DFID – AID CRISIS IN AFGHANISTAN – 28 February 2002

Dr Julian Lewis: On subsequent deployments, does my hon. Friend [Nick Hawkins] agree that, given that the United Kingdom is one of the few NATO states other than America that has been ready to come forward rapidly when fighting has to be done, we should look to other European NATO states, which might for very good reason – 

[Mr David Chidgey (in the Chair): Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that we are debating the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, not the deployment of troops around the world.] 

Dr Lewis: May I complete my point, Mr Chidgey, to show its relevance?

[Mr David Chidgey: I advise the hon. Gentleman to choose his words carefully.] 

Dr Lewis: Choosing my words extremely carefully, we should look to other countries to supply troops in supporting humanitarian relief operations over a longer period. I hope that that point is relevant.

[Nick Hawkins: I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East for his skill in choosing his words carefully. I agree with him. It is in the interests of the western world for the developed world to work together, through organisations such as NATO, in difficult international circumstances. That is how we can operate effectively.] 

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Dr Lewis: Before the hon. Gentleman [Tony Worthington] gets too hot under the collar about Iran, does he not accept that that country has an appalling record of support for organisations, such as Islamic Jihad? Only recently it rejected the proposed British ambassador because it falsely alleges that he is Jewish. He is not, but the fact that Iran chooses to reject him on those grounds shows that there is still something seriously amiss in that country.

[Tony Worthington: I have never spoken a word in my life that suggests that Iran is a wonderful and idyllic place whose human rights record needs praising. I merely suggest that, when we have made substantial progress in a very difficult situation, it is folly for us basically to kick in the teeth the progressives in Iran who are seeking to move the country forward. I was not getting hot under the collar, but pointing out what was a foolish move. Almost everyone who observed it was appalled that Iraq and Iran were linked in the way that they were.]

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[Ms Oona King: Many people said that the world changed after 11 September. During our first debate on that subject I said that the world had certainly changed and for the first time in my life I used the word "respect" in connection with President Bush. Unfortunately, I now find that I was premature in lavishing a certain amount of respect on him. As the most powerful leader in the world – and the leader of the Free World – I am devastated about such irresponsible remarks [as ‘Axis of Evil']. If we are to resolve the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, it is important that we direct our efforts to that country and not towards any other axis that may be on someone else's mind.]

Dr Lewis: I am old enough to remember – as, I suspect, is the hon. Lady – when President Reagan used the phrase "Empire of Evil". Much disrespect was shown to him at that time, but, subsequently, he was proved to be right. The same may yet be true of President Bush.  

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Dr Lewis: I sympathise with the hon. Lady's [Dr Jenny Tonge's] point about the fact that aid was not given before 11 September, but does she acknowledge that it is hard to see what the West could have done to aid people until the Taliban were removed from power? It took the impetus of the terrible events of 11 September to justify and precipitate the military action that enabled aid to be given.  

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Dr Lewis: This intervention will be similar to my initial one. Will the Minister [Hilary Benn] comment on what further contributions other European countries propose to make to a continuing military presence for humanitarian purposes?  

[Hilary Benn: If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me, I will return to military involvement later in my speech, and I will try to pick up that point.]

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Dr Lewis: On the principle that perseverance wins, may I ask again whether the Minister is satisfied with projected plans for military protection of humanitarian aid? Is he satisfied that our European colleagues are making a sufficient contribution, and if he is not sure now, will he write to me? In any event, does he accept the main point that as countries that have done much of the fighting, the United States and United Kingdom should be able to look to our European colleagues to supply long-term military protection for humanitarian aid, especially as a European Commissioner is so willing to speak on such questions, as the hon. Member for Richmond Park noted?

[Hilary Benn: The hon. Gentleman neatly brings me to the broader question of what contribution each of us needs to make to see the process through. Several hon. Members are half-American, including my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow and I. I am proud of being half-American. My hon. Friend referred to America's role. This has been a difficult period for America. It is hard for any country, society or person to wake up suddenly and discover that not everyone sees one in the way in which one sees oneself.  

We, the Americans, our European colleagues, and other countries must ask ourselves what we need to do to achieve the objectives to which the hon. Gentleman referred. What money or military support will we give, or will the contribution be in kind? We have to will the means if we meant what we said as an international community, which was that once the military action was over, we would not walk away from Afghanistan. There has been some discussion about the axis of this or that. We should be interested in an axis of reconstruction for the future of Afghanistan, and in an axis of countries that are committed to increasing their overseas development assistance. Above all, we need an axis of determination. Poverty, injustice and inequality scar the world, and we must ensure that they are less in the years to come. That is the real lesson of the events of the last six months. We have made a small but important step along the way, but much work remains to be done.]