Letters: Nato risks leaving behind a perilous Afghanistan



Nato's attempts to finalise plans for withdrawal from Afghanistan leave many questions unanswered ("Nato chiefs and politicians at war over 'risky' Afghan withdrawal plans", 19 April).

Last year saw civilian casualties rise for the fifth year in a row, and last week, armed opposition groups launched the spring offensive with co-ordinated attacks in Kabul and other cities. Afghan national security forces (ANSF) have been praised for their response to these attacks, but the safety of Afghan civilians hangs in the balance as foreign troops prepare to hand over full responsibility to ANSF next year.

Worse still, proposals to cut the size of the ANSF post-2014 by as much as a third – or 120,000 – will inevitably result in thousands of unemployed men with weapons training being dispersed across Afghanistan. Coming at a time when Afghan men and women desperately need more accountable, responsive and well-trained soldiers and police to uphold their rights, such cuts could prove perilous. A poorly skilled and unaccountable security force plus thousands of out-of-work fighters with few job opportunities is clearly bad for Afghans – especially women – bad for Afghanistan's stability, and bad for wider regional and international peace and security.

Any troop cuts must be accompanied by a fully-funded demobilisation strategy that addresses the risks of fuelling crime and conflict by making thousands of troops jobless. At the same time, intensified efforts to improve the quality and accountability of Afghan security forces must be made. This is a moral and legal obligation that needs to be met at Nato's Chicago summit in May. Without each of these, the West risks undermining its own objective of building a stable and peaceful Afghanistan. Time is running out.

Floortje Klijn

Oxfam Associate Country Director, Afghanistan


The bomb attacks in Kabul a week ago clearly indicate, as with similar attacks in Saigon towards the end of the Vietnam war, that the Afghan war is unwinnable for America and the west, notwithstanding military spokesmen saying the contrary.

Yet in order to save the face of Western leaders, troops are to remain in Afghanistan to the end of 2014. Surely this is a cost too high to pay for both troops and civilians in loss of life and limb, to say nothing of post-traumatic stress.

Valerie Crews

Beckenham, Kent

Some of us carers really do care

Just in case Howard Jacobson ("Old age is coming, but where are my carers?", 21 April) doesn't realise it, carers are like social workers: we only ever hear about the bad ones.

I have two degrees and a background in publishing. I've raised two great lads and I now work as a carer because I like it. I like going into someone's house, doing whatever needs doing for them – things I doubt Mr Jacobson would do – making them smile, leaving them happier than when I found them. I earn a tiny wage for doing a job with no status, but I like it. My PhD in heartlessness will have to wait, I'm afraid.

By the way, I'm a big fan of Howard Jacobson, he was very entertaining at the Bath literary festival last year – yes, some carers go to book festivals.

Helen Clutton

Dorchester Dorset

The Independent is right to shine a spotlight on the cuts in social care budgets (18 April). The impact on the lives of elderly people will be magnified when people are propelled by social care cuts to remain in acute hospitals or mental health care.

Health and wellbeing boards are being set up to take a more strategic overview of health and social care provision; it is vital that the providers of health services are given a voice on these local authority based boards.

A recent Foundation Trust Network study on care of the elderly found some excellent examples of integrated care. For example, one foundation sends consultants into nursing homes on monthly visits and offers nursing home staff daily telephone calls to discuss clinical management. As a result, readmissions to hospital have gone down and the average time elderly patients stay in hospital has fallen, enabling these patients to be cared for more effectively and closer to home.

Vivien Goldsmith

Senior Media Office' Foundation Trust Network, London SW1

Your article highlights problems in adult social care caused by cuts, but social care has undergone a progressive shift away from placing people into care homes to end their lives towards a far less costly and more effective policy of keeping them at home.

Thirteen per cent of people aged 65 and over live in a care home, compared with 32 per cent who are helped to live independently and 55 per cent who look after themselves. Recent changes in social care include supporting people when they leave hospital to return to and stay at home, increasing their independence and reducing costs for councils and the NHS.

All three major parties have been looking at social care for some time and all recognise the need to plan for the rapidly ageing population but this must be balanced against a recognition that far fewer older people are in poverty than in the past and more of them can stay in their homes. This is an achievement which all those involved in providing these services should be congratulated for.

Andy Crick

Leafield, Oxfordshire

Football's culture of cheating

After the awarding of the "goal" where the ball did not cross the line in the game between Chelsea and Spurs, Harry Redknapp has joined the list of managers calling for the introduction of goal-line technology. It is said that technology is used successfully in tennis, cricket and rugby. One major difference however, is that in tennis, cricket and rugby cheating is not endemic.

In almost every minute of every game football referees have to contend with footballers pretending to be tripped when they haven't been, to be in pain when they are not, not to have fouled an opponent when they have, to have kept the ball in play when they haven't, to have won a corner kick or a throw-in when they didn't and to celebrate a goal that they didn't score. Football managers watch their players cheating week in and week out.

The best help that managers can give referees is not to call for technology but to stamp out the cheating. Technology is no substitute for honesty and as tennis, cricket and ruby show, technology can only assist in an environment where in general honesty prevails.

Terry Mahoney

Sidlesham, West Sussex

Children from abusive homes

Your leading article (12 April) in response to the headlines about record numbers of childcare applications rightly bemoans the difficulties faced by children once in the care system and their poor outcomes.

The solution to this however is not to leave children in abusive home environments – the majority of children about whom applications have been made should have been removed months, if not years, earlier to prevent further damage.

So called "poor outcomes" – which in themselves are not meaningful as they cannot be compared with what would have happened to those children left in abusive families – are a result of the chronic lack of thinking about and funding of the systems needed to look after these damaged children. This is made acutely worse by the current Government's slashing of funding to social care and welfare systems, and to the court systems designed to decide what is best for these children.

If this country is going to take seriously the legal and moral principle of the paramountcy of the welfare of the child enshrined in the Children Act, it needs massive extra resources and concurrent expertise. Otherwise these thousands of children in care will be failed by our politicians.

Dr Malcolm Bourne

Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist,Accrington, Lancashire

If your holiday operator collapses

Your article "It's probably good that Thomas Cook didn't go for an emergency landing" (11 April) seems unnecessarily scaremongering, given the record of the Air Travel Organisers' Licensing scheme (Atol) in protecting holidaymakers.

Anyone booking a holiday protected by Atol can be confident that they will be looked after if their holiday organiser collapses. They are able to finish their holiday and return to the UK if they are overseas, or will be refunded if they have yet to travel. Atol is backed by both the overdraft facility you refer to and an insurance policy to cover the largest potential failures.

Atol has not left any valid claim from a holidaymaker unpaid in nearly 40 years of operation.

Richard Jackson

Director, Consumer Protection Group, Civil Aviation Authority

London WC2

In brief...

The honour of Formula One

May I just voice my own concern at the running of a Formula One grand prix in Bahrain, a country run by an oppressive regime? But, just a minute, where was the last one run? China. So no compromise there, then. And a good thing that we're not relying on Bahrain to bail the world out.

Paul Dunwell

Alton, Hampshire

The people's representatives

Derek Haslam (letter, 17 April) recommends that all MPs should depend exclusively on the NHS for their own and their families' health care. I would go farther and say that all elected politicians including councillors, of which I am one, should use the NHS and send their children to state schools. This will ensure that they have direct experience of using the two biggest services which they are supposed to be overseeing.

Sam Boote


Where the money goes

Brian Nixon (letter 20 April), commenting on sweatshop exploitation, says: "The wages paid to workers in any country are determined by what the majority earn." This avoids the point that it is the middlemen that make the money and the global companies that want cheaply produced goods to rack up massive mark-ups. When these goods hit the high streets and internet outlets around the world they are incredibly expensive compared with their manufacturing costs.

Martin Sandaver

Hay-On-Wye, Powys

After Ceefax

I knew there had to be a downside to London doing the digital switchover so late ("The death of a classic text, 19 April). Most of the UK has already come to terms with the loss of Ceefax. Heaven help us all when the recession finally reaches you.

David Woods

Hull, East Yorkshire

Loyal Sikhs

Chris Bryant ("By the grace of Gorgeous George", 21 April) has omitted to mention that swearing allegiance to the Queen and her lawful successors may be done not only with the Bible and the Koran but also with the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy text of the Sikhs.

Kartar Uppal

West Bromwich, West Midlands

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