I want to say that we need to focus on the humanitarian situation, which was bad before the military strikes and is now clearly worse. In answer to my parliamentary question yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development estimated that there were now 7.5 million people inside Afghanistan who were vulnerable and in need. According to UNICEF, a fifth of those—some 1.5 million—are children under five. In neighbouring countries, a further 4 million people are in need.
We should not be blinded by those statistics. Each represents an individual: a son, a daughter, a child, a mother or a father facing starvation, drought and war. Those of us who support military action must make the loudest demands of our Government for ever more urgent action with respect to humanitarian aid. If we are to demonstrate practically to Muslims in the region and elsewhere the fact that this is not a war against Islam, it is both morally right and an essential means of maintaining the coalition that we somehow get the aid to the people who need it.
I am aware that our Government are giving millions of pounds in aid and that air drops have taken place. However, we must find other ways to deliver aid. My right hon. Friend told me yesterday that she is examining how to open new land routes into Afghanistan for aid convoys from Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. We have talked about the propaganda war. The war is being fought in front of the television cameras and there could be no more powerful image than for this country to ensure that its humanitarian effort is second to none. Some people have called for a pause in the bombing. Others have called for other action. I do not know what would be the best approach, but we must do everything that we can.
I have two final points. First, I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence will say something about the continuing need to reassure our own people about any risks that they face. I am sure that all hon. Members have had such issues raised with them. Secondly, the international coalition that has been put together to fight terrorism must be maintained when the conflict is over. If we can bring so much energy and passion to fighting the situation in Afghanistan, we should bring the same amount to tackling the broader problems of poverty and conflict in many other regions. If we do that, some good will come from this particular bad.
§ 9.7 pm
§ Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex)
I echo the call by the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) for us to set our sights on a new Afghanistan. I shall deal later in my speech with his comments about aid being the way to demonstrate that we are not at war with Islam. First, however, I shall deal with the question of civilian casualties, which has—rightly—been raised many times in the debate as a matter of concern.
There is no language that can express what we should say and feel about civilians who are killed, injured or bereaved by our bombs and missiles. That is one reason 1128 why the word "war" is the only way in which to describe what it is that we are doing. I am sure that the Secretary of State will wish to reiterate how every care is being taken to avoid civilian casualties. The House should be reminded that the operation has, so far, been extremely limited, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) pointed out. It is not remotely as intensive as the bombing campaign undertaken in Kosovo two years ago. Incidentally, in that campaign, as the Foreign Secretary pointed out, the western powers intervened in support of Muslims under attack from their non-Muslim oppressors.
We must, of course, do all we can to minimise civilian casualties. I do not say that they are inevitable, but even with advanced precision weaponry it would be foolish to think that bombing operations could be carried out without risk, as was pointed out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) and by the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell). Therefore, we must not allow the possibility of civilian casualties to divert us from our main aim. We know that the Taliban Government will use every conceivable opportunity to maximise the propaganda value of civilian casualties in order to achieve exactly that. The regime that drove its tanks over the televisions it found in people's homes now invites the media in to see only what it wants them to see, while still concealing how much persecution, torture and death it was inflicting on its own people long before 11 September. The Taliban regime all but banned the world's media from its soil before 11 September, but its members have been remarkable converts to the television age in recent days. It is a regime whose soldiers have literally butchered civilians in the streets. It is a regime that has skinned its opponents, and executed women by gunfire in a football stadium that was, ironically, donated by the international community. In that same stadium, men have been strung up from the goalposts to die.
Amnesty International compiled a report into the foul deeds of the Taliban regime. It included reports of women having their hands cut off for wearing nail varnish, and being beaten for showing their faces in public or for trying to learn English. For every Afghan mourning the few deaths that we may have caused—and no one shirks that responsibility—there are thousands more hoping and praying that the sounds of British and American aircraft, bombs and missiles will herald the end of their nightmare by ending the Taliban oppression of the Afghan peoples.
The Taliban claim that one alleged allied mistake killed 200 people. There is every indication that that is the grossest exaggeration. Five weeks after 11 September, thousands of our civilian casualties still lie under the rubble of the World Trade Centre. What concern have the Taliban expressed for them?
From the very beginning, the Prime Minister has said that the conflict would be a long haul, and that it would be hard. So it is proving to be. I therefore start with a plea to all those who, like the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge), have urged a halt to the campaign, or some sort of ceasefire. My plea is that we should make such decisions about the future conduct of a war against terrorism on the basis of what we know to be true, not on the basis of what we would like to be true.
I shall list the fundamental facts. First, the Taliban had every opportunity to cease their support for terrorism in the weeks before the bombing began. Secondly, the Taliban 1129 and al-Qaeda are indivisible. Al-Qaeda is an alien force in Afghanistan; its members are predominantly Arab. It is estimated that there are between 5,000 and 10,000 Arab al-Qaeda members who form the backbone—the crack troops—of the Taliban military capability. The Taliban support the terrorists and, in return, the terrorists support the Taliban.
Thirdly, unless we confront the Taliban with military force, they and the terrorists will continue to threaten our people and cities. No one wants war, but those who want peace are left with no option. The Government of the United States, and our own Government, deserve our support.
There are those who urge that the action should stop now, but there is no evidence whatsoever that the cessation of the campaign would cause the Taliban to submit, however much we would want them to. On the contrary: a U-turn in the tactics of the allies now would be a huge boost for the cause of international terrorism. It would be not merely a propaganda victory for the Taliban and al-Qaeda, but it would allow them to recover their effectiveness and enable them to communicate more easily with the outside world. It would also give the terrorists the chance to enhance their operational capabilities, and would be a signal of our weakness in the face of terrorist threats. That would be a monstrous dereliction of our duty.
The allies must continue to pursue the aims with which we started. The US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, set out the objectives clearly on the first day of the air offensive, and those were echoed in the Government's paper that was published today. Secretary Rumsfeld set out his objectives in context. He made it clear that military force should merely complement the economic, humanitarian, financial and diplomatic activity that was already under way. He went on to set out six direct objectives for the military campaign, and I hope that the House will bear with me as I quote them in full.
The objectives are to make it clear to the Taliban leaders and their supporters that harbouring terrorists is unacceptable and carries a price; to acquire intelligence to facilitate future operations against al-Qaeda and the Taliban regimes which harbour the terrorists; to develop relationships with groups in Afghanistan that oppose the Taliban regime and the foreign terrorists they support; to make it increasingly difficult for the terrorists to use Afghanistan freely as a base of operations; to alter the military balance over time by denying to the Taliban its offensive systems that hamper the progress of the various opposition forces; and—probably most importantly—to provide humanitarian relief to Afghans suffering truly oppressive living conditions.
Those are the objectives, and they are the right objectives. I am sure that the Secretary of State will want to use this opportunity tonight to confirm that Her Majesty's Government stand full square behind those objectives and that their paper does not differ from that of the Americans in any material respect. British forces have played an essential role in the strikes, which are crucial to the success of the operation. Yet again, we can take pride in the fact that our forces are showing themselves to be highly professional and able to make a 1130 unique contribution. The House can expect other elements of British forces to be employed as the military campaign develops.
On a wider war, let us not create division where none truly exists. No one wants a wider war. I concur entirely with the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife that that would make the situation more difficult. However, I also concur with him that if incontrovertible evidence emerged to indict another Government for sustaining terrorism, we must be prepared to follow up the most strenuous diplomatic efforts with the threat of military action if necessary. I fully concur with my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham about the possible origins of the anthrax attacks currently afflicting the United States of America.
§ Mr. Galloway
Some of us fear the fabrication of evidence that will be presented as incontrovertible. That is why I asked the question earlier of the right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude). There is anthrax everywhere. American companies manufactured and exported it. German companies manufactured and exported it. Armed forces throughout the world have in their armoury anthrax and other biological weapons. Our fear is that when this is over, a fabrication of evidence linking this to Iraq will be brought forward as a new causus belli.
§ Mr. Jenkin
I do not share the hon. Gentleman's suspicions of the democratically elected leaders of our country, the United States of America or other NATO countries. I do not think that any Government would manufacture a bogus excuse to go to war with another country and another Government. It is time that the hon. Gentleman showed a little faith in the Prime Minister—the leader of his own party—instead of constantly undermining him. I say that with the greatest respect to the hon. Gentleman.
One of the reasons for resolutely prosecuting the campaign in Afghanistan is to deter other potential terrorist states. It is clear that even the immediate objectives will not be achieved by bombing alone, a point made very ably by my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Hugh Robertson). The Secretary of State has rightly said that all military and other options must be kept open. We must resist the temptation to speculate in public about what those options may be—a luxury that the press enjoys.
I share the view of some in this debate that a sustained deployment of allied ground forces in Afghanistan would be extremely problematic, but I do not press the Secretary of State to close down any option. I do ask him, however, to stress that the objectives of the United States and United Kingdom Governments are political and humanitarian as well as military.
The politics of Afghanistan are notoriously complex. The allies have been wrestling with many questions, and they have been raised in this debate. Who are the emerging figures from the majority Pash tribe around whom new alliances could be created to form the nucleus of a new Afghan Government? How many of the present supporters of the Taliban can be persuaded to abandon them, and what is the best means of persuading them to do so? As my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (Mr. Tredinnick) asked, what is the best role for the 1131 United Nations, given that any direct western involvement would strengthen opposition to the anti-terrorist campaign?
We should take heart from Colin Powell's visit to President Musharraf in Pakistan today. They have agreed that any future Afghan Administration must be broad based and must include not only members of the Northern Alliance opposition, but moderate Taliban members, other tribal elders and Afghans who are living outside their country at present. That is evidence of an emerging consensus on the way forward, not a cause for some of the despair that we have heard by any means.
Finally, the humanitarian aid programme is not only vital to achieving those aims, it is a key objective in its own right, as my hon. Friend the Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Duncan) pointed out.
I echo the concerns expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), the shadow Foreign Secretary, and urge the Secretary of State for Defence to deal with them. Time is extremely short. In perhaps less than five weeks many of the mountain passes will be closed for the winter. That applies in particular in the north and west of the country, where the most acute famine problem already exists. We want the Secretary of State to say this evening that the allies understand the sheer scale of the humanitarian challenge. Even the doubled figures mentioned by the Secretary of State for International Development fall far short of the target identified by the World Food Programme of 55,000 tonnes of food required per month.
Writing in The Guardian today, the emergencies co-ordinator of Christian Aid, Anthony Morton-King, said:The World Food Programme estimates that a stockpile of 250,000 tonnes of food is needed in the country within the next five weeks, when the winter snows will cut off large parts of the country … Transporting these vast piles of grain would require 715 trucks full each day over the next five weeks. On some days last week just four trucks were arriving in Afghanistan.That aid is needed not just to alleviate a huge humanitarian problem but to forestall an even more massive one. If the people in the villages run out of food, they will walk. That means not only the abandoning of their farms so that there is no planting of fresh crops in the spring, but that half of them are likely to die as they attempt to reach refugee camps often hundreds of miles away. If the allies are to avoid a mass exodus of people from the villages, we must collectively take action now. Perhaps this is an opportunity for countries that are unable to contribute to the military effort to help to confront the humanitarian crisis. Please will the Secretary of State deal with those matters when he replies to the debate? That is the way to demonstrate that this is not a war against Islam.
Talk of the reconstruction of Afghanistan after the removal of the Taliban and al-Qaeda will be empty words unless the military and humanitarian actions are prosecuted with the same vigour and resolve. Provided the Government do so, on behalf of the Opposition I can pledge our continued support for the action they are taking.
§ The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon)
I confess that I am becoming a little worried about following the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) as he appears to like the sound of my voice more than that of his own.
1132 The United Kingdom has played a full part in the coalition's military operations from the moment that they began on 7 October. On two occasions, Royal Navy submarines have launched Tomahawk cruise missiles against terrorist training camps—most recently, last Saturday. As the House is aware, the United Kingdom authorised the United States to use the base at Diego Garcia in the Indian ocean. Since 9 October, the Royal Air Force has flown almost 50 reconnaissance and air-to-air refuelling sorties in support of American strike aircraft, including eight sorties last night.
I must emphasise how important those sorties are. Air operations depend on them. About 10 RAF aircraft are involved—the United States particularly requested those in view of the RAF's high level of expertise in that field. Our VCIO and Tristar air-to-air refuelling aircraft fly for several hours at a time, including over Afghan airspace, refuelling up to 14 strike aircraft on each sortie. They are playing a crucial role in the continuing operations.
In addition, we have deployed Canberra PR9 reconnaissance planes. These aircraft provide a capability that few other countries can match. They will be used not simply for military purposes, such as targeting and battle damage assessment; we will also use them to plot precisely the movement of the many refugees still stranded inside Afghanistan as they try to flee the Taliban regime. That will enable us to provide important information to the World Food Programme and others who are delivering humanitarian aid, allowing them to bring some relief from hunger inside the country.
We have also authorised the call-out of a small number—about 150—of our reservists in support of the operations in response to the terrorist activities in the United States. Initially, at least, this will be on a voluntary basis. We will employ those skilled men and women in augmenting headquarters and other specialist positions, mostly in this country. Many of them—including photo-analysts and interpreters—will serve in the defence intelligence staff. Others will support the Royal Air Force, both in the United Kingdom and overseas.
The hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) raised several concerns about that process. I can assure him that employers' attitudes and concerns will be taken fully into account and, indeed, that civilian employers are being contacted to gain their agreement to release reservists for military service. I hope that he will accept from me that this will not lead to employment tribunal cases. If he has examples of likely difficulties, I should certainly like to hear from him and we shall thoroughly investigate those matters. We have no wish to make life difficult for either the reservists or their employers.
As regards the interest shown in weather issues by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell)—at least in the previous debate on this subject—we have also authorised the call-out of members of the mobile meteorological unit. These men and women, who normally work for the Meterological Office, will provide important operational and tactical meteorological information to our deployed forces.
I want to single out the many talents and high quality of our reserve forces. The new demands build on the equally valuable efforts of reservists currently serving in the Balkans, the Gulf and Sierra Leone. They play an invaluable role in each of those theatres, providing considerable expertise to augment existing members of the regular armed forces.
1133 The House has consistently supported our armed forces, particularly when the Government have taken the difficult decision to deploy them on operations. I want to thank all right hon. and hon. Members for their many kind words about our service men and women. We ask an enormous amount of our armed forces. Their performance over the last few days and weeks, as part of the global effort to counter international terrorism, is further proof of their abilities. Our armed forces are, without doubt, among the best in the world. I know that the House will join me in offering them our full support.
I make no apology for repeating my commitment to the families of service personnel. It is not easy for them when their close relatives deploy overseas on operations. We value the enormous contribution that they make to the United Kingdom's defence community. I was particularly grateful to the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Hugh Robertson) for the personal observations that he made on that subject.
I also thank the House and the country at large for their support for the actions that we are taking. Sometimes, we are faced by critical events that unite us—a point well made by the shadow Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), earlier in the debate. The attacks of 11 September and their aftermath are one example of such a situation. This support, from Members of Parliament and members of the public alike, means a great deal to our armed forces. On their behalf, let me say that I am grateful for it and for the spirit in which it has been offered.
In the light of the observations made by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), I emphasise that we will not take for granted the support of the House. Indeed, that is why we have already held four debates on this vital subject, in which all Members have had opportunities to set out their views.
§ Mr. Salmond
Is the Secretary of State able to confirm or deny the reports in later editions of the Evening Standard this evening that, following the discussions that Colin Powell has held in Pakistan, there is a suggestion of a deadline of 17 November—the onset of Ramadan—for the bombing phase of the military action?
§ Mr. Hoon
I have not seen the late editions of that newspaper, and I am not aware of any particular deadline. I shall deal with some of the military strategy in due course, but I think it highly unlikely that that report is accurate.
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has explained that our strategy in response to the events of 11 September contains a number of different elements, embracing action in the diplomatic, humanitarian, economic, legal and military spheres. Our immediate aims have been stated clearly. First, we want to bring those guilty of perpetrating the attacks on 11 September to account. Secondly, we want to ensure that Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda network are never able to pose a terrorist threat again. Thirdly, we want to ensure that Afghanistan no longer harbours and sustains international terrorism or terrorists. Assuming that the Taliban regime fails to comply with those perfectly proper and legitimate requests, we require a sufficient change in the leadership 1134 in Afghanistan to ensure that that country's links with international terrorism are broken and that its support for international terrorism is ended.
Those aims are set out in the paper that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has placed in the Library. In response to a question asked by the hon. Member for North Essex, I assure the House that those aims are entirely consistent with those set out by the United States. I recognise that the objectives are ambitious, but they are necessary, and with our allies and partners, we will achieve them. That will not be easy; it will certainly take time, but we will succeed.
The continuous military action by the coalition will play an important part—but only a part—in achieving those objectives. We have three clear military goals: to destroy the terrorist camps; to pressure the Taliban regime into ending its support for Osama bin Laden: and to create the right conditions for future operations in Afghanistan so that that pressure is sustained for as long as it is required.
§ Mr. Dalyell
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development stated in public on the radio that every target was approved by a Law Officer. I do not know the answer to this question, but is every target approved by a Law Officer?
§ Mr. Hoon
I believe that my right hon. Friend actually said that every target was approved on advice from the Law Officers. My hon. Friend understands the fast-moving nature of military actions—he has considerably more experience of them than I am ever likely to have—so I am sure that he will appreciate that legal advice cannot always be given precisely before any particular attack takes place. Therefore, the general practice has always been to ensure that all targets conform to international law and, indeed, national law. That is our practice in relation to the current operations, and that will continue to be the case.
I have set out our military goals, and our justification for pursuing them is very well known. The atrocities of the 11 September may have taken place overseas, but they still represent the largest ever single loss of British lives through terrorism. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has set out for the House the conclusions that we have reached about who was responsible. Those conclusions have convinced Governments around the world of the guilt of Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda network. We are now taking proportionate action in self-defence, in accordance with international law, as I have said, to protect our citizens and, indeed, those of other countries.
This is a very different kind of conflict from those that we have fought in the past. It is not a classical military campaign. Our enemy is a not a standing army, such as the one that we faced in the Gulf conflict or, more recently, in Kosovo.
In Kosovo, it was necessary to render the significant Serbian military machine incapable of continuing to massacre innocent civilians. NATO took military action to prevent an overwhelming humanitarian catastrophe. Despite what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) said about the situation in Kosovo, I have been there several times in different ministerial roles and hundreds of thousands of refugees 1135 are back in their homes and jobs. Indeed, in my most recent visit to Pristina I saw signs of growing prosperity, which after my first visit I would have found remarkable. That is a tribute to the military campaign that was undertaken on behalf of the refugees to enable them to return to their homes.
However, this time we need to operate in different ways. The phasing, tempo and scale of our operations will differ markedly from how we would act against a conventional opponent. Already we can see that this campaign is very different. The coalition has attacked many targets in the past nine days. They are much smaller than they were in Kosovo and there are not so many of them. We struck more than twice as many targets in the first 10 days of the Kosovo carripaign than we have attacked in Afghanistan despite the appalling weather that we faced in Kosovo. The targets now are not as obvious. In contrast to the Taliban. the Serbian military machine was a formidable opponent and considerable effort was needed to degrade its military capability so that we could operate safely. This time it is different. The Taliban are not a significant military power, but rather one that has persistently supported international terrorism.
We have committed ourselves for the long haul so that we achieve our objectives, however long it takes. The military element of our strategy against international terrorism may take some time. Of course, the precise length and shape of the military campaign will depend on how we can best achieve our objectives.
Military operations will not necessarily continue at their current level. Their tempo will fluctuate: they may slow or intensify; they may even appear to stop. Everything will depend on our analysis of how we can best meet the military objectives and how those contribute to the broad front of pressure that is being applied to the Taliban regime.
Military operations do not need to be confined to air strikes. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said on 11 October, we have always been aware that we may have to back up air strikes with other forms of proportionate and targeted action. That could include the use of ground forces. A number of options are being considered and we have not taken any final decisions. When we do, we will, of course, keep the House fully informed, not least because we will have to face up to the risk of casualties of our own. We have to recognise that that is a real possibility. We will obviously work to minimise those risks, but we cannot eliminate them entirely. The decision to deploy our armed forces on ground operations is never taken lightly, but such is the gravity of the threat posed by terrorism that we may ultimately have no choice.
On the details of the campaign, I shall set out the extent to which we have achieved the military aims to which I referred earlier. So far, the coalition has attacked more than 60 different military targets. I emphasise that we have addressed exclusively military targets. Our targets have been terrorist training camps, the Taliban's military infrastructure and, in particular, their early warning and air defence capabilities. Those include military command and control sites, early warning radars, airfields, surface-to-air missile sites, military aircraft, military garrisons and military and maintenance sites, all of which are military targets. Not a single civilian infrastructure target—if that 1136 was the phrase used by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway—has been attacked deliberately by the coalition.
§ Mr. Blizzard
In light of that detail, does my right hon. Friend share my concern that the media sometimes reduce such facts to a shorthand version of "Kabul was pounded tonight", which is different from what he has outlined?
§ Mr. Hoon
That is right. We all understand why those accounts appear in our newspapers. They are graphic details of what are often complex military operations involving a range of different aircraft and weapons.
I shall try to set out the operations that are being conducted and their consequences.
We have not yet achieved all our objectives. We certainly believe that al-Qaeda's capacity to train terrorists has been hit, and hit very hard. We have attacked nine of its camps. Many of them have been put beyond use; others have been very badly damaged.
Real damage has been done to elements of the Taliban regime's military capability. That is essential if we are to end their support for Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda network. The Taliban's military command and control facilities have been hit, their early warning and air defence systems lie in ruins, radars have been destroyed, surface-to-air missile sites have been smashed. Their ability to sustain their forces effectively has, we believe, been very severely degraded.
§ Mr. Jenkin
Will the right hon. Gentleman comment on the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) and I raised: the campaign is very much less intensive than that undertaken in Kosovo? To echo the point made by the hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard), very large areas of Afghanistan will remain unaware of any military action—unlike what happened in Kosovo. We can therefore emphasise how surgically directed the campaign is.
§ Mr. Hoon
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. As I said, in the first 10 days of the Kosovo campaign, notwithstanding some pretty poor weather conditions, more than twice as many targets were attacked as in the campaign in Afghanistan. The hon. Gentleman is right that, what evidence there is about the situation on the ground in Afghanistan suggests that life is going on comparatively normally. I very recently saw some footage on public television of the day after the pounding that our newspapers allege Kabul has been given, in which market stalls in the centre of the city were selling food, clothing and other items which they presumably sell routinely, day in and day out. That would tend to suggest that the targets that have been attacked have been attacked very precisely and strategically, and have not caused the kind of damage to the civilian population that some, even in these debates, have suggested.
§ Mr. Galloway
How surgical a weapon is the B52? Which weapons hit the Red Cross building today, killed the four United Nations workers on the first day and hit the village of Khorum, which the British and western media filmed the other day?
§ Mr. Hoon
B52s drop weapons; they are not weapons in their own right—unlike civilian aircraft that are flown 1137 into buildings and used as weapons. We are relying on the precision of the weapons that are dropped from the B52 to hit the targets accurately. In due course, I shall deal with each of my hon. Friend's points and hope to satisfy him as best I can of the details of the allegations that he is repeating.
§ Mr. Tom Levitt (High Peak)
Will my right hon. Friend address the concerns that one or two of my constituents have expressed to me about the dropping of food to people in Afghanistan? Will he confirm that the areas where food is being dropped are not also the places that are being bombed?
§ Mr. Hoon
That is so, although we all recognise that more work must be done to ensure that humanitarian aid reaches the areas where it is most needed. The United States has deployed a number of transport aircraft to drop food packages mainly where we know that there are significant numbers of refugees who had intended to cross what is now a closed border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. As I said at the start of my comments, the more information we are able to glean from photo-reconnaissance, the more we shall be able to target humanitarian aid accurately where it is most needed.
We have gone a long way towards creating the right conditions for future operations in Afghanistan, to maintain the pressure on the Taliban regime. We have attacked nine airfields. The vast majority have had their operational capability degraded or destroyed. The bulk of the Taliban's limited air force—its fighters, helicopters, and transport aircraft—have been reduced to wreckage. The threat posed by the Taliban air force is now negligible. Certainly, we have achieved air supremacy at medium and high levels over Afghanistan.
Yet we know that camps can be rebuilt, radars replaced and runways repaired. We must ensure that terrorists cannot use them again and that coalition forces can operate with the greatest possible freedom and safety. Repeated strikes on the same targets are therefore sometimes necessary. That does not indicate failure, but shows how thorough and determined we are in achieving our objectives.
I realise that there are concerns about the targets of the air strikes. I emphasise again that our targets are terrorist and military installations. The targeting processes are rigorous, involving the Law Officers—which answers the point raised again by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow. A great deal of effort is spent on both sides of the Atlantic examining the targets carefully to ensure that we minimise as far as possible any risk of civilian casualties.
§ Syd Rapson (Portsmouth, North)
Is there hard evidence that the Taliban are collecting civilians to pack around potential target sites and so give rise to bad press coverage, or that they are using Red Cross areas to hide fuel dumps and so on?
§ Mr. Hoon
I shall deal with the Red Cross point shortly. I have no specific evidence of efforts by the Taliban to use human shields, but I do not entirely trust the efforts that they have so far made to explain to the 1138 world the nature of the civilian casualties that they claim to have suffered. I shall deal with that point in more detail later.
I emphasise once again that we have no quarrel whatever with the people of Afghanistan. Enormous efforts are made to minimise civilian casualties and avoid exposing civilians to unnecessary risk. However, as speakers in the debate have rightly observed, the possibility of accidents and errors can never be entirely eliminated. Fortunately such incidents are rare, but there is always the chance that something will go wrong, however much care is taken. I greatly regret the deaths of any civilians who may have been killed in the air strikes, including those of four United Nations workers who died last week.
I am aware of the reports that civilians have been killed in coalition strikes on the village of Khorum. My United States counterpart, Secretary of State for Defence Donald Rumsfeld, explained yesterday that there were good indications that it was a confirmed military target. The chairman of the United States joint chiefs of staff, General Richard Myers, indicated that the actual targets were caves containing military hardware that made them entirely legitimate military targets.
The caves were hit very precisely. We are aware that following the strikes on the caves, serious explosions occurred—far more serious than could have been caused by the weapon that initially struck the caves. That clearly indicated that the caves were being used to store high explosives, weapons and munitions. The consequential series of explosions clearly demonstrated that the caves were a perfectly legitimate and appropriate military target.
§ Vernon Coaker
It is important that my right hon. Friend gives the true facts about events in Afghanistan. Will he confirm that we are dropping leaflets and that we are continuing to do all we can to use the BBC World Service to broadcast into Afghanistan, so that we can tell the people of Afghanistan about the situation from our perspective and explain our aims and objectives?
§ Mr. Hoon
I confirm that there have been leaflet drops. I also confirm that excellent work is being done by the World Service. What is most important about the World Service's work is that it operates entirely independently of the Government and explains events in a completely objective way. Those in government who from time to time are criticised by the World Service recognise its independence and objectivity.
Reports and allegations have come in today, including one that five civilians have been killed in a Kabul hospital. All I can say in response to such allegations is that there were no known hospitals close to the sites in Kabul that were targeted by air strikes last night. Immediately on hearing of the allegations, we began investigations, as is standard practice following any suggestion that civilian casualties have occurred.
I shall deal with the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King) about a warehouse used by the International Committee of the Red Cross and suggestions that it had been damaged. Fortunately, it appears that no one has been killed. The Red Cross has confirmed that no food stocks were damaged. The details of the incident are still sketchy and no specific battle damage assessment is yet available, but 1139 we believe that the warehouse was part of a larger complex near Kabul airport that was being used by the Taliban. That may deal with some of the points made by the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge); there seems to be a more than significant degree of control by the Taliban regime over supplies of humanitarian assistance going into Afghanistan. Indeed, that has certainly been used by the regime in the past to continue its control over the people of Afghanistan, which is obviously a matter of great regret.
I repeat that we will continue to investigate any claims of civilian casualties very carefully. In fact, it is almost impossible to obtain any independent evidence against which we can judge such allegations. So far, only once have the Taliban regime allowed independent journalists into Afghanistan to investigate such claims. From what I have read of their accounts, those journalists were extremely doubtful about the veracity of what they saw; some certainly felt that incidents had been manufactured for their benefit.
On the subject of the media, the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) raised yesterday's meeting between a number of broadcasters and the director of communications and strategy at No. 10 Downing street. I think that I should deal with that, as the hon. Lady specifically raised it. The events of 11 September make these exceptional times. A number of issues have arisen in the last two weeks, including media reporting of the Prime Minister's travel plans, videos of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda members being shown on television, and the Taliban's invitation to selected journalists to visit a village in Afghanistan. It was felt, and the broadcasters agreed, that it would be sensible to sit down and talk those things through. The Government were able to flag up some of their concerns, particularly relating to security issues, which was welcomed by both sides. Let me repeat the Government's appreciation for the way in which the broadcasters have gone about an extraordinarily difficult job in recent weeks.
§ Miss McIntosh
May I make a separate point about coded messages, as perhaps I did not express myself as clearly as I might have done earlier? Is the Defence Secretary at liberty to tell the House what action can be taken to prevent such inadvertent activity?
§ Mr. Hoon
I recognise the extreme difficulty of identifying coded messages. We have no idea of the form that they might take. That concern was raised initially in the United States and obviously we must take account of any continuing anxiety. I do not have specific evidence of any such messages; I simply repeat the points that I made about the meeting that has taken place.
§ Mr. Salmond
Is the Secretary of State seriously saying that coded messages could be given in edited highlights of an interview broadcast on the BBC or ITN, as opposed to the internet, cable or satellite television or, for that matter, the personal columns of The Times? Is he seriously maintaining that that was the reason for calling in the broadcasters?
§ Mr. Hoon
I am suggesting that that is a possibility. I am not setting any great store by it, for the precise reasons given by the hon. Gentleman. Clearly we do not know if there is any code in such tapes and where any 1140 such code might occur, so I recognise that that is not the strongest possibility. Nevertheless, it remains a possibility, and I put it no stronger than that.
§ Mr. Dismore
If those coded messages are going out, to whom does my right hon. Friend think they are addressed? Earlier tonight, I expressed concerns about certain fundamentalist organisations. Will my right hon. Friend comment on whether or not action can be taken, for example in relation to al-Muhajiroun and the Supporters of Sharia?
§ Mr. Hoon
Certainly, there is no doubt that the actions of those who spent a considerable time in the United States waiting to commit the atrocities of 11 September were triggered by some event or other. We do not know whether the signal was a coded message contained in a video, or the death of Masood, or whether—I am thinking in terms of what the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) wryly suggested—an advertisement was placed in the personal column of The New York Times. We may never find out about the trigger for the terrorists' actions. The answer to my hon. Friend's question is that we must obviously be concerned about whether people are waiting to take similarly appalling action anywhere in the world. That proper concern was expressed in the course of the meeting to which I referred.
The coalition's actions have widespread international support. The world was shocked and disgusted by what happened on 11 September. Countries around the world have gone far beyond simple expressions of sympathy about what happened. The United Kingdom may have been the first country to deploy its forces alongside those of the United States, but it will not be the only one.
§ Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston)
Some hon. Members have just returned from a two-day visit to Brussels by the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs. We met ambassadors from NATO and other EU member states. First, a huge amount of gratitude was expressed, especially by the Americans, for the fact that article 5 of the treaty was implemented within 24 hours. Secondly, there was concern about the long-term consideration of what will happen if we create large numbers of refugees. I would be especially interested to know whether any action will be taken in the immediate future to support Afghan refugees in Pakistan.
§ Mr. Hoon
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary dealt in his speech with the question of refugees and humanitarian assistance. We have emphasised that that is every bit as important as the military action that we are now undertaking. It is vital for the future of the coalition and its operations, as well as for the future of Afghanistan, that we take action to protect the millions of people who were in very great difficulty even before 11 September. It is obviously important that we deal with that task.
NATO has now deployed the Standing Naval Force Mediterranean, a multinational force that is currently under British command, to the eastern Mediterranean, where it stands ready to engage in force protection of high-value assets. Five NATO airborne early warning aircraft, crewed by air force personnel drawn from across NATO's allies, have been deployed to the eastern United States, thereby permitting that country to deploy its own early warning aircraft abroad for operations over 1141 Afghanistan. They are piloted not only by British or American personnel, but people from a wide range of nationalities and from different NATO countries. A real and practical contribution is therefore being made both at sea and in the air by NATO and its personnel and equipment.
The countries in the coalition have friends throughout the international community. We are talking frequently to our French and German counterparts. They have offered important capabilities as their contribution to the coalition that was formed in response to the events of 11 September, and so have other allies, including Italy, Spain, Portugal, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Still more nations have contributed intelligence on the terrorists, arrested suspects or permitted basing or overflight rights to coalition forces.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles (Mr. MacDonald) recognises that that action is part of the collective European effort that he seeks. A very determined effort is being made by European allies and partners to ensure that they play their part in confronting international terrorism. Indeed, I saw much of that support at first hand during my visits last week to Moscow and to an informal meeting of EU Defence Ministers in Brussels on Friday. All these expressions of support are important and valuable. I suspect that the frustration of my ministerial colleagues from other European nations—if I may speak for a moment on their behalf—is that their desire to become involved in military operations has not always so far been fulfilled simply because of the pace of the operations and the nature of the equipment that is currently being used. As I said, however, there are options that may subsequently involve them.
§ Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, Pollok)
If British forces are in action, they are likely to be threatened by weapons that were provided by the United States. In view of that fact, and if we are intent upon building a wide coalition, will my right hon. Friend ensure that we involve only those people with whom we want to have relationships in future?
§ Mr. Hoon
Of course that is the case. The range and breadth of the international community's response is further proof of the sort of commitment that we need. We need to concentrate on building and rebuilding that coalition and on making sure that we can take appropriate action across the range of Government activities to achieve our ends.
§ It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.