It has become an all too familiar story. Sitting down with my Browns sandwich to watch the BBC one o’clock news, I hear of the tragedy of another British soldier having been killed in Afghanistan. This is almost inevitably followed by the government vainly trying to rally support for the war whilst opposition parties criticise the methods the government is using, or the equipment, or the defence budget, or something else which they can find fault with.
My housemate watching this with me turns and asks me, “Kieran, why are we still fighting in Afghanistan- shouldn’t we just pull out?” My answer surprises her, as my answer is no.
You may, quite rightly, ask why, as did my housemate. It is not because of the government’s previously stated aims. The main explanation given is that the UK’s military presence is reducing the threat from terrorism. In fact, the vast majority of Islamist terrorist incidents in the UK since 2001 have used the war in Afghanistan as a justification for their attacks. Most of the planned and executed attacks involved not Afghanistan but Pakistan.
Another justification is that Britain is bringing democracy to an oppressed people; the name of the war is after all Operation Enduring Freedom. No one can doubt the importance of this; however if this is a central foreign policy objective of the UK then it has a long way to go to bring democracy to all nations which do not meet that criteria.
The government also says that British troops are also being used to try and curb the international opium trade. Unfortunately it has risen substantially from pre-war levels.
This left my housemate feeling a little confused as to why I believed it was vital for the UK and its NATO allies to remain in Afghanistan. The reason why seems to have been overlooked by almost everyone. If the British Army was to leave, then the NATO forces would be gravely weakened, and would probably be unable to meet the challenge of defeating the Taliban. This would almost certainly lead to its return to government, plunging the lives of millions of Afghans back into the misery which they are they trying to escape. However, it is across the border that the wider implications would be felt.
To the south of Afghanistan is Pakistan, also currently fighting against Islamist militants. Failure in Afghanistan could have disastrous consequences for Pakistan. Pakistan is currently in possession of more than 70 nuclear weapons. This year, Pakistan began producing new warheads and missiles. At present, its longest range missiles can go 2500km, which gives it reach into Iraq India, and China. The new missiles aim to increase that reach to 4500km; suddenly, southern Europe, Russia, the Chinese coast and East Africa are potential targets. The consequences of a nuclear armed Pakistan in the hands of the Taliban do not bear thinking about.