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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,

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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

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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. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): A great man.

Mr. Keetch: Indeed, he is a great man—he has joined the Liberal Democrats. He said:

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

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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:

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.

8.12 pm

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

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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

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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.

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