Friday, 11 June 2010

"It'll be over by Christmas"?

David Cameron's statement to the troops in Afghanistan that they'll only be there until the Afghans are ready to take over responsibility for their own security sounds rational at first. It does, however, ignore a few pertinent facts.

Firstly, of course, Afghans actually were entirely responsible for the security of their own country until Bush and Blair decided that they were the wrong Afghans, and needed to be replaced.

And secondly, there seems little prospect that any particular group of the Afghans currently involved in running that country are likely to be greatly preferable, or to last long in power without the firepower of Western troops to back them up.

If no long-term solution has been negotiated and agreed, then whenever Western troops leave, the likeliest outcome is that there will be a central government, nominally in control of the whole country, but whose writ effectively runs over only a small part of the country. The rest will be in the hands of warlords and drugs barons.

The unwillingess of leaders in the US and UK in particular to accept that is prolonging the tragedy and leading to the continuing loss of UK troops on what seems to be virtually a daily basis.

If we have learned anything from recent history, it is surely that military might cannot impose a solution in situations like this, and that we must, eventually, sit down and negotiate with the various parties involved. Until Cameron and Obama recognise that, there is no end to the killing in sight, and upbeat messages are just sound bites.


Unknown said...


Unknown said...

One problem is that the visits of Western politicians to Afghanistan are generally intended to support and praise the troops. The coverage of the visit in the media then inevitably focuses on how brave the troops are, how their families miss them etc. This emotional pro-troops narrative shuts down debate or any political discussion of why we are in Afghanistan or the long history (since way before 9/11) of British links with certain Afghani Islamist factions. Specifically the quite insane and callous warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar who heads up Hizb-ul-Islami. A charming military leader who once ordered that acid be thrown in the faces of women who opposed his group's bizarre interpretation of Islam. Those are the real issues that need addressing- why are we backing such people to run Afghanistan?

Anonymous said...

An interesting post and at least some discussion from the left as to what should be done about Afghanistan rather than just the usual slogan shouting. I agree with your prediction of the likeliest outcome here except for the fact that you omit to mention the thousands of civilians that are likely to be killed in the resulting civil war if foreign troops pull out now when there is no agreed peace plan. Rightly or wrongly the foreign troops are in Afghanistan and their actions in staying or leaving will have a significant impact on the lives of Afghans. The recent peace conference outlined terms for negotiations with the Taliban and the peace talks strategy must be given time. Pulling troops out now without a peace plan in place is likely to save the lives of dozens of NATO soldiers who unfortunately will be killed over coming months, but will equally cost the lives of thousands of Afghans.

John Dixon said...


By and large, I try and avoid simply shouting slogans.

I understand your comment about the deaths which would probably follow if foreign troops simply walked away before a peace plan was in place, but as long as the commanders of those troops continue to pursue the conflict as though it is winnable in military terms, I see little prospect for the success of any talks.

The foreign troops are currently a participant in the conflict, effectively supporting one side (of the several). For talks to succeed, we need an agreed ceasefire and a peace-keeping force to replace the current foreign intervention.

I wouldn't argue that that is a simple matter to achieve - but I am completely convinced that peace does not grow out of the barrel of a gun.

Anonymous said...

Once again, I agree with your comments and the fact that this is one blog in Wales where thinking and discussion seems to rise above the slogan shouting (well, most of the time)! Pulling out the foreign troops now and walking away is not the best idea. Despite the continued rhetoric I think it’s unlikely that even the most optimistic Commanders think there is a solely military solution. The Peace Conference in Kabul a few weeks ago to which the Taliban were invited is testament that even Karzai knows this. However, the fact that the Taliban boycotted the talks and even tried to attack the conference also highlights the problems any peace talks face.
The terms of any ceasefire (if the Taliban will sit down for talks) will be interesting and a dilemma for any international socialists. It is likely to mean the Taliban taking effective control over large parts of the south which in turn will mean a return to their social policies in these areas. Whilst the Afghan Government is by no means progressive (in a European political sense), women are now actively involved in decision making in the country, girls can go to school and the personal lives of most Afghans is more free (music, dancing, kite flying, social events etc). Are these rights for the people in the south of Afghanistan ones that are worth sacrificing in any peace talks if it leads to a more stable country which allows foreign troops to start a gradual withdrawal? I agree with Welsh Ramblings that discussion is cut down on the reasons for being in Afghanistan but the practical and real impact of any peace talk settlement and foreign troop withdrawal are also rarely discussed.

John Dixon said...


"It is likely to mean the Taliban taking effective control over large parts of the south which in turn will mean a return to their social policies in these areas."

Indeed, it is. (Although I suspect that they currently have rather more de facto control than we glean from the media in any event). And it does indeed raise a dilemma for me and many others about human rights and equality.

That issue is not unique to Afghanistan, of course, although it's more direct and obvious since we have troops there currently. But I admit to facing a similar moral dilemma over, for instance, Zimbabwe.

The key question is to what extent do we leave people at the mercy of their rulers, and when and how do we decide that we have a moral duty to intervene?

Within that simple question there are a whole host of others. How many deaths do we allow before intervening? What price are we prepared to pay in the lives of our own people for a particular outcome? To what extent do we say that a different philosophy - whether based on religious tenets or anything else - is or is not allowed to place restrictions on what we regard as basic univeral human rights?

These are big questions, to which I do not have a simplistic or entirely objective answer. But part of it has to be the simple judgement about whether the desired result is actually achievable.

Which brings me back to the more specific subject of the post - I simply don't believe that the Taliban can be defeated by military means, and continuing to act as though they are is merely prolonging the tragedy.