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Mr. Straw indicated assent.

Mr. Ancram: I am grateful for that reaffirmation.

As the right hon. Gentleman said, achievement of the objectives will be long and hard. Against continuous propaganda efforts to the contrary, we must constantly reassert that this is not a conflict against people or religions: it is a war against terrorism.

To underline that fact, we must demonstrate that it is not a geographically limited war. We will be robust wherever there is clear or incontrovertible evidence of terrorism or of the sponsorship or sheltering of terrorism. We must be clear that we will be as robust against home-grown terrorism as we will be against terrorism that occurs overseas. It is a complex picture, in which the present military action is essential but is at the same time only one part. Bombing is for the moment crucial; however, in the wider picture it is but the first phase. We need to understand and explore the whole picture.

We support wholeheartedly the Government's efforts to maintain the remarkable international coalition that now supports the fight against terrorism. We have to admire the coming together of powers that historically have regarded each other with at best suspicion and at worst open hostility. How many of us would have thought that in our lifetimes we would see a coalition of interest between Europe, the United States, Russia and China? Yet that is what we have today, and it shows the extraordinary binding effect that the war against terrorism is creating within the international community. Ironically, the suicide pilots who flew those planes into the World Trade Centre, hoping to blow the world apart, have succeeded, uniquely, in bringing it together.

It is important, too, that we understand the sensitivities that challenge that coalition, especially in certain Arab states and in Pakistan and India. I, too, would like to pay tribute to the courage and resolution of General Musharraf in Pakistan, who, despite pressures, has backed the fight against terrorism and who only today has again reaffirmed his country's position as part of the flexible coalition against it.

Sometimes in the past Pakistan has seen our friendship as somewhat short lived. This time, we must show that it is more firmly based, and that we can provide the aid that is so badly needed to help in certain parts of that country.

We must all hear with apprehension news of the renewed conflict in Kashmir. In calling for restraint at this most tense time, we must also be able to reassure our Indian friends that we are no less committed to the fight

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against the terrorism from which their democracy suffers than we are against the same evil phenomenon everywhere else. Their losses at Srinagar remain fresh in our memories today.

The stability of the coalition, particularly among the Arab states, has inevitably brought the middle east on to centre stage. I had the opportunity on Sunday night—as did the Foreign Secretary yesterday—of meeting Mr. Arafat. I had the chance to talk privately to him and our conservation gave me some cautious cause for hope. We do not need reminding of the crucial role that conflict in the middle east plays in determining the stability of the Arab world as a whole and of the damage to all interests that instability or conflict can cause.

In the current climate, Israelis and Palestinians know, as do we all, that instability in the region can only help the cause of bin Laden. He will seek to provoke instability, either directly or vicariously, and he is undoubtedly seeking to do so. We know that provocation is never easy to resist, particularly in the middle east, but we ask that it is resisted now because to do otherwise is indirectly to do bin Laden's work.

I remember with admiration the Israeli restraint in 1991. We know how hard it was then. They were our friends then and they remain our friends, and we ask for similar restraint now.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): Is my right hon. Friend aware that broadcasters were summoned to Downing street yesterday to obtain a statement from the Prime Minister's spokesman as to what policy they were to take on the propaganda war, especially on bin Laden's statements and those of al-Qaeda broadcast on the Arab station? Would it not be appropriate for No. 10 to share with the House the advice that was given to broadcasters?

Mr. Ancram: My hon. Friend makes a valid point and I hope that, in the winding-up speeches, we may hear some more about the advice given to broadcasters. I have some experience of trying to control broadcasts from my time in Northern Ireland: it does not work. In the age of the internet and satellite television, the efficacy of such control is questionable. I merely say, in a generous spirit, that attempts to do anything about it may prove futile.

We look with hope for a resumption of the dialogue that alone can bring a resolution to the 50-year-old problem of the middle east. With good will at this time, progress can be made, but it has to be a free dialogue, not one brought about by threat or coercion. History teaches us that settlements arrived at in the shadow of war can create problems further down the line. Nor would it be right for progress to be brought about because of the threat of terrorism. In this instance, that would encourage the terrorists. Any settlement must, in the end, be balanced, freely reached and genuinely agreed if it is to have a chance of surviving.

In turn, that must mean that any resumption of the middle east peace process, which will undoubtedly help to maintain the coalition, should be based not on new propositions formulated since 11 September but on areas of agreement previously reached. I believe that revisiting the territory of the inclusive talks at Tabah last January might produce a valuable and useful start.

We should be cautious of the temptation to make bold propositions. Our role must be to encourage both sides to get back around the table and to refrain from conflict.

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We could also seek to create a more favourable climate for stability in the area by helping to reverse the economic downturn that the current problems have caused. For example, we could have a useful role to play in encouraging the building of further commercial interests between Israel and her Palestinian neighbours. I should be interested to know whether the Government have considered what encouragement we can give to gas gathering projects off Israel and Gaza, which provide a useful opportunity.

Alongside the maintenance of the coalition and the capture of bin Laden, the objective of seeking stability in Afghanistan must be in the broader picture. It has been ravaged by 20 years of civil and external war. Its people, as we have heard, have been brutalised by the current Taliban regime. Human rights have been jettisoned and untold misery has been caused to the Afghan people. It must now be a clear objective to see the end of the evil Taliban regime. It must equally be an objective to see them replaced by a Government who genuinely represent the whole of Afghanistan and who will be resolute in ensuring that Afghanistan will never again be used as a haven for international terrorism. It must also be an objective finally to bring an end to the civil war in Afghanistan, which has been responsible for so many of the current problems, including the presence of international terrorism there.

A fresh Government cannot just represent one tribal faction against the interests of the rest; they need to represent them all. I welcome the restraint being shown by the Northern Alliance in respect of the taking of Kabul. As Tajiks, most of those in the alliance would never be acceptable on their own to the majority of Afghans. I hope that, in their current military offensive against Mazar-i-Sharif, they will be able to create a bridge to allow further supplies of much-needed food to reach the starving refugees and displaced people in the area—they would win many friends in doing so. The replacement for the Taliban must be broad based. It should be clearly representative of the main strands of interest in Afghanistan. I hope that it would also clearly represent women in Afghanistan, especially after the depredations suffered by Afghan women in these last terrible years.

It is right for us to set out those objectives, but I hope that the Foreign Secretary would agree that it would be wrong for the west, or indeed any external country, to seek to impose a Government on Afghanistan. History shows that that would be counter-productive, but we can help to encourage the political environment in which such a representative Government can not only come into being but flourish. We can encourage the widest consultation in Afghanistan, from which such a Government can emerge. The best conduit for achieving that may be the United Nations.

I should be grateful if the Foreign Secretary or the Secretary of State for Defence would tell the House what discussions, if any, are currently taking place with the UN, specifically on the setting up of consultations from which a representative Government can emerge, and whether they have had any discussions with Lakhdar Brahimi about that matter.

Mr. Straw: As I told the House, the Prime Minister and I saw Lakhdar Brahimi last week. In fact, London was the first stop in his international discussions because of the work we in the United Kingdom had done before

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11 September in seeking an agenda for the future Afghanistan. The answer is, yes, we did discuss the matters that the right hon. Gentleman mentions, and those discussions continue. I am very happy to ensure that he and the other representatives of the other political parties in the House are properly briefed about those discussions.

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