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The Prime Minister: I shall work back through those points. In relation to any wider effort, as I have always said, there are two phases: the military action focused on Afghanistan and the need to pursue international terrorism
As I said a few days ago, it is important that we get the military action completed in Afghanistan. I stress to the House that it is not yet complete. We still have many difficult things to do. We will make sure that we get help to the refugee camps in Pakistan and elsewhere. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development has pointed out to me, the biggest need is inside Afghanistan, where it is far more difficult to get food and aid to people. That is the real problem. Of course, we want a new UN Security Council resolution which will give the necessary authority to the UN and to people acting under the UN to improve the situation.
In relation to UK troops, it is too early to discuss under whose command they will be or the rules of engagement. That will have to be decided when deployment takes place. Finally, in respect of the Northern Alliance, everyone knows that there are pictures in newspapers today, and so on. It is worth pointing out that in any situation, especially when people have suffered years of repression under the Taliban regime, there will be acts of revenge. I regret them. We do not condone them; we condemn them and ask that they do not happen. However, it is fair to say that many of the more exaggerated fears about what the Northern Alliance would do in Mazar-i-Sharif and in Kabul have not been fulfilled.
We, the Americans and other coalition partners have maintained close links at every level. I stress to the House yet again that the situation is difficult. There could be no more difficult place to undertake military action, to try to put together a new broad-based Government, and to mount a proper humanitarian effort when there are millions of refugees on the move. Those are all very difficult issues. On the military side, we have succeeded to a significant extent, but not yet fully. The political and humanitarian aspects remain immensely difficult, but we will do everything that we can to make sure that they, too, are brought to a successful conclusion.
David Winnick (Walsall, North): Has not the lie been exposedI hope for everthat the coalition has been conducting an anti-Muslim crusade, bearing in mind how many people in the liberated areas are only too glad to see the end of the Taliban? Would it not be appropriate for the critics, be they in this House or outside, to accept that they were wrong, as they were about Kosovo? It would do no harm if they now recognised the error of their ways.
The Prime Minister: That is a very tempting offer, but in the interests of general harmony I shall refrain from accepting it. However, my hon. Friend makes a valuable point that is worth emphasising. I hope that, not merely in what is happening now but in the humanitarian and political actions that we take in Afghanistan, the whole of the Muslim world can see that we acted against terroristspeople who were abusing the true spirit and teachings of Islam. Of course, as he rightly pointed out, some years ago in Kosovo we were defending Muslims against oppression by a power that happened to be Orthodox Christian. However, the reason we acted then was not that they were Muslim, but that they were people who were suffering an injustice. There are many elements
Mr. James Arbuthnot (North-East Hampshire): I join my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition in congratulating the Prime Minister and the Government on the way in which they have handled this matter. Today, a worrying survey has been published about UK Muslims, almost a third of whom have felt themselves to be subject to hostility and abuse. Clearly, it is utterly unacceptable to attack people for being Muslims. However, does he accept that it would be the wrong answer to introduce a new law on incitement to religious hatred and that we should instead concentrate on better enforcement of the laws that we already have?
The Prime Minister: On that last point, the difficulty, as I understand it, has always been that there is a gap in the law, because incitement to racial hatred is an offence but incitement to religious hatred is not. As the two can be very closely linked, it is felt to be right that that is a gap in the law that should be filled. I personally think that some of the objections that are made are very exaggerated in their claims about how great an interference such a law would be. Each case will be considered on its merits, but surely it should and must be unlawful for a Christian to incite the killing of Muslims or vice versa. I would have thought that that would be important. It is important that we fill the gap in the law.
I say to the right hon. Gentleman that there are some legitimate questions about how that poll was conducted. I believe, having talked to many Muslims in different parts of the country in the past few weeks, that many of them understand exactly why we have been acting. The one thing that was a clue from the people who were polled as to why they might hold their view was that more than 60 per cent. of them, I think, said that they were dubious about the guilt of Osama bin Laden. I hope very much that anybody who is doubtful about that will look at the evidence. They can get it perfectly easily; we make it available through our website. People can get that evidence and study it for themselves. Once they are convinced that Osama bin Laden was indeed responsible, most people, unless they are entirely pacifist, which is a perfectly principled position, would accept that we had no option but to act as we did. We acted against bin Laden and in Afghanistan not because the people there were Muslimsfar from itbut because the people who committed this atrocity were terrorists. We pursue them as terrorists in exactly the same way in which we pursue terrorists in any part of the world, whatever their religion.
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): Is the leadership of Pakistan comfortable with the continuation of bombing during Ramadan? The Leader of the Opposition used the word "disaster". Would not the real disaster be nuclear devices in Pakistan falling into the wrong hands?
One can take a principled position against the conflict and any form of action in Afghanistan, but one must accept the consequences: a terrorist network that is based, trains and is funded in Afghanistan, and has slaughtered 6,000 people in cold blood in the middle of the day in America, will be allowed to get away with it. There is no diplomatic solution to the al-Qaeda network; negotiations cannot be held with it.
Let us consider bin Laden's demands: obliterate Israel, kill all Jews, kill all Americans who support Israel, indeed all Americans. The United Kingdom and many other countries are probably also included in the list. Such people hold an extreme position. They also want the overthrow of any Arab regime that does not follow their fundamentalism. We cannot negotiate with them; we can either say that they can do what they want and get away with it or do what we can to prevent that.
We waited several weeks before we began the campaign to make the Taliban, which are an oppressive and hateful regime, choose. They made a choice, and it is increasingly obvious that it was impossible for them to separate themselves from al-Qaeda because they were effectively one and the same. Many people in Afghanistan objected not only to oppression by the Taliban and the terrible things that they did, but to their provision of a haven for people from outside the country from which they could export terrorism, much of it funded through the drugs trade.
Pakistan needs a stable and secure neighbour. It rightly wants a broad-based regime and its own strategic interest to be considered. It will be. President Musharraf has shown enormous courage. He has made the right decision for his people; that can already be demonstrated. I assure him that the commitments that we have made to the Government of Pakistan about the broad base of the regime and taking Pakistan's interests into account will be met in full.