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7.12 pm

Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe): Having heard the concise and cogent speech of the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) and the reception from Labour Back Benchers to the speech of the Foreign Secretary, I am not sure whether there is more support for the Government's position from Opposition Members than from Labour Members. However, the robustly pro-American contribution of the hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard) has perhaps put me right on that point—but who knows?

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Let us suppose that news was brought to the House now that bin Laden had been captured, in the phrase of President Bush, "dead or alive". Would that bring to an end the current anti-terrorist conflict, as it is best described? The answer clearly is no, for at least three reasons.

First, the American Government have made it clear that their aims in the counter-terrorist struggle are not restricted to the capture of bin Laden, dead or alive. Having heard the statements of the Home Secretary and the Chancellor yesterday, and the Foreign Secretary's speech today, I believe that the British and American Governments are at one on this. Clearly, the capture of bin Laden would not bring the anti-terrorist conflict to an end.

The second reason is that the humanitarian effort in Afghanistan would clearly continue. Now that the Government have begun to undertake that commitment, I do not believe that they would renege on it. Of course that humanitarian effort would be impeded by the Taliban, so the conflict must continue in that second sense.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it is a fundamental truth that the west remains as open to terrorist attack today as it was on 11 September. Mercifully, we have, so far, largely been spared such events in this country, but we have no guarantee that such events will not happen over the next six months, year or period of years to come. In short, to use one of the Government's own phrases, we are clearly in this for the long haul. I believe that the public are beginning to note that now, although it has always been the case.

Hon. Members may detect the first signs that a minority—I stress that it is a minority—of public opinion is beginning to seem uncertain and somewhat confused. Why is this so? There are many reasons. We live in a consumer society in which people expect things to be done quickly. We also live in a society dominated to a degree by the media—in which I once worked—and a society in which questions are put to the Government, of whatever composition, all the time. The Government are open to all sorts of probing and piercing questions that can cause public doubt and division. Finally, civilian deaths have begun sadly to occur. I can say no more on that than was expressed eloquently by my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) and the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell). These are the reasons that help to explain why there is a certain mood of public doubt that did not exist a week ago.

I wish to apply all of these matters to my constituency which—according to the Muslim Council of Great Britain—contains the largest proportion of Muslim voters in any Conservative-held seat. As has been the case throughout the country, there have been racist and Islamophobic attacks in High Wycombe, which should be utterly condemned. I pay tribute to Mr. Ranjit Dheer, the chair—as he would style himself—of the local Commission for Racial Equality, who last week drew a fine balance between condemning such attacks and seeing them in their correct proportion. It is fair to say that, so far, things have gone reasonably well in terms of race relations and how they have been affected by the conflict, although I would not wish to be complacent.

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Now that the mood among a section of the public may have changed, it is right to ask what could happen if things went wrong or if there were a terrorist incident here of the kind that I have described. One thing is vital. Whether we are black or white, Muslim or Christian—or of no faith at all—we are all in this together. I urge all my white constituents—I cannot find a more convenient phrase—to think about the perspective from which the Muslim community sees the conflict. The Muslim community is of course utterly condemnatory of the attacks of 11 September, but they see them in a different context from the majority of my constituents. They are especially worried about the situation in Pakistan and what could happen to the Government there if things go wrong.

Many of my constituents come from Kashmir and apply to Kashmir the same standards that they see the west apply to the situation in Northern Ireland and the middle east. They are highly critical of the west for not paying Kashmir as much attention as it has sometimes paid to other issues. I scarcely need add that they have a particular point of view on the middle east and are affected by the very tense relations between the Muslim world and the west. I often think that the Muslim world feels at a recent disadvantage, having been for many centuries—I use the next word in a generalised sense—"ahead" of the west in the middle ages and other times.

It is also important for the Muslim community—if I may say so without appearing to lecture or patronise that community—to understand the point of view of those of us who have lived longer in the west. The hon. Member for Waveney made some telling and poignant points about the collective memory in Britain of the American contribution to this country's freedom in the last century. The Americans helped to save Britain in the first and second world wars. Many hon. Members will have memories, however distant or handed down, of lend-lease in the second world war. It is sometimes difficult for the Muslim community to understand the reason behind the ties between Britain and America, but it is important that it should try to do so. Certainly, many Muslims in my constituency have agreed with that point of view when speaking to me.

Conservative Members wish the Government well and support their actions, but I note that over the past few days their command—and that of the American Government—of the situation has seemed a little less certain than it was. We may be heading towards a cloud.

7.22 pm

Mr. Calum MacDonald (Western Isles): My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary drew parallels between the choices we face in this crisis and conflict and the choices that were faced in Kosovo. I have strong memories of the debates on Kosovo and the Gulf war. On both occasions, I supported the military action taken by the then Government. Indeed, in the case of the former Yugoslavia, I called for military intervention in Croatia and Bosnia long before the need for it was accepted by other hon. Members and when I was in a tiny minority.

I fully accept the need for the United Kingdom to use military force on occasions when there is no other alternative, when that force is proportionate and targeted, when it is in line with international law and when it has a good prospect of success. However, there is no hiding

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the fact that what we are facing in Afghanistan is immeasurably more difficult, more fraught and more complex than in the Gulf or in Kosovo. I believe that the action is right, as long as it continues to be targeted and proportionate. It also has a good chance of success, as long as we are clear headed about our goals, but we must be honest about the scale and the difficulty of what lies ahead.

Intervention in the former Yugoslavia was always going to be fairly straightforward. Tackling the Serbian paramilitary regime was like kicking in a rotten door. Regardless of the Yugoslav army training that many people mentioned or the considerable weaponry at the disposal of the paramilitaries, no real, deep self-belief was felt underneath their nationalist bravado. When they were confronted by determined western intervention, they collapsed. The same was broadly true of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. In neither case was an extensive or protracted ground campaign eventually necessary.

In the case of the terrorist network we face today, however, and especially given the protection it receives from the Government of Afghanistan, the situation is very different. The terrorist network has no lack of self-belief. On the contrary, we face an enemy that is confident, even fanatical, in its views and determined to impose them on the world. That self-belief is the most powerful weapon that the terrorists have and that is why, as several hon. Members have already said, winning this battle will require a battle of minds as well as a military battle.

If it is to succeed, our military campaign must be embedded in and shaped by a much wider political strategy. The military campaign must be accompanied by sustained political initiatives, especially with those countries where the terrorist networks find their sympathy, their support and, of course, their recruits. Those initiatives must involve not only the Governments of those countries but must engage as much as possible with ordinary opinion in those societies.

We face a paradox, because the geographic focus of the military campaign in Afghanistan will be different from the geographic focus of the wider political campaign that has to happen at the same time. The military strategy must remain firmly targeted on the Taliban regime and the bin Laden network. We must be clear that the immediate goals are the removal of the Taliban regime and the destruction of the bin Laden network, because the latter will not happen without the former. Incidentally, I believe that it would be wrong, and indeed foolish—as several hon. Members have already said—to widen the military goals further and to consider any new action against the Iraqi regime.

The focus of the wider political strategy that accompanies the military conflict must be the middle east, to tackle the Arab-Israeli conflict and to try to end the dangerous hostility between the Arab world and the west. We must drain the swamp of discontent and frustration that feeds that hostility, which is based on decades of economic and political failure in those states. That will require an economic—as well as political, ideological and cultural—engagement with the Arab world on a scale that we have not envisaged before.

We are used to thinking of the middle east as an area in which American interests are most obviously engaged and in which European Governments are largely spectators. However, Europe could be said to have an

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even bigger stake than the US. The Islamic states of the middle east are Europe's nearest neighbours. The Arab world is our backyard, not America's. Of course, we in Europe are also the backyard of the Arab world, which is why some 20 million Muslims now live in the European Union. For that reason, we cannot allow US interests alone to dictate western policy in the middle east and the wider Arab world. That is not an anti-American sentiment. Indeed, I lived for eight years in that country and still have close connections with it. We must have a genuine partnership between the US and Europe that involves a fundamental re-analysis of our policies towards the middle east, including our relationship with states such as Israel and Saudi Arabia. That does not mean that we should turn our backs on those Governments or abandon them, but the present policy is unsustainable and we must try to find a new way forward.

I warmly welcome the effort that the Government are putting into the middle east peace process and the meeting with President Arafat yesterday. However, we must have a collective European effort if it is to have a real impact. It must also be sustained and pursued beyond the immediate horizon of the conflict in Afghanistan.

I also applaud the way in which the Government have gone about fulfilling their humanitarian obligations to the refugees in Afghanistan. Particular credit must go to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development for the way in which she has raised this matter and pursued it on an international stage.

In addition to relieving the immediate humanitarian need in Afghanistan, we should also consider the wider need in the region. There have been reports of malnutrition, and there is the prospect of hunger in bordering states such as Uzbekistan. That must also be covered by the humanitarian effort.

Several hon. Members have mentioned the post-conflict political goal in Afghanistan. I support the idea that the Taliban should be replaced by a broad-based Government under UN auspices. It is desirable that the political structure to emerge in Afghanistan after this conflict should bring stability, economic progress and sensible law to that country. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, we must not walk away from Afghanistan after the conflict has ended, but it is even more important that we do not walk away from the middle east.

Our post-war political aims in Afghanistan are desirable and correct, but we must not forget that the main, long-term political effort must be focused elsewhere in the middle east. Unless we make progress in that region, we will be back in this position inside a decade. We missed the opportunity that arose after the Gulf war, and we are suffering the consequences. We must not miss that opportunity again.

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