David Davis: Brown's policy in Afghanistan is never going to work

The first question any Afghan asks a foreigner is, 'When are you leaving?'

Share
Related Topics

On Wednesday Gordon Brown outlined his latest strategy for Afghanistan, by announcing a temporary increase in troops, additional funding to tackle poverty and promote education, and an increased emphasis on training the Afghan army and police force. The greatest weakness in this new approach is that it does not plausibly answer the first question that enters the mind of any Afghan when he sees foreigners in uniform.

That question is "When are you leaving?"

This should not be a surprise in a country that has received and expelled so many invaders in its long history. It is a question that arises partly from pride, but also from self preservation. The fate of any Afghan that miscalculates who will be around in ten years time is impoverishment, oppression, and possibly death, for himself, but also for his family.

Which leads to the second question, which is "What will you leave behind? Who will be in charge? Will he last? Will his writ run beyond the suburbs of Kabul?"

In other words, how are you going to guarantee the effective survival of the central state in a country where it more often than not fails, and where few people are really aware of its existence.

The answer given by the Prime Minister was, in truth, spectacularly inadequate. The single most important issue is the security of the state. The guarantor of that security cannot be foreign, it must in the long run be Afghan. It must also be powerful.

Now compare the reality of today's Iraq with the proposed future for Afghanistan. Iraq is smaller, less complex, richer, and better educated than Afghanistan. It has a stronger history as a stable state. Today it requires 600,000 security forces to maintain its fragile integrity. Yet Gordon Brown seems to believe that Afghanistan, with its history of lawlessness, its civil wars, its drugs trade, and its meddlesome neighbours, can prosper on a total security force of some 200,000 men

What is more, about a third of those security forces are expected to be policemen. The Afghan National Police are not just a poor instrument of law and order; they are an active agent of criminality.

Two thirds of them are drug addicts, and the majority are deliberate criminal oppressors of the ordinary Afghan. Systematic extortion, kidnap, theft, and rape are their stock in trade. So they do not add to security, they subtract from it. At least three quarters of the force is beyond recovery, and the best option is likely to be to start again, with a completely new force. That is not to say the task is impossible.

The Afghan National Army is different again. A conventional soldier might be horrified to watch their casual behaviour. They have faults – occasional cruelty, tribalism, variable leadership, but they are manageable. To have a chance, however, there will need to be at least four times as many as is being proposed. Without that sort of number, Afghanistan will revert to a lawless, drug-ridden bolt-hole for terrorists and insurgents. The Taliban will win, and al-Qa'ida will be the beneficiary.

We must persuade the Afghan people that we are creating a viable, long-term Afghan security solution. We must answer the question "what comes next" in a way that stops the current slow but inexorable drift back to the Taliban.

A proper Afghan security force will be expensive. The annual subsidy would need to be about $3 billion, and that is after the upfront training costs. However, it will be cheaper, in blood and treasure, than the alternative ineffective endgame, and it will offer an exit that is better than the humiliation that is currently on the cards.

Furthermore, it is not essential that Britain and America shoulder the entire burden. So far ISAF, the International Security Assistance Force, has been pathetically incompetent. One American journalist in Kabul described it to me as a "combination of nations, some of whom can't fight, and some who won't fight."

While this is unfair to some nations, it is broadly right. We would do better to persuade its allies to help with the financing of the Afghan security force, and give up on (most countries') expansion of military support. That may make the long term costs more bearable, and also reflect the importance to the whole world of bringing both drugs and terrorism under control.

We stand at an historic crossroads on this. If we are (a lot) tougher on the corruption of the Karzai regime; ensure delivery of justice on the ground, even if it is tribal justice; and create a security force that underpins a viable government, we stand a chance of delivering what no foreigner has ever done before, namely a successful Afghan state. If not, we will be allowing the waste of countless lives to achieve little more than Vietnam.

David Davis was shadow Home Secretary, 2003-2008

React Now

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

Austen Lloyd: Commercial / Residential Property - Surrey

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Programme - Online Location Services Business

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: What do you want to do with your career? Do yo...

Recruitment Genius: Senior QC Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is a leading expert in immunoassa...

Recruitment Genius: Development Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Development Scientist is required to join a ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012  

I saw the immigration lies a mile off - and now nobody can deny it

Nigel Farage
The Uber app allows passengers to hail a taxi with a smartphone  

Who wouldn’t like a sharing economy? Well, me, for one

Mary Dejevsky
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

When two worlds collide

Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?