Saturday, March 04, 2006

The Fourth Anglo-Afghan War

Yesterday's House Points column from Liberal Democrat News.

Incidentally, there was no House Points column last week. The Commons on its half-term holiday and I was still obliged to be neutral in the leadership contest. So we decided the editorial gods were against the idea.

Gut feelings

Britain has a long and unhappy history of intervention in Afghanistan. There was the First Anglo-Afghan War of 1838–42, where the massacre of the British garrison in Kabul was followed by brutal reprisals.

Then came the Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878–79), when much the same happened. By the time of the Third Anglo-Afghan War in 1919 we were using aerial bombardment.

Now British troops are off to Afghanistan again. At Monday’s defence questions John Reid confirmed there are currently around 1600 there, and this will increase to around 5700.

Why are they going? Reid described their task as establishing democracy, ending terrorism, achieving security in the south of Afghanistan, helping the Afghan economy and dealing with poppy destruction. He did not say what they are doing after lunch.

There were hard questions from both sides of the House. Michael Moore asked how individuals detained by UK forces would be handed over to the Afghan authorities and what judicial procedures would follow.

In reply to all this, Reid said what defence secretaries always say in a tight corner: “we all ought to be careful not to cross the threshold into despondency and defeatism before we even arrive, because that does no one any good, particularly our very brave troops.”

Liberal Democrats have questions to answer here too. We are best known for our opposition to George’s Bush invasion of Iraq, yet in principle we are in favour of intervention in Afghanistan and many other places.

You can argue that we have been consistent by insisting that military operations must be sanctioned by international authority. But politics is about gut feelings as well as logic, and ours can sometimes be in conflict.

If the current expedition into Afghanistan turns into the Fourth Anglo-Afghan War, what will we say then?


By the time you read this, the party will have elected a new leader. It’s been a good campaign, but as it unfolded it became clear that Chris/Ming/Simon was the outstanding candidate. I congratulate him on his victory and am proud to say that I supported him all along.

(Deirdre, please can you have a look at the first couple of boxes to be opened and delete the two names that don’t apply? Thanks.)

(Oops, sorry - forgot to delete this before we went to press - Ed.)

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