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Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): Will the Secretary of State tell the House how dropping cluster bombs and Gator land mines will assist humanitarian efforts in any way? That can never be right.
I have a high regard for the right hon. Lady, but will she tell the House whether it will be possible at some time to publish a report about what is happening with the humanitarian effort, and what is being undertaken? Many hon. Members would like to know the direction of the effort. That is not intended as a critical question, as I know that the Secretary of State is working hard on the matter. However, it is awful that humanitarian aid is being provided at the same time as there is indiscriminate use of land mines.
Clare Short: The hon. Gentleman was not listening. Land mines are not being used, but the country of Afghanistan is littered with land mines because of 20 years of civil war. In a civil war, land mines are cheap weapons and people use them endlessly. Afghanistan has an enormous land-mine problem from the past. No one is using land mines nowunless the Taliban are, which is possible. What I mean is that no one that belongs to the coalition is using land mines.
I cannot speak with authority about cluster bombs. I think that I read a report that stated that some use had been made of them, but I think that that use has been limited. I promise to find out and report properly. I do absolutely undertake to begin publishing regular reports on the humanitarian situation as soon as possible. We need that information in the House, and across the world. People want to know that we really mean it when it comes to aid, and that help is being got to people.
I was talking to Mark Malloch-Brown, the head of the United Nations Development Programme, who has co-ordinating responsibility in the UN in this matter. We get different figures from different parts of the system, because supply stops and starts or goes up or down. Averages based on figures for a month, a week or a day result in different figures, with the result that people start not to believe what we say. We need to tidy up the process and make it honest and clear. We need regular reports, and I promise to do my best to bring that about.
Mr. John Battle (Leeds, West): I assure my right hon. Friend that there is a tremendous fund of good will, nationally and internationally, behind her efforts to tackle the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. She should not be expected to tackle single-handed a crisis that has been in the making for months and years, and ignored by the international community and the media.
I have a specific question for my right hon. Friend. May I urge her, quietly and gently, to get away from the language and strategy of random air drops, from a great height, of inappropriate aid? Even in these tremendously difficult circumstances, would not it be better to adopt a clearer strategy of targeted air lifts that are received on the ground and distributed according to need? Air lifts are what are needed, not air drops.
Air drops are always the least best option because they are so expensive. Some 90 per cent. of the costs of emergency relief to Sudan go on air drop costs rather than on what is provided for the people, so trucking is extremely important for laying down stocks, filling up warehouses and building more of them. Even if some food is diverted, we have to keep pumping it into the country because then at least the price will come down and there will not be a famine. We cannot afford to be fussy and not get the food into the country. The United States stuff is about hearts and mindsthey are sending meals, with peanut butter, crackers and jam. That is fair enough, but it is not humanitarian relief.
The welfare programme is looking at very remote and difficult areas. If we can get some areas of the country in peaceful enclaves under a new Afghan Government, we can really start to supply humanitarian relief. We hope that we will be able to do that as soon as possible.
Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): The Secretary of State has played a commendable part in the international aid effort in getting in aid from Pakistan, whose border is particularly difficult. She mentioned Uzbekistan; we know that the Americans have established a forward base in the north-west of the country, where presumably they have secure corridors into that base. Would it be possible to co-ordinate with the military authorities, using those secure corridors, and consider using the front-line states on the north-east and north-west to get aid to the dreadful situation in Afghanistan, as well as concentrating on Pakistan?
Clare Short: As I have said before, the military and humanitarian sides need to know what the other is doing and not get in each other's way. Indeed, the military can assist by creating safe areas, but it must not muddle the situation. Humanitarian aid must go to anyone, whatever the side, wherever they are; it must never be used as a weapon in military action.
As I said in my statement, the welfare programme is looking at Tajikistan and Uzbekistan with regard to trucking. It is not as simple as using the corridor. We have to get supplies into the country; UN staff have to go in to the country, and they have to be housed and organised. However, we are looking at the possibility. There should be co-operation with the military side, but it should not control humanitarian supplies. If the military can create safe zones, that is the beginning of the end of the problem. That is the job for the military.
Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle): I should like to return to the central issue of the closed border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. In my right hon. Friend's discussions with General Musharraf, did he give her any
Clare Short: That is a very important question, and my hon. Friend is right to come back to it. The formal position of the Government of Pakistan and, I understand, of Iran, is that the border is closed and there are millions of refugees. Our country complains, yet we are much better off and we have nothing like the same numbers of refugees. People are saying, "Why don't you provide camps just on the other side of the border?", but that offends humanitarian principles. In practice, 100 camps are being prepared in Pakistan in case of an exodus because of great hunger or the consequence of fighting. So although they are saying no, they are preparing camps, and that is a hopeful sign.
Quite large numbers of people are going across the mountains to Pakistan. While I was there, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees negotiated with Pakistan's Government that people going to live in families and in communities can be provided with food aid so that they can cope. However, there is a hold-up on the border going into Baluchistan. People are coming from the Kandahar area, which is the Taliban stronghold. There has been a lot of fighting so, unsurprisingly, there are large movements of people. We must get them over and settled. We must do more. I am trying my best and I will try harder.
Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): The Secretary of State is right to say that we should not be mixing military and humanitarian activities. Does she agree, however, that British and American forces have traditionally been first to help those suffering from starvation? May I press her on the open frontier? Surely it is not simply a question of Pakistan being frightened of a large influx of people from Afghanistan with which it cannot cope. As we have experienced with our open frontiers, is there not also the possibility that they could allow undesirables to flock in and add to the upheaval in Pakistan rather than helping to solve the Afghanistan situation?
Clare Short: The hon. Gentleman is right. Pakistan is worried about numbers. It has had 2 million refugees for the best part of 20 years, which is putting a strain on communities, but it is worried about armed groups causing destabilisation. We all know the example of Rwanda, where those responsible for the genocide led the exodus and controlled the camps. They were provided with humanitarian relief by the international system, so the leaders of the genocide were strengthened by the humanitarian effort. Such examples do not help us and that is a part of the concern in Pakistan. None the less, we cannot have people backing up at the border. We have to guarantee to help provide all the resources and then ask for the opening of the borders, as hon. Members have said, but we also have to check that there are not military incursions and attempts to destabilise Pakistan.
Mike Gapes (Ilford, South): Does the Secretary of State agree that, given that Ramadan begins in three weeks and that the winter will come around the same time in Afghanistan and will be very harsh, calls for us to stop the air action are misguided and could play into the hands of the Taliban regime and Osama bin Laden and his