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8.24 pm

Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid-Kent): Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to speak in this debate.

I start by adding my support for the Government's handling of the crisis thus far. I wanted to speak not merely to do that but because I believe that we have reached a turning point in the conflict. I asked to speak not because I have any great history as a moralist or the legal expertise of some Labour Members, but simply because when this country last went to war I went as a young soldier of 28 years old. I wanted to bring some of those experiences to bear on the debate.

I pay tribute, as the House might expect, to those in our services, and most critically to their families. In my experience of the Gulf, the most difficult part was what happened at home. When I got back, my parents told me of their many sleepless nights and the many mornings they would turn on the television at 6 o'clock to see the news. All of us in the House should remember that and do all that we can to look after the families of those involved in the action.

I should like to make three points based on my experience 10 years ago. The first is the importance of maintaining a firm diplomatic alliance across many countries. Again, I pay tribute to the Government in their efforts thus far in that direction. Such an alliance is important not only in giving us moral authority but because of the effect on the service men who are called on to carry out the actions. It is worth stating once again, and always in those countries, that the war is against terrorism and not against Islam. That is particularly important in this conflict because there seem to be so many different and varying aims.

The second point that is worth making—it has been made by several Members—is that bombing alone will not solve the conflict. In the very near future, we will have to have a plan for the economic, political and humanitarian reconstruction of Afghanistan following the fall of the Taliban. We have seen in a number of stages in Afghanistan's history the penalty for not doing that. It was clearly evident in the Mujaheddin era, when the people of Afghanistan felt that the Americans had let them down badly by helping them to fight the war but not reconstructing their country.

It is easy to foresee—the scenario may arise sooner than we think—the Taliban melting into the hills following a period of heavy shelling. If we are to prevent reprisals as the Northern Alliance sweep down through Kabul, we must have a plan that we are ready to implement. I believe, although I am no advocate of

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ground troops, that it will be impossible to influence such a situation without a presence on the ground. I urge the Government to give considerable thought to using the offices of the United Nations to bring some influence to bear on the ground once the Taliban have left. If Afghanistan is to be reconstructed and, therefore, the causes of terrorism removed, a period of political stability is crucial. Like the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch), I welcome the intervention of the former king, and I hope that there will be some form of Marshall plan for Afghanistan once the bombing is over.

The third point worth mentioning is the importance of renewed momentum in the middle east peace process. I was delighted to see the Palestinian leader in London yesterday. I believe strongly that we should recognise the right of the Palestinians to a proper and viable state, while at the same time guaranteeing the security of Israel.

I have had great admiration for the state of Israel over many years. I have admiration for the courageous and determined way in which the Israelis forged a state from the wreckage of the second world war. However, they must realise now that they will lose the sympathy of the international community if they believe that the international community's desire for a world free of terrorism presents them with an opportunity to occupy more land. Therefore, I support the Government's desire to add impetus to the middle east peace process. Osama bin Laden's intervention and use of that was a repellant and deceitful hijacking. We can never hope to defeat terrorism while the middle east is in turmoil.

The international dimension is only one aspect of the problem before us. Once the immediate crisis is over, there will be considerable implications for United Kingdom defence and intelligence policy. The first, as everyone has said, will be the need to acknowledge that terrorism has presented a threat on a new scale since 11 September. The Secretary of State for Defence will need to think carefully about the configuration of the armed forces to meet that threat. I was personally involved in the last large-scale defence review, "Options for Change", and I know that much of the thinking that went into that was based on cold war calculations. The balance will have to be altered to meet the new threat. We will need a larger number of lighter forces and greater heavy lift capability. I welcome the news that we are to re-equip our carriers.

Secondly, we will need to expand our intelligence services to meet the threat. We are now in the third phase of terrorism. In the 1960s and 1970s, terrorist groups first started to appear in Europe; there was a pause in the late 1970s, when we came to terms with those groups, but they re-emerged in the 1980s. As we can see in the Provisional IRA, terrorist groups have become far more tightly organised, with active service units comprising four men. Hardly anyone outside those units knows much about them. It is that above all other developments that has caused many of the intelligence problems that face us today. We shall need to adapt our forces and our intelligence services if we are to penetrate terrorist cells in years to come.

Finally, we in this country need to reconsider establishing an integrated disaster recovery plan. I am much impressed by the apparent ease with which authorities in the United States call out the National Guard. This summer, while working with the Kent ambulance service, I was worried to learn that it cannot

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operate alongside the police or the fire service: there is no means of common operation. We need to introduce such systems and to ensure that the Territorial Army is involved.

I pay tribute to the Government for their handling of the crisis so far, but I believe strongly that the most difficult phase lies just ahead. Awkward decisions will have to be taken about the political, economic and humanitarian reconstruction of Afghanistan and the international framework within which that can be achieved. If there is one lesson that I draw from history and from personal experience it is that it is always far easier to start a conflict than to bring it to a successful conclusion.

8.33 pm

Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews (Medway): There are, one perceives, three leaders in the world who believe that the bombing of Afghanistan—including the bombing of the pitiful remains of its infrastructure and the death of hundreds, perhaps thousands of civilians—is in the interests of their cause and should be a part of their strategy. Those three leaders are first, of course, the President of the United States; secondly, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and perhaps those in NATO who support him; and thirdly, Osama bin Laden himself.

No one should doubt that that psychotic international criminal knows full well—no doubt, it is part of his plan—that with every single bomb that drops on Afghan soil and every cluster bomb and bunker buster that is dropped on a defenceless enemy from 30,000 ft, we sow the dragon's teeth. As in classical mythology, from that soil will emerge not our warriors, but warriors who will fight for Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda and whose numbers will multiply. Above all, they will be armed with the hatred of the United States which brought them into being. That fact is not lost on our fragile and uneasy allies and neighbours in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, who know and have said that the words and actions of the so-called coalition and America have proved collectively to be the biggest recruiting tent for terrorism since 11 September that one could possibly dread.

We began by announcing a war, first, on terrorism. That is an absurdity, as one cannot make war on an abstract noun, although it is possible to make war on most types of syntax, as has occurred since 11 September. As one cannot make war on abstract noun, we were told that we were at war with Osama bin Laden, which endows him with the precise status that he seeks. From being a criminal, he has become a warrior, and he will move on to become a martyr. Having said that we were at war, we then waged it. It is difficult to describe the black pessimism that came over people like myself and many Labour Members when we learned of the method that was going to be employed—large-scale bombing from 30,000 ft. Such bombing creates a precise equation; it removes risk from combatants in the air and imposes it on civilians on the ground.

That is precisely what we did in those dark 78 days in Kosovo, to which I shall return in a moment. The black pessimism that we all felt grew when we learned about the enlistment of the Northern Alliance. Again, the

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memory of Kosovo overshadowed us—something which my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Kelvin (Mr. Galloway), in one of his great speeches in the House, described as the dirty dozen. We who remember Kosovo recall the poisonous embrace of the Kosovo Liberation Army. As my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham) pointed out, it has been discovered that 90 per cent. of our heroin comes from Afghanistan, but we could have told people a long time ago that it is brokered, moved and laundered by the KLA, our friends in the south, and it always has been.

I want to say one or two things about Kosovo, which has been employed as a shining example of military intervention and success. As a rewriting of history, that is as depressing as the present war. The operation in Kosovo was a humanitarian disaster of epic proportions, largely of our own making. When the treaty of Rambouillet broke down, we decided to bomb a helpless, defenceless and mainly civilian target from 30,000 ft—the same method is being used now. After we started the bombing, we created 500,000 refugees, who were driven from Kosovo by the unleashing of the Serb army; they saw the tracer trails of aircraft and cruise missiles which passed over their heads on the way to Belgrade. The prejudice and anger of centuries was then unleashed.

While all that was happening—as the Albanians in Kosovo were the subject of a murderous assault—three tanks of the Serbian army were destroyed and we were lied to day after day about the degradation of that army. While those Albanians suffered, the largest army force mustered by the west and NATO stood on the borders in Macedonia and did precisely nothing. That is why those of us who remember Kosovo so well blanch at the idea that it is being held up as an example for the current war. We perceive that, as sure as can be, history is repeating itself and that we will see bombing for days and days from 30,000 feet while no intervention whatever is made to save those whom it is affecting.

I do not want to be entirely condemnatory and I certainly wish to be constructive. I should like to make a suggestion that I have already put to my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister on the action that we should now take, in addition to the cessation of bombing. We must create an international criminal court—a body that would be more important than the sum of its parts. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary was not being disingenuous when he said that we did not have an international foreign court. Of course, we need 60 members to set up the international foreign court to which he referred and, unhappily, one of the reasons why we cannot do so is the opposition of the United States.

I am referring not to that court, however, but to one that is comparable to those that were established in The Hague in order to deal with the atrocities in the Balkans and in Arusha in order to deal with Rwanda. It is precisely that sort of court that should be set up now, so that we can signal to the world that we expect and desire a judicial end to the conflict. It is asked why Osama bin Laden should not be tried in America. I can think of a very large number of reasons why it would be highly undesirable for him to be tried by a jury in that country. There are many reasons why that could not happen, and I very much doubt that the Americans wish or hope that it does so.

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However, one cannot walk two ways in a conflict such as this. We are told that the attacks were an assault not on America, but on civilisation. For what it is worth, I and many others accept that analysis, but as an assault was made on the international community, it is to that community that the criminal who is responsible should be answerable. No one would doubt that the international court should have an American president. Of course, it should also include Islamic jurists, so that we can say to the Islamic world "This man will be tried in a court of fairness and justice."

Having established the court, we must get the criminal, and I am not suggesting that that will be easy. I have known criminal courts of one sort or another for a very long time and from both sides of the fence. Nobody knows better than me how difficult it is to obtain, track down and arrest dangerous criminals. None the less, we must do it, and it will not be done by bombing civilian targets from 30,000 feet. If I were asked how we should go into Afghanistan or wherever bin Laden is and get him out—I am surprised that nobody has intervened to ask me that question—I would have to answer that I did not know. Unlike an uncomfortably large number of my colleagues, I am not a duvet or eiderdown general. My military training was cursory and utterly useless, but I accept that, as we are reliably informed, we have the finest armed forces in the world. This work is what they are for. It will be hard and there will be military casualties, but nobody begins to suggest that the task should not be undertaken. If we do not go down that road, but continue into the spring the bombing of civilians from 30,000 ft, day after day and month after month, the international support that we have will disappear like the Afghan snows. If that happens, we can stop parroting the idea that we are not at war with Islam, as Islam will be at war with us.

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