Seldom has optimism been as cautious as this

 

Share
Related Topics

The MPs who stayed in the Commons Chamber yesterday after so many of their colleagues had poured out at the end of a Prime Minister’s Questions studded with seasonal references, jolly and otherwise, were privy to a sobering moment in the history of the past 11 years.

True, they had already had the headline from David Cameron – that most of the 9,000 British troops in Afghanistan would be coming home over the next two years, 3,800 of them by the end of 2013. But it took Philip Hammond’s statement and the questions he took about a still uncertain future for the full meaning to sink in.

The news that the troops, 438 of whom have lost their lives in this long war, were coming back, was widely welcomed both by MPs who had supported their presence and the minority who hadn’t. Hammond insisted that the security handover to the Afghan government was “well advanced and on track”. But even Hammond, normally one of the Cabinet’s more reassuring figures, was – relatively – cautious in his optimism about the future of the  “proud and hospitable” Afghan people who had “suffered unimaginable brutality and deprivation” over three decades of conflict. Not to mention the troops themselves as the withdrawal gets under way. Many sentences were suggestive: while progress on security had been “real and meaningful”, “partnering is not without risk” – something of an understatement given the number of insider attacks by rogue members of the Afghan forces on Isaf soldiers.

The picture was one “on the whole” of an “insurgency weakened”. Democracy was “taking hold” in Afghanistan, though “not, of course, in the same shape as in Britain”. Corruption remained “rampant”. The Afghan Ministry of Defence was a “weak institution” which was why Isaf was considering “senior level” support for it after the withdrawal of combat troops. He did not disagree with the assessment of Labour’s defence spokesman, Jim Murphy, who backed the decision, that while progress in Afghanistan had been “significant” it was “not irreversible”. 

Nor with the essence of the complaint by the long-term Labour critic of the war Paul Flynn that “£4.5bn has been smuggled out of that country, much of it to Dubai, to tart up the bolt holes that the politicians have prepared to flee to in 2015”

It was left to another left-wing sceptic, Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn, to elicit the up-to-date cost of the war –an awe-inspiring £17.4bn. Hammond promised Labour MP Sheila Gilmore, concerned about the future of girls and women, especially in education, after the forces leave, the Department for International Development would aim to ensure that the new Afghan officer training academy would seek to “embed” a change of culture among its forces.

But it was the Tory James Gray, while welcoming the “beginning of the end” of “combat involvement”, who said that Afghans would need to know that the UK would not “cut and run”. Hammond declared that Britain’s firm and enduring commitment to £250m a year in aid and development underpinned Britain’s “enduring” commitment to a secure future for Afghanistan.

He well knows that it will be a long time before anyone can guarantee such a future.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Technical Author / Multimedia Writer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This recognized leader in providing software s...

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

I don't blame parents who move to get their child into a good school

Chris Blackhurst
William Hague, addresses delegates at the Conservative party conference for the last time in his political career in Birmingham  

It’s only natural for politicians like William Hague to end up as journalists

Simon Kelner
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent