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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.
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 homein 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.
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 enemywe knew who was in charge and where he wasand, 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
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 anotherwe hope, betterGovernment. I have always worried and wonderedthis is genuine and I hope that the Minister will address itwhether 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 therewe understand that 500 tonnes of food are getting in every daywho 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?
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 mineslocal people can be blown up trying to retrieve thembut 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 itemsa 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