Letters: A path to peace in Afghanistan

Afghan agriculture aid may help pave path to peace
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Gordon Brown and Hamid Karzai say they will bring low-level Taliban fighters into the fold with a reintegration programme which will offer jobs, money and development if they lay down their weapons (report, 29 January).

The international community has been offering Afghanistan's people jobs, money and development since 2001. But despite some improvements, for example in health and education, economic development still seems remote to many. Unemployment is 40 per cent and a third of Afghans live on under a dollar a day.

Behind the grand promises and the huge sums spent on the military, only £58 development aid has been spent per Afghan per year since 2003. Much aid has followed the fighting, to win hearts and minds for the military campaign, rather than having gone to areas where the need is greatest. Agriculture, the backbone of the Afghan economy, has declined and remains underfunded.

Poverty is a driving factor in the conflict. The international community must put the basic needs of all Afghans at the heart of its strategy.

G B Adhikari

Afghanistan Country Director, ActionAid,

London N19

Conspicuously missing and purposefully excluded from the conference are those who perhaps suffered most under the Taliban: Afghan women. It is a mark of their strength and commitment that Afghan women made their way to London to try to have their voices heard.

Why are those with responsibility for rebuilding Afghanistan afraid to hear the views of the other 50 per cent of the Afghan population? Might it be because so many Afghan women have zero tolerance for any accommodation with the Taliban and refuse to have their futures sold down the river?

President Karzai said any Taliban coming into the system must abide by the constitution (which guarantees equality of men and women). But his own record of respect for women's rights is seriously flawed. He was willing to legalise the marital rape of Shia women, and he has also agreed to the pardon of convicted rapists.

That women's voices are excluded is inexcusable. Stability, peace and prosperity will not come to Afghanistan without respect for human rights, and the significant participation of its women.

Anber Raz

Asia Programme Officer, Equality Now,

London WC2

The roots of our education system

Bruce Anderson (Comment, 25 January) has fallen into the common error of believing that legislation imposed a tripartite system of secondary education. The Education Act 1944 rather required local education authorities to secure the provision of (not necessarily wholly to provide) sufficient schools for their area to suit the ages, abilities and aptitudes of pupils.

The so-called tripartite system was put forward by a committee chaired by Sir Cyril Norwood, an ex-public-school headmaster, in a report published in 1943. The Ministry of Education encouraged local education authorities to adopt it, but it was not mandatory. Had they chosen to do so, they could have imposed the two-stream, grammar and technical, approach favoured by Anderson.

K P Poole

Canterbury, Kent

Harrow headmaster Barnaby Lenon says state schools are cramming their pupils with "worthless qualifications" (23 January). In state comprehensives, such as the one at which I did my GCSEs in north London, students toil in an atmosphere reflective of the challenges of life, battling classroom disruption and limited resources.

In fee-charging institutions such as Mr Lenon's, students from challenging backgrounds are excluded on the basis of parents' wealth, giving an unfair advantage in classroom atmosphere. Private schools have smaller classes and spoon-fed exam techniques. How will such students fare when they enter the real world, where they must motivate themselves?

Whose qualifications are of more "worth"? The spoon-fed Harrovian among a majority of straight-A* pupils, or a state-educated pupil who has genuinely achieved in a challenging atmosphere?

Conrad Landin(16)

London NW5

In discussing the way forward for British education, Bruce Anderson denigrates comprehensive schooling. He cites the example of a youngster who attended one but later came to an unfortunate early death. This is a highly questionable attempt at correlation. I am sure it would not be difficult to discover cases of former public school pupils who came to similarly sad ends.

He states that those who favour the comprehensive system "abhor excellence". Again this lacks credibility. On the contrary, I believe most of our comprehensives do a good job in their circumstances. They have to deal with inadequate funding and resources, large class sizes and often have to cope with the most disadvantaged and damaged youngsters in our society. It is so easy for critics to knock the schools, rather than try to address the underlying issues.

Mr Anderson favours the ap-proach proposed by the Conservatives and their education spokesman, Michael Gove. In a throwback to the 19th century, they plan to allow any faith or other special-interest group to run their own schools. How this correlates with the Tories' stated concern for Britain's "broken" society and their desire to re-energise local communities, I don't know.

What could possibly contribute more to social breakdown than a hotchpotch of disparate organisations running schools? Surely we want our children to grow up in a tolerant, mixed-faith and/or faith-free environment. Separating them according to their parents' religious beliefs or special interests is clearly socially divisive and, in my view, regressive.

Keith O'Neill

Shrewsbury, Shropshire

We are told the economy is now out of recession (27 January). Many young people I know from university have yet to secure graduate jobs, and statistics ignore those who, like me, are still in the casual jobs they had as students.

I sent about 400 applications in the summer and managed to secure only one interview. Those of us who were persuaded that the way to an affluent and bright future was to attend university have been sorely misled. In this economic climate, there are no jobs for those who are too qualified. One employer told me he could not hire me because people with degrees eventually move on to better things.

Laura Wild


Age time-bomb is already ticking

The proposal to stop forcing workers into retirement at 65 will go a long way to solving Britain's personal debt crisis (letters, 27 January). Unless people work longer, they won't be debt-free come retirement. Our studies found that more than half of professionals aged 35 to 45 said they would have financial problems in old age if they did not inherit a parental windfall.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission recommends more flexible working conditions for older Britons. But what of those not physically able to work beyond 65? More than half of young working adults assume all care costs will be covered by the state, unaware that the weekly state pension would not cover even a fifth of the average cost of residential care. This alarming shortfall could become one of our biggest challenges.

The Government must do more to encourage people to think about their future if we are to avoid the massive time-bomb now ticking.

Will Davies

Elizabeth Finn Care,

London W6

I am approaching 67 and in paid employment, working for a charity, so I'm supportive of any government moves to limit ageism in the workplace. I also have three occupational pensions, plus dividends from share ownership, with tax deducted at source. But the Inland Revenue cannot organise joined-up administration of the tax affairs of those older than 65. In my case, four separate tax offices regularly take up to two years to match their various records of my income.

As a result, I had to pay £1,600 "back tax". Great to have government backing to working beyond a meaningless age limit but frustrating to be exposed to the chronic inefficiencies of that government's tax collectors.

Mike Abbott

London W4

And bang went our unbreakable glass

As soon as I saw your article, "Duralex, the glass tumbler that would not be broken" (27 January), I recognised the one in the photograph. I have had five of them for many years and can vouch for their sturdiness, having dropped one on to a concrete floor recently and seen it bounce and come to no harm.

There was a set of six. The only one to perish did so spectacularly, I was told by my parents. Apparently, the set was sitting quietly in a sideboard when there was a sudden bang. My mother opened the sideboard and found only five glasses covered with white powder.

On the bases of my surviving tumblers is the message, "Crystolac Toughened. Regd. British". Beneath this, there are two dots, signifying they were manufactured in 1942. They were a wedding present to my parents that December.

The shape of my tumblers is almost indistinguishable from the photograph of the Duralex Picardie though they are perhaps slightly more curvaceous. So, does the "design classic which screams 'France' just as much as the Eiffel Tower" actually scream "Britain" as much as, um, the Blackpool Tower?

Graham P Davis

Bracknell, Berkshire

About 40 years ago, I bought some Duralex tumblers. The salesman hurled one to the floor to demonstrate their unbreakability. When I got home, I performed the trick for my mother, and she was most impressed.

Then my aunt came in, and my mother, without giving any reason, hurled a glass on to the same hard-tiled floor. It shivered into a thousand pieces. I was unwilling to risk another glass, so my aunt treated my mother, her younger sibling, as not quite the full shilling, as she had always thought.

Ann Dowling


The electorate is already balanced

The glaring anomaly in our voting system ("Cameron to cut seats by 10 per cent", 22 January), is not about Conservatives, but between Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

The Tories achieved 30 per cent of the seats from 32 per cent of the vote, and will not gain much by any form of PR. Labour is way over-represented in the Commons (55 per cent of seats from 35 per cent of the votes), and Liberal Democrats got only 11 per cent of the seats from 22 per cent of the vote. The electorate is already "balanced" and a fairer voting system would produce a more "balanced" parliament.

Councillor David Pollard


Children first

Terence Blacker's assertion (27 January) that "our children are being neglected, by the BBC" is not true. In fact, we are increasing the £125m we spend every year by an additional £25m across three years, in television, radio and online. Our commitment to children is unwavering.

Joe Godwin

Director, BBC Children's,

London W1

Truth about PoW life

Your suggestion in The Big Question (26 January) that many wartime "enlisted men" did not try to escape prison camps did them a gross injustice. Officers and "other ranks" were segregated and the ORs were used as slave labour. Look at how badly the troops left at Dunkirk were treated. The classic escape movies are misleading, and do not begin to approach the reality of PoW life for ORs.

Dave Carr

Orpington, Kent

Watered down

Homeopathic medicines closely resemble holy water (letters, 29 January). It is not what they are which is distinctive, but their history. Just as there is no scientific way of distinguishing between holy water and ordinary water, there is no way of distinguishing one homeopathic medicine from another. Surely, it is disingenuous for homeopaths to claim their medicines contain "a very small amount" of the active ingredient?

J E Crooks

London SW15

Look further ahead

In David Cameron's draft manifesto for the NHS, he said that under a Conservative government, patients with long-term health conditions would get a single budget that combines their health- and social-care funding. With an estimated one million new social-care workers required by 2025, it is essential that recruitment and training of the workforce is looked at closely.

Professor David Croisdale-Appleby

Independent Chair, Skills for Care, Leeds

Write on

I have just heard a technology expert declare about the launch of Apple's i-Pad, without a hint of irony, that existing examples of the technology "looked good on paper but failed to deliver". Leave books and newspapers on paper then, I say.

Chris Bratt

Arnside, Cumbria