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8.16 pm

Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East): The one clear message of the debate is that we have no difficulty in convincing ourselves. In most debates, we try to convince people that we are right and they are wrong, but apart from the hon. Member who sought the private advice of the Speaker and disappeared from the Chamber immediately thereafter, everyone is agreed. I therefore want to make a short speech with some points on which, I hope, hon. Members will reflect.

I hope that one result of the appalling tragedy in New York will be that all of us in the alliance agree not to support terrorist organisations in future. Our job is to convince not ourselves, but others in the world, especially

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the Muslim nations. We should show some humility because we have supported, financed and used many of the organisations that cause the appalling problems to achieve our objectives when that was convenient.

For example, a brief reference was made to the appalling situation in Iraq and the possibility that the Iraqis might be bombed. I have been a Member of Parliament for a long time, and I remember the time when Iraq and Saddam Hussein were our secret cousins in the middle east. They did our work for us and got help, finance and aid from the United States and the United Kingdom. When we see the appalling terrorist camps that are being bombed in Afghanistan, we should remember the simple fact that they were supplied and paid for with money from the United States and elsewhere in the battle to remove the Russians from Afghanistan.

I hope therefore that we shall agree not to employ or try to use terrorist organisations to help our ends and endeavours in future. I was well aware of the position when I went to the north of Pakistan on a private visit with my family. I informed the Pakistan Government that I was going, and I was taken to visit refugees who had been involved in the conflict with the Soviet Union. The second lesson that we should learn is that solving problems such as those of Afghanistan is not easy.

When I visited the refugees, I expected to meet people who were delighted at removing the Russians from Afghanistan and restoring the country to freedom. Instead, they were anxious to tell me that their particular group—it seemed to be one in five—had achieved all the victories, and that the others were useless and should not be supported or financed. The hatred and confusion among the Afghan community reminded me to some extent of Glasgow before the wonderful changes effected a miracle there. We should appreciate that solving the present problems is not easy. For us to think that we can solve them may be creating confusion.

Only two months ago, a friend of mine was in the United States, staying in a plush hotel. Someone came round with a big plastic bucket, asking whether he would help peace in Ireland. He did not agree to help peace in Ireland, but found out that the money was being sought to assist an organisation called the new IRA or some such thing, which was involved in one of the appalling bombings. Unless we are all prepared to say that none of us and none of our countries would support terrorism in any way, the recent disaster will produce no massive achievement.

There is an important matter which I hope the Government will clarify. I asked the Prime Minister a question about it, but perhaps he did not consider it important enough for him to give a clear answer. The fact is that Mr. bin Laden may well be seized by the United States, by us or by the forces which we understand are coming from Germany and France. Under our law, or our convention, as we call it, we would not be allowed to hand him over to America for trial, because of the restrictions imposed by the European convention.

There may be some people who consider that a splendid idea, as it would be unthinkable to pass on a criminal to a country where there is capital punishment. Others may say that it would be shocking not to hand bin Laden over to the United States, as that is where the crime was committed. What is the Government's position? If bin Laden is seized by troops from Britain, would the

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Government seek some other means of putting him on trial, or would they seek to change our law? It is a simple point, and we are entitled to some clarification.

There is a need to build support—much is potentially available—in the Muslim countries for a stand against fundamentalism and the terrorism linked to it. From my knowledge of Pakistan and other countries in the middle east, it is clear that there is a huge potential for creating terrorism, unless someone is prepared to lead a crusade against it. More is required than simple statements in which almost every organisation in the world says that the disaster was shocking and shameful. There needs to be a crusade against terrorism in the Muslim community. Many people fear that the war, which I am sure will be effectively handled by Britain, America and all its friends, will simply wipe out one group of terrorists and create many more.

Finally, could the Government give any indication of the changes that they plan to make in security law in the United Kingdom? I noticed a headline the other day in my favourite paper, The Guardian, "Tories back EU security measures", so I know that there is nothing to worry about, but I should like to know exactly what is being planned.

I do not want to be difficult, but the danger is that, in a situation such as the present one, on which we are all agreed, we tend simply to try to think what nastier word we can use about the enemy and what more wonderful things we can say about ourselves. I hope that as a result of the recent great tragedy, we will at least accept that some of the responsibility rests with us. If we do not admit that, we are running away from reality.

There is huge potential for the growth of confusion, terrorism and hatred throughout the world and even in our own country. There are always people who are willing to say that they will help us to achieve our objective. Let us hope that as a result of the disaster, we will all agree that no country will support terrorism in any circumstances, and that we will all fight together for freedom. We must get away from the appalling situation in which countries that are strong and powerful think that they have all the answers for the rest of the world. If we showed some humility and common sense, some good may come out of an appalling situation.

8.24 pm

Mr. Mohammad Sarwar (Glasgow, Govan): I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss the crisis today. Many of my constituents serve in our armed forces. I pray for their safety and for their families at this time.

Let me make it absolutely clear that the war is not between the west and Islam or between Christianity and Islam. Muslim communities across the UK and Muslim leaders around the world all condemned the terrorist attacks last month. We are all united in our fight against terrorism and want to remove its threat everywhere.

Yesterday, I visited Annandale street mosque in Edinburgh, the scene of a recent fire attack. I gave the message that the Prime Minister has expressed solidarity and support with Britain's Muslims and condemned acts of hatred against them. That view is shared by all political parties and leaders in Scotland and Britain.

People advocating violence and religious hatred do not represent anyone, whether they are extremist groups or Muslim individuals. The vast majority will not support

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such people. They will not succeed. I was encouraged in Edinburgh by the presence of more than 100 members of the Edinburgh Inter-Faith Community to show their solidarity and support for the city's Muslims. The vast majority of people know that Islam is a religion of peace, understanding and tolerance.

We should be firm on terrorism, but also firm on the underlying causes of terrorism. The Prime Minister outlined his vision of the world in his conference speech, where he emphasised the peaceful resolution of conflicts and the eradication of poverty. For that vision to become reality, we need to address long-standing issues in Palestine and the dispute between India and Pakistan. We need to re-examine our policy of sanctions against Iraq. The Iraqi people have suffered, while Saddam Hussein has been strengthened.

We must remain united against terrorism. Terrorists and those who support and harbour them must all be brought to justice. To that end, we must develop a proper international framework. An international court should deal with charges against individuals and states accused of terrorism. We must also give serious consideration to the repercussions of military action against Afghanistan. The whole region is facing severe destabilisation. We face the most miserable refugee crisis in history. Seven million people face starvation in Afghanistan, and aid must reach them.

It is not disrespectful to question America's international policy. If the United States treated everyone equally, it would rule the world not by military might, but by winning hearts and minds. An even-handed, neutral approach in areas of conflict would, in time, replace hostility with genuine affection and respect for the USA. The potential exists to make that change.

Lessons must be learned from our previous involvement in Afghanistan. We supported the mujaheddin against soviet aggression and armed groups against the invaders. One million lost their lives in the struggle against Russia. The war cost Afghanistan millions of lives, total ruination of the modest economic infrastructure and devastation of its towns and cities. The country had been bombed back to the stone age by the Russians during their 12-year onslaught. With the withdrawal of the Russian forces, the power struggle among different warring groups in Afghanistan degenerated into total chaos.

When the soviets left, the west also walked away. What has happened in Afghanistan during the past 12 years is the result of the west and the USA turning their backs on both Afghanistan and Pakistan after the destruction of communism. Had we adopted an objective policy based on the long-term interests of the region and helped Afghans to rebuild their devastated country, the Taliban would never have come to power in Afghanistan. An economically viable and developing Afghanistan would never have been a safe haven for terrorists or extremists of any denomination.

I urge the Government to reach out to moderate, progressive and liberal forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Not only should we seek allies among ruling leaders, but it would be of great benefit to build a bond of trust with ordinary people.

I very much welcome the Prime Minister's assurance that we will not walk away this time when the military action is over. We must also do more to avert the

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mounting refugee crisis. The huge number of people fleeing Afghanistan will increase rapidly. During the Soviet occupation, the response in humanitarian aid was initially inadequate; when the Russians withdrew, that response became one of disinterest, as civil war raged in Afghanistan. Neighbouring countries have struggled to cope with the millions displaced by conflict. We expect and demand better support from our Government and allies for the millions of people who face hunger and live in terrible conditions.

The abject poverty facing the refugees represents a huge burden on countries such as Pakistan, where there are currently 2 million to 4 million Afghan refugees. That is underlined by the decline in living standards and widespread poverty among Pakistan's citizens. General Musharraf has taken a bold step in siding with the United States. Measures must be taken to show the people of Pakistan that that decision is in their interests. Recent moves to lift sanctions and extend payments are a start, but on their own, they are nothing.

The crippling burden of debt must be lifted from Pakistan. Debt should not simply be rescheduled; it should be cut. That is the only way forward. Reduced debt would allow real progress to be made in alleviating poverty for millions of people, and it could help deliver basic education and develop decent health care for the poorest people in Pakistan.

Without real benefits, support for America will lead to dark days, not only for President Musharraf and his Government, but for all the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Support for terrorism will be strengthened where we fail to lift people out of poverty, deprivation and injustice, whether in Afghanistan or elsewhere. That is the real fight that we face.

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