Our military aims are to shut down the al-Qaeda network and all the terrorist camps that operate out of Afghanistan, and, in so far as the Taliban regime are an obstacle to that, to disable or remove them. People often ask whether getting rid of the Taliban regime is a specific
Should the regime fall, it is important, and certainly a political aim, to establish a more representative Government who are based on all ethnic groupings and have broad support in the country. That is not necessarily inconsistent with a role for the United Nations. The two may go together, but the matter is at an early stage of consideration. It was impressed strongly upon me on my travels that it is important for the impetus to come from the Afghan people rather than being imposed by outside Governments, however well intentioned. We can play a facilitating role, but the impetus must come from the Afghanis.
On food reaching those who are hungry, we have shown in the past couple of weeks that it is possible to get food convoys through to people in Afghanistan. We must now ensure that, notwithstanding the action and the attitude of the Taliban, we contrive the right way of doing that. I believe that the problem will be largely organisational, but the fact that we now have a UN representative of proven capability who will take charge in the region at this early stage gives us the best chance of realising our humanitarian as well as our military aims.
Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley): From the beginning, the Prime Minister has rightly emphasised the importance of humanitarian aid. As he knows, up to 7 million people were in danger of suffering a famine even before 11 September. It is therefore crucial that the food aid continues to flow. Will my right hon. Friend also ensure that borders are kept open? If people flee in panic, as they undoubtedly will, it is crucial that they are able to cross the borders to safety.
I ask my right hon. Friend to pay particular attention to the women of Afghanistan, who have been humiliated and degraded by the Taliban regime. Many of them are already war widows; they will need special help in the current circumstances and after the war is over.
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is right. The question of keeping borders open is strongly connected to that of whether we can offer help of sufficient credibility to the surrounding countries so that they feel able to keep the borders open. That is one of the reasons for our putting the money together for the humanitarian effort so quickly, and for the UN's appointment of a special representative to co-ordinate the effort. We are keeping the borders open with Pakistan, but continuing to do that depends crucially on our providing the necessary support.
My hon. Friend's comments about the women of Afghanistan are absolutely right. The oppression visited upon them is almost extraordinary. I know that she has read of and talked to victims of the oppression; there is no doubt that relief from the Taliban regime will be most welcome to the people of Afghanistan, especially the women.
The Prime Minister: The position of the allies in this respect is clear. It is important that whatever successor regime there is to the Taliban is as broad based as possible. The Northern Alliance has certain of the ethnic groupings necessary for such a broad base, but there is also a genuine desire to ensure that it is not simply limited to those organisations that are part of the Northern Alliance. Of course it is important, because they are assisting us by the actions that they are taking against the Taliban regime, to recognise their contribution, but it was impressed strongly upon me in Pakistanand by President Musharraf personallythat if a successor regime comes out of this conflict, it must be sufficiently broadly based and must take into account the legitimate interests of Pakistan.
Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton): As the Prime Minister said, this is a grave moment for the world. He has our support in these actions. Will he accept that just as important as the prosecution of war is the subsequent campaign for justice and peace? There can be no lasting peace without justice. To that extent, will he reflect on the humanitarian aspects and ensure, as the aid agencies have requested, clear corridors for refugees and food? He knows that in the past two decades Pakistan has had to accommodate more than 3 million refugees while having crippling debt, with this year one third of its exports consumed by debt. Will he do something for the refugees and particularly do something about Pakistan's debt?
The Prime Minister: I agree with my hon. Friend's points. Since the tragedy of 11 September the issue of humanitarian help has been right up there alongside the issue of military action. That has been the position not just of Britain but of the United States. President Bush has made it clear that he is absolutely committed to the humanitarian coalition. There is a feeling in Pakistanthe intensity of this feeling is clear only when one talks to the people concernedthat at the end of the 1980s when the Russians left Afghanistan, the west did not stand by Pakistan or help it with the problems that it had to deal with. It is important now to send the message that we will not see the successful achievement of our military aims as an end. That should be the beginning of a political process that heals some of the wounds in the region and offers a Government of stability, not just for the Afghan people but for their neighbours.
Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk): Both the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition have emphasised that this is going to be a long haul. Given the Prime Minister's praise for the British armed forces, is he satisfied that they have the necessary resources in place for such a long haul? If not, will he give them those extra resources to achieve the political objective that we all desire?
The Prime Minister: We have already made it clearthe Chancellor of the Exchequer did so the other daythat the armed forces should have the resources necessary to do the job. It would not be fair or right to ask them to do it without being properly resourced, and they will be.
On humanitarian matters, are we sure that we have the economic backing required? If we are planning to tackle terrorism throughout the world and not just in Afghanistan, we have to tackle global poverty. We need the resources to do that. Will the Government re-examine their position on the Tobin tax on currency speculation? That would be a ready source of funding to tackle this matter in the long run.
The Prime Minister: First, in relation to any military action, I think that we have shown, both by the time we have taken and by the targets we have chosen, that we are well aware of the need to do everything that we humanly can to avoid civilian casualties, and that has been clear from the very outset. Of course, conflict is conflict, and it is never easy to do it or to ensure that any potential civilian casualties are minimised, but we are doing all we possibly can to do that.
In relation to the economic backing for humanitarian aid, I think that the $600 millionthe initial programme for six months that the United Nations considers necessaryhas been effectively agreed in principle by the main countries, including a very generous contribution from the United States of America; so that money is there. I personally believe that, on the humanitarian side, the issue will not be money; it will be organisation and logistics.
In relation to what we can do about global poverty, I am proud of the work that has been done by the Chancellor, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development and the Government to try to deal with issues such as debt and increasing aid and development money, and we have done that. I regret to say that I am not entirely with my hon. Friend on the Tobin tax idea.
Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East): As the Prime Minister has kindly given us all a paper that shows in detail the appalling involvement of Mr. bin Laden not only in the activities of the 11 September, but on many similar occasions which obviously justify trial and justice, is it the case that, in the event of Mr. bin Laden falling into the hands of British troops, it would not legally be possible for us to hand him over to the United States for trial because it has the death penalty? Does not the Prime Minister genuinely feel that this is an issue on which the law the should be changed, because it would be unthinkable for bin Laden to be tried in any country other than the USA, where the terrible killings took place?