Afghanistan is teetering on the brink of chaos. About that, I think we can all be agreed. The NATO mission there has reached an impasse. It is losing both men and ground to the insurgents, and it is propping up a regime that is looking decidedly ineffectual and whose legitimacy has been seriously endangered by a fraudulent election. Nation building is at a virtual standstill, and the Taliban have been quick to exploit the current instability – rushing to fill the security situation and political vacuum with bolder and bolder attacks upon the fragile institutions of Afghani civilisation (witness their gunning down of six U.N. employees last month – this in the capital Kabul). The speed and nature of the deterioration in Afghanistan threatens to undermine not just the NATO mission but the very fabric of societal cohesion across the whole region. For we cannot talk of Afghanistan without mentioning Pakistan, its nuclear armed neighbour, which is coming under increasingly violent pressure from within its own borders. The undefined tribal regions that separate Afghanistan and Pakistan not only play host to the Afghan Taliban, they have been the breeding ground for Pakistan’s own bloody variant, as well as a safe-haven for the lingering elements of al Qaeda and associated extremists. Let us be under no illusions: we are staring defeat in the face.
The reaction to these events among populations in the domestic theatres has been, to say the least, extraordinary. It has also been, to my mind, totally wrong-headed. Support for the war among those European nations contributing to the mission has steadily dwindled over the past eighteen months, and is reflected in the way the governments of Spain, Germany, and Italy have begun devising “exit strategies”, as they wont to call them. As for my own country, a Channel 4 survey recently found an astonishing 78% want British troops to return, a significant hike since the last such indicant. Interestingly, support for the war among Americans – the country which has the most resources invested there, and hence the most to lose – has remained relatively strong. However, there is still significant proportion who echo their European counterparts by maintaining the only possible way to stave off defeat is to “bring the troops back home.” In other words, to concede.
The media echo-chamber has played no small part in this widespread defeatism. Indeed, some sections of the media have been blatantly pushing the “troops out” line for a while now, as anyone who has seen ITV news in the past few months will attest. When Sky News report on troop casualties their entire backdrop consists of tiny photos of fallen soldiers. Is this a genuine and touching tribute to those who have bravely sacrificed their lives on behalf of us and for the sake of Afghanistan? Or a manipulative – and therefore entirely cynical – usage of highly emotive imagery in what is already a deeply contentious issue? Seeing as Sky’s owner is also the owner of the red-top currently running a concerted campaign against the Prime Minister because his terrible handwriting had upset the grieving mother of a dead soldier, one can be forgiven for being cynical. Needless to say, those citizens of Afghanistan who have paid with their lives, often fighting right alongside their British counterparts, do not feature in the news.
There is no doubt this media coverage does, in some ways, reflect the changing consensus. But it is also quite self evidently political in nature. When The Sun switched its allegiance to the Tories in September, it was only to be expected that they would continue to seize on any perceived error by Gordon Brown and his party. Yet to use the highly charged issue of troop deaths as a stick to beat the Prime Minister with for the sake of party politics seems, to say the least, opportunistic. There are real issues at stake here. The choices facing the international community are stark. The problems we face mounting. Whatever happens in Afghanistan will have historical consequences. It ought to be obvious that the primacy of this issue transcends party political point scoring. The fact that the Prime Minister has terrible handwriting is not a news story: it is misdirection of the most insidious kind.
It is instructive to map this turning tide. In August the number of British troops killed in the Afghan theatre breached 200. This seemed to mark a turning point in the public’s perception of – and hence support for – the conflict. The voices of commentators began asking, en masse, “what are we fighting for?” and “what does victory consist of?” After a particularly bloody few months in Afghanistan, including the recent gunning down of five British soldiers by an Afghani policeman they were helping train, those voices have reached fever pitch. Although there were those who were flat against the intervention in Afghanistan from the outset, it is worth remembering that the NATO mission there had broad public, as well as political, support. Most reasonable people could see a confrontation with the Taliban and al Qaeda was not only necessary, but unavoidable. They had, after all, attacked. Back then, we seemed to understand what we were fighting for, and what victory would be. We were fighting to remove a hideously repressive theocratic regime. We were fighting to destroy Bin Laden’s terrorist network. We were fighting to bring stability to a war torn country. To free its women from the tyranny of the bhurka. Victory would be a free people, and an extremist movement crushed. It didn’t exactly work out like that.
The war kept its support while it gave the (mistaken) impression of being swift and successful. The build up to the Iraq war acted as a huge distraction from what was actually happening on the ground in Afghanistan. Many of the problems we currently face draw their roots from the mistakes and missed opportunities of those vital first years. When the deeply unpopular intervention in Iraq began, many in the West fell into a kind of automatic bipolarity that allowed them to think in terms of two wars – one good (Afghanistan): one bad (Iraq). The current leader of the free world fought his election campaign, in part, on a platform that made that undercurrent explicit, saying over and over again that the Iraq adventure was a distraction from the real problem, which was Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Obama promised a renewed strategy. Yet he had inherited an Afghanistan suffering from eight years of disastrous nation building, and the speed of the deterioration on the ground, coupled with a fraudulent election, has severely dented confidence in the mission. As public support began haemorrhaging, political will seemed to follow suit. In August, General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of the US mission in Afghanistan, presented Obama with his new counterinsurgency strategy. It called for an extra 40,000 troops to boost security. Since then Obama has given all the signs of having no clear idea what to do. He has been engaged in constant “talks” with his national security team – talks that have dragged on for months now. There’s been talk of scaling back the war against the Taliban to concentrate on attacking al Qaeda in Pakistan with unmanned drones. There’s been talk of 10,000 extra troops, but also of 20,000 troops, or maybe 30,000. There’s been talk of “paying the Taliban” to end the insurgency. All of which smacks of desperation, and not much more.
The public’s dissatisfaction with the war in Afghanistan, I can’t help feeling, says at least as much about the lack of a clear strategy emanating from our elected leaders as it does about concern for the level of troop losses. People, understandably, want to know why their sons and daughters are dying, and yet our elected representatives have been next to useless when it comes to articulating a coherent response to these basic questions. On this side of the pond, all Gordon Brown can ever seem to muster is a pathetic “it makes us safer.” In trying to sell an unpopular war to a cynical populace, Brown emphasises the “what’s in it for me?” angle, as if that is enough. That the war makes us safer is only partially true, and back-to-front, as I shall try to explain. In a recent speech he strongly underlined Britain’s commitment to the mission, and he has earmarked a further 500 troops for deployment. Both admirable moves, whose impact has been considerably lessened by the absence of a clear and articulate strategic backbone.
For anyone whose memory is stronger than a blipvert, all this may ring familiar. Wasn’t it precisely at the point when violence in Iraq was at its worst, that the call to remove the troops was at its loudest? During 2005 and 2006, while the country teetered on the brink of civil war, and its fragile young democracy seemed on the constant point of implosion, serious men and women tried to argue that the best course of action was to cut our loses and leave the people of Iraq to fight it out amongst themselves. Many seemed to labour under the sincere belief that the presence of foreign troops was the main, or only, cause of violence in Iraq, and that it therefore stood to reason that if “we” left, violence would cease. Others – presumably those who knew no history – argued that the best thing to do was partition the country thrice along sectarian lines, then leave. In the event these arguments were thoroughly discredited by the implementation of General David Petraeus’s counterinsurgency strategy early in 2007 (which, it is worth noting, had been sitting on Donald Rumsfeld’s desk before the invasion). Following the logic of those arguments, more troops should have meant more violence. The opposite, in fact, turned out to be the case. More troops meant security and stabilisation. Attacks in Iraq are down some 90% since their highest point, though they haven’t stopped completely. Nonetheless, one shudders to think what would have happened if those anti-war voices had had their way.
There is a paradox at work here. Strange as it may seem, the wars of the twenty-first century have actually proved considerably less chaotic and bloody than past wars. 200 is a horrific number to contemplate, especially as there is no way of knowing how high that figure will climb. But it is worth keeping in mind that that figure – tragic though it undoubtedly is – was breached after a full eight years of engagement. During WW2, by way of contrast, an average of 16,000 people died every day. Yet at the same time that the number of military casualties in warfare has dropped, tolerance for the harsh realities of war has fallen sharply. People like to think of the Vietnam War as a key turning in the public’s relationship to those who would wage war on their behalf. The fact that this was the first war to happen in the full glare of television is often credited with turning popular support against that most horrific of conflicts. Would it surprise you to know, then, that it took a full 60,000 dead American for support for the war to drop a mere 20%? Those who argue that Afghanistan has or will “become another Vietnam” ought to spend a moment or two contemplating the numbers lost during the wars of Indochina.
There is another trend at play, one whose implications go some way to answering the vexed question of why we fight. At the beginning of the twentieth century the percentage of deaths in warfare consisted of approx 80% military and 20% civilian. By the end of the century that ratio had completely reversed. The percentage of civilian deaths during warfare is now approaching 90%. This sobering fact should tell us something both essential and tangible. Commonly held concepts of war, based as they are on the wars of the previous century, are proving increasingly inadequate when it comes to describing the wars of our current age. “War” used to be something that happened between nations. Two national armies would line up on some soon-to-be-legendary battlefield and slog it out. “Victory” used to be beating the enemy.
Warfare, it seems, is no longer willing to play by twentieth century rules. It seems likely that the United States – being the world’s sole remaining super-power – will continue to excite violent agitation for the foreseeable future. Because of its overwhelming military might no nation would dare attack it directly. It is therefore really no surprise that when America finds itself engaged in warfare in the twenty-first century it finds itself engaged in asymmetrical warfare: not against national armies but against a constantly shifting enemy; small groups of loose-knit non-state actors (The Taliban, al Qaeda, and their like-minded allies). An enemy, in other words, that doesn’t operate like a conventional army, but in fact consists of forces that more closely resemble the interconnected, decentralised, networking, outsourcing, and incentivising corporate structure of international big business. Globalisation has a dark side. It has made the West considerably richer (current downturn notwithstanding) but has exposed us to novel vulnerabilities. Terrorism has become more warlike. Warfare is becoming indistinguishable from counterinsurgency. Civilians (in both foreign and domestic theatres) are on the front-line like never before. Warfare has changed faster than our wartime lexicon. It is no wonder few people can grasp or recognise victory in such a landscape, and are therefore resigned to defeat.
This anxiety over the meaning of victory is part of this misconception. Most people assume victory amounts to defeating your enemies – people expect a definitive end to the war; they expect treaties to be signed and the succeeding army to be paraded through the streets. Victory in warfare is better thought of as the achievement of one’s war aim. When that aim is not well understood, or ill defined, victory cannot be adequately contemplated. The wars of the twenty-first century are often spoken of as a clash of ideologies. I think it is more helpful to think of them as a fight between two irreconcilable legal systems: legal systems that both claim legitimacy to govern contested civilian populations. One system is based on the rule of law, democratic institutions, and international norms of human rights – ideas which are based on consent and are designed to allow a nation participation in the international community. The other system has its laws too, only they are based on a violent and absolutist interpretation of the sharia and are enforced by coercion – something which is by definition incompatible with the former. If anyone wonders what our enemies dream of when they contemplate victory, they need only picture what Afghanistan looked like under the Taliban, or what it will look like if we leave.
This battle – a constitutional struggle – is at the heart of the unfortunately named “War on Terror” and it is reflected in the differing strategies of the two sides. That “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” is an insidious cliché that has become unthinkingly held among a wide variety of people. Such clichés display a relativism that unconsciously wishes to opt-out of the complex moral landscape of our modern era. At a time when we need to bring such definitions onto focus, they seek to blur the image. A freedom fighter, surely, must be characterised as someone who fights against a state that is acting illegally. Those Shiites who rose up against Saddam after the first Gulf War, might well be considered freedom fighters. The men and women who led the protests against Iran’s recent fraudulent election likewise. Terrorism, on the other hand, is a phenomenon that is carried out against civilians exercising their legal rights (shopping at a market, working in an office block, flying on a plane, voting in an election, etc). This being so, it simply stands to reason that a war fought against such an enemy must – at its heart – be a war fought for the protection of civilian populations and the maintenance of the rule of law.
Without the rule of law nothing good can come of this conflict. Democracy, infrastructure, economic growth, even culture, cannot begin to flourish without it. It should be the underpinning of the whole “War on Terror” because this – the rule of law – is what terrorism threatens (which is why side-stepping the rule of law – ‘extraordinary rendition’, Abu Gharib and Guantanamo Bay – should be considered massive own goals in the “War on Terror”, as they are blatant attacks on one’s own war aim). However, lack of security threatens the rule of law. A people, after all, must feel protected before they are able to exercise their legal rights. Obviously, as far as Afghanistan is concerned, we are failing in our mission here; the legacy of past failures have begun mounting up against us. We have compromised any possible victory because we have compromised the rule of law. Civilisation is a fragile beast at the best of times, even without the enormous pressures bearing down on this long suffering country. At the moment it exists on a knife-edge. What happens in the next few months in Afghanistan will undoubtedly effect which system of law emerges triumphant. What will it say about us – and about the legal system which forms the basis of civilisation – if we capitulate so easily?
Those who are of the defeatist mindset usually cite history as a reason why this war is “unwinnable.” Look at Russia, they say, look at Britain in the nineteenth century, no foreign power has successfully invaded and occupied Afghanistan – as if the NATO mission there was one of conquest. This, again, is the thinking of an older epoch. We are not at war with Afghanistan. We are not trying to conquer its peoples. Warfare, as touched upon above, is no longer like that. Afghanistan is suffering from eight years of disastrous nation building. Yet I fail to see how this offers us any excuse to cut-and-run. Rather, the opposite is true. Our mistakes must be paid for. The answer lies in enhanced security and better nation building, not abandonment. Those who are fond of historical parallels should bear one other in mind: what happened when Western powers abandoned the people of Afghanistan after the Soviets had been booted out. Ten years of civil war that was only ended by the brutality of the Taliban.
Ahmed Rashid is one of Pakistan’s best journalists (if you want to understand this region, you must read Rashid) and he has written eloquently and movingly about the fall of the Taliban and the Afghan’s hopes for a new beginning, and his words are worth quoting, not least because they can also help to begin to answer the question of why we fight. “Under the Taliban,” writes Rashid in Descent Into Chaos,
Kabul’s lights had gone out and a deafening silence descended on the streets as people literally tiptoed their way to work. Kabulis described their city then as a living graveyard. Now Kabul’s narrow dusty streets were filled with rubble – the result of ten years of civil war and Taliban neglect – but that did not stop women from laughing, chatting, and pouring out of their homes to walk in the bazaars. For the first time in years, the proud, beautiful women of Kabul negotiated the muddiest of sidewalks in the highest of heels. Everyone wanted to see and be seen. Boys flew kites, girls gawked at the shops, which poured out music and noise. All these simple pleasures had been illegal under the Taliban.
Rashid also happens to be one of the most piercing and eloquent critics of the failures of nation building by the NATO powers. In particular, he is scathing in his contempt for America’s unwillingness to properly engage in post-war reconstruction. He writes how, “Bush blew hot and cold over nation building, while Rumsfeld refused to involve US troops in any such task.” Instead, as soon as the invasion was over, the Bush neocons simply wanted to pay the Afghan warlords to maintain security while they got on with planning and executing the Iraq war. The fact that many of the self same warlords are even now holding important positions within the Afghan government goes some way to explaining the accusations of corruption surrounding this year’s election. While there was plenty of aid money flooding into the country, attempts to rebuild the infrastructure were virtually non-existent. It took the Americans a whole year to build their first road.
At the same time, the lack of troops on the ground allowed large numbers of Taliban to flee in to northern Pakistan (often with the collusion of Pakistani security services) where they could regroup and rearm, forge new connections and plan new attacks. The poppy harvests made them rich. The resurgent Taliban began to make their presence felt, especially in Helmand province, during 2006. A new strategy emerged: instead of attacking the coalition forces directly (a tactic that resulted in huge numbers of losses) they began to concentrate on the deployment of IEDs. It is this tactic which is responsible for the the up-swing in troop casualties.
All the same, Rashid is not blind to the successes of the invasion, drawing attention to coalition attempts to restart education, which had been effectively destroyed under the Taliban. He writes how official sources expected just under two million children to attend the first day of the schools program, but in the event 3 million showed up. By 2005, there were some 5.2 million children in lower education, and attendance in higher education had jumped from 4000 under the Taliban, to 31,000. Two million Afghan refugees were also able to return from neighbouring Pakistan and Iran since the fall of the Taliban. In addition, Afghanistan also has a growing free press:
Within three years 350 publications were registered with the government, 42 radio stations operated around the country, and there were 8 private television channels. Tolo TV, the nation’s favourite channel, ran everything from exposures on corruption and warlordism to Afghan versions of Candid Camera and American Idol. Tolo pushed the limits of what was acceptable and frequently ran into problems with the conservative Supreme Court or the government. Meanwhile, journalists and newspapers faced constant harassment from warlords, corrupt officials, and drug dealers – but they continued to publish. Several journalists were killed, but that did not restrain the enthusiasm and growth of the media or its hungry audience.
Among the invasion’s other successes must be counted the fact that Afghanistan has a new constitution. It was signed on Jan 4, 2004, and is, in fact, the country’s sixth such document. It was ratified by a 500 strong supreme court, or Loya Jirga, that included 103 women – the highest percentage of women in any legislative chamber in the Muslim world. The Afghan constitution is likewise, as Rashid points out, “one of the most modern and democratic in the Muslim world. It stipulates equality between Sunni and Shia, men and women, Muslim and non-Muslim, and among all ethnic groups.” It is the first of Afghanistan’s constitutions to fully recognise the country’s ethnic diversity: “The word Afghan applies to every citizen of Afghanistan.” Following that came the country’s first democratic elections in living memory. An astonishing 70% of those eligible to vote turned out (a figure that should shame the apathetic voters of Western democracies). This despite direct threats from the Taliban. The 2004 elections allow Rashid perhaps the book’s most moving passage:
Even before dawn broke on October 9, it was clear what would happen as tens of thousands of Afghans began lining up at poll stations around the country…we rushed from polling station to polling station in Kabul and nearby villages and were so amazed at the huge turnout, the orderly queues, the patience of the women holding children, the good humour and joking as people waited, that we burst into tears. After twenty five years covering the bloodshed and chaos of Afghanistan’s wars, it was the most moving and memorable day of my life. I felt as if a vast black blanket of despair the had covered the country and the people has suddenly been lifted and sunlight was pouring through. For most Afghans it was the first time they had ever seen a ballot box, and polling was extended by two hours to allow everyone to experience voting.
The fact that these successes have been badly compromised in the years since is to miss the point. For it is in ways like these that the Afghan people have fully and unequivocally rejected Taliban rule, with no small amount of bravery on their part. By writing a constitution, holding democratic elections, and – most significantly – by sending their children to school (boys and girls), the men and women of Afghanistan have spoken loud and clear. Afghanistan rebukes the Taliban, and its warped Pastun ideology; one that Rashid rightly describes as, “utterly alien to Afghan tradition and culture.”
Afghan culture is traditionally one of vibrancy and diversity: it is not the mono-culture imposed by the Taliban. Before the Soviet invasion in 1979, cities like Kabul were the epitome of the modern middle eastern city; its university full; men and women walking the streets freely, often in modern, Western influenced dress. Which only goes to show how hostile invasion, civil war, and despotic rule can effect how we come to think of a country (which is always, without fail, spoken of as a ‘backwards’ country by the Western media). The fact places like Kabul have in some senses begun to resemble their pre-Soviet selves is in itself a small sign of hope; one that is being sorely tested, but one that also – precisely because it is threatened – a real and tangible reason to stay and fight. “Ninety-five percent of the population celebrated its liberation from the Taliban regime in 2001,” wrote Rashid recently, “only to find they are helplessly hedging their bets against a Taliban return.”
Kabul also happens to be the home of Tolo TV, Afghanistan’s most popular television channel, and the one Rashid singled out for praise above. As mentioned, Tolo TV produce the Afghan equivalent of Pop Idol, a program that proved wildly popular with the Afghan people from the moment its first series began airing in 2005. Early this year saw the release of Havana Marking’s remarkable documentary about the program Afghan Star, which followed several contestants as they battled it out during the show’s third season during 2007/8. During this season the program regularly attracted viewing numbers around the 11 million mark (an entire third of the country’s population). I urge anyone not yet acquainted with this gripping film to rectify this immediately (it is up on the Channel 4 website at time of writing). They should especially watch this film if they are among those waverers who have begun to vocally question the validity of our mission there. A film like this if full of reasons to fight (they are called Afghans). I would, though, like to draw your attention to just one.
Setara Hussainzada is a lively, wide-eyed woman in her early 20s from Herat, and, to all intents and purposes, the unofficial ‘star’ of Afghan Star. Setara is beautiful. She wears Western-influenced dress and Bollywood style make-up that accentuates her startlingly dark eyes. She says she is into “modern fashion” and wants to challenge conservative opinion in her country. She is, in other words, just like any normal young woman looking to express herself and her individuality through clothes, make up, and pop music. Setara was voted off Afghan Star a few weeks before the final, and during her outgoing performance she did something that enraged the Taliban and other conservative elements within her country – something which put her life in immediate danger. Her transgression? She danced. I say danced, what I mean is she gently swayed her legs and moved her body in time to the music – this was hardly the low-cleavage, crotch-grabbing antics of the typical Western pop wanna-be. Watching the footage of Setara’s dance is extremely moving: the emotions of being voted off the program clearly spilled over into her unplanned performance, and she moved, unable to stop herself. Unfortunately for Setara, her head-scarf came loose as she did so, exposing her hair. That, and her ‘dance’, were enough to create outrage. The Taliban were quick to promise death to Setara (they also threatened the only other female contestant). Soon after she was evicted from her apartment in Kabul and had to return to her parents’ house in Herat. Her parents fear for her life. It is not safe for Setara there (fortunately, the Taliban have been incapable of carrying out their threat thus far).
It really ought to go without saying that Setara, and those like her, are our comrades in this fight. With them we stand shoulder to shoulder. In their attempt to live freely and their willingness to exercise their legal rights, the men and women of Afghanistan have time and again proven themselves to be the moral leaders of our time. Shamefully, the NATO powers have time and again proven themselves to be the weakest link. This is why Gordon Brown has it backwards when he says “it makes us safer.” While its true that keeping the Taliban out of Afghanistan helps keep terrorists out of Afghanistan, that is a secondary consideration, not least because those that threaten us currently still reside in nuclear-armed Pakistan. We in the West seem incapable of viewing the war in Afghanistan through anything other than the prism of fallen soldiers, when we should be seeing it through the eyes of the Afghans, who are morally our neighbours, if not geographically. “Warfare,” as professor Philip Bobbitt has written, “is not “pushed” by the fear aroused by the nation state, but “pulled” by the empathy evoked in…citizens.”
If we fight, then, it is not for my sake. It is not for the sake of Gordon Brown or Barack Obama. It is primarily for the sake of the Afghan people, the protection of whom constitutes a key element of our war aim, which is the establishment of the rule of law. Security must come first. Obama must send those troops. Political and economic reconstruction must then begin in earnest. We must root out corruption, and continue training. We must invest heavily in the infrastructure – there are no cheap solutions to this struggle. At some point the Western powers are going to have to do confront the fact that heroin plays a large part in the insurgency. In this we are not starting from absolute zero. The limited successes of the invasion can and must be built upon. Afghanistan has a constitution. It has a parliament. A nascent judiciary. A free press. It has the beginnings of a security apparatus. The start of an educational infrastructure. No one could deny there is an awful amount of work to do, or that it wont be anything other than extremely difficult. Yet the potential penalties of losing this battle are enormous. I sometimes wonder if those who advocate pulling the troops out have have seriously thought through the negative effect such of their position. What do they suppose would happen to the country? Or to Pakistan? Perhaps they don’t care any more. “Only U.S. leadership,” wrote Ahmed Rashid recently, “alongside that of the international community can assure that the region does not fall to extremists or other vicissitudes.” In other words, if we do not take up this challenge, who will? Indeed, capitulation or retreat could send “the entire region into a tailspin as neo-Taliban members spread into Pakistan and central Asia.”
That the situation is dire, nobody could question. Contrary to what you have been led to believe though, all is not lost. “There is still hope in Afghanistan,” writes Rashid, “despite being terrified of the Taliban and angry at the rigged election, most Afghans don’t want the Taliban back.” [italics mine]. That last point cannot be emphasised enough. Who cannot fail to be moved by the photos of young British men that have become an all-too frequent part of our daily news coverage? Yet the plight of the Afghans should move us also. Our soldiers, after all, are fighting on their behalf. They have a job to do and our political leaders should enable them to do it fully. To bring them home only to watch all they have fought for fall to pieces seem to me to render their deaths meaningless. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are the epochal wars of the post-cold war era and we lose them at our peril. They will not only define our times: they will also set the parameters of the future wars we are inevitably going to have to fight. What kind of precedent will it set if we – the international community – cannot or will not do this? If I have doubts – and I have many – they lie less in the Afghans, and more in the lack of will among our leaders. At the point of writing the lack of vision and political will among the NATO powers seems entirely indicative of a mindset that is already half-way resigned to defeat. We have taken several wrong turns in Afghanistan, but it is too soon for despair, too soon to abandon the cause that is Afghanistan’s fight for autonomy and civilisation. To do so would be to hand victory – in the shape of Afghanistan and its helpless civilian population – to the most vicious and reactionary forces on earth. It would be our ultimate betrayal. The people of Afghanistan would never forgive us. And they would be right.