Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Galloway rose

Mr. Straw: My hon. Friend can make his own speech in his own time, but I wish to make progress. His earlier speech is on the record.

The House can be proud of this country's role in the liberation of the Afghan people, and we can be especially proud of the courage of our troops at Bagram airfield in securing the air base and making it safe for the United Nations and other diplomatic and humanitarian missions. Not least, our deployment at Bagram has made it possible for delegates to fly to the talks in Bonn, and we were the first country to establish a diplomatic presence in Kabul.

Alongside that, however, there has always been the imperative on the international community to deliver a second liberation to free the Afghan people from the other scourges that have beset them for decades—fear, hunger, poverty and war.

There are several immediate and urgent tasks. First, there is the need to ensure that al-Qaeda and the Taliban are completely eliminated. Secondly, there is the immediate humanitarian emergency. Thirdly, there is the issue of the multinational force requested by the parties at Bonn to provide security in Kabul and the surrounding areas for the nascent political community, and for the institutions of that fledgling state.

We have always said that we stand ready to provide troops. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said yesterday, we have indicated, in principle, a willingness to play a leading role in any UN mandated force to provide stability in Afghanistan. No formal decisions have yet been taken.

These are merely the most pressing needs of the new Afghan state, but there are many other problems that cannot be resolved quickly. The country has known little but war, bloodshed and chaos for a generation. A quarter of all children do not make it to their fifth birthday, a third are orphans, and half are malnourished. The international community has let Afghanistan down in the past. We are not going to turn our backs on the Afghan people again.

The Bonn agreement set out a route map to a better future. We have to ensure that all the parties involved stay on the route and follow the map. There will be an emergency Loya Jirgah within six months, from which a broad-based traditional administration will emerge. Eighteen months after that, there will be a full Loya Jirgah to agree a new constitution, under which free and fair elections will be held for a fully representative government.

We must also ensure that donor countries provide good measures of support, and that the tangible support that is provided is conditional on progress being made in Afghanistan.

The Afghan Support Group, which brings together all the major donors, has met in Berlin to discuss practical ways of assisting the interim administration. Meetings of

12 Dec 2001 : Column 850

donors and other interested parties in Brussels later this month, and next month in Tokyo, will lead to firm pledges of funds. We have to get reconstruction work under way quickly to produce an early peace dividend.

I want to pay particular tribute to the central role that the United Nations has played since the beginning of this crisis. I spoke of the ceremony yesterday to mark the fact that three months had passed since the atrocities of 11 September. Today, it is exactly three months since the UN moved so rapidly into action by passing Security Council resolution 1368. Two weeks later, it passed resolution 1373, and further resolutions were passed when I attended the Security Council and the General Assembly between 10 and 14 November.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Straw: I am sorry, but I want to make progress.

Important as the military, diplomatic and humanitarian efforts in Afghanistan are to the fight against international terrorism, their successful completion alone will not remove the scourge of terrorism as a force in international affairs. We therefore have to do all that we can to promote peace. That includes fostering the middle east peace process, which represents the only way in which Palestinian grievances can be addressed, and Israel's security guaranteed.

Forlorn though the hopes may be, we have to encourage both parties in that terrible conflict to go back, in appropriate circumstances, to the negotiating table.

We also have to step up international measures to combat terrorism. We have to work for universal acceptance of the principle that violence directed against civilians for political ends is never justified. We do not condone acts of terrorism carried out under the guise of fighting for freedom. Although we are prepared to talk to states that do not endorse this principle, our scope for active co-operation with them is severely limited.

We have to go on providing development and humanitarian assistance, and making the case for effective action to combat poverty, oppression, conflict, criminality and every malign force that excludes our fellow human beings from the benefits of a globalised world.

We should not delude ourselves that the defeat of al-Qaeda and its Taliban protectors in Afghanistan spells the end of the international terrorist threat, or of the fight against it. We, the United States Administration and the international community have made it clear from the beginning that it will take a long time to remove the threat. However, we should take heart from the successes of the last few weeks.

We have shown that the determined will of the international community can defeat the evil that seeks to destroy us and that destroyed the lives of so many people on 11 September. We have shown that action to enforce universal values is a powerful force for good. Alongside the physical rebuilding of Afghanistan, we have to encourage and, above all, work for, the spiritual regeneration of that country. We have shown that we have not forgotten 11 September, and we will not rest until we have made sure that such an atrocity can never happen again.

12 Dec 2001 : Column 851

4.15 pm

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes): Since the House last met to discuss the war on terrorism, much progress has been made and Conservative Members welcome the success that has been achieved in recent weeks. It is a vindication of the strategy pursued by the international coalition, with the United States at its head. It is only the beginning, however, and we must never lose sight of the fact that the fight to eradicate terrorism wherever it is to be found will be a long, hard and unrelenting one. That fight did not start in Afghanistan and it will not end there. We must never allow ourselves to be tempted into believing that once the Afghan phase is over, our job is done.

In the House on 16 October, I outlined what I believed that our objectives should be. The first was to bring Osama bin Laden to book and to destroy his al-Qaeda organisation. The second was to enable the people of Afghanistan to regain their rights and to live in peace, not least by a determined effort to free them from the threat of famine that confronts so many of them. The third was the longer-term but equally essential aim of the eradication of international terrorism and the very real threats implicit in it. I believe that those objectives remain valid.

Achieving those objectives was central to justifying the international involvement of the unique and remarkable international coalition that has been so successfully sustained. These "agile partnerships", as President Bush has described them, have proved very effective, as, indeed, has the flexible approach that the European Union has adopted to the crisis—a flexibility that Conservative Members warmly welcome and endorse.

Mr. Dalyell: The right hon. Gentleman's third objective was the eradiation of international terrorism. Will he clarify whether that, in his view, means bombing countries other than Afghanistan? If it does not mean that, what does the eradication of international terrorism mean?

Mr. Ancram: There would be many different ways in which we would seek to eradicate international terrorism, depending on the circumstances. It would be wrong to rule anything in or to rule anything out.

I hope that the conversion to a flexible Europe that I mentioned will be sustained by the Foreign Secretary in the weeks ahead. It has also been a salutary experience to work with a coalition in which Russia has co-operated so effectively with the United States and Europe. I hope that we will be able to build on that growing understanding.

Intrinsic to our prime objective was the early removal of the Taliban, which has almost been done now. Over the past few days, in their remaining erstwhile stronghold of Kandahar, the prospective surrender of the Taliban forces has been brokered by the man who is to be Afghanistan's interim Prime Minister, Hamid Karzai. Now the net is inexorably closing in on bin Laden and his al-Qaeda forces in Afghanistan. The latest reports suggest that the battle among the caves at Tora Bora is reaching a conclusion.

The professionalism of our armed forces, American and British, working with and alongside the anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan, will help to ensure either that bin Laden is brought to justice or that justice is brought to

12 Dec 2001 : Column 852

bin Laden. I salute the courage and skill of our service personnel who have been in one way or another involved in ensuring the effectiveness of this campaign.

The Afghan phase of the battle against terrorism is not yet complete and there must be no let-up, no premature satisfaction and certainly no complacency until it is done. Nevertheless, the work of helping to establish a representative Government in Kabul must now be pursued with vigour. That second objective of which I spoke is urgent if the vacuum left by the collapse of the Taliban regime is not to be filled with further dissension and unrest.

In Bonn last week, a major piece in the jigsaw of our second objective fell into place when the major Afghan factions agreed on a transitional Government to run the country. On 22 December, when the interim Government come in, Afghanistan will start on a new path. It is important that the agreement was made by the people of Afghanistan, for the people of Afghanistan. The Opposition welcome that progress and I, too, pay special tribute to Lakhdar Brahimi of the United Nations. We wish him success in his continuing diplomatic efforts.

Understandably, there is now a tremendous sense of hope for the future, but Afghanistan has only just begun on the path towards exorcising the demons of its recent past. The next stage in that process is for the transitional Government to prove themselves genuinely representative of the whole of Afghanistan and resolute in ensuring that Afghanistan will never again be used as a haven for international terrorism.

There has been some surprise and concern at the way that announcements have been made over the past few days about the further deployment of British troops in Afghanistan—I hope that the Foreign Secretary will give me his full attention at this point—through leaks in newspapers—[Interruption.] The Secretary of State for Defence suggests that there has been no announcement, but that is what I am complaining about.

There have been leaks in newspapers, hints have been given—not least by the right hon. Gentleman—in television interviews, and announcements have been made in other countries. As Mr. Speaker made clear yesterday, the House should be told first, and should be told fully, what is intended. The result is that we have grave misgivings about what is being mooted. We need answers to many questions.

Next Section

IndexHome Page