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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

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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

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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

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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

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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:

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.

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