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Dr. Tonge: I do not think that "recant" is the appropriate word. It is rather depressing that so many hon. Members should take that attitude, when other hon. Members were desperately worried about the humanitarian problem in Afghanistan. Millions of people there faced starvation even before the military action began.
We questioned the nature of the military action that had been undertaken, and whether it would make the humanitarian situation worse. In the event, the hon. Gentleman should be honest and decent enough to admit that the bombing came to a conclusion very much more quickly than he thought. [Hon. Members: "And you thought."] Indeed, quicker than I thoughtI am perfectly prepared to admit that.
Mr. Viggers: I hope that the hon. Lady will accept that we all care about the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan. We were all concerned about the horrors that were imposed on the population by the leadership of the
The Liberal Democrats are famous for saying one thing in one part of the country and another thing in another. It is unacceptable for the hon. Lady, who is the Liberal Democrats' spokesman on international development, to say one thing when their spokesman on foreign affairs, the right hon. and learned Member for NorthEast Fife (Mr. Campbell), said something clean to the contrary. We have had enough of the Liberal Democrats behaving in that manner. She was wrong, and she should have the decency to admit that not only has she been proved to be wrong but that she was wrong at the time as well. It is also wrong of the Liberal Democrats to seek to give two versions of the same story.
Jeremy Corbyn: Will the hon. Gentleman pause for a moment in his triumphalism and consider the consequences of the bombing of Afghanistan? Depleted uranium bombs, cluster bombs and daisy-cutters have been used and there have been civilian and military casualties. In addition, atrocities have been committed by all sides during the taking of prisoners and particular towns. Does the hon. Gentleman honestly think that Afghanistan is now in that much a better position than it was a couple of months ago?
Mr. Viggers: The hon. Gentleman has an honourable and consistent record in taking the line that he has just expressed so articulately. Yes, I believe that Afghanistan now has a better future than it would have had if we had not taken military action. I believe that it is in a better position than it was before military action was taken. That is exactly the point that I sought to make earlier. Occasionally it is necessary not only to analyse a situation and to have trained and motivated troops, but to have the courage of one's convictions and to carry them through to a military conclusion. That is difficult, but it was necessary and right in this case.
Although military action was necessary, we should also do much more. The phrase "winning hearts and minds" is often used, but winning them in the present situation is not enough. That gives the impression that we know all the answers and that the other side does not. We must think much more in terms of building bridges.
I recently read the well known book "The Clash of Civilisations and the Remaking of World Order" and I was struck by the fact that, in 1900, about 40 per cent. of the world's population was governed by western civilisations. That figure is now down to 11 per cent. The proportion of the world's population governed by Islamic countries was about 6 per cent. but it has gone up to 18 per cent.
Many people who were previously governed by western nations now look to Islamic Governments and to a different kind of government that is, in its own way, very devout and eschews some of the things, such as alcohol and gambling, that we do not. They believe that we allow our women to wander around semi-naked and they have strong convictions. They do not like the blue jeans and Disney culture of the United States and its allies, including ourselves. We must recognise that there are many genuine people with whom we must build bridges and reach a better understanding. There is a great deal to be done.
There is also a great deal to be done in restructuring the architecture of our military and diplomatic effort. We must look to the United Nations and work out whether NATO should extend its area of operations and be prepared to act out of area. We should examine the G7 and the G8 and attempt to reach a consensus among the Governments there. We must use a range of international structures to try to build bridges to those countries who harbour many people who might be tempted to oppose us. I congratulate all those involved in the military effort, but a great diplomatic effort is necessary too.
Previous generations bequeathed to us the nuclear weapon. So far we have survived without its use except on the two occasions when it was used to end the second world war. Let us hope that we are wise enough to counter the dangers of terrorism and are able to allow future generations to survive in the way that we have.
Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews (Medway): This is the sixth time that we have debated this matter in the House. I have sat through all those debates, or through the majority of themit has been Operation Infinite Concentration. They have been fine debates, characterised for the most part by reason, tolerance and an acceptance of each others' views and differences. There has been an almost complete absence of bragging when people are right and a reasonable amount of recantation when people believe that they are wrong. I very much believe that, and in so far as I have been wrong in the views that I have expressed about this war, I shall say soindeed, I shall do that in a moment. In doing so, I want to make it clear to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that no one has had me behind the bike shed[Interruption.]or anywhere else for that matter.
At the beginning of the campaign, many of us believed that it would be a much longer and bloodier affair than it has been. We were wrong. I was one of those who believed thatI was wrong. Not only do I acknowledge the fact that I was wrong, but I am overjoyed to have been wrong in that particular respect. I gain some comfort in my recantation from the knowledge that the Foreign Secretary shared my view and my concern as, indeed, did many Membersincluding Opposition Members. We were wrongthank God.
The present position in Afghanistan is as set out by the Foreign Secretary. The Taliban, inasmuch as they were a fighting force, have been defeated and destroyed. The Arabs of al-Qaeda are reduced to holding a tiny proportion of the land and are under attack of such sustained ferocity that it isas we all knowunlikely that they will remain as a military force for much of the foreseeable future.
It must be acknowledged that at least two of the ancillary aims of the operation have been achievedor will be in the immediate future. The main aimthe apprehension and trial of Osama bin Ladenhas not been achieved. It is to be hoped that it will beas I have always said.
However, there remain a significant and growing number of people, inside and outside this place, who still provide the voices of oppositionI am one. I shall attempt to articulate that. I hopeand thinkthat I speak for many outside the House, perhaps far more relative to the number inside it. There are thoseI was certainly one
The Foreign Secretary is fond of reading debates and quoting them back at those hon. Members who have been involved in themas he did to some effect earlier. I dare say that if he was still in the Chamber, he might have a copy of my speech of 16 October. If so, he would have found that what I said represents an honourable and straightforward account of my views then. I still hold those views.
Jeremy Corbyn: Before my hon. and learned Friend continues his speech, will he confirm that if an international criminal court came into existence, it would not apply in this case because it could not act retrospectively? Does he agree, however, that one legal way forward would be through a special international judicial process, which could be established through the United Nations, to deal with the perpetrators of 11 September?
Mr. Marshall-Andrews: That is absolutely right, and it is, of course, the purport of an early-day motion that has been signed by very nearly 100 Members of all persuasions and all the varying views, so I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention.
It is the method of military intervention to which the objection relates. The methods of warfare that have been employed in Afghanistan have, most importantly and in its most sinister context, come to represent a pattern of foreign policy that involves the enlistment of any satrap and any agent, whatever the reputation, the form, the background or the antecedents of those satraps for violence, slaughter or brutality during the time of their own reign in their own country.
The Northern Alliance, which wrought havoc throughout Afghanistan from 1992 to 1996, is suddenly elevated to the position of being our friend. Those satraps are enlisted, armed and set to do our own business, supported by high-level bombing from 30,000 ft, using a range of ordnance terrible in its implementation and consequencesmuch of it covered with the graffiti of American bomb loaders, carrying messages to those who will ultimately be killed. In this case a not insignificant number of those killed were innocent, collateral civilians.
Those who believe that that is a legitimate method of warfare must ask themselves some questions about our own experience in these islands. We are old hands at dealing with terrorismwe know about it; we have sustained the fact and the fear of it for many years and many have died during that time. Many have died in Guildford, Birmingham, London and the Old Baileydare I say?and No. 10 Downing street was subjected to mortar attack. Many British soldiers, policemen and other service and security personnel died in their efforts to apprehend those who were responsible for that and to track down their terrorist groups.
What is the difference in truth between doing that and enlisting as satraps those who, in success, have done nothing but wreak havoc, who have killed hundreds of their prisoners and who have publicly castrated and executed the prisoners who have been takena fact that has been not only recorded and repeated, but photographed in sickening detail. In truth, what is the difference between what we are doing now and what we could have done in Northern Ireland?