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Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. The right hon. Gentleman's time is up.

3.47 pm

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot): I am delighted to follow the Chairman of my Committee, the right hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George). He has been a

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distinguished member of the Defence Committee for many years. I agree with what he said about a number of contributions this afternoon, particularly those of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) and the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Sedgemore). However, I hope that the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch has a quick getaway car available because I have no doubt that his Chief Whip will want to have words with him ere long.

I was slightly disappointed by the attitude of the Secretary of State for Defence. It seemed from what he said that, unless we utter platitudinous remarks or wholehearted support for the Government, we are seeking to undermine the Government's stand in this extremely difficult and important conflict. The thought-provoking contributions by a number of hon. Members have shown that it is possible to support the Government, but nevertheless to question their overall stance. We have a duty to do so. Our constituents may be required as members of Her Majesty's armed forces to go into battle on our behalf. It is entirely right and proper that we should be able to call the Government to account and not be accused of seeking to undermine their efforts.

I do support the Government in what they are trying to do. I do support the Prime Minister. As the right hon. Member for Walsall, South has made clear, so does my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith), Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition. We on the Conservative Benches support the Government. However, there are difficulties.

The Government face serious dilemmas in achieving the military objectives. The events of 11 September were not timed to best advantage from the point of view of prosecuting the perpetrators who reside in Afghanistan. Ramadan and the approaching winter present difficulties. I used to work for a bank called European Arab bank, so I have experience of the Arab world. As we are seeking to build, and need to build, a coalition with the Arabs, we need to be sensitive to their religion, just as I wish that they were as sensitive to my religion as we are encouraged by them to be towards theirs.

The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton was absolutely right. We need to be able to prosecute the military campaign to its logical conclusion, but we must understand the sensitivities of the Arab world. It is important, if we are to maintain not only the coalition but the support of public opinion in the United Kingdom, that the momentum be maintained. If people feel that this is being dragged out while we sit here, at risk in our own country, not taking any real action to bring the perpetrators to book, it will be increasingly difficult to maintain support.

As the Secretary of State said, as far as we can determine, the al-Qaeda network has been largely flattened and we are now going against the Taliban ground forces. There will come a time when we have eliminated all their military assets and will be left with the need to remove the Taliban Government. The Prime Minister said unequivocally in the Welsh Assembly that it was the Government's intention to remove the Taliban regime, and I hope that the Minister will confirm that.

We must be under no illusions, however: when we remove the Taliban regime there will have to be something else in its place, and that something will not be

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achieved by means of universal suffrage in Afghanistan. It will have to be imposed. To achieve that will require the co-operation of a wide range of people, which is no mean undertaking. We should be mindful of the difficulties that the Government and the coalition partners will face in achieving the objective so forcefully declared by the Prime Minister.

We run the risk of engaging our troops in a lengthy battle to maintain in place whatever Government we impose in Kabul. Those are the risks that I perceive. It may be that Ministers have the answers and can further enlighten the House.

The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short): There is no suggestion of the coalition imposing a Government in Afghanistan. The people would never accept an externally imposed Government. Ambassador Brahimi, on behalf of Kofi Annan, is consulting all the different ethnic groups and leaders who do not support the Taliban—that is, most of the people in Afghanistan—to get a transitional Government with the approval of the bulk of the people there.

Mr. Howarth: I am partly reassured by the Secretary of State's intervention, but unless she intends to have universal suffrage in Afghanistan, it will be a form of imposition. The coalition forces are going to change the Government there, and however it is brought about there will be some form of imposed Government. Clearly, there are risks. We could end up with British and American troops supporting the universally approved Government of Afghanistan and being shot at by both sides.

My next concern is the defence of the homeland. Much reference has been made to the attitude of Muslims in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. I reiterate that we all believe that this is not a war against Islam. However, it is not a war against international terrorism as such. It is a specific conflict against a specific threat and a specific enemy—Islamic fundamentalist extremists. Unless we accept that, we are, to an extent, deluding ourselves.

I welcome the fact that clerics in Luton, in particular, have denounced those young men who wish to go to fight against our troops who are seeking to rid the people of Afghanistan of the terrorists and the Taliban. If those young men return to the United Kingdom, they should be charged with treason under the Treason Act 1351 or any other measure that is to hand. One cannot enjoy the privileges of being a citizen of this country and a subject of Her Majesty if one goes out to shoot Her Majesty's armed forces who are seeking to uphold the security of the British people and to defend British interests.

I understand that leading Muslim clerics have a divided loyalty. They are conscientious Muslims and they owe an allegiance in that regard. However, they are also subjects of Her Majesty and they must ensure that that is their No. 1 loyalty. They must also proclaim that message to their followers.

I wish to pay a short tribute to the mayor of Rushmoor in my constituency. Charles Choudhary is a good Conservative councillor who comes from Kashmir. He has been an outstanding member of the Muslim community and an outstanding civic leader. When he held a civic service in Aldershot, he held it at the Royal Garrison church. That was a fine move on his part to demonstrate the need for reconciliation.

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The Government face great dilemmas as we stand poised to risk engaging our troops in ground action. Although the Government have our overwhelming support, they must be mindful that, when we ask questions or even have the temerity to criticise, we do so only in the spirit of trying to be helpful. We do not wish to undermine their resolve to defeat this insidious and outrageous form of terrorism.

3.57 pm

Denzil Davies (Llanelli): It is almost four weeks since the United States and its allies commenced military action in Afghanistan, and the initial concern among Members on both sides of the House was that the United States' response would be indiscriminate. That has not been the case. Although there has been inexcusable imprecision in some of the bombing, the response, in the main, has been proportionate and measured. As far as I am aware, it has been in accordance with international law and the resolutions of the United Nations.

Like most wars, one day this war will end. I hope that that will be sooner rather than later, but in the meantime we are dealing with a wide and perhaps rather shaky coalition. I hope that members of the coalition, including the Arab states, will sit down somewhere to try to analyse slowly and painfully the background that led to the horrors of 11 September.

There is no need to waste time trying to discover why the leaders of al-Qaeda plotted their evil deeds or why the perpetrators carried them out. They were evil deeds carried out by evil men, and there is no justification or excuse for them. Terrorist groups, however, are like armies: they need foot soldiers and those soldiers need to be recruited. Therefore, we should at least try to find out why so many young men apparently wish to march behind the flag of such a disruptive, nihilistic and, ultimately, doomed project.

Such a meeting is probably a forlorn hope, but if we ever hold one, western countries should concede at the outset that among the leaders of Islam there is a deep fear that western capitalism—if I may so describe it—worships no God but materialism and that it will destroy their religion, faith and communities. As they see it, global capitalism is already destroying Christianity in the west. They perceive a western society without religion and without morality, in which family life is disintegrating and law and order is collapsing. Perhaps they see only what they want to see; perhaps they want to see only the bad and not the good. However, I do not think that we can say honestly that their fears can be dismissed as being entirely without foundation.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) has considerable knowledge of the middle east and I cannot speak about it with the same authority. Sadly, the conflict in the middle east must be a powerful recruiting sergeant for the foot soldiers of terrorism.

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