Jim Murphy: Our troops never rest. Why does the PM?

Having set a date for pulling British forces out of Afghanistan, ministers are being too passive - and are not even selling the policy

Share
Related Topics

It is the responsibility of the government of the day to make the case for decisions over war and peace, yet David Cameron isn't doing enough in relation to Afghanistan. Significant events pass without comment. Silence may reflect a quiet confidence, but that may be misplaced.

Military action was taken after the devastating events of 9/11. A powerful coalition of nations stood against a belief system that mobilises the murder of those who hold the values of tolerance and liberty. Inaction was not an option. We acted in national self-defence to build a sustainable, democratic government in a more secure land. This was not about nation-building, but about preventing Afgh- anistan from again becoming an incubator for extremism. Our aim is not to build Hampshire in Helmand, but it is, in part, to ensure that Helmand does not come to Hampshire. Al-Qa'ida has been severely weakened and the achievements, for example the size of the Army, are real. Progress, however, is not irreversible.

Serious challenges remain. Western nations are unilaterally announcing divergent dates for withdrawal. There has been a collapse of US-Pakistan and Kabul-Islamabad relations. The recent Bonn Conference was widely perceived to be a failure. A recent Nato study of interrogations of Taliban prisoners starkly outlined their strength. Examples of deadly infiltration of Afghan forces are increasingly familiar, and there is widespread worry they are ill-prepared to take responsibility for the security of whole country, as well as that of British non-combat forces post 2014.

There are some, including this newspaper, who argue that we should have withdrawn by now. While I do not doubt the sincerity of that demand, I doubt its merit, and we agree with the timetable that has been set. Early withdrawal would be as dangerous as a "cliff- edge" departure, which could threaten the nation's fragile fortunes. It is a real worry, therefore, that the Government has moved from a conditions-led to calendar-driven withdrawal strategy. While endorsing the date for the pull-out, we do not endorse the passive manner with which it is being approached by ministers. There is too much to be done between now and 2014. Post-2014 planning rather than the pace of our exit will determine success.

As Douglas Alexander, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, has argued, there must be clear political strategy to match military might. Too much, however, remains unknown. The nature of the pledged "commitment" from the international community, the size and scope of a residual Alliance force, Afghan government funding and the role of regional nations in stabilisation, in particular Pakistan, are all ill-defined. The Government must re-establish the diplomatic leadership role that Labour bequeathed them.

An exit strategy is not a political strategy. Afghanistan needs twin internal and external political settlements, driven by the United Nations. Internally, this must be inclusive and involve the reintegration of ex-combatants as well as legitimacy for tribal and ethnic groupings. This means negotiating with the Taliban; their recent public declaration that they will hold talks with the US is a breakthrough.

This is painful, especially for those who have lost loved ones. We must demand a denunciation of violence and an endorsement of the principles of the constitution, but there will be no peace without a settlement reflective of a diverse nation. The Taliban are not a homogenous block but multiple factions and insurgents united by sometimes divergent grievances, often driven as much by practical concern as ideological belief.

An external settlement means establishing a regional framework that respects Afghanistan's stability and sovereignty. Regional partners must recognise that Afghanistan can never again be another nation's proxy and that they have a shared interest in its stability, since the reverse can destabilise the region.

The Afghan government faces major challenges, from insurgency and cross-border terrorism to the degree of corruption within government, which demand our engagement. David Cameron must put these issues at the top of the agenda of his forthcoming meeting with President Obama; he must also articulate a clearer plan before May's Nato summit in Chicago.

We supported government action in Libya because it was the right thing to do, but military success in Libya should not overshadow our decade-long main mission which is being served by 10,000 of our men and women in Helmand. Grotesque events in Syria demonstrate the complexities of international influence and interventions and rightly dominate ministerial minds, but should never be at the expense of attention on Afghanistan. The public are entitled to know the facts. Not talking about these challenges does not make them any less pressing.

It should be the Prime Minister and not only the Opposition who discusses with the country why this remains a mission in the national interest. It is vital to our national security and that of the region. It cannot become the forgotten war.

This is a defining moment for defence policy. Afghan withdrawal, the financial crisis, emerging threats and new economies combine to mean the Arab spring is potentially the tip of the iceberg of the change we will experience. This demands more than the strategic shrinkage by stealth that the Government offers. Labour has just launched a year-long defence review to examine the drivers of global change, the impact on security and our military structures.

We must learn lessons from Afghanistan for defence policy. The prosperity, security and liberties of those at home cannot be separated from events beyond our borders. A belief that you have responsibility beyond your borders is not just ideological, but, as has been powerfully demonstrated recently, a necessary response to the world in which we live. To retain an interventionist defence posture, however, we must improve pre- and post-conflict planning, with an emphasis on coalition-building, empowering local populations and co-ordinating defence development.

Communication is also vital. I worry that the legacy of recent conflicts is that one-and-a-half unpopular wars may create a permanently unpopular concept of intervention, and yet the rapidly changing security landscape means an ambivalence to defence and security policy would undermine our interests and values.

A consensus with the country and bipartisan unity must be earned. That is why the Prime Minister must communicate the case to the country and become more statesman than spectator. British troops deserve a strategy to match their extraordinary bravery and professionalism.

Jim Murphy is MP for East Renfrewshire and Shadow Defence Secretary

React Now

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

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Labour leader Ed Miliband unveils Labour's pledges carved into a stone plinth in Hastings  

Election 2015: Smash the two-party system! Smash the voting system!

Armando Iannucci
Tactical voting is a necessary evil of the current first-past-the-post system, where voters vote against what they do not want rather than in favour of what they do  

Election 2015: Voting tactically has become more fraught in new political order

Michael Ashcroft
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power