Afghanistan – the world’s most successful political system?

This is a personal response to provide an alternative to the relentlessly upbeat PR still pouring out of our national media. I’m tired of listening to reports of casualties, civilian deaths and reports of all the ‘progress’ our forces are making.  I’ve just finished reading Patrick Hennessey’s Junior Officers’ Reading Club his account of life as a soldier in Afghanistan which has made me aware of the immense sacrifices made by our armed forces in conflict. This is not intended to undermine them.

Afghanistan is Britain’s Vietnam. After 10 years we have nothing to show for it. But the psychology of loss aversion means we have to plug on to justify the waste of lives and money.  Here’s  how Afghanistan has managed to repel invasions and policy interference. How a country with considerable resources has defeated two superpowers. Let me start with a few statistics to show why Afghanistan is the world’s most successful economy. Last year Afghanistan’s economy generated $1.5 billion. It has a national debt of $1.2 billion because the country is such a basket case that it is futile to get it to carry debt that can be repaid. In this year Afghanistan received $15 billion dollars in aid. Not in return for anything like natural resources which the country has plentifully but which is too difficult and dangerous to remove.  This for a population of some 30 million people who are therefore each funded $500 a year which they don’t have to pay back.  The Allies have poured soldiers and weapons into the country in a bid to make it more secure – a strange activity when Afghanistan and the tribal territories of Pakistan are perfectly capable of making weapons of their own.  The country is a magnet for Muslim extremists who travel there to fight against the alien invaders. And we have been in the country so long that the Taliban who must include Afghans in their number must include boys who were just born when we invaded the country. Even if we are inflicting casualties on a factor of 5 to 1 the number of Taliban is not falling because the combination of the high birthrate – 5 per Afghan  woman  and the steady supply of jihadists across the Pakistan borders is endless – this war can run and run. And we look like the invaders – the outsiders because that is what we are.  Most of our casualties this year have come from shootings of our own troops by Afghan soldiers or police – or those masquerading as such – we never hear the full truth. But the declared strategy is for us to train them so they can run the country by themselves. This strategy has failed. What kind of training produces trainees who are trying to kill you?

The economy is in tatters even though the West is bankrolling it. There is 35% unemployment. The single biggest agricultural product is opium which makes Afghanistan a world leader. That is fuelling the heroin trade in the UK. We could of course use our military resources to destroy opium crops but that would further undermine our attempts to support and develop the economy so we don’t. So we are tacitly supporting the heroin trade into our own country. We bankroll the world’s leading supplier of opium.

It would be comforting to call this a fresh set of problems but Russia had exactly the same set when they invaded and got repelled. Britain occupied Afghanistan 100 years ago and lost whole regiments trying to control it.

It would appear that there is a form of political organisation more effective than democracy – call it anarchy if you will. Because it doesn’t require the population to fund it. Afghanistan has lived off its invaders for decades. I used to think Venice was the supreme example of a city state that siphoned the pockets of the tourists. Afghanistan does it to a whole new level.

The only signs of hope are education – because of 7 million children in 10,000 schools – including girls who were excluded when the Taliban were in power. And there being one mobile phone for every 2 people. But let’s remember it’s this kind of technology which is allowing the Taliban to run their campaign and to plant and trigger IUDs.  Education is reversible. Technology is harder to reverse. But it does look as if Afghanistan is substantially the same as it was 100 years ago but with modern communications more electricity and more up to date weapons.

I don’t minimise the cost to us as a country. Our politicians and military leaders like fighting wars. It is what keeps a relatively small country like Britain on the UN security council. So an army on constant active service is a political goal in these islands. Something we have achieved since 1945. I don’t know how you set the bar for what level of casualties are acceptable. In Northern Ireland this could be justified to protect our own civilian population. But in Afghanistan we are actively working against our own national interests – not only are our troops killing vast numbers of less well equipped militias. But we are killing civilians as well poisoning our international reputation with the Islamic community worldwide. We don’t have the right to interfere in other people’s countries to create carnage for so little return to ourselves and no return to the people on the receiving end. Its time to pull out. To go home. And to stop kidding ourselves. Afghanistan has won. If they want aid they can ask for it. And pay for it. Like everyone else.  I am not against foreign aid. And foreign aid without strings. But Afghanistan is gaming us. And we are paying more than money.  It would appear that one legacy that Afghanistan has left us has been Paralympic success. Let’s leave it at that shall we?

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