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Mr. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South): Will my right hon. Friend give way on that point?

Clare Short: No, not yet.

I shall come to the details of the present situation in a moment. Before doing so, I want to remind the House, the country, and especially my hon. Friends who are

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calling for a bombing pause, that the situation inside Afghanistan has been desperate, with terrible suffering resulting from endless war and misgovernment for very many years. For example, in 1998, the United Nations had to truck in 750,000 tonnes of wheat to keep starvation at bay. UN operations have been very difficult and harassed for very many years. The reality is that the Afghan people's plight has been desperate for a long time but until very recently too few people have been concerned about it.

As one of my hon. Friends said, a quarter of all the children in Afghanistan die before they reach the age of five. That is one of the worst figures in the world. Illiteracy was a major problem before the Taliban appeared, affecting 90 per cent. of girls and 60 per cent. of boys, and Taliban policies have worsened things terribly. Within three months of the capture of Kabul in 1996, the Taliban closed 63 schools in the city, throwing 103,000 girls out of school.

The Taliban also ordered that women could not teach. That meant 7,800 women teachers losing their jobs and 148,000 boys being thrown out of school. The Taliban also shut down Kabul university—it is not true that women were not educated in Afghanistan before the crisis—and that sent home 10,000 students, 4,000 of whom were women.

When the Taliban took Mazar-i-Sharif in 1998, a brutal and massive massacre followed, with thousands of corpses left littering the streets. There is continuing persecution of Shia and Sufi Muslims because the Taliban do not recognise Sufism or the Shia as legitimate traditions within Islam.

It is not true to suggest that there was not a terrible humanitarian and political crisis in Afghanistan before 11 September. Those who suggest that simply stopping the bombing would make everything all right are misleading themselves and misleading the public.

These are just a few examples of the barbarism that the Taliban have inflicted on the people of Afghanistan. As the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) pointed out, we must be clear that the removal of the Taliban Government, which is necessary to secure our objective of bringing bin Laden to justice and closing down al-Qaeda's headquarters in Afghanistan, is also absolutely necessary if the people of Afghanistan are to have any hope for the future. Those objectives are not clashing; they are completely complementary.

Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak): Is my right hon. Friend not being disingenuous in accusing those of us who want there to be a pause in the bombing of being against all military action and of being naive enough to think that the terrible humanitarian situation will be relieved overnight? My position is that bombing is interfering with the delivery of relief. We cannot get any information from my right hon. Friend about its impact, but it must surely be having an impact. The priority now, and part of the campaign against terrorism, must be to get humanitarian relief delivered to the people of Afghanistan.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. The hon. Lady must confine herself to an intervention.

Clare Short: I have many faults, but being disingenuous is not one of them. Those who suggest that

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the only problem with humanitarian relief is the bombing are misleading themselves and misleading the country. They are not paying enough attention to the seriousness of the situation that we and that the people of Afghanistan face. I do not respect those who do not attend to the detail. I respect everyone's right to dissent—this is an enormously complex and difficult situation—but when people get up and pontificate, they really should do more work about the realities inside the country.

Mr. Alan Simpson: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Clare Short: No, I will not.

The reality is that the needs of Afghanistan have been largely ignored, as a couple of Opposition Members have said, since the Soviet withdrawal in 1989. Since then, UN appeals have not been fulfilled. Warlords have devastated the country, and the brutal regime of the Taliban has made things ever worse. Afghanistan is suffering terribly. It has become like an economic black hole. It is causing intense suffering to its own people while sending out waves of insecurity and chaos to the surrounding region. The reliance of the ruined Afghan economy on the growing and sale of drugs has been undermining and corrupting neighbouring countries. It is an extremely dangerous situation for the people who live in the region and for the world as a whole.

Part of the nightmare—if we do not remain determined to succeed, it is one that we could face—that would result if we were to fail in our present efforts could be the destabilisation of Pakistan. Indeed, it could be the Talibanisation of Pakistan. We would then have a Taliban regime with a nuclear weapon facing another nuclear power with an unresolved problem over Kashmir. These matters are enormously serious.

I say to my colleagues and people outside the House—I am receiving thousands of letters, and thank heavens we live in a country where people are so troubled by the war and the bombing—that they are right to be troubled. War is always ugly. Bombing should always be regretted, but it is essential to the interests of the people of Afghanistan and of the world that we carry through our current efforts to success.

The reason why bin Laden and the Al-Qaeda network are headquartered in Afghanistan is the same reason why people are suffering so terribly. Afghanistan is a failed state. There is gross misgovernment by a brutal regime that twists and distorts all the teachings of Islam. We must bring the war to an end as soon as possible, and to achieve that we must do all that we can to support Ambassador Brahimi, who is leading the UN effort to bring together a transitional Afghan Government representative of all the people. That is the way in which the war will be brought to an end. That is the way in which the international community will be able to co-operate in bringing massive further humanitarian relief into the country and then helping in the rebuilding of Afghanistan.

Harry Cohen: I am in agreement with what my right hon. Friend says. However, has she heard the report on CNN today that cluster bombs are being dropped that are the same colour as the packaging of food parcels? Will she intervene so that that bombing is stopped at least until this matter is sorted out?

Clare Short: I am coming on to cluster bombs. I must confess that I try to avoid watching CNN. I will deal fully

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with the point raised by my hon. Friend and others when I made a statement on the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan.

Ambassador Brahimi's work is continuing intensively throughout the world, as is the preparation of plans for the rehabilitation of Afghanistan. The plans have not yet been published, but I agree that it is important that all who are troubled by the war know that we are deadly serious about sticking with this and helping the Afghan people to have a proper country and a decent future. Today I can announce that I am making available £1 million to Ambassador Brahimi to help facilitate his efforts.

We must ensure that food and other humanitarian relief is provided to the people of Afghanistan for as long as it is needed, and that refugees are properly cared for. I say to the hon. Member for Meriden that the numbers of refugees have been much fewer than we expected. The UN appeal expected 1.5 million. About 80,000 refugees have made their way across the borders. The borders are closed, and that is a problem. We are trying to get them open. We are giving commitments to the Governments of Iran and Pakistan that we shall ensure that all the costs are recovered to them. The problem is that they were both left with 2 million refugees after the withdrawal of the Russians from Afghanistan, so they do not entirely believe that. They are also worried about arms and Taliban supporters coming in with refugees and destabilising their countries.

We have to keep up the pressure and care for the refugees. At the same time, we must have some sympathy and concern for the worries of surrounding countries that fighters will cross the borders, as they have before, and bring about destabilisation.

Geraint Davies: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Clare Short: No, I shall not do so for the minute. I am sorry; I shall give way later if I have time.

I can inform the House that food is getting into Afghanistan in larger quantities now than at any time since 11 September. As I said last time I spoke to the House, so many figures are flying about because of all that has happened in the past month. After 11 September, the withdrawal of international staff because of the threat to their lives meant that food stopped going into the country. Then it started again, but the bombing stopped it. So there have been varying amounts of food and the average for the month appears much worse than the actual performance on getting food into Afghanistan. I am providing figures that will go into the Library today on daily delivery into the country, which gives the clearest possible picture of the trend. Hon. Members will see that the trend is an upward one, but we must not be complacent and must do better.

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