Have our leaders learned nothing from the war in Afghanistan?
Conversation among decision makers who gather in London’s private dining rooms has turned from Afghanistan to Libya. Over rare beef and fine wine, they voice concern that Western governments have again embarked on a rushed military adventure, in a far away place, on a vague premise, with no clearly defined goal, and no apparent exit point. What is the end game, ask some of the most influential men and women in the country. Do our leaders know what they are getting us in to? Have they learned nothing?
Afghanistan, it seems, has become the object lesson.
David Miliband, Britain’s former foreign secretary, has joined the chorus singing from the hymn sheet of a political solution to the Afghanistan conflict, a new recruit to the latter-day wise who claim, after ten years and two-and-a-half thousand body bags, to recognise a military quagmire when they see one.
Afghanistan is set to become the ‘forgotten war’, overshadowed in the public and political consciousness by events in the Middle East. Nothing could be worse for the Afghan people, exhausted as they are by war, poverty, corruption, and decades of being fought over by the well-meaning and the venal, each equally difficult to determine from the other.
The road to hell is paved with Afghans’ patience, endurance and hopes for peace, and recent shocking events in Mazar-i-Sharif – where United Nations employees were set upon and murdered by a mob – should be seen as a warning that progress in the margins of a bureaucrat’s ledger is meaningless to a man who cannot go to bed at night secure in the knowledge that his door will not be kicked down, by either side of those fighting for his heart and mind.
US Army Lt General William Caldwell, arguably the most important man in Afghanistan today, recently breezed through London to tell anyone who would listen about his efforts to build Afghanistan’s security forces. Withdrawal of Western troops from Afghanistan depends on the success of General Caldwell’s mission to build an army that can keep insurgents at bay, and a police force that can fairly enforce laws backed by a credible judicial system.
The mob attack in Mazar, where the police seemed incapable of controlling the situation, showed there is still a long way to go. But General Caldwell does not have the luxury of failure as an option. And London’s chattering classes, who accept the commitment to Afghanistan is a fait accompli, want him to succeed. They just don’t have the stomach for another war with no end.