IS THE LUCK STILL THERE?
It seems the recklessness of Tony Blair knows no bounds. The thousand troops sent to Sierra Leone seemed stupid, after all we had no interests there. However, they did keep the lid on the media for a while and although never restoring peace, not too many people died if you don't count Africans. The Kosovo adventure had a truly worrying side to it as Blair committed 50,000 troops, more than half the British army, to an operation with no conceivable national interest. That turned out OK as the Serbs surrendered without a land invasion. Has the man's luck run out?
One would think not. The latest installment of the great game has resulted in what seems like a clear-cut victory for the sides of light and consumerism. The Taliban have deserted the cities. Whether this is the rout that the press are proclaiming, or a phased withdrawal that sites like Stratfor are claiming, I cannot know. It seems like Bin Laden has not been found yet, but that surely is a matter of time. What should concern us is the result. We (as in Britain) now have at least 100 troops in a place that does not want us, nor do we want it.
One hundred troops now, with thousands on standby; and what do we have? A place thousands of miles away and relying on supply from third countries with their own agendas. "Allies" who give every impression of not wanting us there. A united and determined opposition that knows the hills around them. All cities and roads in the control of autonomous armed factions. We are, in every respect but one, in a worse position than the Soviet Union was when they were in Afghanistan. At least they had the roads and cities, a political ally, a bickering opposition and a secure land route into the country. The only advantage we have over them is that we can get out.
Then there is the humanitarian trap. The Arab street, we are told, will be allayed when they see us dropping food parcels on remote Afghan villages, helping their fellow Muslims and all that. The fact that they have not been allayed by the Western protection of Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo should not be allowed to get in the way of this plan. Perhaps this tactic will work who knows? What I do know is how the Arab street will react if the West gets the food distribution wrong. This may be worsened if we try to root up the heroin poppies. If we do not, we will all be shocked, shocked, to learn that the war on drugs is a sham. Pictures of starving children any starving children in Afghanistan will be blamed on the West. Forget the success in feeding the 98% of Afghans, they will remember 2%. Moreover, they will blame it on the West. In New York schools, they teach that the British government launched genocide on the Irish, when hundreds of thousands died due to the predictable failure of the state to feed a starving population. Will the Muslims be more understanding?
I will not pretend to understand the ethnic and personal rivalries that make up Afghan politics today, although I know more now than I did two months ago and in two months time I will know more still. There are however some perfectly obvious facts that spell trouble.
Firstly, the Northern Alliance has not changed from the old Mujahadeen who successfully fought the Russians and unsuccessfully ruled Afghanistan. Their one uniting factor was a dislike of foreign domination. Why should we expect them to welcome us? Because we are from the West? In fact the Northern Alliance has asked the British to go, although they have been dismissed by a junior British foreign office minister as being "out of the loop". (Question: how "in the loop" were the British when they assumed that the Northern Alliance wouldn't enter Kabul?) Secondly, the Pashtuns seem remarkably wounded and vulnerable (as does Pakistan) and in the South there seems to have been not so much a rout of the Taliban as a shuffling of labels. Is the alienation of the country's largest ethnic group something to ignore?
Of course, it does not have to be like this. Can anyone name a single worthwhile strategic aim for us in Afghanistan once we have fried Bin Laden? There are plenty of risks and no gains in this type of operation, as any Somali could tell us. Get Bin Laden and get out.
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