The terror threat we all face
PUBLISHED: 15:45 25 March 2009 | UPDATED: 10:34 23 August 2010
AS the death toll in Afghanistan continues to rise with more than 150 British troops now killed in the region, Gravesham MP Adam Holloway writes exclusively for the Reporter about the situation. The former Grenadier Guard, who is now a member of the Commo
AS the death toll in Afghanistan continues to rise with more than 150 British troops now killed in the region, Gravesham MP Adam Holloway writes exclusively for the Reporter about the situation. The former Grenadier Guard, who is now a member of the Commons Defence Select Committee, tells why the war matters to the people of Gravesham how he sees the horrendous battle in Afghanistan unfolding.
It is quite simple. If the insurgency in Afghanistan continues, and if it spreads further into Pakistan it will have further serious consequences to the security of people living here, and massively increase the chances of terrorism further and more lethally affecting the lives of residents of this borough.
Of course, the armed forces and our intelligence services have done all that was asked of them and more.
We had a brilliantly executed invasion of Afghanistan, and quickly achieved our primary objective of shifting Al-Qaeda, and removing the Taliban from power much to the relief of the Afghan people.
Put starkly, our current situation in Helmand Province, where we and an incoherent NATO are supporting a corrupt Afghan government, is working directly against Britain's national security interest. Way back in 2003 we pushed Al-Qaeda out into Pakistan, out into the Stans of the former Soviet Union, out into East Africa, out into North Africa, out into the wider Middle East, and indeed into our own towns and cities.
Of course hard-line Taliban remained in Afghanistan. They were appalling people, and the Afghans danced again in the streets at their departure from power. But they were never the same as Al-Qaeda, and most of them never had any interest in picking a fight with the West.
Where are we in Afghanistan today? On the plus side are the security institutions, notably the Afghan National Army, which has been reconstructed under my old associate from when I was there in Soviet times, General Wardak.
There has been a reduction in the number of private armed groups. There has been some improvement in public services, particularly in the north of the country, where security problems are generally less bad. Surprisingly too, perhaps the majority of Afghans do now accept international partners to help provide development.
But the negative side is deeply depressing.
Let's hope the Afghan people don't re-elect the weak government of President Karsai.
There are major shortages of skilled manpower of all public services that suffer endemic corruption. The Afghan national Police are police in name only: the way to think of them might be to imagine enrolling into the police in Gravesend every person in the last 20 years that had committed a murder or a violent crime in the local area.
It is this government, with its thieving and raping police force, that British and other foreign troops are seen by the ordinary Afghan people to be supporting.
Whilst NATO does indeed take huge care when bombing, if you have small numbers of troops fighting an enemy who hide amongst the people, then you will have large numbers of civilian deaths. Just think about the impact this has on the ground amongst the people. Think of the outcry there is in this country when the forces of law and order accidentally kill even one person.
The ordinary Afghan is massively disappointed at the minute amounts of redevelopment and reconstruction that he or she has seen. Whilst in real terms the amount of money is enormous, it is relatively nothing compared to that spent in the former Yugoslavia. Where are the shiny clinics, where are the secure roads, what are the access routes to markets for legitimate crops?
According to several Afghans I met there before Christmas, if you had a land dispute even 10 metres from the British base you don't go and see the representatives of the Afghan government - the representatives of the government we are supporting - because you feel you have to pay a bribe.
No, you travel about 10 kilometres out of town, find the Taliban, and ask them to make a judgement about your land dispute. The people may not like the Taliban, but they seem to be voting with their feet in believing that they may get some sort of justice. It is this empty space in terms of security and justice to which the Taliban has made a dramatic return.
The provinces around Kabul are now in control of the Taliban at least by night. The roads from the capital to Pakistan and to Kandahar are controlled by the Taliban. As one NATO official put it to me "we started off with the strategic insurgency - the Quetta Shura and Al- Qaeda, but what we have done is bolted onto it a sort of peasant's revolt."
Failure might look something like this: sending another 30,000 troops hot foot from Iraq, in the absence of a political settlement.
What might the ingredients be to avoid a second strategic failure after Iraq? Firstly, we need to understand that Bonn was a conference for the Afghan victors. Large parts of the Afghan political landscape were left out of it. Like it or not the likes of Hizbe Islami and as much of the Taleban as possible have to be brought back into the political process. The Taleban are not a single coherent movement. Al Qaeda are not the same as the Taleban, and they don't need Afghanistan anymore - they have plenty of other places.
Like it or not, the great majority of Afghanistan and Pakistan's tribal inhabitants are deeply traditional. They want a very, very light touch from central government, a system that has worked for centuries. Trying to democratically impose a strong central government has failed.
Without this, or some sort of very significant re-balancing of our efforts, the problem will only get worse - and directly effect our population "over here".
In 1898 Major Fitzgerald Wintour, the grandfather of Jim Wintour the distinguished former managing director of Gravesham Borough Council said: "Is it wise to lock up these numerous detachments in these isolated positions, cut off from one another in wild and mountainous districts, surrounded by lawless tribes?
"They all acknowledge that our policy should be to make friends with the tribes."
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