Letters: Fighting in Afghanistan

The real reason we are fighting again in Afghanistan

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Robert Fisk is right to suggest we look at history to see where we are going in Afghanistan (Opinion, 22 November). The British have been fighting there for more than 100 years, between 1839 and 1947. Before kicking out Dhost Mohammed for being too pro-Russian, Kabul and Kandahar had been fine, ancient Greek cities, surrounded by orchards and flower gardens.

The British Army knocked down the walls with artillery, expelled the inhabitants, stole the precious doors of the Ghazni tomb, blew up the famous bazaar of Kabul, introduced prostitution, hanged Afghans before the city walls, tied tribal leaders to field guns and blew them apart "in the Mogul manner", tried, in vain, in 1919 to introduce western clothes, including bowler hats, and to abolish veils, and finally, when all had failed, resorted to dropping 20lb bombs out of their new-fangled flying machines. Between 1919 and 1947, the North West Frontier was used as target practice by the RAF, the area having been ceded from Afghanistan to British India in 1893.

We've also had a whole army of 16,500 sepoy and British troops wiped out in the snow in the winter retreat of 1842, and have wreaked death and destruction, smashing up everything as we went. Russia and the USA completed the task, producing, in the words of Tony Blair, a "failed rogue state", waving with fields of opium, and awash with fierce fighters.

We should come clean about this war. It is nothing to do with the Taliban, or women's rights, but gas pipelines from the former Russian states to the north, and, horror of horrors. A massive gas project from Iran to China passing through the nuclear states of Pakistan and India.

Nicholas Wood

London NW3

A fiscal stimulus must be rejected

The case for a major fiscal stimulus is far from "pretty much proven" (leading article, 22 November), as Hamish McRae has argued before. The Government is promising to cut taxes then raise them; if it does, why should consumers change their behaviour and return to the shops? Much more likely, the Government will not raise taxes later, the public finances become even more unbalanced and investors lose confidence in the UK. This is the fear of Stephen Cecchetti, the leading authority on temporary tax stimuli.

The Government's case for a stimulus has been partly based on the fact that its borrowing is not that high. It has since become clear that the public finances are worse than anyone had expected. Its structural deficit is already 3.6 per cent of GDP; add on its long-term spending commitments on pensions and education and it approaches 7 per cent. That is equivalent to £100bn, or £4,000 per family. Policy-makers should try to reduce this number, not add to it.

What underpins the Government's position is that the UK should maintain its economic behaviour of the past 15 years, a culture based on debt and over-consumption. That isn't sustainable. The Chancellor needs to set a different path. Rejecting a fiscal stimulus is the first step. A programme of productivity in public and private sectors is the next. It would be the ideal subject for his pre-Budget report.

Andrew Haldenby

Director, Reform, London SW1

Some children need a legal guardian

The sad case of Baby P reflects a much wider problem. Every week, the Children's Legal Centre represents children failed by the child-protection system. They present, even in our wealthy and developed society, as homeless, without parental care, without financial support, education or assistance. They live wherever somebody will let them stay, constantly moving on.

Their way of life places them at high risk of exploitation and abuse. Most of these children have been the subject of child-protection intervention at various times, but this intervention has been short term and has not solved the fundamental problems of poor, inadequate and often risky parental care. Children in need of protection are wholly dependent upon the local authority. They have no independent representation and nobody to protect their rights and interests, unless the local authority decides to take care proceedings.

To protect children effectively, a guardian and solicitor should be appointed for a child, whenever the local authority decides to hold a child-protection conference to determine whether the child is in need of protection. This would ensure the child's rights and interests are protected and that the child is seen as an individual separate from the parents and family.

Professor Carolyn Hamilton

Director, The Children's Legal Centre, Colchester, Essex

The repercussions of the failings of Haringey Social Services reach far and wide. Through Penderels Trust, I am able to employ my cousin for 36 hours a year to help me with my autistic daughter. I did not need a CRB check for my cousin because she is a relative (and is CRB-checked anyway). Now Penderels say all employees need to be CRB-checked as a consequence of the death of Baby P. Grandmothers who help look after special-needs grandchildren will be subject to this worthless check. Many relatives help parents informally, so this new directive would seem to suggest we should be suspicious of everybody who comes in contact with our children unless they have a valid CRB check.

Angela Elliott

Welton le Marsh, Lincolnshire

The trouble with social work departments is that they are riddled with humans. Could a little compassion be more constructive than the media frenzy of vilification and scapegoating of those who, for all we know, saved several babies in recent weeks?

Freda Waldapfel

Ardentinny, Argyll

Greek temples not threatened

Your article "Gas plant to overshadow Greek temples" (20 November) falsely implicates ministers of two Italian governments in collusion with organised crime in connection with the approval of the Porto Empedocle liquid natural gas (LNG) terminal. The Italian government commission that evaluated the environmental impact of the project was established under the Environment Minister of the last Prodi administration, Alfonso Pecoraro Scanio, a well-known member of Italy's Green Party. The Commission's conclusions also received the formal approval of the then Minister for Culture and the Arts, Francesco Rutelli.

The current Ministers for the Environment and for Culture and the Arts inherited their predecessors' conclusions and finalised the authorisations first sought in 2004. It is not credible to define this detailed and bi-partisan process as "legislative sleight of hand". The Porto Empedocle storage facilities cannot "overshadow" the temples site because they will be underground. The terminal itself is in an industrial area outside the archeological park boundaries and established under approvals received before Enel even presented its project.

Locations as culturally valued as Barcelona and the Gulf of Lerici have coexisted beside LNG facilities for many years without the slightest negative impact on a thriving local tourist industry. It will certainly not be the properly authorised Porto Empedocle project that creates problems for the Valley of the Temples site.

The real threat comes from illegal construction and neglect of public spaces that have led, for example, to the discharge of untreated sewage into the sea all summer, thereby preventing any bathing in the area.

Gerardo Orsini

Head of Media Relations, Enel SpA, Rome

Restrictions on BNP membership

The Big Question (20 November) failed to make clear that membership of the BNP is restricted by section 2(2) of its constitution to members of "folk communities", Anglo-Saxon, Celtic Scottish, Scots-Northern Irish, Celtic Welsh, Celtic Irish, Celtic Cornish, Anglo-Saxon-Celtic, Celtic-Norse, Anglo-Saxon-Norse, Anglo-Saxon-Indigenous European, and "members of ethnic groups who reside either within or outside Europe but ethnically derive from them".

Ken Cohen

London NW6

Israel bars MEPs from prison visit

Israel has refused a request by MEPs to visit Aziz Dweik, the Speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, who has been held in an Israeli prison without trial for more than two years. Mr Dweik is a supporter of Hamas but the assessment of the Inter-Parliamentary Union is that his only offence is that of having been elected. Israel's Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, in a letter to the President of the European Parliament, cites "the political implications a visit to prisoners involved in terror activities may entail and to the moral message it may convey".

Palestine, after 40 years of Israeli occupation, is being cynically dismembered. Since January alone, the population of the Jewish settlements has grown by 5 per cent. Military fortifications, impassable fences, and new connecting roads separate Palestinian communities, turning them into bantustans.

Ms Livni may become the next prime minister of Israel. She would do well to reflect on reality before invoking "moral messages" as an excuse for not permitting access by parliamentarians to a democratically elected representative being held in defiance of international law.

Chris Davies MEP

(Liberal Democrat, NW England) Member, European Parliament Delegation to Palestine, Brussels

How we can save our bees

Ken Pickles correctly identifies the need to maintain bees that are strong and well adapted to deal with the problems of weather, parasites and diseases striking Britain's beehives (letters, 19 November). But his strategy for eliminating the weak by leaving all bees to sink or swim without medication would be inefficient, uncertain of outcome and be rejected by beekeepers.

The characteristics of a bee colony are determined by the queen: all workers are daughters of the sole queen in the hive. Ill-adapted mongrel strains could quickly be replaced by more suitable bees if the UK were to set up a queen-breeding programme based on, say, seven regional centres, each producing queens from several lines to maintain genetic diversity but all selected for vitality and local adaptation. Queens should then be offered free to local beekeepers. Costs could be met in various ways, including donations from beekeepers, the public, the food industry and charitable trusts.

Defra is preparing a bee health strategy, apparently full of aspirations but short on effective, fundable action programmes. This would be an start.

Robin Dartington

Director, BuzzWorks Community Bee Garden, Hitchin,


Crossed line?

Fans of Jon Gaunt may feel that, in sacking him (report, 22 November), Talksport have crossed the line between reasonable broadcasting standards and political correctness. Exactly where this line lies is becoming increasingly uncertain, particularly because the main fault of political correctness is that it gives political correctness a bad name.

Dr Francis Kirkham

Crediton, Devon

Striking difference

You report (20 November) that there have been 20 "strikes" by American pilotless drone aircraft in Pakistan in the past three months which resulted in the death of more than 200 civilians. What will it take for you to refer to these "strikes" as terrorist attacks? The difference between these attacks and others is that the perpetrators take no risks and deserve that overused word "cowardly" when they are being described.

David Williams


A society in fear

To the list of Nicaraguans experiencing the sharp end of Daniel Ortega's journey from Marxist revolutionary to Orwellian dictator (report, 21 November) can be added Nicaraguan civil society. The excellent article captures the fear expressed to us by civil society partner organisations in Nicaragua: the harassment, the mobs, the boot in the door. The women's movement is especially targeted, for having the courage to campaign for equality and the temerity to suggest that a gang-raped woman might have the option of legal abortion.

Graham Bennett

Director, One World Action, London N1

Ross voted out

Deborah Ross asks (22 November), "Would it be fun if people were invited to vote on the performance of Jonathan Ross when he returns to his Friday night chat-show?" In an AOL poll, 74 per cent of 24,000 respondents voted no when asked if they thought the BBC was right to bring Ross back. Is it too much to expect the BBC to reconsider their feeble decision?

William Shepherd

Bicester, Oxfordshire

What's all this, then?

A friend from The Netherlands was in London and sent me photos of the Queen and Prince Philip, who were on royal duties. I was surprised how close he was to the Queen. Even more surprisingly, my friend was stopped by police at Canary Wharf for taking photos and they took his name and address. Is Canary Wharf more important than the Queen?

L E Shubert

London SE9

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