Lucy Morgan Edwards, author of The Afghan Solution: The Inside Story of Abdul Haq, the CIA and How Western Hubris Lost Afghanistan (Pluto Press, 2011) was on BBC Radio 4′s Today programme, this morning, speaking about the handover of all military operations by NATO to the Afghan Government.
A transcript of the discussion is reproduced below. To listen to the audio on BBC iPlayer, follow this link or click on the image below, and skip ahead to 2 hrs 54 mins.
John Humphrys: A couple of hours ago NATO handed over control of all military operations in Afghanistan to the Afghan government, meaning what for the future of that benighted country? I am joined by Sir Gerard Cooper Coles who knows it well, used to be ambassador there, and he’s written a book as well, it’s called Cables from Kabul, talking about the inside story of the Afghanistan campaign; and also by Lucy Morgan Edwards who’s also written a book, The Afghan Solution, and she was political advisor to the European Union ambassador to Afghanistan. What happens now Sir Gerard?
Sir Gerard Cooper Coles: Well it’s rather like we’ve called our cricket team back to the pavilion and a new team of local village cricketers is taking over. But they’re not going to be playing cricket, John, they’re going to be playing buzkashi…a rather violent Afghan form of Polo played with the carcass of a dead animal, and the idea that the country is going to be pacified, subdued by the Afghan forces is, I’m afraid a delusion. A delusion which we need to put out, in order to justify walking off the pitch half way through the game.
JH: So you’re saying we shouldn’t have been on the pitch in the first place?
GCC: I am, absolutely, and we’ve been playing the wrong game in the wrong stadium. As the late Richard Holbrook said to me, we’ve been fighting the wrong enemy in the wrong country. The real enemy is Al Qaeda, the Arab terrorists who attacked New York and Washington. We have no real quarrel with the Taliban, and it’s the right decision that we should be ending the war.
JH: So had we not gone there, what state would Afghanistan be in today?
GCC: Well Afghanistan would probably be in much the same state as it will be after we’ve left.
JH: But it was controlled by this pretty thuggish group of people called the Taliban?
GCC: Yes, but in time they probably would have been overturned by the Northerners, by the people whoi deeply resented Taliban rule. And of course the Taliban were popular, they ended the anarchy of the war lords, they brought a rough and ready justice to many parts of Afghanistan, and the British tax payer, John, would be £40 billion better off.
JH: And many British families would not have lost…
GCC: Yes I’ve got the mother of a British soldier coming to me later this morning wanting to understand why her son died.
JH: That is an amazingly bleak assessment, Lucy Morgan Edwards, do you agree with it?
Lucy Morgan Edwards: I do agree with it John, in fact I was in Kabul again last week. I’d say that the mood there is very sombre, particularly among women’s groups. I think we’ve got to realise that any tentative protection of women is really essentially going to disappear once the international community leaves Afghanistan. And that is because, although we went there with the objective of democracy, human rights, and rights for women, we’ve really achieved none of that, I mean as well of course as getting rid of Al Qaeda and the Taliban. I mean the Taliban are really at the gates of Kabul now, in Logar and in Wardak, which are becoming no-go areas for people to travel to. And women are very disappointed, even the most basic protection, which was a law against violence on women is essentially being dissolved by the parliament … because the parliament is deemed to be stuffed with people who are under the influence of either Pakistan or Iran or are themselves just linked to strong men.
JH: But did we really go there to do that, did we really go in to make Afghanistan a better place, for the people of Afghanistan, or perhaps … in the words of many British ministers over the years, to make the streets of this country safer?
GCC: Well we went there originally, and i think probably rightly, after Al Qeada, the arab terrorists to whom the Taliban had given sanctuary, but Al Qaeda were essentially removed from Afghanistan by January 2002, and then the mission changed. Our eyes got bigger than our stomach, into nation building. NATO wanted to take over the south, and people like Richard Dannatt…were enthusiastically pumping troops out of Iraq and into Afghanistan, and we were out of our depth … we went in without knowing how we were going to get out, we took on far too much. We thought we were playing cricket, the Afghans were playing an entirely different game.
JH: But Lucy Morgan Edwards, what General Dannatt said on this programme … they now have a strong military, a properly trained military in many areas. And that it is capable of securing very large parts of the country. Isn’t that gotta be an advance if that’s true?
LME: I think that’s very fanciful actually John, realistically speaking, … there are already stories of local sections of the Afghan army making accommodations with the Taliban, so that the Afghan national army people essentially disappear to allow the Taliban to lay their IEDs, and then come back. The problem really being is that we have failed to work with the local leadership, we’ve only worked with strongmen. We haven’t built a state, essentially. You can’t build a democracy just by holding elections. You have to work with local processes and local leaders. The British are just there because of the special relationship. The Americans are there really because of Iran and less so because of Pakistan.
JH: Just a few seconds each Sorry to do this to both of you … over the next five years? Sir Gerard?
GCC: Well I don’t think it’ll be full civil war. I think it’ll be something messy in the middle.
JH: Lucy Morgan Edwards?
LME: I think it all depends on how many troops the Americans do leave behind. And we should see how that’s concluded with the status of forces agreement later this month.
The Inside Story of Abdul Haq, the CIA and How Western Hubris Lost Afghanistan
Lucy Morgan Edwards
Explosive inside account of why the West has failed to build peace in Afghanistan.
“A deeply-reported, well-argued and deftly-written account of the opportunities not taken … based on the author’s own deep knowledge of Afghanistan.” – Peter Bergen, CNN Security Analyst and author of The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict Between America and Al-Qaeda
“A devastating indictment of the intelligence and strategic failures that have led us into the current tragedy in Afghanistan.” – William Pfaff