I went to a rather refreshing lecture last Friday which ruthlessly exposed the futility of current military efforts in Afghanistan. Rory Stewart, the lecturer, demonstrated that the 100,000 odd soldiers in Southern Afghanistan will not and cannot result in a lessening of terrorism and its export, eradicate the drug culture, create anything approaching democratic processes, pacify Pakistan or contribute to economic growth in that benighted country.
The aims, Professor Stewart (now also the Conservative MP for Penrith and the Borders) argued, must now be limited to locating and destroying training camps with a small task force, protecting the major cities from Taliban control and targeting insurgents when and if they gather in any kind of number. His view is that if this can be done, Afghanistan may just achieve in 30 years time the level of development currently seen in Pakistan.
It was and is a sober message but is based on going back to first principles or fundamentals – if we really understood the mismatch between the damage of decades of conflict and the international solutions proposed, the present investment in Afghanistan could be seen as futile. The implication of this kind of analysis is that UK foreign policy is based on a momentum created by others (in the case of Afghanistan, the USA) and which no longer quite knows what its goals are. It is even more concerning that if the current surge in Afghanistan doesn’t work, there is no Plan B on the table.