There was an interesting comment piece in The Independent on Sunday by fellow Cornerstone member and member of the Defence Select Committee Adam Holloway on the subject of Afghanistan and “Operation Moshtarack”. Unfortunately he paints a rather bleak picture of the current state of affairs, but also offers a four step strategy on how we can potentially turn the situation around.
As we currently stand, he says, our continued presence has created and continues to fuel the insurgency. This is demonstrated in no uncertain terms by the fact that roughly 80 per cent of the young men who fight for the Taliban will live and die within 20 miles of where they live. How they directly affect our security in the UK is questionable. These men are fighting what they see as outsiders, NATO troops and Afghanis from outside their region. They have no qualms with the UK apart from the fact that we have placed soldiers in their country. And the fact that our soldiers are in Afghanistan has become a rallying point for Al-Qaeda to strengthen elsewhere, notably in Yemen and Somalia. This is where the real danger from extremists lies, not the wide expanses of Helmand province.
However, if we are to make progress, as Adam points out, we must try to restore the goodwill we created in 2001 when we rid the Afghanis of the Taliban before we became distracted by invading Iraq. Then we can consider exiting their country which by then should be in a more stable position.
He suggests a strategy with four main components which broadly speaking are as follows; 1. Warn President Karsai that he will be replaced unless he changes his ways and starts running an uncorrupted, authentic government. This is essential for the Afghan people to place their trust in the democratic process; 2. Set up a process of reconciliation with all parties, warring or otherwise. Like it or not, they will all have a role to play when we are gone; 3. Place heavy pressure on Pakistan and India to move to resolving their issues. Elements of the Pakistan government would resent a pro-Indian administration, such as Karsai’s, so are happy to allow insurgents to mobilise on the Afghan border in Pakistan and maintain the chaos; 4. Move away from big armies towards politics. Al-Qaeda would be delighted to hear of larger troop surges as this leads to greater Afghan casualties, more reaction from the population and more perception of an occupation. This can only fuel the jihadists.
That the situation has come to this after the missions’ positive start in 2001 makes me glad that I voted against the distracting invasion of Iraq, but we are where we are now and as difficult as it sounds, we have to accept that the answer to the problem of Afghanistan ultimately lies around the negotiation table.