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November 5, 2009

Forgive me while I go off-piste today but I really cannot help myself. I know I’m supposed to be writing about the peaceful, bucolic life in rural France, but for some time now I have been deeply, passionately opposed to the war in Afghanistan.

Many people struggle to see the point of this war. As I understand it, the British and other forces, are fighting a corrupt, wicked regime (the Taliban) and terrorism at source. At least that’s what we’re told.

But it’s a bit hard to swallow coming from a government that has itself been proven to be a corrupt, wicked regime. (Full disclosure: I write as someone who once voted for them; but please don’t send me hate mail).

I’m not comparing the British government to the Taliban but it’s hard not to contrast the self-serving arrogance of a ruling elite so shamelessly ‘on the make,’ with the brave, selfless service of British troops on the frontline of a war in another country.

And Afghanistan really is another country. I'm no expert on geography, but from what I've read, it's wild and ungovernable, riven by religious in-fighting and tribalism. Other countries have tried to tame it over the years - Russia included - and failed. Why does this government think it can do any better? There is nothing to win in Afghanistan, only limbs and lives to lose.

But from our safe, comfortable sofas in the UK (and or rural France) we see only a deeply sanitised version of the war. When Hugh Edwards announces another anonymous ‘casualty’ in Helmand Provence, there’s no hint of the unspeakable horrors involved. Little footage of coffins carrying poor, battered corpses back to airbases in the UK under the cover of night or of grief-stricken loved ones. (The British government doesn’t even have the decency to send a minister to meet these death planes.) No scenes of those battling on the bloody frontline to sew limbs back onto the bomb-shattered bodies of boys barely out of their teens. No pictures of horrifically maimed soldiers to remind us of the horrible reality of this phoney war.

The even bigger atrocity is that having embarked on this unwinnable conflict, the government has done so without giving the forces the necessary equipment - perhaps because the money has been spent on buying patio heaters for Margaret Beckett or a second home and 'sustenance' for Ed Balls (who doesn't exactly look like he needs it). Meanwhile, ministers with horribly bloated egos appear on Question Time to tell us that British troops have everything they need, when all evidence points to the contrary. What kind of idiots do they take us for?

The bottom line is that the Taliban represents an ideology. And you can’t fight an ideology by sending in the troops. So let’s leave this godforsaken country to its in-fighting (as latest piece of treacherous butchery shows, there doesn’t seem to be much appetite or gratitude for the attempt to impose democracy). And after all, the British government is happy to turn a blind eye to the atrocities being committed in Zimbabwe. As for fighting terrorism at source, well here’s a thought: how about starting closer to home with more efficient border checks to weed out potential terrorists?

I’ve only been on one march in my life - against apartheid, many years ago. But how I wish someone would organise a march against the war in Afghanistan. I for one would fly back from France to take part. In the meantime, may I suggest that we send all members of this cheating, lying government - with or without expenses - on a month-long ‘fact-finding’ mission to Helmand Province.

comments (8)

1. Posted by gwenda causer on November 5, 2009 4:53 PM

I agree 100%, what on earth are we doing over there except wasting young lives. I think the government should pull out and leave the Afghans to their own devices. If they are stubborn enough to stay, then at least give the troops the very best equipment available and plenty of it.

2. Posted by Geoff on November 5, 2009 6:20 PM

I suspect that your views would chime with many across the political spectrum.
It seems that HMG is all too willing to strut its pro-American credentials by sending our military to fight in places like Afghanistan - but, as you say, we are shielded from the grim reality of warfare by the media showing only sanitised images. The reality is that our policies are killing people of all persuasions and yet we aren't allowed to actually see what's being done in our name. And until we know (as best we can) the reality of the situation, how can we make any informed decisions?
What really sticks in my craw is when sympathy for the latest death(s) is expressed in the House at PMQs, each leader makes sure he goes through his tick-box list of trite things to say - starting always with "my sympathy to the family etc".. while wondering to himself if he'd flipped his homes lately..
The problem with places like Afghanistan and Iraq et al is that we in the West always try to impose our systems on them, using our Western rationale and values.
Why aren't we buying the Afghan opium crop for example? Or subsidising the Afghan farmers to make a living. Cheaper than a war I'd've thought. And less liable to make enemies out of entire generations.

3. Posted by mimi pompom on November 5, 2009 6:56 PM

Hi Geoff,

I absolutely agree re imposing western values in countries where they are not necessarily welcome. The 'our way is best' approach is a modern day form of imperialism. And couldn't agree more re the opium crops - we need opiates for medicine and it would allow the farmers to make a legal living. Destroying them is futile, as is the mission in Afghanistan

Mimi P

4. Posted by jentana on November 6, 2009 2:24 PM

Don't worry, I voted for them too last time. As far as the government sending a representative when bodies are returning, the army expressly does not want it. They feel they are a family and they don't want outsiders intruding on their grief. Coming from a services family myself I know I wouldn't want some damn politician with his crocodile tears wanting to shake my hand. A lot of young men are dying but they are all doing what they love. We no longer have conscription and they are all volunteers who know what might happen. If you want a quiet life then maybe you should choose the Civil Service. I know I sound harsh, but this is the reality.

If I wasn't a woman I would agree with you about withdrawing from Afghanistan. But we all know how they fared when the Taliban were in control. However god only knows how it will all end.

5. Posted by mimi pompom on November 6, 2009 4:17 PM

Dear Jentana,

It's interesting to know tthat you never see ministers or the PM ther is that the army (understandably) don't want them there. I did hesitate before writing this post because the one reason that might justify a military presence in Afghanistan is the horrible treatment and oppression of women under the Taliban. But I wonder how much better it now? I would be really interested to know. There is also the fact tthat women are oppressed/treated as second class citizens and chattels in many other countries in the world and we don't send the military in there.

6. Posted by Eric on November 6, 2009 6:11 PM

It comes as a shock to know how rediculously onesided you are after accusing the "government" responsible for umpteen arrogant selfinterest torys fraudulent claims for public funds...........Your intense focus on the Labour Party puts serious questions against your ability to be evenhanded

7. Posted by tillymelinda on November 6, 2009 7:53 PM

This seems like a catch 22 situation and we're damned if we do and damned if we don't. No one knows what will happen in the future but we have to hope that the greater good will endeavour, even though at the moment it seems highly unlikely. HMG need to listen more and say less.

8. Posted by Eagle Wings on November 8, 2009 6:11 PM

Mimi, the fact remains that Bin Laden remains at large and posed a threat within Afghanistan, being shielded by the Taliban, but was believed to have fled to neighbouring Pakistan. As I understand it, this is one of the main reasons for our troops (and those of other countries) having been sent in the first place. Certainly the past year of killings very much begs the question as to whether they should remain there and whether the UK should have sent troops in the first place. I don't suppose anyone in the UK wants another 9/11 either.

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