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The United States is perceived as the great Satan. There is a rather simplistic conviction, in my view, that if the United States were to withdraw its support from Israel the conflict in the middle east would end. I do not believe that the United States or the European states could withdraw from that part of the worldthe historical, cultural and religious pressures are probably too great.
It is fair to say that previous United States PresidentsPresident Carter some time ago, and President Clintonworked hard to try to establish some form of even-handed settlement in the middle east. Mr. bin Laden and his associates were not and are not concerned about that. Nevertheless, a just, durable and even-handed peace in the middle east would be a major impediment for the recruiting agents of terrorism.
If I dare mention it, there is religion. I believe that all great religions must try to evolve and adapt to meet changing times and changing circumstances. The trick is to do so without destroying core beliefs and values. Some would argue that Christianity has almost adapted and evolved itself out of existence, but if religions do not adapt and evolve they wither and die.
Some would assert that, in what I might call the evolution stakes, Christianity has had a number of advantages over some of the other great religions purely because of the time and the place from which it came. It had to struggle at birth with Greek history, Greek culture and Greek philosophy. That may have led to compromises and different attitudes.
Christianity has two holy books, and the second is very different in essence and in nature from the first. From an early time its books have been translated, probably into more languages than the holy books of most other religions. Some would say that translation itself becomes an act of adaptation as the translator tries to struggle with the different concepts of the different countries whose language he or she is seeking to use.
Some would say that those advantages helped Christianity to try to adapt. Followers of Islam have said to me, or would say, that many do not accept that the factors to which I have referred are advantages. Even if they did accept that there have been advantages, I think that they would rightly and legitimately point out that despite the so-called advantages the most terrible atrocities have been carried out in the name of Christianity, and by supposedly Christian countries. Nevertheless, I think that, objectively, it is fair to say that over the years the factors that I have mentioned, and possibly others, have gradually ameliorated Christian intolerance and, in some instances, Christian fanaticism.
If the meeting that I described is still in existence, and if the chairman has not been thrown out of the window, I might finally mention democracy. Is it a coincidence that almost all the Arab member states of the somewhat loose and shaky coalition have authoritarian, if I might use a fairly benign word, and not democratic Governments? If countries in the middle east could move towards not necessarily a western form of democracy but some form of democratic representation, they would provide young men and, probably more importantly, young women with a diversity of outlets for their energies, idealism and skills. Some countries, including Bahrain, are already trying to move towards some form of representative democracy. Again, such an outcome would be one of the best bulwarks against the recruiting agents of terrorism. I do
Finally, military action is, alas, necessary to defeat the terrorism of 11 September, but it will not be sufficient in itself. Somehow, somewhere, the members of the coalition must get together to exchange views and ideas and to give and take criticism. No country, community or religion has a monopoly on wisdom. I believe that we need the common wisdom of humanity to create the conditions that are necessary to try to ensure that 11 September never happens again.
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): May I, first, make it plain that Plaid Cymru, the party of Wales, and the Scottish National party condemn utterly international terrorism and agree entirely with the aim of the international coalition to bring bin Laden to justice? Obviously, no one could ever allow the events of 11 September to pass without some action.
Some three weeks ago, mine was the first political party to call for a stop to the bombing of Afghanistan. A few hon. Members from other parties joined our cause of stopping the bombardment that was putting the lives of innocent civilians at risk. We were then described as appeasers. Today, it seems that the situation has changed. It is now apparently right, or at least legitimate, that we should hold that view. There seems also to have been a change of opinion outside Government. A poll in yesterday's edition of The Guardian showed that 54 per cent. of those questioned wanted the bombing to be stopped on humanitarian grounds. One wonders whether the change of the Government view is coincidental with that poll.
At the outset of the crisis, the British and United States Governments stated that there was a need for military, diplomatic and humanitarian action. Unfortunately, it seems to many of us that action on the military front has at times been indiscriminate and is becoming more so, and that the humanitarian front is completely ineffective. The military objectives for the campaign have been rather vague, perhaps of necessity, and the tactics used have sometimes been questionable. Abdul Haq, the former mujaheddin commander who was recently murdered, said not long ago in The Scotsman:
By using such terminology, we endorse the volatile climate throughout the western world that bin Laden is trying to create, and may help him to achieve his objectives of making us more aggressive towards nations that we do not understand, putting doubts in people's minds and inciting racial hatred among the paranoid and xenophobic minorities in our communities.
Osama bin Laden has succeeded in portraying the action as a war of faith. I think that is wrong, but he is apparently succeeding in that view. Hitherto, the west has not been successful in convincing people that this is a conflict with terrorism. By definition, terrorism is elusive: it has no permanent geographic base, no permanent leadership, not all terrorist groups have the same reason for being and the definition of terrorism is not clear.
Osama bin Laden is and must remain the target of any military action, and if further action is to be taken it must be properly targeted at destroying the al-Qaeda network, with bin Laden as its leader. He is the personification of this terrorism, but he is elusive, and finding him will be very difficult. He and the al-Qaeda network must be made to pay for the attacks on 11 September, not the innocent civilians of Afghanistan, who are certainly not the aggressors.
As reported in The Times last week and confirmed today, cluster bombs are being used. One civilian a week is killed in Kosovo and one a month in Laos30 years after they were dropped on the Ho Chi Minh trail. Those bombs are designed to massacre anything within 100 ft.
I endorse the eloquent comments of the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) on cluster bombs. Those so-called dumb bombs do not automatically detonate. They are a threat to civilians in Afghanistan, and will remain a threat for many years to come. As for the semantic debate about whether they are land mines, 10 per cent. of the bomblets do not detonate on impact. About 15 per bomb do not explode, and the failure rate of cluster bombs reaching their targets can be as high as 50 per cent. They are pretty indiscriminate. They are bright yellow, so they attract children, who pick them up with horrific consequences. By using those weapons, we are definitely putting at risk the lives of thousands of people, not just now but in the future. We are unleashing weapons over Afghanistan that will blight communities for a long time to come.
During last week's statement, the Secretary of State for International Development said that she would come back to me on the subject of cluster bombs. I am sure that she will refer to them when she winds up the debate. We must question whether such weapons are appropriate in the action being taken in Afghanistan. If military action is to be targeted as we expect, the use of such indiscriminate weapons cannot be justified.
According to The Times last week, United Nations mine clearing officials in Pakistan have been begging the United States Government for ordnance details, flight paths and bomb footprints to help them to rescue people following an attack on the village of Shaker Qala, which was full of bright yellow bomblets.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Mary Robinson, Christian Aid, Oxfam, Islamic Relief, ActionAid, the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development and Tearfund have all called for the bombing to be stopped. They noted that from the outset there has been a huge humanitarian problem, which is getting worse.
Pressures are mounting. With the onset of winter, harsh weather conditions and snow there is thought to be about a fortnight left to deliver the aid to where it should be. The World Food Programme has estimated that it needs $700 million in aid for the next six months alone, and we know that much more investment will be needed in the long run to rebuild Afghanistan. That view is also shared by Islamic Relief.
Kofi Annan has called the crisis in Afghanistan the worst humanitarian crisis in the world at the moment. My party, Plaid Cymru, and the Scottish National party reiterate their calls for the Government to stop the bombing and to refrain from allowing the use of cluster bombs and Gator mines.
I hope that the Government will publish a strategy for the delivery of humanitarian aid as soon as possible. The Secretary of State for International Development confirmed the other day that she would do so. A total of 100,000 Afghan children are in danger of dying during the winter. The scale of the unfolding tragedy, exacerbated by the imminent onset of winter, requires the international community and the authorities in Afghanistan to place humanitarian needs at the centre of all plans and activities to resolve the wider crisis. Failure to do so will be to sit back and allow one of the worst catastrophes in human history. It will appear to some to be a ghastly and grotesque Old Testament reply to the atrocities of 11 September.