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6.11 pm

Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid-Kent): When I spoke during the previous debate, there was a sense across the House that we were at something of a turning point in the conflict. I firmly believe that, with the decision to deploy ground troops, that corner has been turned.

I should like to pick up some of the remarks made by the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell). She was right when she said that everyone supported the aims of the operation. There is no alternative. It is important to remember that no service man ever wants to go to war, but they do so on this occasion because they believe that the cause is just. Therefore, it is appropriate that the thoughts of the House are with the service men who are about to be deployed to that region and their families here in Britain.

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This operation has a degree of complexity that we have never undertaken before in this country. Military operations thrive on one clear aim. We saw that clearly in the Falklands and the Gulf. The original war aims laid out by the Government were to bring Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders to justice, to prevent the network from posing a continuing terrorist threat and then to deal with the Taliban who support them. In the three weeks since then, we have seen an inversion of those war aims, for understandable reasons.

We are now trying to destroy the Taliban. We hope by so doing that we will destroy al-Qaeda and therefore smoke out, in the words of the American president, Osama bin Laden. That has produced a slight difference of opinion between the military men and the politicians here in London. It is nothing more serious than that. It is made worse by the desire of journalists to pick it up and make a story. It is important that they behave responsibly, as many of us here are trying to do.

Following on from all that, there is a clear need—I am sure that the Secretary of State will address this in her reply—for a clear alternative structure for Afghanistan after the Taliban. Laying that out will have an enormously beneficial effect on many of the Muslim countries that we hope to involve in the process. I have always thought that once the Americans started to carpet bomb it would probably be a great deal less time than we thought before something happened. It is easy to predict that the Taliban will see some defections sooner rather than later and start to melt away into the hills. I and many other people across the House are extremely worried that, if that happens, regions will start to fall to anti-Taliban forces such as the Northern Alliance before an alternative Government have been put in place.

Like many hon. Members, I hope that the alternative Government will involve some form of ruling council that is 10 to 12 strong, representing all the different tribes. We must be ready to dominate the situation and not allow a vacuum to occur. There is clearly a role for a NATO force—I hope that it will have a heavy Muslim contingent—and probably, and I hope quickly, a United Nations force in its wake.

Such a force would have three clear roles. The first would be to maintain law and order. I am sure that we all agree that there would be nothing worse than the cycle of reprisals that might occur, if the Northern Alliance came sweeping down to fill the vacuum left after the Taliban. Secondly, that force could guarantee the security of any embryonic Government who are put in place in Afghanistan. Thirdly, and most important if we are to win the hearts and minds of the local population, that force must safeguard the delivery of humanitarian aid.

Furthermore, it is clear that the international coalition will have to play a considerable role in the reconstruction of Afghanistan when the conflict is over. I am sure that the role of the Secretary of State for International Development will be crucial in determining our contribution to that. It is thus vital that we have a coherent and viable plan for the reconstruction of Afghanistan post-Taliban.

In addition, there are a large number of diplomatic considerations that we need to address. Many of us have concerns about the state of Pakistan as regards its internal politics and what may happen there. That applies equally to Saudi Arabia, which—rather curiously—has been the

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home of many of the terrorists involved in these actions. That is a difficult problem to solve. I visited Saudi Arabia some years ago and was very aware that there was a middle class, which in effect generates all the wealth but has almost no power in government. Finding a way through that will be one of the challenges that awaits us in the future.

The final component will be whatever happens in the middle east. I must admit that I have always been something of an admirer of the state of Israel. One can only have an admiration for a nation that pulled itself up by its boot straps to create a state from the wreckage of the second world war. The problem is that the Israelis have never really come to terms with their gains in the 1967 war, which created much of the current mess.

What is important at present is that we set out a plan for a viable state of Palestine alongside Israel. It is vital that the Israeli Government do not confuse our determination to rid the world of the threat of terrorism with an opportunity to grab more land and establish more settlements.

In conclusion, I wholeheartedly support the Government's efforts to win this war against international terrorism. However, as part of that multi-faceted effort, it is especially vital that we have a coherent strategy for the reconstruction of Afghanistan when the war is over. During our previous debate on this subject, I said that wars were easy to start but much more difficult to bring to a successful conclusion. Tonight, I fear that the difficult stage may only just be starting.

6.18 pm

Mr. Jim Murphy (Eastwood): I am delighted to be able to speak briefly in this important debate. I do so in support of the Government, in the knowledge that no one lightly advocates or takes pleasure in military action, especially where civilians are so tragically affected. There is great anxiety throughout the House about those civilian casualties. That would be nothing, however, compared to the guilt I should feel if Osama bin Laden and others were allowed to continue their bloody reign of international terrorism, and if the Taliban were allowed to continue the governance of Afghanistan.

I respond to my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) in the same spirit as she offered us her comments earlier. I say to her and those whom I describe as the radicals-in-favour- of-doing-very-little-at-all tendency: simply to pause, or halt, the bombing as they suggest—whether for the limited period of winter or for Ramadan, or perhaps, in the view of some people, such as my hon. Friend, for good—would merely allow the Taliban and Osama bin Laden to continue to prosper. They would see weakness, when in fact there is only determination on our part to weaken bin Laden and his organisation.

There are many things on which I could comment, but as I have only a limited time I shall raise a few concerns. As part of building the international coalition, we have lifted nuclear sanctions against India and Pakistan. I worry that we are perhaps stoking up some difficulties for ourselves, in that two nuclear powers could still be involved in a conflict over Kashmir a few years down the line.

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I reiterate that I fail to understand why the poppy fields remain untouched and have not been included in the list of targets that we have identified. We should do all we can to end that grotesque industry, by providing agricultural support and investment so that the Afghans can grow decent crops that do not poison the people of their country or the wider world.

I wish to make another substantive point: some hon. Members have rightly concentrated on the terrible civilian deaths in Afghanistan, but I want to comment on the terrible civilian deaths in the middle east. The death of a civilian in Afghanistan is as tragic for the individual's family as is the death of a civilian in the west bank or in Tel Aviv, but I fail to comprehend those who advocate the view that the lack of a peace process in the middle east caused the actions of Osama bin Laden, or that the lack of meaningful dialogue produced Hamas.

Let us remember that when peace seemed most likely in the middle east, when Labour's Ehud Barak was in power, suicide bombings against Israeli civilians were a weekly occurrence and the attacks of 11 September were probably initially planned during that very period. I do not believe that anyone has been fooled into thinking that the guiding principle of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah or any of those organisations relates to the settlements, the status of Jerusalem or the complex issue of the return refugees. Indeed, we could solve each and every one of those issues and Hamas would still bomb civilians, Hezbollah would still launch Katyusha rockets and Islam Jihad would continue its bloody trade.

As the Prime Minister has said on his visits to the region, there is an urgent need to return to the Mitchell peace plan and for Israel to show all possible restraint, subject to its right to defend itself and its citizens and with the guarantee of security that it deserves. However, the Palestinians, along with the Syrians and the Iranians, should do more to rein in those terrorist organisations, whose guiding principle is not specific, but includes the very destruction of the state of Israel and the gross undermining, if not destroying, of the American way of life and American and European cultures.

In reining in the terrorists, the Palestinians deserve absolutely the right to statehood and a viable state, with defined borders. Anything else would be a recipe for insecurity, and the last thing that Israel and the Palestinians need is continued insecurity. The Palestinians also need economic prosperity, but that has not happened during the peace process. The poverty of the Palestinian population grew the longer the peace process continued, and we cannot tolerate that type of peace process.

In conclusion, it is high time to decouple any phoney connection between the actions of Osama bin Laden and the other terrorists with the lack of a peace process in the middle east. There should certainly be a solution to the problems of the middle east, but despite the events of 11 September, not because of them.

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