Who would want to become President of Afghanistan? I recently had an interesting conversation over a pint with a senior Whitehall contact – one of those unauthorised chats between journalist and official that certain malevolent forces would like to ban – in which he spoke of the depth of despair within some UK government departments about Afghanistan’s prospects. He said that he and colleagues had privately given up on any vision of Afghanistan as a unitary state – and that for Britain, after 13 years of war, the best-case scenario was the safe withdrawal of UK troops, alongside the establishment of a stable central government in Kabul with some degree of lawlessness and Taliban rule in the provinces.
This pessimism is far from universal in Whitehall, but others do share his view.
So to go back to the soon-to-be-vacant Afghan presidency. Salary negotiable. Luxuriously appointed house/fortress guarded by hundreds of men. Must be willing to tackle ruinous economics, paramilitarised society, 600,000 internal refugees and a hardline Islamist insurgency. Assassination attempts certain.
One of the frontrunners for the presidency, with elections in two weeks, is Abdullah Abdullah. He gives an interview to i today, published on page 25. His key aim, he says, “has to be to recreate opportunity, because at the moment it’s so hopeless”, restoring the audacity of hope.
Our correspondent in Kabul tried an experiment on the streets of the city: how many men could she count before she saw a woman? Seventy-four.
The best of British to Dr Abdullah – and to his compatriots.