The Afghan election

Today we pray that there will no more murders in Afghanistan, as many try to go to the polls. Our soldiers have been courageous and hard working, in an effort to offer security ahead of the election. The coalition needs the election to be as free and as fair as possible. Above all we need a result which carries conviction that it is the will of the Afghan people, producing a government with some authority.

Yesterday Sky invited me in to interview me about the war. They had read a few things on this blog which interested them. I explained I was not a specialist in the way I am on economic and financial matters, but was happy to ask some of the necessary questions about what the UK is seeking to do and what we might do next. They conducted a probing and intelligent interview without any of the usual BBC tricks of putting words into my mouth, making up views I or the Conservatives do not hold or trying to get quotes they could use out of context to prove a Labour smear. It was refreshing and much more grown up.

I argued that the UK government’s mission was now concerned with state building. Our troops are trying to win and hold territory so that the civilian power of the Kabul based national government can extend to parts of the country where other forces have been powerful. The immediate task is to create sufficiently safe streets and polling stations so people feel they can go to vote without harm. I suggested that once a new government was established following the election the UK and its allies needed to talk urgently about the timetable for transfer of more and more of these security functions to the Afghan army and police, appreciating the need for training and reform.

The interviewer pointed out that the government said we were in Afghanistan to make the streets of London safe. He reminded me that a recent report by MPs who had studied this complained of mission creep, and thought there were dangers in pledging wide ranging state building. I think we are already well into the state building mission, as the desire to facilitate elections demonstrates. I find the government’s argument about the safety of the streets of London difficult to accept. If that is the sole aim, why aren’t our troops told just to concentrate on those people thought to be planning international travel, and those camps known to be training grounds for international terror? Doesn’t such an exercise require more intelligence work and less fighting? And why is such intervention limited to Afghanistan when we know there are other countries that are training grounds for international terrorists?

The latest problem the government is encountering from its critics is over the conduct of the present Afghan government. If the UK role is to buttress the power of the incumbent government, to help it to govern more widely and effectively, critics can point to any one of a number of policies the Afghan government follows which we do not like and ask why we are supporting this? It is one of the hazards of supporting the emergence of democracy in a foreign country, that they might elect a government you do not like which does things you find unacceptable. If your troops are risking their lives to allow that government to govern, do you then have a right to demand that they change policies and laws you do not like? How do you intervene to prevent illegitimate and violent challenges to the civil powers, without stifling opposition and dissent? It is difficult and sensitive work. In the end you only succeed in helping create a democracy on the day the civil power no longer needs foreign troops to keep the peace.


  1. A.Sedgwick
    August 20, 2009

    As with Vietnam there comes a time when you need to pullout of a wrongheaded war. We bankrupted ourselves saving the world in two wars – we have done our bit for halting tyranny – time for us to take a back seat.

  2. alan jutson
    August 20, 2009

    You have explained very clearly the dangers of getting involved with the politics of another Country.

    We often forget that we as a Country have taken centuries to evolve a sort of Democracy and personal freedom (some would argue that we still do not have it)

    Why then do we expect that any other Country with no history of Democracy can change in just a few years, with help from our armed forces. It just does not happen overnight.

    Interesting that the reported bribing of voters in the Afghan election, has not bought the same condemnation from World leaders, that a similar situation in Iran was given (double standards).

    If we are looking to avoid terrorism on the streets in the Uk, I would suggest we set up a proper and secure border control policy, and restrict those who wish to enter our country to a greater degree than at present and which has operated in the past.

    The open door policy of people movement within the EU at the moment, means we are forced to rely upon the weakest immigration policy imposed by any Country who is a member of the EU.

    We do not control our own borders at the moment.

    1. Number 6
      August 20, 2009

      Agreed, anyone can secure ‘EU citizenship’ in one of the ‘lucky’ countires to be in the EU and then move without any form of check or hinderance here.

      Just another benefit of “being in Europe, but not run by Europe.”

      1. Mark
        August 20, 2009

        In the case of Pakistan and Afghanistan, I doubt whether other EU countries form a useful (re-)entrance route for terrorists – just look at the process of coming directly to the UK. UK visa applications for both countries are made through a third party agency (Gerry’s with several offices in Pakistan), before being sent to Abu Dhabi for processing in the Consulate there by the UK Borders Agency: the officials who grant visas thus never meet the applicant to assess them in person, although it makes bribery of the official who determines the application much more difficult. I believe the volume of applications is such that most of the staff in Abu Dhabi are locally engaged, and are therefore typically nationals from the Indian sub-continent (who account for 50%+ of the local population). Only UK settlement applications are referred to London, presumably mainly to check whether anything is “known” about the applicant. I somehow doubt that UKBA is staffed solely by UK nationals in London.

        Dire warnings on Gerrys website about penalties for visa fraud, and messages about large increases in “Tier 4” applications (education visas) indicate that the system probably leaks like a sieve.

        Leakage in other EU countries is more about nationals of former colonies (e.g. Algerians in France, Indonesians in Holland) gaining citzenship or right of abode – though most of these people prefer to stay in their former colonial master where there is an established community of their own nationals. There is also of course the increasing number of illegals, many of whom are attracted by the UK benefits system.

        For comparison, France requires all visa applicants for a stay of more than 90 days (and all students) to apply in person to the embassy in Islamabad.

  3. Stuart Fairney
    August 20, 2009

    Our soldiers are doing an awfully difficult job with great courage, but courage alone won’t be enough.

    With any military mission you need clearly defined, obtainable objectives and if we consider the various stories our politicians have told us, they just don’t add up.

    First we are supposedly denying terrorists a base, but as various attacks and plots have shown us, you can work out how to build fertilizer bombs from the internet in your bedroom. These aren’t trained soldiers, they are credible kids with rucksacks.

    Then we are told we are there tp prevent another 9/11 yet the hikackers there were Saudis and Egyptians who learned to fly planes in the USA!

    Next we are there to support the now failed and discredited neo-con idea of spreading democracy but the lack of a civil society means you can’t simply have an election and expect a society of feudal warlordism to say “Hey-ho we now have a lib-dem government, best I pay my taxes and disband my army” And just imagine what would happpen if they elected a government sympathetic to the Taliban (in the same way the Palestinians elected Hamas). Would we have our troops dying supporting mandatory burkas and keeping women out of school?

    Then there is the inconvenient point that no foreign invasion since alexander the Great including three by us and an enormous one by the utterly brutal Soviets has ever worked successfully.

    Worst case scenario, we leave and the Taliban take over (and it’s not certain that would happen). Eventuallly their flame burns out and another warlord takes over. Meanwhile, there are plenty of terrorist havens in Waziristan.

    Time to leave.

  4. Brian E.
    August 20, 2009

    There has become far too much “mission creep”. The original objective was to eliminate terrorist training camps and Al-Qaeda, but now it seems to have been extended to installing our idea of democracy. If the feminist groups are listened to, this seems to also include their idea women’s rights.
    Sorry, but I support the original aim, and perhaps understand why some form of stable government would then be needed to prevent any re-occurrence of the problem. But if its going to be extended to include human rights issues, we could be at war with half the countries in the world starting with Iran and Saudi Arabia.

  5. Neil Craig
    August 20, 2009

    The strength of our forces is not in fighting men on the ground – on that the Taliban can match us & are willing to take far higher casualties. What our forces have that they can’t match is technology. Not just helicopters & (potentialy) vehicles strong enough to survive explosions, but remotely piloted surveillance/bomb carrying aircraft, computerised collation of intelligence data, even DNA testing which would show, with a fair degree of accuracy, which village terrorists were from.

    The comparison is with Reagan’s decision to compete with the USSR on the high tech SDI programme rather than in soldiers on the ground which the USSR could more than match.

    (Sentence left out). I have previously said i think bin Laden is dead.

  6. backofanenvelope
    August 20, 2009

    We have now reached the same situation in relation to Afghanistan that we have reached with membership of the EU. The political establishment are carrying out policies that do not enjoy the support of the electorate. We have a steadily increasingly sullen electorate whose views are just being ignored.

  7. AndyC
    August 20, 2009

    We should get out, and fast. There is no point to us being there. We have no measurable strategic objectives and therefore no measurable definition of success or failure.

    Nation-building? there’s no nation to build, never has been. Afghanistan is not a country; it’s the point on the map where the other countries end. Its current borders were designed largely to prevent Russia and British India from sharing a common boundary. The Karzai government won’t last 3 months without US support and isn’t worth supporting anyway.

    Stopping terrorism reaching the UK? I don’t buy that line for a moment. The Taliban pose no threat to the West whatever. Bin Laden is elsewhere, if he is still alive. Why don’t we invade Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran, or for that matter the Finsbury Park mosque?

    I get genuinely angry when I see overpromoted traffic wardens like Ainsworth and Miliband spouting their nonsense, as if they expected anyone to believe it. The armed forces deserve better. And while I’m on the subject, I’m only slightly less angry that the Conservative Party appears to lack the balls to speak up on the subject. They should know better.

  8. no one
    August 20, 2009

    we also need to stop the drugs being grown out there which end up killing so many more of our young people in a much more direct way than any of the terrorists have done so far

    doing that while also taking on the war lords is a very big ask

    but we need to balance this need much more keenly than we have been doing to date

    1. andy dan
      August 20, 2009

      I don’t see how you’ll ever stop these people growing poppies. As a gardener, I know that this plant needs next to no water or fertiliser and can tolerate high temperatures and sunlight levels. No other crop would give these people such a return on their investment.
      It’s been said loads of times already, but if we bought the crop off them and used it to produce morphine for medicinal purposes, we might go a lot further to “winning” this war. We’d be putting money into their economy, and we’d get a product which is in short supply.
      What’s someone going to think or do when you spray defoliant on his main source of income?

  9. Matt
    August 20, 2009

    In my view the best way to prevent Islamic terrorism here is to apply very strict border controls, right now they seem to be inadequate.
    If a fraction of the resources used in Afghanistan were applied to this purpose it would be so much more effective.

    The Islamic terrorist threat could emanate from any number of states besides Afghanistan, like Pakistan, Sudan, Egypt, Yemen, Ethiopia, defeating the threat in Afghanistan won’t in itself solve the problem. We could provide military expertise to the Pakistan government to fight any insurgent threat that they face. As we did with the mujahedeen when they fought the Russians.

  10. Mike Stallard
    August 20, 2009

    We are there because the USA told us to back them up in NATO.
    That is why there is all this talk of nation building: we are expected to believe that Afghanistan, which we Brits know all too well from our Imperial Days in the Raj, is about to become Montana, USA.
    Surprisingly, the Christian Right misread the Taliban. Look in the much neglected book of Maccabees. For “Greeks” read “Americans”, for “Antiochus”, read “Geo W Bush” for “Egypt”, read “Iraq”…..

    It is all there……

    Hey – I’ve just remembered – they are PROTESTANTS!

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