Afghanistan — Parliament Notes 1
There is substantial agreement outside the left and outside the Labour Party that Britain’s attempts at ‘nation building’ through military intervention should be given up.
For example Simon Jenkins:
“How many times must it be drummed into British heads that the British empire is over? It is dead, finished, outdated, not to be repeated. Yet Boris Johnson has just sent an aircraft carrier to the South China Sea. Britain has no need, let alone right, to rule other countries, to “make the world a better place”. No soldier need die for it, let alone 454 British soldiers and civilians in Afghanistan. The best Britain can now do is establish good relations with a new regime in Afghanistan – in liaison with Kabul’s neighbours Pakistan and Iran – to protect at least some of the good it has attempted to do this past 20 years. The world is not threatening Britain. Terrorism does not need state sponsors, nor will it be ended by state conquest.”
Another example is the former officer in the Irish Army Philip Quinlan (“The idea that our way of life is so evidently superior is a bad mix of hubris and naivety”)
“I was never entirely convinced about nation-building or even counter-insurgency and the more I witnessed the more I was convinced they are doomed to failure. Of course there are people within these societies who will align with western models, but to think that we can land into a country, rotate through in six- or 12-month intervals and fundamentally change how a culture has evolved always seemed to me to be an unbelievably bad mix of hubris and naivety. I say “we” here because I think it’s too easy to place the blame on just the US or its presidents. This is an issue the western world needs to address. We cannot lie to ourselves in thinking that we can engineer an entire society and we cannot lie to the people within those societies who think the West has the will to support them for as long as it takes.”
Many Labour MPs on the other hand cling to the delusion that Britain’s role is to make the world a better place through military intervention.
More than 150,000 UK personnel have served in Afghanistan. They include Members from across this House, including the hon. and gallant Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat), my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis), the hon. and gallant Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Johnny Mercer), my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Norwich South (Clive Lewis), and the hon. and gallant Members for Aldershot (Leo Docherty), for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely), for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti) and for Wells (James Heappey).
Since then, a fragile democracy emerged. It was by no means perfect, but no international terrorist attacks have been mounted from Afghanistan in that period. Women have gained liberty and won office, schools and clinics have been built, and Afghans have allowed themselves to dream of a better future. Those achievements were born of sacrifice—sacrifice by the Afghan people who bravely fought alongside their NATO allies, and British sacrifice.
These past 20 years have been a struggle for peace. We tried to break the cycle of war, and to give hope to women and girls. We tried to give the Afghans a different life—one of hope and opportunity—
In 2001, we went into Afghanistan to say to the people that we would get rid of the military, medieval regime and bring them up to speed as regards what we believed their living standards, education and living systems and style should be. […]
He [President Biden] needs to understand that this is about not just terrorist threats emanating from Afghanistan, but the economic war going on in the region. By vacating Afghanistan and not speaking to its neighbour Pakistan, he will now provide a clear corridor for China and Russia to come through. It is not about a 20-year war, but about the current situation, the economy and the area’s geographical position.
“The Afghanistan that we hoped to build 20 years ago may be lost for now, but our Government need a plan and a vision for the sort of world that we want to build. Afghanistan will be how we are judged in future.”
I also expect Ministers, not least our Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary, to wake up to Britain’s quickly declining influence in the world and the risk that that poses to our country. That can be turned around, but it will require renewed effort and statesmanslike leadership that befits Britain’s historical status in the world. I sincerely hope that the Government have it in them.
We have to be aware of the consequences for our own security and that of our allies, for civilians, democracy, development and human rights in the world if we carry on down this path of diminishing retreat.
In every nation and region, people believe that we can be a force for good in the world, and through this awful crisis they have found their voice. […]
A self-confident country is one that goes out with courage and conviction and sheds light, not just might, around the world. That is the light that we showed for two decades in Afghanistan.
Graham Stringer asks a sensible question:
The right hon. Gentleman makes perfectly reasonable and justified criticisms of the way the American Government came to a decision to leave in such haste, but like a number of other right hon. and hon. Members, the implication of his speech is that we somehow could have had an independent Afghan policy without the Americans. Can he explain how?
Zarah Sultana spoke to explain her main point: “The west cannot build liberal democracies with bombs and bullets. That dangerous fantasy, cooked up by neo-conservative fanatics in Washington and championed by their faithful followers in London, has brought untold death and destruction to Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and many other places, in wars that have made us all unsafe.”
The full text of the wonderful speech (by Labour MP Zarah Sultana) is at https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2021-08-18/debates/A86142BD-A204-4BC8-BBC0-ACA7BAD7E9F0/Afghanistan#contribution-B9706448-9111-428B-A7DD-5F8E846F992E
Today, nearly 20 years since Tony Blair dutifully followed George W. Bush to war in Afghanistan, this House has an obligation to learn its lessons and to ensure that its mistakes are never repeated. I want to start by stating a hard but clear truth that some in this House do not want to hear: the 20-year war on Afghanistan was a mistake of catastrophic proportions, causing untold human tragedy, with 240,000 people killed—men, women and children—including tens of thousands of innocent Afghan civilians and 457 British personnel. This House must never again send British service personnel to die in futile wars.
Rather than repeating the mistakes of the past, we must learn that lesson for the future. The west cannot build liberal democracies with bombs and bullets. That dangerous fantasy, cooked up by neo-conservative fanatics in Washington and championed by their faithful followers in London, has brought untold death and destruction to Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and many other places, in wars that have made us all unsafe. Today, we must rid ourselves of the delusion that the answer to failed intervention is yet more intervention and dispense with the belief that freedom abroad and safety at home can be won through wars and regime change.
After all this bloodshed, we have a special duty to the people of Afghanistan. Today, as Afghans flee for their lives—with heartbreaking images of people desperately clinging on to planes, hoping that the sky is safer than the land—the Afghan asylum seekers who are already here must be provided with an unconditional amnesty. On that issue, I want to raise again with the Government the case of my constituent Jamal and his father. Jamal was a translator for the British Army for six years and his father worked as a gardener in a British base. While Jamal made it safely to Coventry, a proud city of sanctuary, his father has been denied relocation and is still in Afghanistan in grave danger. I have written to the Secretary of State, but I have not received a reply, so today I urge the Government to act immediately and provide safe passage for Jamal’s father and all Afghans who face that threat from the Taliban.
The war on Afghanistan was the first war on terror. I was just seven years old when British air strikes hit the country. A few years later, the now Prime Minister wrote, “We are in Afghanistan to teach them the value of democracy.” Today, after 20 years of bloodshed, it is incumbent on us to learn that democracy cannot be bombed into existence and that American military might is no friend of freedom, and to ensure that this first war on terror is Britain’s last war of aggression.