Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Afghanistan War: Is it worth it? What is the way out?

Seven British soldiers killed in seven days.
Seven families plunged into the agonised tunnel of grief. 176 families over the last 8 years. Thousands of Britons affected. Thousands of Afghan lives lost, many innocent civilians. Hundreds of Afghans plunged into grief and despair. Mutilation, pain, disability, anger, resentment, madness.

Millions of minds in Britain that entertain a wispy subconscious thought:

"What is it all for? Is it ever worth it?"

Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth is ready with his answer : "...the conflict in Afghanistan would be hard and dangerous...Let us be under no illusion. The situation in Afghanistan is serious, and not yet decided. The way forward is hard and dangerous. More lives will be lost and our resolve will be tested...No single or simple solution will work. [is he thinking of the proposal to medicalise the poppy crop here??]...Success will be achieved incrementally. Step by step and over time, the Afghans themselves will take full responsibility for their own security and their own governance... If we are to succeed, we will need both the courage and the patience to see it through. There is no defined end date – only an end state....if Nato forces left now, the Taliban will take control and al-Qaida will return...We must stay and finish the job. There is a long way to go, but we are getting there".

The old BST in other words. Blood, Sweat and Tears.

But Bob Ainsworth ain't no Churchill, and Afghanistan ain't the white cliffs of Dover exactly either. Bob has to build a cognitive bridge to remind the Man on the Clapham Omnibus that Al-Quaeda lives in Afghanistan (and Pakistan too of course) and would Come and Get Us if our troops weren't there not looking for him.

Man on the Clapham Omnibus: "Afghanistan was where what's his name used to live, Goldfinger, no not him, the name will come to me in a minute, hang about, in those Tora Bora caves. Did it have to do with Pearl Harbour, no, that was before, it was 9/11 wasn't it, that's why we are there. When the Towers got hit. Bin Laden, that's the one. Our lads are out there to catch, he lives at the other end of the country. No, our lads are out there to stop the Taleban because they hate our Parliamentary Democracy, and might come over here and and abuse our lovely MPs. They're out there to defend our banks from a takeover by Islamic banks because Islamic banks are intrinsically more stable. Oh I give up. Why are they there?"

Bob Ainsworth: (paraphrasing here - RL) They are there, dear voter, in order to set up a stable, non-corrupt, efficient and democratic Afghan state, one that will keep terrorists fully in check. Which means defeating the Taliban, because they would give refuge to Al-Qaeda. Defeating the Taleban is difficult, because they make a lot of money by selling opium that ends up in the arms of our young people like that pale and thin young man nodding off in the seat behind you. The poppy farmers depend on the Taleban to buy their crop so they do not co-operate with our troops. We cannot just rip up the crop because that would infuriate the people who depend on it for a livelihood.

Man on the Clapham Omnibus: (Who has suddenly begun to take an interest) So why do you not buy the poppy off the farmers? Then the Taleban have no support from the people. The farmers would be eager to help you when you are their customer. The financial and social carpet is pulled out from under the Taleban. The beauty of it is, you could turn the opium into medicine for people in the Third World, you know.

Bob Ainsworth:
No single or simple solution will work.
Man on the Clapham Omnibus: C'mon Bob, you can do better than that.
Bob Ainsworth: Some of the stuff we buy might end up on the black market.
Man on the Clapham Omnibus: It's all going there now. Eejit.
Bob Ainsworth: The Afghan Government has no control over the area.
Man on the Clapham Omnibus: It would have if it was running a marketing operation.
Bob Ainsworth: No single or simple solution will work.
Man on the Clapham Omnibus: Are you that one who put in for a Duck House?

Only it's not funny. People are dying over there, and they do not need to be dying. Not just dying from poor kit: dying because of piss-poor policy too. The British Army knows that to win over an insurgency, you have to win hearts and minds. Legalising the poppy crop is definitely the way to go. It is not just this blog saying this, it is the European Green Party, it has been agreed by the European Parliament, and several NGOs including the Red Cross agree it is the way to go.

There must be a few soldiers out there who would agree that we should buy the opium crop.

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