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If there were a break in the bombing or a significant scaling down of military action in the winter months, could bin Laden or the Taliban take advantage in a way that compromised our position? I would be interested to hear a response on that. Would air action also grind to a halt as the snows arrived? Could our aims be better progressed by that approach, because of the opportunities it would allow for moving refugees, providing aid and easing relationships with the Islamic communities?
Fostering relations with Muslims in the region is surely key to our success, first during the military campaign and then during the campaign that will follow. That must be given political consideration, as Ramadan will soon begin. We have suspended bombing from time to time for Friday prayers and we must consider the impact of the most significant part of the Islamic calendarone of the five pillars of Islam.
When we are all confirming our respect for those of the Muslim faith, we must be sensitive to the impression that we will give to others if we bomb throughout Ramadan. I hope that that will be taken into account by those who make the decision. There are those who say that Osama bin Laden is not representative of that community, but sadly, there are plenty who fail to hear that message.
There will also be plenty who perceive and use continued bombing as an act of hostility towards the Islamic world. Like many others, I have concerns about the use of cluster bombs. I understand the difference between land mines and cluster bombs. Nevertheless, the risk of damage, explosions and damage to civilians in the 100 yd radius around cluster bombs deeply concerns me.
Herat was littered with unexploded bomblets, restricting the movement of local people, who will suffer not only now, but for years to come. Using cluster bombs is wrong, and doubly wrong when we criticise the Taliban for their humanitarian record. The Prime Minister said in his speech to the Welsh Assembly that we are doing all we can to limit civilian casualties, but while we continue to use cluster bombs that cannot be the case.
We are working towards understanding the real situation in Afghanistan and many wise views have been expressed. We know that our knowledge is imperfect, but we also know that there is a greater food shortage than before and that that is partly due to current action. However, it is much due to three years of drought, recent events and 20 years of armed conflict, resulting in 3.6 million refugees. Tens of thousands of people are on the move.
Our response is not yet sufficient. Daily ration packs are inadequate to feed all but a few, and we have discussed the problems associated with that. With winter coming on, it is so important that we put not only food but shelter and fuel into the area. If a pause in or scaling down of military action allows much greater humanitarian aid to be given, we must celebrate that and make our message clear that the people of Afghanistan are important to us. We must invest in them by providing the things they need.
We must also recognise that help will be needed to distribute food in Afghanistan, as local drivers are rightly afraid to enter hostile territory. If we want borders with neighbouring countries to be open to refugees, that will require a massive effort not only by allied forces but by our coalition colleagues to support the provision of temporary help for the refugees.
The Government have told us that this is a long game. The longest game, however, must be building a future for Afghanistanone in which the people of Afghanistan, both men and women, have a stake and which they can accept as being owned by them with their government. The United Nations should not be left by itself. There will still be collective responsibility.
There will still need to be serious investment for the future for a long time. We must recognise that before the recent events Afghanistan was the poorest state in Asia. Having formed a coalition, we can use this opportunity to persuade its other members to give humanitarian aid and to offer Afghanistan the help that it will so badly need.
We support the aims of the coalition to bring bin Laden to justice and to remove the threat of terrorism. In doing so, I urge caution in the coming months on those who are taking the decisions on our behalfcaution in further bombing. They must ensure that any action has a positive outcome and can lead to meeting the objectives that we know so well. Efforts must continue to maintain support and relations between the allied forces and the Islamic community at home and worldwide.
I commend the Prime Minister's constant efforts to achieve a diplomatic solution. I urge that those efforts should continue, as far as is possible, because without those solutions we will have no future. They must continue not only for the next few months but for years afterwards as we try to achieve peace in the central and eastern areas of the world, as many hon. Members have said so eloquently. Before we do much more bombing, may we please consider why we are doing it? Please, may we call a halt to the use of cluster bombs?
Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge): I have been waiting for some time to deal with the remarks of the hon. Member for East Devon (Mr. Swire), who is no longer in his seat. He made some disparaging comments about the campaign to give the women of Afghanistan a voice in the new Government that will, hopefully, replace the Taliban regime. He should know that there are many Muslim
My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) talked about people being happy with the bombing. I do not know one person who is happy about it. I am extremely uneasy about bombing, in particular when I see the civilian casualties. I was pleased to hear my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence express his reluctance for military action. We must ask ourselves, however, whether there is any credible alternative. We should not assume that people are happy and cheerful and do not care about the civilian casualties. Those of us who support the action that the Government are taking are very unhappy and uneasy about what is happening and we wish that there were an alternative. Unfortunately, there is not.
It is crucial that we prevent bin Laden and his associates from acting again and again. People who have been responsible for the deaths of 6,000 innocent civilians will never stop. They were deliberately murdered; it was not collateral damage in any sense; it was a deliberate targeting. The people responsible will not stop now. What is to stop them? They will attack again and again, so we have to track them down. We have to unseat the Taliban regime, which is protecting them. I know of no way of doing it other than the way we are doing it.
I have had about 500 letters and e-mails about the terrorism in the United States and the Afghanistan situation. Many express unease at what is happening. I have read all those letters and e-mails very carefully, although I have not been able to respond to all of them in detail. Not one has suggested alternative action that would be effective in unseating the Taliban and destroying the terrorist network.
There is a strong pacifist element in my constituency and a very active organisation called CamPeace. It is campaigning vigorously against the war and has campaigned against military action in the past. Many hundreds of my constituents have supported the organisation, signed its petitions and participated in vigils which are held regularly. I understand that many people are against bombing a poor country ravaged by years of conflict and poor governance. However, I hope that the people who support CamPeace understand what they are supporting.
I hesitate to speak about the middle east after the excellent contribution of my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman). Peace in the middle east sometimes seems further away that ever. The vengeance attacks by the Israeli Government on the people of Palestine contrasts sharply with the attitude of the American Government, following the atrocities of 11 September. There was no quick retribution by the United States; instead, there was a thoughtful, considered period during which an offer was made to the Taliban to give up Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda network so that it could be prosecuted. The offer was not accepted and military action has been started.
America's reaction was very different from that of the Israelis following the assassination of a Cabinet Minister. The incursion into previously unoccupied areas horrified many of us. Israel needs and deserves security. Palestine needs and deserves an independent state. Pressure must be brought to bear on the Israeli Government in particular to help bring about a Palestinian state and peace in the middle east. I believe that America, by its actions, now has the moral high ground and can bring not only financial but moral pressure to bear on the Israelis. That is extremely important.
I have been appalled by the many attempts to make this conflict into a conflict between Muslims and Christians. My local newspaper, the Cambridge Evening News, reported a short time ago an attack on two Muslim students who were wearing their traditional dress, their burkas. They had them pulled off their heads by some men as they crossed Parker's Piece in Cambridge. That has given rise to a great deal of anxiety. There was anxiety among Muslim women before this incident, and now there is more. I have tried to express my solidarity with the Muslim women's association in Cambridge. It does a good job. We need to stand firmly together and show that we are all on one side against international terrorism and for world freedom.