There is hope ( ?)

Nando’s has run out of Peri Peri Chicken. 

I sense, though I could be wrong,  that there may not be a Nando’s on Orkney so this devastating failure of gastronomy may not affect you. I can say with honesty that, writing as I do in Stranraer, the full effect of this dreadful news hasn’t really percolated to the local consciousness here either. But beer? No that would be felt here as apparently beer supplies are dropping because of a lack of gas to make the pump systems work.

Nothing to do with Brexit of course. No no .  The fact that we are 100,000 delivery drivers short and we observe that many have gone back to Europe during Covid is pure coincidence but as the road haulage folk are saying ‘ might we have just a short lull in our visa system so we can get some back? “ I wonder how many voted for Brexit in the first place? 

But these are  such serious challenges for the United Kingdom that on one news channel they featured above Afghanistan and Haiti. I wonder who is getting their priorities right? 

I am not really bought into the notion that the downfall of Afghanistan in so short a period of time was completely unpredictable, but neither am I naive enough to believe that our presence there was welcome let alone needed to be indefinite. I sense that the collapse that we have seen now has its roots much further back when we decided to invade the country without a coherent exit strategy, much as we did with Iraq. 

Perhaps the Afghan politician who when asked  “ how do we get peace with the Taliban” said “ kill them all” had a point. Of course he didn’t, but from his perspective ,which could be described as “fragile, “ you could see where he was coming from . It seems to be a time honoured and proven reality that if you want to impose your will,  then negotiate  with your enemies when they are weak rather than when they have just been given carte blanche to do what they like by a series of announcements in the USA. Do terrorists listen to CNN? it seems they do. 

Nor am I bought in to the UK Government’s suggestion that “ once the USA had made their decision we had no alternatives.” Of course we did, of course the international community did, they just chose not to consider any. 

What this shows is our inherent weakness and the sad joke that is “ global Britain .” We are as global as the USA will allow us to be, and that is the problem. Any country that is dependent on the decision making of another country is weak. Especially so when the country you are dependent upon has a history of vacillating  between interventionism  and introverted self isolation . Especially when we divorce ourselves from a viable alternative . With  the wanton destruction of our position of excellence and global leadership by the  “ soft power” of foreign aid, the UK is weaker and more vulnerable than at any point in the last 200 years, and it is entirely self inflicted. 

When I hear the Home Secretary speak of being open to Afghan Refugees ……but not those on the boats in the channel  right now, as if they were fleeing some other crisis,  I despair. How very British, we need our crises to be ordered. 

When I heard our Foreign Secretary ( nice tan ) speak of the UK as a generous and welcoming country, while simultaneously supporting a draconian refugee policy, I begin to wonder what the depths are to hypocrisy. He quotes his ancestors, and those of the Home Secretary ( and indeed mine) as examples of those who benefited from Britain’s  largesse as a welcoming country to those fleeing  political oppression. He was right about then, he is wrong about now. Then we spoke from strength and now we speak from weakness. Now we are a small minded country that talks about 20,000 refugees from Afghanistan…”ah but just 5,000 a year,”  when there are that many on the tarmac of Kabul Airport alone! Far, far more whose lives will be destroyed by what is coming and who we gave a twenty year window of opportunity to, only to slam the window in their faces . 

It is not,  President  Biden,  the fault of uncommitted Afghans ( who have died in far greater number than ours or yours ) and who refused to fight, that we are where we are today. It is our fault for raising their expectations and abandoning them before they were able to realistically take up the fight themselves. It is the ongoing fault of our intelligence services who gave you the illusion that it could be any different. It is your fault for seeing this as a political opportunity . 

We have probably all been touched by the statements of British Forces Afghan veterans and their families  who have questioned the value of their sacrifice given the events that have taken place in the last two weeks. It is really difficult to find any positivity, particularly right now when things are most sensitive. 

What we are hearing ( usually from embarrassed politicians )  are comments about “ well, wait and see – the Taliban may be different .’ They indeed may, but I sense the more engaging comments by them are related to learning new PR skills than a change to their fundamental beliefs.  

A woman Afghan judge in exile in the UK said today “ They say women can work under Sharia law, whose Sharia law? I’m a Muslim and this isn’t my Sharia law .” So time will tell. 

But there is a positive, in my view, that those veterans and their families can look back upon with pride but also in hope for the future . Will it make them feel it was worthwhile? I don’t know, and I have no right to measure their sacrifice,  but it is worth exploring . 

Twenty years is a short time in  the life of a nation but a long time in the development of an individual. 

Young people in Afghanistan were not alive in a time prior to the modernisation of their state. People have tasted freedom and opportunity and those are seductive and heady things. They will not let that go. The future is with them and with civil society . 

Will the latter be suppressed? Yes probably, or parodies will be allowed for external consumption but we have evidence everywhere on every continent that suppression of values of freedom simply strengthen the call for more of the same. Incredibly brave young women were out on the streets of Kabul speaking of their unwillingness to be suppressed and to be treated as they were before by the Taliban . They face a difficult future but they are not lone voices and even if sent underground,   within them will emerge leadership. 

Afghanistan is not going back to where it was 20 years ago simply because there have been 20 years in-between and things have changed . 

The total mess that has been created recently by the ludicrous approach to disengagement that we have seen is our shame because our politicians were all too willing to take the plaudits when things went well, and all too slow to consider what disengagement could look like. 

But that shame should not be shared by those who fought for the freedoms that some now cherish and who may themselves fight to achieve again in the coming months and years. 

Will the Taliban change ? Who knows, probably not even them as  they are a disparate, fragmented and argumentative group and will probably find themselves facing down other emerging fundamentalist  groups in the coming months. They will also find that they need more than holy scripture to run a modern state that was 70% dependent upon external funding and which will probably face rampant inflation.

What 20 years of sacrifice has given is; opportunity, teaching, hope and the potential to dare  see new horizons. Those are hard things to erase and things to be proud of.

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5 replies »

  1. Some excellent points well made. Noting your location in Stranraer, best wishes to you and Alec Ross from Ayrshire. Many a time I spent in the “cley hole” during my formative years.

    • Hi Robert – Alec is actually also in Stranraer – well Lochans just down the road so very much a D+G bloke, and also a good friend who got me into writing here in the first place…so it is all his fault !!!

  2. If I was a Blogger or on Facebook, I’d do ‘likes’ for this Steve – but all I can do is say – in capital letters……. this article is A GOOD THING.
    Balanced, well thought out, not a knee-jerk reaction. Thank you.

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