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4.16 pm

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) has done the House a great service by bringing to its attention the moving article in The Scotsman by the late Abdul Haq. I commend it to Ministers. It was written only a short time before he was brutally murdered. He made a powerful plea for an end to the bombing.

I have one observation and one question for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development. I commend her for sitting here throughout the debate. It is said time and again that bombing was a success in the former Yugoslavia and that it brought down Mr. Milosevic. That is twisted history. It was not bombing that brought down Milosevic; in fact, it strengthened him. Milosevic was brought to his knees because the rug was pulled from under him by the Russian high command in Moscow. It was the withdrawal of Russian support that brought about the current situation in former Yugoslavia, which is by no means satisfactory—ask the Macedonians.

I want to ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State about Iran. She has taken an interest in the refugee problem in eastern Iran. There are 2 million refugees in the area of Mashhad and eastern Iran. The Iranian Government have complained bitterly and understandably that 3,000 of their customs officers have been murdered by drug-running elements related to the Taliban. The Shia in Iran have no time for the Taliban—they greatly dislike them. At the same time, they tell the west, time and again, "For heaven's sake, stop the bombing because it strengthens rather than weakens the Taliban." People who might have imploded the Taliban—

The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short): My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Iranian Government dislike the Taliban regime greatly because they persecute the Shia within Afghanistan. I am not aware, however, that they have called for an end to the bombing. They have criticised the injuries to civilians and the loss of the Red Cross warehouse, but they want the Taliban regime to be overthrown.

Mr. Dalyell: I have been active about Iran because I went there four years ago. Last Monday, I was invited by the Iranian ambassador in London to meet him alone. I imagine that he was speaking for the Iranian Government and the Iranian authorities—he is an extremely intelligent senior diplomat—and he was against the bombings. A matter of fact such as that can be checked—

Clare Short: I will do so.

Mr. Dalyell: I hope so, because I would like an answer.

I think that more attention should be paid to guidance from the Iranian Government. There are between 80 million and 90 million Iranians on the borders, and I think that their opinions should be listened to.

4.20 pm

Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon): No one who has been following recent events in Afghanistan can have failed to be moved by the scenes of utter destruction and human misery there. Poverty and illiteracy in Afghanistan are not new, but unquestionably have been exacerbated by those recent events.

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It may suit some commentators to suggest that the condition of Afghanistan is a result of the present Taliban regime, but that is not entirely true. We must recognise that the west, in abandoning Afghanistan in the period following the end of the Soviet occupation, in a real sense gave rise to—or at least contributed to—the problems we now face.

The defeat and withdrawal of the Soviet Union, and the subsequent washing of hands by America and the United Kingdom, left a power vacuum—a vacuum filled by many members of what is now the Northern Alliance. We are all fully cognisant of what happened then. The ensuing civil war was bloody, and there were faults on all sides. People turned to the Taliban in desperation, as a last hope—as a group that could stop the bloodshed and rebuild a country riven by war.

The problem is that the Taliban, at least the worst parts of it, allowed rogue elements to operate freely. In the absence of western influence, bin Laden and al-Qaeda were allowed to flourish under their protection. And it was not only al-Qaeda; I have recently heard bin Laden described as a sort of venture capitalist of terrorism, and if we consider the groups with which al-Qaeda or bin Laden himself has links we begin to see the scale of the problem.

I am thinking of groups such as Abu Sayyaf in the southern Philippines, and Al Gama'i al-Islamiyya, whose former senior member, Rifa'i Taha Musa, appeared on a video with bin Laden last year threatening retaliation against the United States. Then there is Harakat al-Mujahidin, whose new leader, Farooq Kashmiri, has been linked to bin Laden and who allegedly operates training camps in eastern Afghanistan. There is the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, another organisation with militant bases in Afghanistan; and there is one of the closest known associates of al-Qaeda, Al Jihad, the Egyptian Islamic group whose original jihad was responsible for the 1981 assassination of President Sadat.

Again and again, we see the same countries cropping up—countries suspected of harbouring, nurturing or turning a blind eye to such terrorist organisations. Syria, Iran, Libya, Iraq and even Saudi Arabia: the list is all too familiar, and may make uncomfortable reading. Those countries, however, now have an opportunity to forge new relationships and alliances in the campaign against terrorism, and the Prime Minister is surely right to try to bring them into the fold. Some such alliances may well be long-lasting, and could change the international scene significantly.

What I am endeavouring to illustrate is that the tentacles spreading out from bin Laden—the many- headed Hydra, as he has been described—are myriad. That is why removing him and al-Qaeda must be a priority.

The Prime Minister is on record as saying that the eradication of the Taliban regime is a legitimate objective; the Defence Secretary reconfirmed that this afternoon, and was right to do so. However, with what does he envisage replacing the Taliban? There are moderate elements in the Taliban—Taliban for reasons of expediency—that will have a useful role to play in any future Government of that country. I know that that was the view of the late commander Abdul Haq, of whom we have already heard this afternoon. His execution by the Taliban was a real loss. The west was afforded the opportunity to support Abdul Haq, who was pressing a policy that, had it worked,

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would have resulted in a power-sharing Government in Kabul made up of all elements ranging from the Northern Alliance to former Taliban members and, of course, to the Pashtuns, under the former king.

Now, because of Abdul Haq's death, the situation is more complicated. It is surely right that the coalition has effectively halted the Northern Alliance from advancing on Kabul alone, but we need to know what is planned, particularly with winter approaching. Members who have soldiers based in their constituencies—there can be few of us without a strong local military connection, such as in my constituency where we have a Royal Marines training camp at Lympstone—including my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth), wish to know what the clear aims and objectives are before the troops go in.

I agree with those who say that that will be a long process, but that does not mean that the aims cannot be clear from the outset. Unfortunately, there is a creeping feeling that, having started bombing, the Americans do not know what to do next. They cannot entirely be blamed as they are in something of a predicament, but the bombing cannot continue indefinitely. There is growing evidence that it is already hardening moderate Afghan opinion against the coalition. Domestically, we are beginning to hear the traditional muttering of Labour Members expressing discontent about the bombing; not far beneath the veneer of new Labour beats the heart of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and unilateralism.

We are therefore calling for clarification—not for operationally sensitive information, obviously—of what we hope to achieve before we commit British ground troops. The alliances that we make now are critical and will be the key to the post-Taliban Afghanistan. We cannot expect to rid the world of terrorism in one go; that is the work of decades. Indeed, it is the first real challenge of the 21st century. However, we can make a start, and we must do so in post-Taliban Afghanistan, a country which we must not abandon again. We must show the Afghan people this time that there is an alternative way and eventually encourage all those displaced Afghans in Pakistan, Iran and elsewhere to return home. We must help to rebuild the infrastructure of that country.

It is encouraging that the United Nations Special Representative Mr. Brahimi and President Musharraf of Pakistan agreed on Tuesday that the unity of Afghanistan and its territorial integrity must be preserved. There have been calls, not least from Government Members last week and from the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) this afternoon, for women to be included in any new Government. I remind the House that we are talking about a backward Muslim country; we cannot insist on imposing our own liberal views on it, however right we deem them to be.

Mr. Kaufman rose

Mr. Swire: May I continue? I am just winding up my speech.

Of course, the rights of women must be respected in a post-Taliban Afghanistan, and that can come through education and organisations such as Learning for Life, a United Kingdom-registered charity which started educating mainly Afghan refugees in Pakistan in the early

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l990s. Learning for Life has been working closely with Pakistan's national rural support programme and helps to run over 160 schools in Pakistan, bringing primary schooling to young girls otherwise denied even a rudimentary education. Organisations like that, with their unparalleled experience, can play a major part in helping to emancipate women in tomorrow's Afghanistan.

Our challenge in a post-war Afghanistan is to help bring that country and its inhabitants, regardless of gender or ethnic background, into the 21st century. If we succeed, we can make Afghanistan a no-go area for terrorists in future.

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