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Mr. Hoon: As the hon. Gentleman says, Pakistan is playing an important role in the present situation. It is important that Pakistan remains stable. It is equally important, as General Musharraf has said, that Pakistan moves towards the re-establishment of democracy. That is something that the Government there have accepted, and that, perhaps more than anything, is the key to the stability of Pakistan's future.
Osama bin Laden has consistently shown a total disregard for the lives of civilians, whatever their faith, race or nationality. He and all who support and protect him must be brought to account for their crimes. We must also work to prevent them from inflicting more suffering on innocent people.
Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife): The Secretary of State knows that he and the Prime Minister have carried almost the whole House with them, because the indication of military action has been clear and specific as to its objectives. Is he aware that there is now some loose talk that that military action should be
Mr. Hoon: It is important that we emphasise that our priority target has always been to bring Osama bin Laden, his associates and those who would support him to justice. What is important about that is that the action that we are taking will send a clear signal to all those countries around the world that might be tempted to continue support for international terrorism, that this is the fate that befalls them. So what we are doing in Afghanistan sends a very clear signal around the world.
Returning to propaganda, can my right hon. Friend give assurances that the Government played no role in the BBC's decision to switch its "Panorama" programme from the advertised discussion on prospects for peace to the programme on the background to the Afghanistan conflict, which may have given some justification for the bombings that later took place?
Mr. Hoon: I am as confident as I can be that the Government played no role in that, although I must say that, short of sleep last night, I did watch the programme and I thought that it was a very interesting contribution to the debate.
Neither the United States nor any of her partners wanted to take military action. The United States sought a peaceful solution. We gave it our full support in its tireless diplomatic efforts. The Taliban had every chance to avoid what happened last night. [Interruption.]
Mr. Hoon: We gave the Taliban the chance to surrender bin Laden and his associates for trial and to offer proof that they no longer supported terrorism. They had more than two weeks to comply, but they continued to prevaricate and to lie. We warned the Taliban regime that they were running out of time. We warned them that they faced powerful military action. They did not believe us. Enough was enough. Last night, the United States acted in legitimate self-defence, in accordance with international law and, specifically, with article 51 of the United Nations charter. So did we.
Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews (Medway): Accepting, as I certainly do, that the United States and the international community have legitimacy to enter Afghanistan, if necessary by forcecertainly by forcein order to arrest and apprehend Osama bin Laden, will the Secretary of State tell us how the present bombing campaign will assist in that very precise task?
It would be wrong to think that the United States and the United Kingdom are acting alone. Many other nations have offered military support. Last night, my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary and I called leaders around the world to brief them on the military action that had begun. I spoke to my counterparts in France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Belgium. They were united in their support for the action that we have taken. They have all offered a military contribution to future action.
We are grateful for the support for the strikes that is coming from around the world. On that note, I must ask the House to excuse my early departure from this debate as I have to fly to Russia for further talks with my Russian colleague in the light of the present situation. As the Prime Minister said yesterday:
Today, the alliance announced that the North Atlantic Council had approved the deployment of five airborne early warning aircraft to the United States to backfill American assets and free them up for operations in the east. NATO is also preparing to deploy the standing naval force Mediterraneana multinational force, currently under British commandto the eastern Mediterranean. Those are clear demonstrations of the alliance's support for the United States.
Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex): When the right hon. Gentleman visits the Russian Ministry of Defence, is it his intention to try to persuade the Russians to play a greater role in the alliance? Is he aware that there is a Russian infantry division in Tajikistan? Is it the intention that, in extremis, the Russians should be invited to use those troops?
Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe): I fully support everything that my right hon. Friend has said so far, but ask for clarification on one point. Have we given any thought to what will happen if the alliance is successful in apprehending some members of the network but some of them are suspected of, or confess to, activities in Russia, Chechnya or elsewhere? Will they be handed over to the countries where they have committed atrocities?
It is not simply the alliance that is giving support; the work against international terrorism continues in a number of international organisations. United Nations Security Council resolution 1373 is the first resolution to impose obligations on all states to respond to a global threat to peace and international security. It focuses on two key
Military action against terrorism has only just begun. We and all our allies and partners are determined to root out terrorism wherever we find it. As the Prime Minister has made clear, we will mount a relentless, deliberate and sustained campaign aimed at securing our objectives. Our armed forces will play their full part in that, alongside their allies from the United States, France, Germany, Australia and Canada and from other countries such as Spain, which has offered to contribute to military operations.
Mike Gapes (Ilford, South): When my right hon. Friend meets his Russian counterparts, and in his discussions with his Cabinet colleagues, will he consider how the Security Council can advance the process of establishing in Afghanistan a United Nations transitional administration or a situation similar to that which existed for 10 years in Cambodia?
Mr. Hoon: If my hon. Friend will forgive me, we are just at the start of military operations and I do not think that it is appropriate yet to speculate on how they will conclude. However, I am sure that that is one of the options that will be considered.
Military action is only one part of our wider response, which also includes important diplomatic, legal, economic and humanitarian measures. This broad campaign will be a long one. It will be hard and it may demand a high price. However, we have no option other than to act.
In conclusion, I should like to deal with two further points. First, we have no quarrel with the people of Afghanistan. They are as much the victims of the terrorists as anyone else. They face poverty, drought and hunger while the Taliban regime connives with terrorists. Our commitment to the Afghan people is simple and sincere. We want to help them build a stable, peaceful and prosperous country.
The United Kingdom is playing its full part in the international relief efforts to stave off famine in Afghanistan this winter and among the 4.5 million refugees who have fled the Taliban regime. We were the first country to pledge aid money for the refugees £36 millionon top of the £35 million that we have given to Afghanistan since 1997. We are ready to give more help if that is required.
Secondly, we have no quarrel with Islam. The United Kingdom is a multicultural and multi-faith society. We share many common beliefs, including a respect for the life of innocent people. Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda and their Taliban supporters do not share those values. They are not "Islamic terrorists"; they are terrorists and nothing more. Far, far too many Muslims have suffered and died because of bin Laden, as so many people and Governments across the Islamic world recognise. Their help and support in defeating terrorism is vital.
We know that defeating international terrorism and its supporters can be neither easy nor quick. It will be a long and sometimes painful process. The armed forces are ready for that challenge. They are well trained and well equipped. They are resolved to make their full contribution to that victory. I am confident that they will succeed.