Christina Lamb: Farewell Kabul
The evening’s chair Sarah Montague, presenter of BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, began the discussion by asking whether the Western military intervention had resulted in any notable achievements on the ground in Afghanistan.
Lamb responded that there had been a number of superficially positive developments since the intervention: schools were built, the health system improved and, while in the 1980s Afghanistan was largely cut off from the rest of the world, Afghan people are now able to contact each other via Facebook from remote villages.
On the other hand, the Taliban remains undefeated, with attacks carried out regularly throughout the country. More worryingly, Lamb commented, is that decades of Western intervention in the region has left Pakistan significantly more unstable. As “a massive country with lots of military groups,” Pakistan will continue to pose an increasing threat to the West.
For Afghanistan in 2001, the future seemed bright, it was considered a model of intervention by the US and the UK, with early action costing a relatively small amount and with little loss of life. Now 14 years on, the war is estimated to have cost roughly one trillion dollars.
Lamb argued that the intervention also faltered on a political level. “People didn’t know why we were there. Politicians failed to convince the public, and they completely failed to explain themselves to Afghans on the ground.”
The needs of locals were disregarded. “The people I talked to cared about feeding their children,” she said. “Nobody mentioned an election.”
“We built schools. Now there is a generation of educated people without jobs. No wonder then if they pick up a gun to fight with the Taliban. Many see Ashraf Ghani [the current president] as a figure of hope. They might get disillusioned.”
On the rights of Afghan women, Lamb said: “Many of those who we lifted up and made role models are now in hiding, feeling they were misused by the West. Nine out of ten women still suffer some form of abuse.”
How is history going to judge Western intervention in Afghanistan? “It’s hard to see it as a success. I don’t think anybody would feel safer there today than at that time. Even in Kabul, which used to be a safe bubble, there is a feeling of fear.”
Lamb was just 21 when she first went to Afghanistan, and stated her intention to continue to visit despite the decrease in media interest. When pitching stories, editors often respond to her that the world has moved on.
“We now have correspondents in Yemen, Libya, Syria… once it was just Afghanistan.
“It worries me that we would forget about it. Look at Libya: we toppled Gaddafi, declared it a success, and now it’s chaos. If you do these things, you have to see them through.”
Lamb brought the discussion to a close with a quote from Farewell Kabul on the withdrawal of US troops: “It felt like that moment before the shadows expire and the day is over, but no one knows what the night will bring.”