Afghanistan is virtually a collapsed a state. It is incumbent upon the UK to provide healthcare, education and a framework for peace.
My real hope for the new year is that, post-September 11, the world becomes a more just place – firstly, because it is right, and secondly, because we will all be safer. Clearly, there is a need to dismantle the apparatus of terror, but in its place in Afghanistan we need to help build a society in which those who foster hatred are not welcome.
There are two ways we can go. The first is to divide the world bitterly in two, bomb anyone who gets in your way and then clear off, leaving the Middle East to rage on and allow other countries to be marginalised. The second is to really commit to resolving the conditions that have helped foster this hatred. That means committing to resolving the Middle East situation, promoting development, and giving people help in poor countries. I think we’re going to go one way or another. I hope it’s the latter.
We could do so much, but there are scary moments. When you hear voices in the US – not in the administration but in the media and politics – saying there should be no nation-building in the wake of the military campaign, it is self-evident how disastrous that would be. I’m hopeful we’ll do the right thing; the consequences of doing the wrong thing are too serious to contemplate.
I’m very hopeful that the people of Afghanistan can have a better future. It was virtually a collapsed state, which is why so much hatred has flourished there. A failed state is like a black hole. It sucks in those that surround it, and fosters criminality.
Similarly in Somalia and Sudan, countries that have harboured or may harbour Bin Laden and al-Qaida, we need to assist them in building more constructive, fair and peaceful states. These are just examples of countries that dramatically need help. We have to provide health care, education and peace, because that’s how you create states where the disadvantaged are not driven into the arms of extremists.
I think we need to be more committed to enforcing the same standards of democracy everywhere, rather than ignoring the failings of those countries where it suits us. Some of the Arab countries are not true democracies, and, while we can’t tell people what to do, we can be more consistent in stressing, for example, the rights of girls to go to school.
There is a growing concern among the public about the global situation that makes me optimistic. When I was first elected people used to say: “Why do we care so much about the rest of the world when there are poor people here at home?” Since I’ve been doing this job [four years] I’ve had just two letters like that. I think people, even if they don’t understand globalisation, appreciate there are issues beyond this country’s borders that affect them.
Personally, I’m very happy. It’s great to be involved in government. When I was a student I used to bang the tables in pubs and moan about the World Bank and their policies. Now I go along to the World Bank as the UK representative and bang the table for real. I love my job and I’m very proud of my department, and the people who work in it. And, since my darling son came back, I could not be happier.