John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, said yesterday that Britain was determined to "win the peace" in Afghanistan through a massive aid effort and the creation of a democratic, post-Taliban government.
Mr Prescott, who is in Moscow for talks on terrorism and the environment, called for the international coalition to be turned into a wider campaign against global poverty once the conflict was over.
His remarks came as Mary Robinson, the UN human rights commissioner, said America and Britain would be responsible for millions of deaths of Afghans unless there was a pause in the bombing to allow a huge influx of food aid.
The Deputy Prime Minister said it was important for the allies, including Russia, to work for a settled international situation after the immediate conflict.
He said: "We equally want to win the peace as well as the war, and this is what is important about some of the discussions I'm having here in Russia," he told Breakfast with Frost on BBC1. "If we could use this kind of commitment, this passion, for a global alliance to deal with terrorism, let us turn that energy and effort to deal with poverty. Here is a chance to use a global alliance for a real and effective operation."
Mrs Robinson rebutted claims from Clare Short, the International Development Secretary, that she lacked detailed knowledge of Afghanistan. Mrs Robinson, a former Irish president said helping Afghanis-tan's civilian population through the winter had to be a top priority. "There is an urgent need to provide huge humanitarian relief.
"The World Food Programme calculates it is necessary to get something like 56,000 tons of food into Afghanistan. There are a few convoys getting in ... but these are very little in the context of winter closing in on about the 15th or 16th of November. It is a very, very urgent situation." She added: "It is very hard to get convoys of food in when there is a military campaign. Some of the roads are necessarily being damaged."
Mrs Robinson continued: "It had been thought a lot of refugees would come across the borders to Pakistan and Iran but the borders are closed. So you have millions of people, they say up to seven million at risk. It is almost like a Rwanda-style problem.
"Are we going to preside over the deaths from starvation of hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of people, this winter because we didn't use the window of opportunity?"
Ms Short, answering criticism, had earlier defended the international community's efforts to deliver food.Reuse content