I read with interest your recent op-ed about the British occupation of Afghanistan in the Guardian titled ‘We cannot allow this foul insurgency to triumph’ (see http://www.guardian.co.uk/global/2009/nov/23/afghanistan-horror-insurgency-wrong-people).
You start by referring to Britain’s history of “engagement” with Afghanistan. “Engagement” seems to be a very odd way of describing Britain’s four invasions of Afghanistan since 1838. I wonder if you would describe the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 as “engagement”, or whether Germany was “engaged” with Poland in 1939?
As you know, virtually all of the numerous opinion polls recently carried out about Afghanistan show the majority of the public would like British troops withdrawn in the near future. For example, fully 73 percent of respondents in a November 2009 Channel Four/YouGov said they wanted British troops withdrawn within a year (http://www.channel4.com/news/articles/uk/afghan+poll+majority+want+troops+home/3411597). You quickly dismiss this as “a lazy emotional response.” In contrast you describe the three main political parties position of supporting the continuation of the British occupation of Afghanistan as one that deserves “much credit”.
You also argue that Karzai’s recent “presidential inauguration was not all fake.” That may be technically true, but your own eyewitness account refers to the presence of General Dotsam and General Wardak (see http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/nov/19/hamid-karzai-inauguration). The Times notes Dostum “is arguably the most notorious of Afghanistan’s warlords.. he is accused of widespread human rights abuses, including the massacre of up to 2,000 Taleban who suffocated in cargo containers in late 2001. He is also alleged to have crushed one of his own soldiers to death by tying him to the tracks of a tank.” (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/article6799717.ece). Hardly a man to lend credibility to the event is he?
Finally – and surely with your tongue firmly in cheek – you write the following about British foreign secretary David Miliband: “I did not come across an unthinking militarist but a liberal man almost tortured by war.” Ignoring your hagiographic style, the key word here is “tortured”. As your Guardian colleague Richard Norton-Taylor recently noted, the high court recently “flatly rejected claims by David Miliband… that releasing evidence of the CIA’s inhuman and unlawful treatment of UK resident Binyam Mohamed would harm Britain‘s relations with the US by giving away intelligence secrets.” Norton-Taylor continues: “In one stinging passage, the judges said yesterday the foreign secretary "was not prepared either to produce evidence or address argument to us". (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/nov/19/court-rejects-miliband-cia-request) I wonder if Miliband was tortured by his attempts to cover up what happened to Binyam Mohamed?
All of this adds up to an op-ed piece that is heavily supportive of the Government’s stance on Afghanistan and opposed to the wishes of the majority of the British population. Perhaps this is not surprising because, as you freely admit, you travelled to Afghanistan in “the seductive bubble” of Miliband’s entourage. Presumably invited by (or at the very least authorised by) the Foreign Office to accompany the foreign secretary, one suspects the Foreign Office are very happy with your article. I wonder, though, how your piece will read when a journalist 100 or 200 years from now looks back on the coverage of Britain’s forth “engagement” with Afghanistan, just as you looked back at John Murray’s 1843 account of the British army’s retreat from Kabul in the nineteenth century? Will they see the careful analysis of an independent journalist or a stenographer to established power?