|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Clare Short: No. I understand that my hon. Friend told the country that I was not saying what I meant. I resent that deeply. I would not dream of standing up and not saying what I mean about these matters. My hon. Friend should not have said such a thing.
As I have said before, our information on food delivery inside Afghanistan is incomplete, partly because the Taliban will not allow humanitarian workers to use telephones. They do so under threat of losing their lives. So we cannot even get accurate reports about the situation inside the country. There have been more reports of looting and vandalising. The Taliban still have control of the World Food Programme warehouse in Kandahar and the 1,600 tonnes of food stored in it. Sadly, however, many tonnes of food were lost when the International Committee of the Red Cross warehouse in Kabul was bombedsomething that we should all regret very much. There should be a very thorough inquiry into how that occurred.
As a result of all those difficulties, the World Food Programme has decided where possible to bypass its warehouses in urban areas and deliver food directly to rural areas and communities. That means that distribution is fanning out across the country and more deliveries are occurring in that way, which is highly desirable.
As I have said, I genuinely understand all the people who call in their letters for a pause in the bombing, as well as my hon. Friends who make such calls, because they feel emotionally that is unbearable to bomb a people that is hungry. The truth is, however, that a pause would simply incentivise the Taliban and other fighters to attack humanitarian convoys. It would make the situation worse and would not be a solution. We must restrict the bombing to military targets, be very careful in doing it and bring it to an end as soon as possible, but pausing for humanitarian purposes would be a grave error. Future supplies of food would become military targets in order to prevent the conflict from continuing. It would be an error of enormous proportions.
Liaison between the humanitarian effort and the military to ease the delivery of food has improved since the start of the conflict, but it could be much better. It is crucial that we learn the lessons of previous crises in Kosovo, Bosnia and East Timor. Those lessons must be put into effect so that the military can ensure that it minimises all possible obstacles to the humanitarian effort. We did that well in Kosovo, but it is not operating now as well as it could. It could be corrected and we must get on with that with great urgency. I have experts in this area in my Department. We are working very hard to improve matters and we must ensure that more is done.
On cluster bombs, I promised the House in response to questions asked last week and again today that I would find out all I could about their use. I understand that 200 such bombs have been used against five targets. One of those targets was a terrorist training camp, while the others were Taliban military positions. The cluster bombs used are armed with general-purpose bomblets designed for use against vehicles and buildings. They are designed to explode on impact. None of the cluster bombs dropped over Afghanistan contained delayed action minelets or land mines. Britain has signed the Ottawa convention
Despite the terrible difficulties that we are facing, more food is getting into Afghanistan and deliveries inside the country are continuing. However, the situation is fragile. Before 11 September, we were faced with a country of 20 million people between 5 million and 7 million of whom needed food trucked in by the United Nations in order to remain alive. The so-called Government of that country was obstructing the delivery of humanitarian relief. The situation is very difficult, and it will continue to be difficult. No one should be complacent, but no one should pretend that the military campaign is causing the difficulties.
We must be intelligent and serious enough to pursue a number of objectives at the same time. We must be determined to bring bin Laden and his associates to justice and to close down the al-Qaeda network. That requires the replacement of the Taliban Government. At the same time, we must continue to truck in food and to provide for the refugees. We must unite the world around a plan for a replacement Government in Afghanistan who are representative of their people and want to co-operate with the international community.
Those objectives are difficult and complex, but they are do-able. Anything else is intolerable. Stopping the bombing and not taking action would result in more disasters like that at the World Trade Centre, and the people of Afghanistan would continue to suffer this abominable misgovernment that has brought them as low as they are today.
Geraint Davies: Has my right hon. Friend considered the viability of setting up United Nations runs and protected zones within Afghanistan for humanitarian aid to be delivered to people who would be protected from possible falling bombs?
Clare Short: Yes, indeed. In Islamabad, the representative of the UN special mission to Afghanistan said to me that we must have many different plans and enormous flexibility to be able to move forward, depending on how the situation develops on the ground. We hope that we will enable UN workers to return to parts of the country, so that trucking in food and humanitarian supplies will become easier in those areasit will be areas rather than routes. It is difficult to negotiate with the Taliban to get any co-operation to bring in food. However, all such instruments will be tried.
The al-Qaeda network exists in 60 different countries, and its headquarters are in Afghanistan. We must bring different measures into play at the same time, one of which is the sharing of intelligence and information so that people responsible for co-operating with the network can be arrested and brought to justice, and the network dismantled. We must take much firmer action on money laundering. There is a big link between drug dealing and money laundering, which enables the network to function. Co-operation on action against money laundering can begin to dismantle the network.
We need military action in order to weaken the Taliban's military forces so that al-Qaeda cannot continue to operate in Afghanistan. We need to maintain our humanitarian effort to keep the people of Afghanistan fed. We must co-operate with the United Nations in preparing the ground for a new Afghanistan. Alongside that, we are working with the Governments of Iran and, most particularly, Pakistan so that they are not destabilised by our current activities.
Ms Julia Drown (South Swindon): My right hon. Friend has rightly pointed out the dreadful position facing women in Afghanistan. As we prepare for the future in Afghanistan, what can her Department do to ensure that women have a stronger voice in the future?
Clare Short: People sometimes talk as if the treatment of women and girls in Taliban cities such as Kandahar is an example of the traditional treatment and education of Afghan women. That is wrong. Herat, for example, is an ancient and civilised city. It is a centre of learning and education. It is 5,000 years old and is talked of as a great city in the history of the world. There have been many great women at the university therescholars, architects and so on. Many of the educated women have now left Afghanistan as refugees, but we must lay the plans for the new inclusive transitional Government that will enable the educated people of Afghanistan to return and help in the restoration of their country. Restoring the right to education for girls and boys is crucial.
A couple of weeks ago, I visited the North-West Frontier province, where there is a great deal of movement across the border with Pakistan. The education Minister there told me that the answer to backwardness and extremism is the education of girls. On behalf of our Government I undertook to work with the Government in the North-West Frontier province to ensure that, as rapidly as possible, boys and girls are educated. We must ensure that the full wonderful glory and civilisation of Islam is properly honoured by us, across the world and in
These are enormously serious and sombre times. As has been said, this is probably one of the most complex military and humanitarian disasters that the world has seen in recent years, if not ever. We must hold to our resolve and be determined to succeed. Success is possible, but very