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Mr. Straw: The coalition is an international coalition. We have provided active military involvement from the beginning of the operations. France is now providing military support, while other countries within NATO have offered it. The United States President is grateful for those offers and endorses the position of those countries as members of the military coalition. The extent to which those offers are accepted depends on military decisions

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made by the President of the United States. Where they have not been acted on so far, it is not out of a lack of appreciation of the generosity involved but because of the practical ramifications for the time being of the offer.

To pick up on the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson), the people of Afghanistan have suffered for years from conflict and civil war, often fuelled by the outside world, which has not done nearly enough to help them. The nexus formed by the Taliban regime and the al-Qaeda organisation is only one of a long line of calamities to befall the people of that country. But it should be perfectly clear that we cannot give the people of Afghanistan all the help that they need until the influence of the terrorists is broken.

For years, the international community has tried to deal with the humanitarian crisis. For years, the Taliban regime has been obstructing these efforts. Even now, the Taliban regime is impeding the delivery of humanitarian aid and, astonishingly, trying to tax the food convoys that do get into Afghanistan. That is how much it cares for its people.

We are working with the other donors to relieve the suffering. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development has pledged a further £15 million, on top of the £25 million pledged since 11 September and the £32 million that we have committed to the Afghan crisis since 1997. But only a broad humanitarian coalition can feed and shelter the millions of Afghans who are homeless this winter and who, in most cases, were displaced from their homes long before 11 September.

The appointment of Lakhdar Brahimi, a distinguished international diplomat and statesman, to have overarching authority over these life-saving operations at the United Nations is the clearest possible signal of the importance that we attach to the humanitarian coalition. When my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I saw Ambassador Brahimi last week, we assured him of our wholehearted commitment to his task.

Relief is the most urgent task, but Ambassador Brahimi has also been given a political responsibility for the longer-term reconstruction of Afghanistan. This, too, is vital to our long-term security and to the fight against terrorism. Even before we embarked on this fight against terrorism, following the 11 September atrocities, Britain was taking a leading role in shaping international thinking on the long-term future of Afghanistan.

Before 11 September, Britain was working with other concerned members of the international community on a vision for the future at, for example, the conference that the UK organised at the request of the UN at Weston Park, a Foreign Office conference centre in Staffordshire, in July. The conference involved representatives from 20 of the nations with the greatest interest in the future of Afghanistan.

In the weeks since the atrocities in the United States, we have worked towards a shared vision with the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and the regional nations involved. Tomorrow, when I attend the European Union General Affairs Council meeting in Luxembourg, I shall share those ideas with my fellow Foreign Ministers—as well as in a speech in London next week. A senior Foreign Office official, Robert Cooper, has been appointed to develop our

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thinking on the future of Afghanistan and to work with the UN and our international partners on building a consensus on the way forward as the situation develops.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich): I have a simple point to put to my right hon. Friend, who will be aware of the deep unease in the British population, who know that one does not on the whole deal with terrorism by mass intervention at state level. That action is important and, indeed, there has been no criticism of it as an initial response. The British people will support the intervention as long as it is short and clearly defensible and if they can see an end to it. Before British ground troops are committed to difficult terrain without a clear view of what they are expected to do and what responses they might meet, will my right hon. Friend assure us that he will come back to Parliament and straightforwardly explain to us exactly what the British people will have to accept?

Mr. Straw: The British people will support action that is clearly defensible, as they have done so far. I hope that nobody in the United Kingdom believes that the campaign will be short, because no one has suggested that it can be anything but difficult and long. As I said earlier, the campaign cannot be short.

On the issue of ground troops, I assure my hon. Friend that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and the Chief of the Defence Staff have as their principal concern the safety of our forces in all circumstances, recognising the risks that they take. We can never give details of the disposition of our forces in advance, for reasons that are clear and obvious, but I hope that my hon. Friend will accept that ever since the action started, the Government have made every endeavour to come to the House to be held to account for actions that have been taken and to take account of the views of the House, as is our duty. We will continue to do that throughout the campaign.

Clive Efford (Eltham): The military action is bound to impede the delivery of aid to those people caught in the humanitarian crisis that is mounting in Afghanistan. How effective has the aid that we have attempted to deliver been? That issue will certainly have an impact on the coalition and how well it holds together, because everyone is concerned about the impact of the action on the people of Afghanistan.

Mr. Straw: I have already given figures for how much money has been made available by the United Kingdom, which has been matched by money from other sources. There is no problem finding the money to pay for aid to Afghanistan: the problem arises in getting the aid through. That problem has been caused by the Taliban and not principally by the military action. A regime that taxes trucks as they cross the border has no care for the hunger or deprivation of its inhabitants. We are working as hard as we can to get the humanitarian aid through, but as far as I know no approach has been made by the Taliban to provide safe routes for it. Most of the people who are currently starving were starving and in poverty and desperate need before 11 September, and many of them had fled across the border before that date.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): The Government have taken great care to ensure that the

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coalition does not appear to be the air force of the Northern Alliance, and that is right. In the event of the Taliban Government collapsing, can the Foreign Secretary give an assurance that the United Kingdom would not recognise an alternative Afghan Government that comprised principally Tajik and Uzbek elements and did not include the majority Pashtun population of Afghanistan, because that could not be stable?

Mr. Straw: The hon. Gentleman anticipates my very next sentence.

Mr. Paul Marsden (Shrewsbury and Atcham): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Straw: No. I have to make progress.

The world agrees that any future regime in Afghanistan should be broad based and representative of the great diversity of the country's ethnic groupings. The domination of Mullah Omar's faction and the groupings that produced it cannot simply be replaced by another narrow faction, because no regime will be sustainable unless it commands broad consent among those whom it governs.

We have a common objective with the Afghan people—achieving a stable, durable, representative regime that is committed to eradicating terrorism and to enjoying mature relations with its neighbours, and with which we can work on the humanitarian crisis, the drugs trade, human rights and longer-term economic and social development.

In all that, the United Nations will play a key role. I am sure that the whole House will join me in paying a warm tribute to the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, and his organisation, as worthy winners of the Nobel peace prize. In Afghanistan, they will have yet another opportunity to demonstrate their value to the world. Only the United Nations has the global reach, the instruments and the expertise to help the Afghan people establish the conditions for successful government in Afghanistan. Our task is to make sure that it also has the resources and the political will to make that happen.

Thirty years of war and five years of not existing as a functioning state at all have left Afghanistan with few serviceable institutions. So, as I have said a number of times already this afternoon, we must be prepared for a lengthy commitment. However, no one should be in any doubt about our will to build a better world for the children of Afghanistan. We will not turn our backs on them again.

Ms Oona King (Bethnal Green and Bow): I support the action that the Government and the alliance have taken, but I am deeply concerned about how targeted our action is. Reports have just come in that a bomb has hit a Red Cross warehouse containing humanitarian supplies. Can my right hon. Friend give us any assurances that we will be better able to target the strikes that we are undertaking?

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