Leading article: A more constructive approach to Afghanistan

Share

For almost six months, ever since Gordon Brown moved to Number 10, one familiar expression has been deafeningly absent from political discourse. Neither the Prime Minister, nor any member of his Cabinet, has allowed the words "war on terror" to pass his or her lips.

The Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, spelt out the post-Blair thinking in the wake of the failed bomb attacks in London and Glasgow. "Let us be clear," she said, "terrorists are criminals whose victims come from all walks of life, communities and religions... As a Government, as communities, as individuals, we need to ensure that the message of the terrorists is rejected."

The only time Mr Brown came close to uttering the phrase was when he met George Bush for their first official talks, but again, he avoided the exact words, acknowledging "US leadership in this fight against international terrorism". He implicitly made clear that the "war on terror" was a foreign concept, not something his government had signed up to.

Now, it seems words and deeds are coming into line. In the Commons today, Mr Brown will report back on his weekend visits to Iraq and Afghanistan and, in so doing, signal a clear change of tack. With the number of British forces in the Basra region to be halved before Christmas, Mr Brown is effectively drawing a line under the combat role of British troops in Iraq. Their new function is "overwatch"; frontline responsibility for security now rests with Iraqis.

Something similar may apply in Afghanistan. As we wrote in an editorial yesterday, summarising some of what has gone wrong there since the Taliban was overthrown: "Too little aid has been delivered. Not enough wells have been dug. Too few roads have been built. The policy of destroying the opium crop has alienated Afghan farmers. So, too, has the US Air Force's bombing of Pashtun villages." Yet the purpose of our presence, once al-Qa'ida had been uprooted and the Taliban ousted, was to help Afghans rebuild their country.

With hindsight, Mr Brown's visit to Afghanistan may have marked a watershed if not exactly the sort initially claimed. At the time, British troops were engaged in a fierce battle to recapture Musa Qala. The battle was described as a turning point in the conflict against the Taliban. With the battle won, however, victory was attributed largely to Afghan forces who were said to have borne the brunt of the fighting. If this battle was a turning point in the fight against the Taliban, it may have been less in the fortunes of the Taliban given their propensity to fracture and regroup than in the nature of the engagement of British troops.

Mr Brown's report to Parliament is expected to focus on reconstruction and on the need for diplomacy among Afghans themselves. That would mean that, for British troops, what could be described as the "combat phase" here was drawing to a close, with a new reconstruction phase beginning. With fighting now the prime function of the foreign troops, and one that makes them ever less popular, such a shift would not be before time.

There has always been a limit to what foreign troops can do in Afghanistan not least because their numbers are restricted by the reluctance of individual countries to contribute more. If the country is to be peaceful, secure and out of the clutches of the Taliban, this has to be on terms negotiated by, and acceptable to, a majority of Afghans. This will mean talking to groups and individuals, including in the Taliban, who have hitherto been shunned by Hamid Karzai's government in Kabul, and its Western patrons. We must be committed to Afghanistan in the long term, but as facilitators of a better life, not just warriors.

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SEN Teacher, Permanent Role in Ashford

Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: Randstad urgently seeks a qualif...

SAP BI CONSULTANT

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: SAP BI CONSULTA...

Infrastructure Manager - Southampton - Up to £45K

£35000 - £45000 per annum + 36 days holiday and more: Deerfoot IT Resources Li...

Drama Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Liverpool: We are looking for someone who can t...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Israeli soldiers ride atop a tank outside the southern Gaza Strip.  

War is war: Why I stand with Israel

Tom Doran
 

Spy chief speaks on the record: "Thank you, and that's it, really"

John Rentoul
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice