Every time we listen to British politicians explaining why we are still in Afghanistan, we hear nonsense. The idea that our being there protects us from being bombed in Britain was always weak, and completely meaningless once we heard suicide videos in a Yorkshire accent. The real reason we are there is all to do with regional stability, and oil and gas.
It’s the Great Game all over again. Besides a clutch of other ‘stans’, Afghanistan has borders with two powerful neighbours with agendas of their own: Iran, no friend to the West and an Islamic country that has not yet had its spring, as it were, and Pakistan, an unstable entity with nuclear weapons. In the wings of this theatre are even more powerful neighbours: Israel, India – both of them nuclear powers also – and the badlands lying between Western interests and Russian ones. All have issues to resolve; all have a taste for state violence; all have limits they cannot afford to be crossed.
In this context, Afghanistan is little more than a test bench for strategies which fail to deliver and have to be continually replaced. Nevertheless there now seems to be an acceptance that the Taliban have, in one sense, already ‘won’, so the ball is in their court. They must already be contemplating the endgame. Once foreigners are out of their country a period of internicene bloodletting will follow, to be succeeded in turn by an uneasy and unbalanced truce and eventually a new status quo.
So why do we still stay? Because other forces are in play, other factors are propelling developments under the surface; and energy needs and secure access to oil and gas the most prominent of these. If the intention is to save Pakistan from itself, there must be ways to say so. We cannot expect all of this to be openly explained, of course, but at least give us more opportunities of joining up the dots. Let us have a firmer base for telling the politicians, absorbed in the Great Game as they are, that we want the troops brought home, and brought home now. Presumably the roof of the British Embassy is strong enough to bear the weight of the helicopter needed that last day?