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Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie): There has been a great deal of talk about getting food into the areas that need it, but I am puzzled by the lack of any reference to water. One of Afghanistan's problems is that there has been a drought in the area for three years. I am told that in the border areas in Pakistan, particularly around the camp of Chaman where there has been trouble, it is necessary to drill 400 m through granite to obtain water, and that only the Pakistan agriculture service has strong enough drilling equipment. Given that in many places there could suddenly be thousands upon thousands of people, will the Secretary of State assure me that she is confident that services are in the area to ensure that water is available?
I can assure my hon. Friend that we will do all in our power to improve conditions in the camps, and to secure a better welcome for refugees as they come out. Up to now, the refugee movement has been much less than the United Nations expected: it predicted another 1.5 million. Our information is that people are moving within Afghanistan back to their villages, rather than out to the borders. Perhaps those with more transport have already gone. We must take the help to where the people are, and we must do it as well as we can. We cannot control everything, but the international community and the Government are determined to do all in their power to ensure that humanitarian relief continues to get through to the people of Afghanistan.
Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park): I welcome the statement, and thank the Secretary of State for releasing it a bit early so that I could see it. It helped to alleviate the boredom of Prime Minister's Question Time, I must say.
Does the Secretary of State agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy), the leader of my party, that it is essential to open up the borders of Pakistan and Iran? Does she further agree that not only must the multilateral debt of those countries be addressedthey must be helped with that debtbut they must be guaranteed the costs of looking after the refugees? I understand that the numbers are mounting, and that there are now some 3.5 million in Pakistan alone. Does the Secretary of State also agree that the stability of Pakistan will be crucial during the next few months?
The right hon. Lady highlighted the difficulties of food distribution, which I have to accept, but I was delighted when she said that the World Food Programme was considering air drops of food into Afghanistan. Can we expect the World Food Programme to startI quote myself herebombing Afghanistan with food and aid in the very near future?
The right hon. Lady mentioned the warnings that we have been receiving from aid agencies of impending famine in Afghanistan during the last six monthsa long periodand we now know that there is a 50 per cent. shortfall. If we are to get enough food in before the winter snows, we must double our efforts, whatever the difficulties. Will the right hon. Lady reflect on the fact that aid agencies were criticised for not giving warning in time before the famine in southern Sudan in 1997? The Select Committee of which I was then a member conducted an investigation of the problem. Does the right hon. Lady think that her recent comments about the aid agencies went beyond the plain-speaking decency for which she is renowned?
As the hon. Lady says, we must undertake to Iran, Pakistan and other countries that we will provide for the refugees and that we will be there for the duration. The trouble is that the international community let them down badly before. Debt relief for Pakistan is crucial, as I have already said. The stability of Pakistan is also crucial. If that were to become a problem, we would be in great difficulties, but the Musharraf Government are not worried. Some of the pictures that we see on television exaggerate the extent of demonstrations, as television tends to do.
Air drops are an expensive and difficult way of delivering food, as the hon. Lady knows from the experience of Sudan, so we must get as much in as we can. Not all the country is inaccessible when the snow comes; only some of it is. For the remote areas or the areas that become inaccessible, the World Food Programme is thinking about the possibility of air drops.
When people talk about the aid agencies, there is a muddle. The monitoring of the risk of famine and the distribution of massive quantities of food are all done on our behalf by dedicated United Nations agencies, with people from all over the world devoting their lives to serving their fellow human beings. Our NGOs and other international NGOs often help with distribution on the ground and do an honourable job.
I pick no fight with the aid agencies. The problem was that they issued their statement when I was in Pakistan, so wherever I went I was asked whether the humanitarian situation meant that we needed a pause in the bombing. It is not true that the bombing is the cause of our problem It is not true that, if we paused, we would help the people of Afghanistan. Indeed, I think that all humanitarian relief would then be harassed even more than it is now. It is a mistaken call. We all know why in their hearts good people hate bombing, but they are wrong to have made that call. I think that it is my duty to try to explain that as clearly as I can.
Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington): The Secretary of State just said that the media are exaggerating the extent of internal unrest in Pakistan in relation to the bombing, but just today we read in the newspapers of some firing from within Pakistan on US helicopters attempting to use a base in Pakistan. Recent polls have shown that 70 per cent. of Pakistani people are opposed to the bombing. Are we not taking a gamble that the military stage of the advance will be over sooner rather than later? If that gamble proves to be mistaken, not only will we see the instability in Pakistan across the region, but thousands of people will starve to death in the snows of Afghanistan.
Clare Short: All good people should regret war and bombingI think that the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) made that point in our debate on 8 Octoberbut we must use force where it is necessary to destroy a greater evil. What happened in the United States of
Of course, we should minimise the bombing and move from the military phase to a political phase as soon as we can. We should all unite on that and not wobble. If we paused, there would be more mayhem and division in the world and more trouble for the people of Afghanistan. We must be clear-minded and carry through what we have to do.
Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East): I have seen for myself, in a private visit, the absolute nightmare that has been caused by the Administration of Afghanistan, the horrendous numbers of refugees and the apparent disunity among the refugees. Is the Government's long-term intention to encourage the refugees to return to Afghanistan when things have improved? If it is not possible for them to return, will the Government and all the western powers agree to give continuing aid to Pakistan to cope with a genuine nightmare situation?
Clare Short: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. A serious reform effort is under way in Pakistan. It has not only had local elections throughout the country but even elected some women, which is unprecedented in the country's history. It has also just completed its first IMF programme; it has had plenty of IMF programmes, but never before has it completed one. We have to help Pakistan with debt relief so that it can put more money into improving the lives of its people and growing its economy. On top of all that, it has more than 2 million refugees straining all its systems.
The international community has not sufficiently supported Pakistan. I therefore agree with all the points made by the hon. Gentleman. Part of the purpose of my visit to Pakistan was to pledge the United Kingdom's continuing support. We are providing more support to Pakistan during the emergency, but our support will continue for its reform effort. This is a fantastically important opportunity for the people of Pakistan to have a better future and we must not allow the crisis to divert them.
We must guarantee support for the refugees. Educated Afghans have left their country and can be found everywhere in the world, even in Ladywood. We are also working on a rehabilitation programme that is sharing ideas throughout the international community, so that we can begin the process of rehabilitation in Afghanistan as soon as possible. We want to enable all Afghans to go home, but we want particularly to encourage educated Afghans to go home, to help to reconstruct their country.