Finishing what job?

by Stephen Tall on July 10, 2006

Defence Secretary Des Brown today committed a further 900 British troops to Afghanistan “to help security and reconstruction efforts”.

Last week, Ming Campbell voiced his support for the decision, arguing this expansion of effort was needed “to complete the job”. As Jonathan Calder acerbically noted, “Fine, but wouldn’t it be a good idea to decide what ‘the job’ is first?”

A fair point, so I turned to the Party’s website to find out. Our Shadow Defence Secretary, Nick Harvey, has issued a statement: “I welcome the deployment of extra troops. … What is needed is a clear operational strategy with achievable objectives.” And there it stops. What that strategy might be, and what those objectives are, is left dangling.

Meanwhile, Peter Preston puts forward a depressing and sobering analysis in today’s Guardian:

Afghanistan has never, ever, been a successful state. It hasn’t failed, for there has seldom been a worthwhile period of steady governance and legality, let alone freedom, throughout its tortured history. It is, and always has been, a dust bowl of violence, lawlessness and profound instability. And the fact that we don’t see that instantly, that we bumble along hoping to create some new civil society at gunpoint, comes straight back to George Bush’s original 9/11 formulation and the “war” word. Wars – even wars against terrorist groups like Eta or the IRA – are waged between finite, coherent forces. They may end, as those two have ended, via submission or negotiation. There is a structure to them.

But the particular difficulty with al-Qaida is that it doesn’t fit that pattern – and thus any eventual resolution is non-negotiable. And the particular, grievous difficulty with Afghanistan, far worse than Iraq, is that there is no structure in place to build on. Plaster it with aid and the benign patter of the ballot box, and you’ll still see your dreams come to nothing. This, in so many ways, is a medieval country, a land that time has passed by. It cannot be spun five centuries forward by bemused brigades from Nato who can’t understand who the enemy is or why it hates them so. It pays no heed to the collected speeches of Tony Blair. …

… forget also the thought that “more” troops will “finish the job”. This is Afghanistan: and the job, whatever it is, has barely begun.