Daniel Korski

Afghanistan: air fares, not infantry needed

Afghanistan: air fares, not infantry needed
Text settings

The British government’s policy on Afghanistan has a spasmodic, yet regular kind of rhythm to it. The issue pops up at intervals, hovers menacingly over Brown’s premiership until the PM awakes from a period of inaction. He then goes into hyper-drive, promises all manner of things, and reverts to inactive type a few days later only to repeat the routine a some days/weeks/months [cross out as appropriate] afterwards. 

This time is no different. While the government, along with our allies, wait around for the US president to make up his mind on an Afghanistan (and, by extension, how his first term will be remembered), the PM has been overflowing with schemes and speeches. 

He has offered to host a conference on Afghanistan’s future in London, put 500 more troops on the table – and tried to twist Karzai’s arm by demanding progress against corruption before the new forces deploy.  He has sent forth envoys to Europe to persuade our NATO friends to stump up more troops too.

Yet for all this activity, the PM is offering no radically new ideas.  There have been a lot of international conferences on Afghanistan since 2001, with limited effects.  500 troops here are there will not really influence Mr. Karzai or the Taleban, who are waiting to see if the U.S. will add 40000 or more.  The routine of calling for more European forces is growing wearisomely familiar. 

If Mr. Brown wanted to do something really radical, he’d get on a plane to New Delhi, Moscow or Beijing (or all three) and ask the Indians, Russians and Chinese about what they are doing about Afghanistan.  All three have influence in Kabul.  The U.S. has started to do just that.  As my colleague Richard Gowan says, “big power diplomacy, not European infantry, is the best last hope for fixing Afghanistan.” Tony Blair would have been in the air already.