Adam Holloway

To bring peace to the Afghans, talk to the Taleban

Adam Holloway says that Britain’s strategy in Afghanistan is misconceived. Nato’s military presence should be reduced and the battle for hearts and minds fought more imaginatively

Adam Holloway says that Britain’s strategy in Afghanistan is misconceived. Nato’s military presence should be reduced and the battle for hearts and minds fought more imaginatively

They do not like the F-word in Whitehall, but failure stares us in the face in southern Afghanistan. For three years we have deluded ourselves that we can defeat the insurgency in the Pashtun tribal belt through our much talked-about plan for a ‘comprehensive approach’ — security, governance and development. But in Helmand province and across the Pashtun lands, violence is greatly increased, governance is distinctly patchy and development is barely noticeable.

The government tells us that we are there to stop it becoming a failed state in which our enemies can regroup. Around 50,000 Western soldiers would drive away the Taleban, al-Qa’eda and their friends. But there are other failed states in the world, other areas where extremists are organising against us. Apart from the experience of 11 September 2001, Afghanistan is no more special than the tribal areas of Pakistan or several other places. Surely we can keep tabs on al-Qa’eda without the deployment of tens of thousands of troops, hundreds of lives and billions of dollars? It is not a case of either this, or nothing.

Success depends entirely on the ordinary Afghan. Before the arrival of our forces in strength in the south in the summer of 2006, I visited Afghans independently in the provincial capital of Helmand. ‘If the British bring security and reconstruction, they are welcome here. But if they don’t bring them, then they should leave.’ A year later — after high levels of violence and tiny amounts of reconstruction — I sat nervously with a group of young Helmandis: ‘The British tell us that we have security and reconstruction — but where is it? They should show us, not always just tell us.

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