Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Several hon. Members rose

Dr. Julian Lewis: I will now give way for the last time.

Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central): For the sake of the completeness of his list of examples of support for indigenous people in conflicts and the success rate thereof—I agree that there have been successes—why does the hon. Gentleman not use the example of Afghanistan itself? There, support—mainly from the Americans and Saudi Arabia—given to people such as the mujaheddin fomented the problems that face us now. Why not use that example as well?

Dr. Lewis: I am happy to refer to that example. As I have had occasion to point out previously, one must be less selective about where one stops the clock when looking back on history. The cause of the problems is not the support that the Americans and the British special services gave to the mujaheddin in Afghanistan; it is the fact that in 1979 the then Soviet Union invaded the country and triggered the cycle of events with which we are still dealing today.

Having given genuine and well-deserved plaudits to the Government, I want to raise one small issue that has caused me some sadness. It relates to what might be an academic question: what would happen if Osama bin Laden—or, perhaps more realistically, one or another of his chief lieutenants—fell into the hands of the British forces rather than those of America or any other country? During our debate on the coalition against international terrorism on 1 November, I intervened on the Secretary of State for Defence to ask

12 Dec 2001 : Column 877

To shows of approval on both sides of the House, the Secretary of State robustly replied:

I was therefore sorry to see a Press Association release dated 9 December and headed "Britain against bin Laden death penalty, says Hoon." It reports the Secretary of State as saying:

The release continues:

Whoever has got at the Secretary of State, that is a sad reversal of a welcome and robust answer he had previously given in the House.

Mr. Savidge: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Lewis: No, because others want to speak and time is limited.

I was fortunate enough to participate in the first of these debates, during the emergency sitting that took place when Parliament was recalled on 14 September, so soon after the events in New York and elsewhere in the United States. I said then that it was pointless and probably self-defeating to speculate publicly about specific measures of retaliation; that remains my view. However, it is permissible to examine the extent to which the abstract theory of terrorism has or has not been borne out by the events of the past three months.

All terrorism has a specific central feature, which is the ability to cause maximum mayhem with minimum effort. However, the brand of terrorism with which we are dealing appeared at the outset to combine three other deadly features: high-tech terrorism, stateless terrorism and suicide terrorism. I shall briefly consider each of those three.

High-tech terrorism is that which uses the assets of developed states as weapons against those states. That, together with the weapons of mass destruction that the terrorists would like to acquire, could constitute a form of military jujitsu, whereby the opponent's greater weight is turned into a weapon against him. However, it is interesting to note that although the attacks on New York's twin towers seemed to subscribe strongly to that principle—what else but something on the scale of airliners packed with fuel could have achieved such devastation—there seems to have been a failure on the part of that terrorist organisation to stay its hand long enough, until it had the more deadly weapons which, we understand from the Government's understandably limited comments, the bin Laden organisation has sought and continues to seek. We must be thankful that, in a sense, the attacks in America were premature—or so it can be argued.

What of stateless terrorism? That appears to be a possibility when one first examines the bin Laden organisation and the way in which its tentacles extend to so many countries. In fact, that has not been achieved either. Al-Qaeda is cross-border, but is dependent on what

12 Dec 2001 : Column 878

have been described as "failed states". The very fact that it has had to operate in states such as Afghanistan has turned out to be a weakness in its armour. It is significant that when things began to go wrong in Afghanistan, the indigenous people who had supported the Taliban turned against al-Qaeda and bin Laden to a considerable extent, continually referring to them as "foreigners" and surrendering themselves while leaving al-Qaeda fighters to try to save their own necks.

The third feature is the most worrying: suicide terrorism. At the outset, parallels were rightly drawn between the events in America and the attack on Pearl Harbour. The reason why that parallel is especially strong can be seen in discoveries made after the second world war about Japanese thinking at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbour. Any rational calculation would have shown that, however successful that attack might be, the Japanese were bound to lose in the end. Documents uncovered after the war revealed their attitude to have been along these lines—I quote from memory: "Sometimes a situation arises when all you can do is kick up your heels and leap into the gorge." Such was the degree of fanaticism consistently shown throughout the far east war by the Japanese, who often sacrificed themselves in the face of impossible odds and in impossible situations.

We have had to ask ourselves, would the same sort of remorseless self-sacrifice be shown on a large scale by the bin Laden organisation and the Taliban? The answer is, again, that that has not yet been proved to be the case—indeed, there are indications that it was not the case.

I was intrigued by the confirmation by the Secretary of State for Defence, in testimony to the Select Committee as recently as 28 November, that it appears that a significant number of the 19 hijackers on the four planes did not know that they were on a suicide mission. I see that the Minister is nodding. Therefore bin Laden had felt it was reliable to inform only a minority of those whom he was sending to their death that that would occur.

I noted in yesterday's Evening Standard the report by Jeremy Campbell about the video that has been discovered in Afghanistan. It shows bin Laden

It is said that he

It seems that the organisation is not exactly overwhelmed with people who are anxious to go to paradise with all the many benefits—the 72 virgins and all the rest of it—that their leaders tell them to expect.

I wish to give others a chance to contribute to the debate, so I shall curtail my remarks. Given uncertainty about the severity and the persistence of the threat, the correct approach to our undertaking necessary and, I hope, temporary infringements of some of our traditional liberties should be sunset legislation—legislation that will lapse automatically, unless specifically renewed, after an agreed period.

Democracy has always faced these problems in wartime. Churchill's chief of staff on the COS Committee during the war was Lord Ismay, who later became the first Secretary General of NATO. I shall conclude by referring to something that he observed in his memoirs,

12 Dec 2001 : Column 879

which is as true in relation to terrorism today as it was in relation to the more conventional threat that nearly destroyed the democratic systems of the west in the past. He said:

We must bear in mind that if we are to win this war, as has been the case with previous wars, there must be no half-measures. We must use indigenous opposition and build coalitions. However, we must not be ruled by the fact that we build coalitions. We must do what is right, what is necessary and what is efficacious in eradicating the terrorist threat to modern civilisation.

6.13 pm

Hugh Bayley (City of York): Two weeks ago, the House bought me an aeroplane ticket as a member of the Select Committee on International Development, enabling me to visit the Afghan refugee camps on the Pakistan- Afghan border. One of the impressions that I came back with was of the huge burden that has been borne by Pakistan, which since 1979 has been providing refuge to refugees from Afghanistan. At the peak of the problem in 1990, there were 3.7 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan. Prior to 11 September, there were about 3 million. It is estimated that about 150,000 more refugees have entered the country since then.

The world community took a close interest in what was happening in Afghanistan in the 1980s when the mujaheddin were fighting the Soviets. However, in the 1990s, when that conflict ended, we lost interest. We left Pakistan holding the baby. Literally, it was holding hundreds of thousands of Afghan babies. The strain on Pakistan's infrastructure—it is a poor country—is considerable. We, the members of the Select Committee, were told that in Pakistan's North West Frontier province, half of all hospital beds are used by Afghan refugees.

Pakistan needs—and I am pleased to say that it is receiving it from the United Kingdom—considerable aid. We have increased our aid spend for Pakistan this year threefold, to approximately £52 million. It will not be enough to increase that spend for only this year. We must—I know that the Department for International Development plans this—maintain this level of support for Pakistan in future years.

We have also provided substantial aid for Afghanistan. The Department for International Development is extremely well respected in the region for the way that we use our aid money effectively. One example is the World Food Programme, which has done a magnificent job in maintaining the channels through which food has been brought into Afghanistan during the conflict. The WFP has told me that the UK's contribution, unlike that of most countries, came in the form of cash. That had two advantages. First, the WFP could use it quickly to buy food when it was needed. Secondly, the local region's economy was supported, the food being bought within the region. United Kingdom aid money has been buying wheat at $130 a tonne, an extremely good price.

12 Dec 2001 : Column 880

We should congratulate the United States on its contribution to food relief. It is by far the largest contributor. It has contributed about 80 per cent. of all food aid taken in by the World Food Programme. It is giving its aid in kind. Representatives of the WFP told me that if the US is shipping this aid on US-flagged ships, the shipping costs are about $110 a tonne. That is hardly less than what we are paying for the wheat.

The United States has struck a good deal with the Government of Pakistan, in which Pakistan is surrendering its stocks of wheat, which are going into Afghanistan now. Those stocks will be replenished when the American food ships arrive in the new year.

I pay tribute to the truckers. That applies to both the WFP's employees and the Afghan private truckers, who have kept the aid moving during the conflict. I also pay tribute to the Afghan non-governmental organisation workers who have distributed the aid within the country. I met a man called Aziz Hakimi—an Afghan who works for Oxfam in Herat. He was there throughout the bombing until two days before it fell. He had to leave because of the opposition from the Taliban and people funded by outside organisations.

Aziz Hakimi said that most of the people of Herat welcomed the military intervention of the west. They saw that it would change the intolerable regime under which they were living. He described the Taliban to me as a foreign Government. I said, "What do you mean? Do you mean the Pashtun from a different part of the country, people from a different ethnic group, are foreign?" He replied, "No, I don't mean that at all. The Pashtun are Afghans and there is a place for the Pashtun in the Afghan Government. Indeed, there must be a place for the Pashtun in the Afghan Government. The Taliban is a foreign regime because it is one of Arabs, Chechens and Pakistanis. It is not an Afghan regime."

I pay tribute to the aid workers, who are real heroes. They have been able to ensure that the humanitarian aid that is provided by the west is delivered to the people who need it.

One of the refugee camps that we visited was called Kachagarhi. It has existed for about 20 years and is home to 78,000 refugees. We visited some of the schools, where there are more than 11,000 children in school. I suspect that that is about a third or a quarter of all the children. There are far more boys than girls in school. There are 15 boys' schools and three girls' schools.

One of the girls in class 7 asked rather pointedly, "Why is there no secondary class for girls? There are secondary classes for boys." The policy of UNHCR is to provide primary education to help us meet the development target of ensuring that by 2015 all girls and all boys throughout the world receive primary education. However, we must not ignore the need to provide secondary education to Afghan girls, both in Afghanistan itself and in the refugee camps in Pakistan, because women will play a key role in the reconstruction of the country, not least because they were not combatants. They should play an extremely important role, not just in national Government, although it is good that there are three women in the Cabinet of the interim Administration, but in villages and the regions.

Overall, conditions in the Kachagarhi refugee camp were poor. If one was trying to create a seed bed to nurture extremism and anger towards the west, one would create the conditions that we created by withdrawing

12 Dec 2001 : Column 881

support from Afghan refugees in the 1990s. We must not make that mistake again. We have got to stick with Pakistan until the refugees can and do return to Afghanistan. The key to their return is providing secure conditions so that people feel that they will be safe if they return home.

I do not want to detain the House so I shall conclude with a few words about the military campaign and whether the coalition should take it beyond the borders of Afghanistan. Our armed forces and intelligence services have been very effective indeed, but there are limits to what we can ask them to do. If they are stretched too far, they will be unable to deliver what we ask of them. We therefore need to address an essential question posed in a speech on Monday by Sir Michael Boyce, Chief of the Defence Staff, who said that

If we have to make that choice and select one or other option, let us not make the same mistake that the west made in the 1990s by walking away from Afghanistan. If we do so, we will breed more poverty, despair, and anger; we will breed more extremists and create conditions in which terrorists can operate, leading to a risk of further terrorist attacks against this country or our allies.

Next Section

IndexHome Page