Differing Views on Afghanistan

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BY ALEXANDER MELEAGROU-HITCHENS 

In the last two weeks, The Times has run two comment pieces on Afghanistan.  Both are as fascinating as they are distinctly different.

The first, in the July 4 issue of the paper, is by Matthew Parris and has previously been linked to in the Standpoint blog by Michael Burleigh.  The second appeared in Monday’s issue and was written by Shadow Defence Secretary, Liam Fox. 

Matthew Parris, whose piece is one of the best comments I have seen recently on why we should pull out, spent some time on the ground in Afghanistan with ISAF forces, and his analysis is one without any bias or pro Taliban sentiment (the same cannot be said for many of those who are currently campaigning for a full scale withdrawal).  He writes that the overcomplicated mess the whole operation has become is well illustrated by the plethora of acronyms used by ISAF (he lists nearly 50, some of which have the same letters just in a different order).  This is a very good observation, and the US in particular has often been guilty of this acronym obsession, which can often help to mask the true nature of a conflict.  However, it is difficult to agree with Parris’ conclusion: that the occupation was a mistake and that victory is impossible.  On the occupation, removing the Taliban from power was unavoidable, the containment approach did not work and after 9/11 that became patently clear.  Parris defines victory as “the building of a secure, freestanding state in Afghanistan”.

Liam Fox defines victory in Afghanistan as the denial of “al-Qaeda and its former patrons in the Taleban the space from which to launch further terrorist attacks such as the one in New York on 9/11.”  Unlike Parris, he believes that creating an Afghan state that is capable of managing its own security is an attainable goal.  Indeed it is, but only if the other members of NATO were to realise the importance of this mission and commit more troops and equipment. Fox writes that:

The heaviest fighting – and the highest fatalities – have been borne by the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, along with smaller allies, notably the Dutch, the Danes and the Baltic states. If other members choose not to fight, but have equipment that the fighting nations need, we must make greater efforts to share those assets.

It is crucial that the world begins to understand that the countries currently fighting in Afghanistan are not doing so simply for their own selfish aims: they are fighting an enemy which is a threat to all non-Islamist countries.  A staggering number of jihadist terrorists who have operated all over Europe and the world were trained either by the Taliban or in camps run in Taliban territory, in particular the ‘AfPak’ region.  They are all driven by an expansionist and supremacist ideology which does not distinguish between French, British, German or American, but only between Muslim (even then, only those who agree with them) and non-Muslim.  As well as securing most of the country, one part of any victory in Afghanistan would have to be the destruction of the jihadist ideology which fuels worldwide terror.

Rather than pulling out, there should be more support from ISAF/NATO members.  One acronym which I do like is the American GI’s current unofficial definition of ISAF: ‘I saw Americans fighting’.  This has to change.