WHY HAS the plea from Christian Aid and Oxfam for a pause in the bombardment of Afghanistan not been taken more seriously? For many of us, the arguments of agencies that have worked for years in the area, helping desperate people to survive, carry quite as much weight as the words of the politicians who now go flying in and out of Pakistan.
Clare Short, the Secretary of State for International Development, brushed off the demands of the aid agencies by saying that it was not the air strikes alone that were interrupting deliveries of food - and that, anyway, food was still getting over the border. Both statements seemed curiously obtuse. Obviously it's not the air strikes alone that are, say, causing the Taliban to loot what stores of food still exist in Afghanistan. But if the aid agencies tell us that if it were not for the air strikes they would find it easier to distribute food where it is needed, well, who knows better than they do?
And yes, Ms Short, we understand that food is getting across the border - but if, as the aid agencies say, they have lost control over where it ends up, it may be as useful to starving refugees as the packets of peanut butter that the aeroplanes are dropping into minefields.
But we are told by politicians and commentators that we must stop our ears and hearts to the UN statement that two million people in Afghanistan do not have the food to last the winter. We are told that we must steel ourselves against the children who are starving in refugee camps, the women walking through the mountains in desperation to find something other than poisonous roots to feed their families. After all, with this war we'll be saving future children, generations as yet unborn who will thank the bombers, so we must show the moral courage to let those kids die now.
But sacrificing the scrawny innocents in the refugee camps when future developments are so uncertain and other avenues have not been fully explored does not seem like a great example of moral courage. At least, it doesn't to me, or, presumably, to the 16 per cent of this country who, according to one recent poll, oppose the bombing, or the 37 per cent who said that more should have been done to find a diplomatic solution.
Above all, we should ask why the very idea of waging a campaign against terror by means other than bombs is now seen as a wimps' game. Those who shrink from the idea of million-dollar missiles crashing into rubble-strewn villages are constantly told that we are appeasers, that we would let the terrorists "get away with it". …