Monday 21 June 2010
The Valley of Death
I have before me the words of the Reverend G. R. Grieg, an army chaplain writing about his experiences in Afghanistan. Of our presence in that benighted country he says;
A war begun for no wise purpose, carried on with a strange mixture of rashness and stupidity, brought to a close with after a suffering and disaster, without much glory attached either to the government, which directed, or the great body of troops, which waged it. Not one benefit, political or military, has Britain acquired with this war. Our eventual evacuation of the country resembled the retreat of an army defeated.
Wait just a moment; there is something odd about this. Reverend Grieg seems to be writing from a future perspective when our troops are still there, dying by slow and awful degrees. Ah, but the thing is, you see, the Reverend Green’s future is long passed; he is writing here in 1843, writing of the first Anglo-Afghan War.
Still, the elements are there, the elements of a possible future. Why are we there, what are we doing, why are our soldiers dying? Do you know the answers to these questions, because I most certainly do not? I no longer believe the lies we were told about this operation being vital for our national security. If anything it has made matters worse.
Although he was out of step with official government policy, I completely agree with the sentiments of Liam Fox, the British Defence Secretary, that Afghanistan is a broken thirteenth century country; it will always be a broken thirteenth century country. The only thing it’s good for is opium and fanaticism.
I don’t think most people in Britain and the United States realise how bad things are, worse, even, than the later stages of the Vietnam War. I described the conflict once as the war of the Elephant and the Ant: the Elephant kills in great quantities but is overwhelmed by the Ant’s multitudes.
We don’t hear so much now about General McChrystal’s much vaunted ‘surge’ for the simple reason that no sooner had he ceased surging than the Taliban ants regrouped. Now, according to Pentagon reports, the government of the corrupt Mohammed Karzai controls only 29 out of 121 key strategic districts. We have been here so many times before: most of the countryside is controlled by the enemy while heavily-armed western troops are restricted to large towns and other strongpoints. Our soldiers are dying to prop up a puppet in Kabul, not even a particularly grateful puppet.
Yes, I feel sorry for the women who will have to live under the rule of the appalling Taliban, feel sorry for the girls who will have to grow up illiterate and ignorant, feel sorry for all of those who will have to descend back into darkness and obscurantism. But that is not our business. Afghanistan belongs in the thirteenth century, a time from which it will never emerge. This place is the anus mundi; it always has been.