Letters: Security in Afghanistan

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The Independent Online

Kabul streets must be paved with gold if that will secure victory

Sir: It seems hardly believable that, in the light of all we know about the dismal record of foreign occupiers of Afghanistan throughout modern history, Nato is now facing a similar, foreseeable, defeat through a want of military resources, economic aid and effective propaganda.

Nothing, but nothing, is more strategically important right now than the military defeat of the Taliban. The consequences of failure, as set out in the Defence Select Committee report, are almost too horrific to contemplate. They include the prospect of Islamists getting their hands on nuclear weapons in Pakistan, and a wider, regional conflagration.

Hearts and minds are the issue. When Mr Blair said to the Afghan people in 2002 that we would not turn away again, Britain made a promise that we knew we absolutely had to keep - for their well-being and the security of the world. That was the pay-off for an invasion that left many innocent dead. Why then are the streets of Kabul and Kandahar not now paved with gold? Why have the Afghanis not been lavished with even a fraction of what the west has squandered in Iraq? And, most perplexing of all, why do western governments persist in turning Afghani farmers against us by destroying their only lucrative crop - poppies - when there is still a worldwide shortage of legal opiates?

I shudder when I hear Des Browne try to balance the picture by referring to "positive elements" in the report, echoing the increasingly limp assertions by the Government about developments in Iraq. It is now widely acknowledged that the occupation of Iraq has been a disaster. The world simply cannot afford failure in Afghanistan, but it is only through luck and some good soldiering that Afghan policy has been saved from being a disaster. There is still time, we are told, to rescue the situation but our guiding principles should be: first, do no harm and, second, buy Afghani loyalty and support if that is what it takes. Only then, it seems to me, do we stand a chance of not repeating history.



Money lavished on roads is revealing

Sir: Not only has the government made motoring cheaper (front page, 18 July), but it is also subsidising more motoring with a £13bn road-building programme. The M1 widening project is now estimated to cost £5.1bn, more than the annual rail budget, and this is just to add another lane. This year the Government has to make the difficult decision on whether to approve adding an extra lane to the M6 between Birmingham and Manchester into the roads programme at a cost of £2.9bn for just 51 miles, making widening cost £43m a mile. The M25 widening PFI will cost the taxpayer over £5bn over 30 years. What message does this level of road-building send to the traveller about how seriously the government takes sustainable transport? Imagine what could be done with these vast sums of money if they were spent on improving public transport.



Sir: How right The Independent is to slate the current lack of a "joined up" policy on transport. I live in a small village without any shops, but a mobile Post Office visits once per week for about 30 minutes. Currently we have three buses per week out of the village. One goes to the nearest small town of Appleby, the other two go 12 miles away to the nearest town of any size, Penrith. Now, because of a withdrawal of central funding, the County Council tells us that they are no longer able to provide two buses per week to Penrith, and we will have to make do with one.

Most of the dozen or so regular users of these buses have free bus passes, but we would gladly pay a reasonable fare to keep the service going, if that were an option. Just a few of the users have their own car, but would prefer to "go green" by travelling by public transport.

The Penrith bus serves a string of small villages; only one of these villages boasts a Post Office and tiny shop. How are people to manage without either shops or transport?



Sir: Brian Hughes (letter, 16 July) is right to dispute that "planes can produce 10 times as much CO2 as trains" but this does not justify his assessment that there's little to choose between the two.

Recent research at Lancaster University shows a more realistic picture: trains produce up to five times less CO2 per passenger-kilometre than planes on major domestic air routes such as London to Manchester and Edinburgh. It is clear that switching from plane to train is beneficial to reducing carbon emissions and challenges the aviation industry's case for unsustainable airport expansion.



Why is Israel singled out for boycott?

Sir: Aldric Brown (letter, 17 July) attacks Howard Jacobson's criticism of the proposed academic boycott of Israel because "he ignores the motivations of the boycott". This is true, but understandable.

If the motivations of the boycott are truly as described in his letter, why are its advocates not applying similar tactics against other countries where murder, rape, torture, lack of free speech and denial of human rights are practised on horrendous scales? To name but a few, why not target Chinese universities for wiping out Tibetan culture? Or Russia, for its massacres in Chechnya? Or Sudan, where the on-going massacres in Darfur dwarf the total number of deaths on both sides of the Palestinian problem? Or indeed, the Palestinian universities themselves for not speaking out against terrorism and suicide bombing, indoctrination of children to hatred and for the refusal of their leaders since the 1920s to accept Israel's repeated attempts for peace and for responding to significant compromises with only more violence?

Their behaviour is so irrational that one is forced to look for another reason. The only one I see is that Israel is a Jewish state.


Sir: I am puzzled by the squeamishness of Howard Jacobson and others when it comes to an academic boycott of Israel, when we already have a boycott of the Palestinians for electing Hamas, efforts to boycott Iran over its nuclear programme, and the shutting down of North Korean reactors as a result of a boycott and intense diplomatic pressure.

If boycotts are wrong per se, why does Jacobson not protest against all of these, especially when the siege of the Palestinian people has not just inconvenienced his fellow writers and academics but caused massive suffering throughout Palestinian society? If boycotts are wrong because they are ineffective, why are they deployed against other regimes with such alacrity?



Organ donation laws need overhaul

Sir: The intervention by Sir Liam Donaldson in the debate about organ donation is encouraging (The Big Question, 18 July). The current system of "presumed dissent" is a failure in almost every respect and the arguments for radical change are clear: thousands of seriously ill patients currently stuck on dialysis or in hospital beds would be able to resume their normal productive lives, as would their carers. The additional expense incurred by families and carers, as well as the state, would be eliminated overnight. For renal patients the thrice-weekly trauma of haemodialysis would be removed; and the associated NHS treatment costs for all categories of patients would be slashed.

The UK remains at the bottom of the European league table for organ donations, with waiting lists growing year by year. By contrast the system of presumed consent has a proven track record in the countries where it has been deployed, and in most of these places - such as Austria, Belgium and Spain - transplant waiting lists are no longer an issue.



A rational plan for rubbish collection

Sir: The arguments about fortnightly refuse collection can be easily solved (report, 16 July).

Simply collect green, compostable waste weekly, other recyclable waste fortnightly, and leave the rest for collection monthly. This might also encourage everyone to increase the amount they compost and recycle.

The primary purpose of collecting "compostable" waste is to avoid methane being produced in landfill sites. Methane is 20 times worse than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. The methane is produced when green waste decays in oxygen-free conditions - like a plastic bag, wheelie-bin or landfill. So more frequent collections of green waste will not only keep the rate-payers happy, but also reduce the methane produced.



Our drugs policy just isn't working

Sir: I write to applaud Johann Hari's article on drug policy (12 July). I live in an area where drug dealers are present seven days a week at all hours of the day. I have to accompany my girlfriend to our front door due to it not being safe after 8pm because of the addicts and dealers on our doorstep. Yesterday I was visited by our local police support officer who told me that if they arrest one dealer, another will appear to replace them; while there is a demand for drugs, there will always be dealers.

With one stroke of Gordon Brown's pen, he could end the suffering of communities like my own by decriminalising all drugs, and bringing them under government control, thus stopping millions of pounds going to organised crime (which we are told funds terrorism).

People will always feel the need to escape - why else do people drink alcohol? But legalisation will stop young people putting their lives at risk by trusting street dealers who cut their drugs with dangerous substances to increase profits. Until we realise that this is the only way to combat the problem, the "moral decay" of our society will continue, and dealers will continue to take the risks due to the enormous profits on offer.



Old enough for war, but not for the pub

Sir: In reply to Nick Dibben's letter (17 July), young people do indeed need to be encouraged if they are to be given the vote. It does seem illogical to me, as a 17-year-old, that I may be considered mature enough to vote, and am already old enough to drive or join the army, but cannot drink in a pub. How can I be sensible enough to form a political opinion, get shot in Iraq or drive, and yet be considered too irresponsible to go to my local?



Sir: There is something altogether bizarre about a council refusing to receive a petition from a 15-year-old (letter, 17 July), but reducing the voting age is not the way forward. Handing yet another badge of adulthood to today's spoon-fed children is to engender in the child a contempt for something so easily gained. If we want the youth of today to vote sensibly the best way to encourage it would be to put it out of their reach for as long as possible, returning the voting age to 21 or even higher.

Give the children back their childhood and stop trying to turn them into second-class adults before their time.



Keep Dawkins out of RE

Sir: Richard Wilson suggests that Richard Dawkins' rationalism should be taught in religious education lessons (Letters, 16 July). No it should not. We should no more want atheism to invade the religious slot in the curriculum than we would want creationism to invade the science syllabus.



Islam's outsiders

Sir: While we would sympathise with the sentiments of Michael Charley (Letter, 17 July), it is probably worth pointing out that the structure of Islam as a faith communion is different from that of the Church of Rome.

There is no concept of "excommunication" in Islam. However, as has frequently been pointed out by many mainstream Islamic scholars, the "extremists" define themselves "out of Islam". The term used is khawarij or "exiters". It is worrying that there seems to be no means by which these comments of mainstream Muslims can reach a wider public.



Galloway vs the House

Sir: George Galloway may or may not have "damaged the reputation of the House". But what is certain is that since that fateful day in March 2003 the House has inflicted untold damage upon its own reputation. Little wonder that an ever-increasing number of people refuse to vote for a parliamentary candidate.



Sir: Irrespective of any precedent and his guilt, I do not understand why the punishment for the MP George Galloway is to be banned from the House of Commons.

The primary role of an MP is to represent his constituency, so this punishment - in depriving the electorate of representation - is clearly misdirected. Why can't MPs be fined instead?



US-style democracy

Sir: So the candidates for next year's US Presidential primaries are locked in a "contest" to raise as much money as they can (report, 17 July). How does this need to raise outrageous sums equate to the basic principles of democracy? Can it possibly justify the US claiming the moral high ground when it attempts to force its brand of democracy on others?



Einstein's nationality

Sir: In your "Science" booklet (16 July) you describe Albert Einstein inexactly as a "US physicist".

Here is what Einstein himself had to say about his nationality: "If relativity is proved right, the Germans will call me a German, the Swiss call me a Swiss citizen, and the French will call me a great scientist. If relativity is proved wrong the French will call me a Swiss, the Swiss will call me a German, and the Germans will call me a Jew."