Essentially we are doing the right thing in Afghanistan.
American and allied involvement commenced very soon after the 9/11 attack in the quest for Osama Bin Laden at Tora Bora. It seems to have been a legitimate action in defence of American national security in that the attack seems to have been masterminded from that area.
(Personally it is sobering to think that, in 1993-7 at the time that I was plodding round the hot dusty streets of Khartoum lobbying government ministers for an end to the war there, Osama Bin Laden was in town and I probably met several people who knew him and knew he was there!! and maybe what he was up to! eg possibly Hasan al Turabi. Pity I didn’t know at the time! Anyway….)
The campaign in Afghanistan has been difficult and there has been unfortunate suffering amongst civilians. British Forces, at least, are very careful to conduct themselves properly even at greatly increased risk to themselves, and to do good for the ordinary members of the population as far as possible.
The style of relationship between the military and the population under the Russians was brutal and based on fear as far as I can tell. Our troops have been careful to conduct themselves well even when it has cost them their lives.
It would be great to see a more vigorous democracy emerge and some courageous people are emerging including some courageous Afghan women democrats.
A widely publicised depature date for NATO troops may be a mistake. If I were the Taliban I would hunker down and wait. The troubled nature of this land has lasted for generations and it is unlikely that real peace will come quickly, so I think we may have to bide our time and not be in a hurry to depart despite the cost in British military lives and in money.
We are asking a lot of local civilians if we urge them to side with honourable values, if they know that dishonourable people are going to come round at night and threaten them with terrible consequences for such a choice. So they are going to need to see that we are not going to run for home before a national government can establish its own proper authority.
Pakistan: The future of Afghanistan is inseparably bound up with that of Pakistan. The border is porous. Both lands need our help (and sometimes our persuasion) to embrace proper humane just values. The population of Pakistan needs the kind of education which will help them run the infrastructure necessary for the basic elements of a decent life for all its people. They are far from achieving that at present even though the trimmings of British Raj values persists.
We need calmly and practically to make the case for a caring and just society which caters for the people’s basic necessities.
The Blasphemy Law needs serious revision or abolition. At present it is being abused by people with grudges to threaten the lives of Christian neighbours. For instance a Pakistani woman Asia Bibi, is under sentence of death because of an accusation which any English court would consider to be completely without any merit.
Pakistan needs schools, hospitals, electricity, land rights, water supplies, fair courts and flood control. The stuff of civilisation. I think many British people with roots in Pakistan would warm to a more vigorous UK government attempt to get such things sorted out in Pakistan. I think it would win us to our overall passion to work for a world where everyone has enough to eat and the basic necessities of life.
Then with the Pakistan-origin Britons strongly supporting this overall objective we would be much stronger to working for it and it would cut the ground from under the people of violence who threaten us.
Once Pakistani Britons are on board messages will get back on the informal grapevine to relatives among the people of violence in the inaccessible valleys of the North-West Frontier saying things like, “Cool it!” “This awful violence isn’t the right way.” “The way we try to do things in Britain isn’t that bad. Here we have hospitals and schools and people can get good jobs and can settle things fairly in court instead of getting into interminable blood feuds.” “It’s not bad – you should try it!”
Such messages would be of immense value and I think they would win the day. And that’s why it is so important to have a genuinely good, kind, fair society here in the UK because news of its benefits will travel rapidly around the world and do good in places that we ourselves cannot reach easily by other means.
With the people of Pakistan thoroughly on board things become possible that are a struggle at present. Our supply route would be secure. The tribal areas on the Pakistani side of the frontier would start to settle down and the Pakistani Army would be able and willing to establish security there.
My grandfather Major Rivers Thomas Rodgers was a doctor in the Northwest Frontier Force and was given a medal for his part in the remarkable Relief of Chitral 1895: here is his travelling chest to be carried in two halves either side of a mule! History goes slowly there. Let’s not be in a hurry to pull out of this costly campaign.
BUT our forces do need good equipment, cleverly designed and our moral support. I think they need lots more extremely long endurance surveillance-only drones to keep the main routes and problematic villages under constant surveillance to detect the laying of any IEDs.