Text of a Letter to the times – August 2009

Lord Hylton

Throughout the holidays the British media, perhaps for lack of other emotive news, have been focusing on British military casualties in Afghanistan in an almost morbid way.  In previous major wars such case by case accounts would not have been possible, or even allowed.

It seems to me that editors and the public generally should try to understand the wider context.  Where would Afghanistan now be if Al Qaeda and its Taleban supporters had not been resisted by force?  The recent elections may have been imperfect, but could they have been held at all, with many candidates for the presidency, if British and American forces were not resisting the insurgents?  No girls now would be receiving education, if the Taleban were in power.

Of course, many mistakes have been made in the conduct of the campaign and in the provision of aid and reconstruction resources.  There may have been a lack of clear purpose, combined with divided responsibilities.  From now on we should aim to provide security for all Afghan civilians, with the help of their own police and army.  We should seek to win hearts and minds, so that the Afghan people as a whole can freely decide their own future, without threatening their neighbours in our interdependent world.

17 comments for “Text of a Letter to the times – August 2009

  1. Bedd Gelert
    26/08/2009 at 1:10 pm

    “Where would Afghanistan now be if Al Qaeda and its Taleban supporters had not been resisted by force?”

    Probably not looking very dissimilar to the situation it now finds itself in. Lacking in healthcare, infrastructure and education.

    We are making a small difference – but how can we continue to throw British lives at the problem just to ‘stand still’ knowing full well that if we pull out things will return to the status quo ante ??

    Of course, in your day and age Britain had a colony on every continent and life was cheap and we could afford to throw the blood of our citizens away in large numbers largely unreported by a compliant media to maintain our world dominance – but those days are long, long behind us. And not a day too soon.

  2. Croft
    26/08/2009 at 2:25 pm

    I suppose crudely there is a cost benefit analysis in this exercise. How much blood and treasure are all the nations involved in Afghanistan willing to spend and what result musty be achieved in order to justify the continuation of the same. Politicians generally support elections and don’t normally have to like the result. However there is an obvious tension and objection to propping up a regime or system when it is passing laws which many find abhorrent – like the various laws aimed at curtailing the very limited rights, protections and freedoms of women.

    PS Your new photo definitely has something of George Bernard Shaw about it 🙂

  3. 26/08/2009 at 5:29 pm

    I tend to agree with Lord Hylton here. The loss of any lives in war is a matter of enormous regret, but the morbid pondering over each and every life lost in Afghanistan is disheartening indeed. If Parliament had marked every death in WWI in the same manner it does each in Afghanistan, it would have done little else in 1914-18.

    What the Afghanistan conflict seems to me to illustrate, however, is a lack of clear purpose and means whereby the purpose is to be fulfilled. The USA has the military means to occupy just about anywhere it wishes. Its understanding of what to do with areas once it has occupied them, however, seems limited indeed. Elect a Government and trust to luck appears to be about as far as it goes in many ways, save the imposition of western cultural norms (in this case girls’ education) upon other cultures.

    Now it is very easy to sit in a rich, developed country with rich, developed infrastructure that we have all come to take for granted and think with horror of various inequitable manifestations in places like Afghanistan, whether they be electoral misdoings or failure to educate girls. It is quite another to put the necessary resources in place to put those matters right.

    Given that Afghanistan is the fourth (I believe) poorest nation on earth, as a rough rule of thumb educating one sex has much going for it, as it would enable at least one person in most households to receive an education. Educating all is of course highly desirable but without additional resources could result in all receiving an inadequate education.

  4. Troika21
    26/08/2009 at 6:34 pm

    “Where would Afghanistan now be if Al Qaeda and its Taleban supporters had not been resisted by force?”

    Bwh-Hahahaha!! Very funny. I’d have to say it would be where it is right now, with a slightly higher population to boot.

    “No girls now would be receiving education, if the Taleban were in power.”

    Yes, because Afghanistan was invaded by militant feminists. What about the new laws allowing men to demand sex from their wives, and punish them in they refuse?

    I support the conflict in Afghanistan, in general – the ‘good’ war as its become known, but we should not delude ourselves about what it will take to change that backward nation, or why we are there, or the cost of doing so.

    I find it very funny that politicians seemed to think that after the invasions of both Afghanistan and Iraq, that the populations would simply work together and form nice liberal democracies. Well, it would be funny if it wasn’t so tragic.

  5. Frank W. Summers III
    26/08/2009 at 6:35 pm

    I am one who has never commented on his Lordship’s posts before but have posted often on the LOTB. My second cousin Sargeant First Class Severin Summers III was killed in Afghanistan and his body currently waits interrment at Arlington National Cemetery. For an American of my type after the events of September 11, 2001 there could be no doubt that war with Afghanistan was the most exigent military circumstance since the World War. I am grateful for the participation of the British in that same enterprise at the same time (to use the weakes possible description). There is a lot I do not like about this war. But if Western civilization cannot fight a war like this then Western Civilization must in my view accept total obliteration within a few generations. Earth is not actually a playground.

    For one small piece of this complex story I submit this:http://www.2theadvocate.com/news/52726337.html

    • Lord Hylton
      28/08/2009 at 11:09 am

      Thank you for taking time to comment

  6. Kyle Mulholland
    27/08/2009 at 3:27 am

    My Lord, I have supported this war on terror since the beginning. However, after these long and hard years, my support is waining. Now that the democracy we have established is still yet one whose values are fundamentally opposed to our own, is the main point of contention. It should have been an absolute point that the democracy established would be one in which freedom was inviolable.

    This, I fear, necessitates a non-Islamic regime. This would suggest that our conundrum is insoluble.

    I have supported these wars, not as a visceral Labour supporter, but as a secularist, humanist and believer in the rule of law and cause of world peace. I fear, however, that only a popular change or uprising amongst the actual peoples of Afghanistan would truly make any difference.

  7. p.selvaratnam
    27/08/2009 at 10:44 am

    ”From now on we should aim to provide security for all Afghan civilians, with the help of their own police and army.”
    Thanks for your concern for Afghanis. I’m also concerned about them.

    Will you please say something about the civilians forcibly detained in camps surrounded by barbed wire and heavily guarded by the Army in Northern Sri Lanka?
    Why a parliamentarian outside Sri lanka should be concerned is that i.journalists have no free access to the camps ii.aid agencies have restricted access and are not allowed to speak with the detainees and not allowed to take in cameras or mobile phones and are asked to sign memoranda saying they would not disclose to the wrold what they see in the camps
    iii. disappearances and rape are reported by national and international human rights organisations
    iv.Police officers are acting against the Rule of Law in the South resulting in the President donating half a million rupees to each of the families of two young men murdered in custody of the police. Within days he was at asports event of the police force praising them.

    Will you please ask the President to take action on police officers breaking the law so that more murders may not happen in police custody? So that Sri lankan citizens may be safe from their own police force.
    The President not reprimanding the police but warding off them from criticism of the public sends an utterly wrong message.

    • Lord Hylton
      28/08/2009 at 11:06 am

      Thanks for your comment. I have raised the Sri Lanka grim situation with Foreign Office Ministers. I doubt if the President would pay any attention to me.

      You could try raising it with the Commonwealth Secretary-General.

  8. 27/08/2009 at 4:22 pm

    In previous major wars such case by case accounts would not have been possible, or even allowed.

    I have enormous respect for Lord Hylton and his many achievements, particularly with respect to his efforts in the local community in Somerset, but I have to add a slight note of disagreement. As a former member of the armed forces I have to say that The Falklands was, from where I was hunkered down, a pretty major war.

    And wasn’t there significant reportage in the world’s media (not just the BBC) from the South Atlantic?

    But to widen the theme slightly; I feel the reason Afghanistan is being so minutely monitored is because of the tremendous ineptitude being displayed (even flourished) at all levels of the political arena.

    That it has taken so many years to supply the British troops in Afghanistan with almost all of the right tools for the job is criminal. I would like to see several ‘someones’ held to account and I feel the trail would probably start in HM Treasury.

    • Lord Hylton
      28/08/2009 at 11:08 am

      Yes, the MOD and Treasury have much to admit. Also constant change of Ministers does not help. If you are in Somerset or the South-West, please help make known the Ammerdown Centre, near Radstock as a place where urgent national, moral and ethical issues can be discussed.

    • Senex
      28/08/2009 at 4:58 pm

      Brennig Jones: I agree!

      The MoD has two parts to it, a military executive and a civil service bureaucracy with politicians. It is a symbiotic relationship but not a marriage made in heaven.

      I doubt very much if the latter would lay down their lives for serving men and women in theatre. Don’t be led astray by current events and kit, what is happening is the same ole same ole.

      During the Falklands war soldiers were stripping arms from dead Argentinians because they perceived them to be better than their standard issue. When you’re petrified and think something will give you an edge, you go for it.

      For civilians, the MoD like the NHS and local government is a closed shop. Once you have worked for any of them you tend to stay in place. There is never any real incentive or opportunity for change.

      Ref: Why You Can’t Afford to Stand Still?

  9. Senex
    27/08/2009 at 4:29 pm

    The use of Al Qaeda and Taliban are words that pass easily from the lips of politicians and the written press in a way that is not properly understood in the context of a western moral framework surrounding mortal combat.

    I was recently chatting with a career sergeant who fought in Iraq and then retired only to be offered a re-enlistment, which he took, in Afghanistan. I asked him why enemy casualty figures were not being reported in the press as would be the case for a conventional war as opposing sides are given to bragging about losses to bolster morale back home.

    He could not answer with any confidence except to speculate that it must be something to do with winning over ‘hearts and minds’.

    Islam in its early genesis was centred on an unprescriptive wonder of God’s universe and a scholarly pleasure that came from understanding its workings. At the same time it was a religion that grew to prominence through murderous violence.

    It started as a faith of considerable liberties written in a language that lacked grammatical sophistication. For its acolytes this represented an anarchy that had no focus. Eventually, Islam’s scripture was rationalised into the form we see in general use today with the original writings lost or deliberately destroyed.

    The Taliban do not accept the prevailing view of Islam. Part of this view is a perception of heaven and hell. Normally, Muslims when they die do not go to heaven or hell but are placed in an unspecified limbo awaiting judgement day. From the link below about Islamic afterlife:

    The Qur’an specifies two exceptions to this general rule:
    Warriors who die fighting in the cause of God are ushered
    immediately to God’s presence (2:159 and 3:169); and
    “Enemies of Islam” are sentenced immediately to Hell upon death.

    Islam has never been one for ‘hearts and minds’ this is purely a Greco-Roman philosophical model. Despatch them with haste I say, and without conscience so that they may have an immediate audience with their creator. Queue jumpers every one of them!

    Ref: Al-Queda: Etymology
    History of the Taliban: Who They Are, What They Want
    Islamic Beliefs about the Afterlife

  10. Adrian Kidney
    27/08/2009 at 9:10 pm

    With deep respect my Lord I am not convinced of your words. It seems that outside of the key cities Afghanistan remains in the hands of the Taliban and it isn’t about to end any time soon. Indeed while it’s considered an electioneering tactic to support female oppression it does make one wonder what we’re exactly doing there.

    If they’re going to live like this, we may as well not waste lives in helping them.

    • Lord Hylton
      28/08/2009 at 11:07 am

      The Times published a map of Afghanistan showing Taleban presence iin varying strenths iin just over 40% of the country. Having intervened, is it right to leave a country to its own chaos?

      • Adrian Kidney
        29/08/2009 at 5:34 pm

        Surely the same could have been said (indeed was) over the Vietnam War?

    • Senex
      02/09/2009 at 4:34 pm

      “Having intervened, is it right to leave a country to its own chaos?” Is law just an increment of chaos?

      The Kabul government needs the west’s generosity as much as it needs the Taliban’s murderous violence and herein lies the moral hazard.

      If the Taliban were to disappear overnight then so would the billions being poured into the country’s infrastructure. Billions that that would never be there if peace and tranquillity reigned supreme.

      Didn’t they do well!? Aren’t we doing badly?

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