Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Khyber Pass

The Queen's ghillie would commit several thousand more troops to the troublesome Pathans. For what purpose?

It is a sound principle of foreign policy that a nation should be reluctant to join itself to an ally that oppresses its own people. It was once the case within this century, I am told, that the conquest of Afghanistan could be claimed as a liberation, and a necessary liberation as the country harboured those who had made war on America and other nations.

Events have moved on in eight years. It is certainly true that President Obama seeks to rectify the mistakes made by his predecessor in full recognition of two clear facts: that the pacification of Afghanistan should never have been assumed to be complete and troops should never have been diverted to Iraq; that without Iraq the international effort within Afghanistan might have been more united and determined.

Yet, in his youth, the President hurries; and Mr Brown hurries in his despair to be obedient, just like his predecessor. There is no special relationship here, no wise counsel between friends, simply Prime Ministers of the British Queen hanging on to the strength of America to enhance their failing reputations.

Both leaders would have been wise to take stock of the situation in the Pathan territories. For it is apparent that the present government of Afghanistan is intent on oppressing 50 per cent of its population: I refer to laws that are proposed that would specify female marital duties in a way that Pope Benedict himself would never contemplate. That such laws would apply to a single religious minority compound the crime of the legislature - for the law should apply to all or to none at all.

The second and urgent practical problem that needs to be considered is the spread of violence by religious extremists into Pakistan, which has ventured boldly once again into the warm waters of democracy. This displacement of extremists appears to have been aggravated by the allied actions in Afghanistan - and will not be solved by the destruction of insurgents in the northern nation.

The consequence is that success in Afghanistan will not calm Pakistan, nor will it calm Iraq. It will certainly lead to the loss of the lives of many more hundreds of soldiers in the most brutal and lonely of circumstances, and may indeed leave a legacy of bitterness and hatred amongst the Pathans lasting longer even than the incursions through the Khyber Pass of our own expeditionary forces.

For the only conqueror who has ever been welcomed and celebrated in that nation would appear to be Alexander the Great, as on occasion I was at pains to remind our Queen. "Yes indeed Mr Gladstone", she would invariably reply.


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