19 JANUARY 2002, Page 26

An unjust war

From Mr Stephen Plowden Sir: Peter HaM (`No Hain, no gain', 12 January) reproaches the 'pacifist opt-out Left' for 'not eating humble pie for how wrong they have been proved' over Afghanistan. As a non-pacifist opposed to this particular war, I am glad that it turned out to be much shorter than the government warned us to expect, but it was still an unjust war. The cause was just, but the means were neither necessary nor proportionate.

The coalition's primary objective was to bring to justice the people who planned the atrocities of 11 September, and it is highly probable, though not conclusively proved, that bin Laden and al-Qa'eda were implicated. But this objective, though important, was not urgent, and should not have been pursued by means that were certain to lead to many innocent deaths and great suffering. If the police were trying to catch a serial murderer, we would not permit them to adopt such means. and the same principle applies here. This objective should have been pursued by diplomatic means and by limited covert operations, even if that meant taking a long time. The irony is that if George Bush and Tony Blair had taken this path, instead of brusquely rejecting the Taleban's offer in mid-October to discuss extraditing bin Laden to a third country, he might well have been taken by now.

An objective that was both important and urgent was to prevent further atrocities. But that objective did not require the invasion of Afghanistan. Action in Afghanistan is irrelevant in the short term. It is possible that there are more atrocities in the pipeline, but wherever they may have been planned, they cannot be launched from Afghanistan. They can be prevented, if at all, only by police and security operations of the kind now being undertaken with considerable success in the countries from which or on which the terrorists may launch their attacks. In the longer term, it is true that al-Qa'eda has suffered a serious setback by the loss of its headquarters and the destruction of its training camps. But if, as we are told, it is now established in 60 countries, that setback is unlikely to be fatal. And even if al-Qa'eda does go under, there will be more fanatics to take its place, who will have learnt from the coalition's example to match violence with violence.

Stephen Plowden

London NW1