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Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): When the Secretary of State replied to my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve), I thought that he missed the point. The issue is what Pakistani forces will do within the borders of Pakistan to ensure that a safe haven for al-Qaeda is not created there. It is impossible to make the border impenetrable.
Mr. Campbell: The hon. Gentleman is right. What might in other circumstances might be described as host-nation support by elements of the Pakistani armed forces could make al-Qaeda's opportunities for reinforcement all the greater. I acknowledge that point and if it happensit is not unreasonable to assume that it mightit will have consequences for the nature and length of the commitment into which we may enter.
Mr. Campbell: I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, but I wish to make progress. I know that many other Members wish to speak. Although I am not subject to the 10-minute rule, I do not want to abuse my position.
There is no greater political or moral responsibility for any Government than to commit forces to combat in which their lives are at risk. By endorsing the decisionas most of us in the Chamber dowe take unto ourselves a share of that responsibility. However, on this deployment as on so many decisions that the Government have taken since 11 September, it is necessary for the House and the country to take the Government on trust. I listened carefully to the Secretary of State and he said nothing this afternoon which in any way could prejudice the security or the operational effectiveness of the troops
A failure in this area could lead to seismic political consequences. Circumstances now are nothing like those in the first and second world wars, but students of history will remember that Asquith was replaced, as Chamberlain was 35 years later, because the House of Commons lacked confidence in the conduct of the war.
I believe that the Government are entitled to our support, and so too are our forces. We have a duty both to Government and to the forces. However, the Government have a duty as well. They have a duty to the House of Commons and to the country to make sure that they get it right.
Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South): Events in Afghanistan may initially have appeared to vindicate proponents of air power. It seemed that one could win a war from 20,000 or 30,000 ft, but the events of the past few weeks have suggested that there is still a role for ground forces, and that wars cannot be won through the use of one branch of the armed forces alone.
Those who thought that the conflict was winding down to a quiet termination were truly naive or stupid beyond words. Even in December, before the conflict had reached its current state, the Defence Committee said:
I recently read a wonderful book, entitled "War Without End", which is dedicated to the subject of terrorism. We live in an era in which the war against terrorism will be an almost perennial feature of our existence. Regrettably, we will have to operate in many theatres, although hopefully not all.
I agree with much of what the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) said, but I am not sure that it is wise to talk publicly about an exit strategy only a few months after establishing an entry strategy. To do so would give potential adversaries an advantage in calculating how to deal with the threat.
The Opposition's support is very welcome, and any differences that emerged were largely marginal. However, those of us who support deployment in the war against terrorism will continue to be accused of warmongering and imperialismI was accused on the radio of being slightly racistand of being stupid for not realising what others have realised. Of course, Islamicists will not be too pleased either.
I do not denigrate those who argue differently from the majority of Members, but in my view what the Government have done and are doing is absolutely correct in every sensemorally, politically and in terms of international law. Some will find the deployment of the Royal Marines rather surprising. Perhaps it was a surprise, but they have been operating in the Indian ocean for the past six months. They are not there simply to get a bit of a sea breeze. It seemed pretty obvious to me and many others that the Americans would request their presence at some stageand not just for the peacekeeping operation in Kabul. To put it modestly, they are the among the best armed forces in the world; to put it correctly, they are the best armed forces in the world.
The call did indeed come. Last October, 40 Commando were on stand-by on board HMS Fearless, in the Arabian sea. They were then sent to Bagram. More recently, 45 Commando were on stand-by on board HMS Ocean. So the deployment of the Royal Marines was not a complete surprise. Nor was it a complete surprise that the conflict in Afghanistan did not have the perfect ending that we associate with major American films, in which everything happens as one would wish. I suspect, however, that those who said that the conflict was coming to an end were addressing their domestic audience, and will live to be rather embarrassed by their statements.
The idea that there was any alternative to what the Government are doing is rather fanciful. If the Government had accepted the argument of some Labour Members that we should not have participated in the operation, what message would that have sent to other special forces, our own public, the Americans, the Germans and other countriesincluding the Canadians, for whom such an operation is spectacularthat are participating alongside the United States? It would have sent the message that the United Kingdom was not prepared to join them because it was fearful of the consequencesthat its troops would be exposed to risks and that the war might last a long time. If the Government were unwise enough to follow that line of argument, we could do without a Ministry of Defence, because the future deployment of troops in the national and international interest would be unlikely.
Of course there are risks, as the Secretary of State made clear. One cannot fight a very capable but non-professional al-Qaeda force in a home territory consisting of caves, and at an elevation of 10,000 ft, without the aid of tanks such as Challenger 1 and 2. Lives may well be lost, perhaps even those of our adversaries. On embarking on such a task, one has to be realistic and not assume that the light casualties of the past 30 or 40 years constitute a virtual right or a scientific law.
The point made by the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge), which some Members mocked, is a serious one. Dual and contrasting roles will pose problems. The roles of peacekeeper and of fighter may not be totally incompatible, but it could prove exceedingly difficult to persuade people that a demarcation has been drawn between two unique operations.
Yes, there may be mission creep, but I doubt whether the conflict will turn into another Vietnam, as Afghanistan's Interim Administration will have greater legitimacy. It is vitally important that, in conjunction with the Interim Administration's national guard, we put considerable effort into training indigenous forces, as we have done in Sierra Leone. Such forces are best able to fight al-Qaedaif necessaryfor an indefinite period, and they have the greatest legitimacy. It is wrong, however, to assume that our operation will come to a swift end.
The Government did not decline the United States' request. Threats and risks do exist, but those of my hon. Friends who think that we should not have undertaken this task are in essence saying, "Countries such as Russia, Uzbekistan and Pakistan can take a risk, but Britain must be risk-free. The boys can come home unscathed, with no adverse consequences to their, or this House's, reputation."
I should tell those of my colleagues who are devotees of the Labour party and its history that it has been an internationalist party throughout its existence. The idea that socialism ends at the borders of Europe is mistaken. We have commitments to help Governments in other parts of the world, however far from our shores. During Operation Saif Sareea, the Defence Committee met several Royal Marines. We saw them climbing mountains. They frightened us, and I am sure that they will have an adverse effect