I was astonished to hear what a respected British international affairs and military analyst had to say when he was interviewed on Canadian radio recently. He said that when the Americans and Canadians went into Southern Afghanistan a decade ago they believed the Taliban were foreign fighters with very little connection to local communities.
I was in Afghanistan in early 2002 and I knew that many of the people in the villages around Kandahar Airport were not happy to see armed foreigners driving around as if they had a right to be there. The foreign soldiers would only be tolerated if there was some tangible benefit to the locals from their presence. And making sure little girls got to go to school wasn’t one of the priorities for the guys who’d stashed their AK-47s and RPGs in drainage culverts when the Yanks and Canucks first showed up. You could see in their faces that if we didn’t start handing out sweeties soon, there was going to be trouble. And there has been.
We’ve dug a deep hole for ourselves in Afghanistan. We’ve tried to do things on the cheap. We’ve got into bed with some very unpleasant characters. In fact, we’ve proved very bad at picking our friends.
The time has come to have a look at what we actually want to achieve in Afghanistan. Would an Afghanistan without western troops be a menace to world peace? What are we prepared to pay and sacrifice for peace in Afghanistan? It is not going to come cheap.