Letters: Troops in Afghanistan

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British troops sent to suppress Afghan free enterprise

Sir: The Afghans in the provinces playing host to the newly arrived British troops could be forgiven for questioning the reason for the soldiers being there. What are the Afghans doing that must be changed by force of arms? In accordance with free-market principles and the preferred strategy of the World Bank for third world economies, their farmers have decided to grow a cash crop, for which there is a ready and growing market in the UK, rather than struggle with subsistence farming.

With local associates they have developed an efficient transport and export network. Accepting the economic policies promoted by the US Administration and the WTO they have reduced to a minimum intervention by the state - the Kabul government - in their lives. Transport, water and all but basic healthcare and education are privatised. Investment of foreign finance in their main industry is welcomed. Most necessities and manufactured products are imported from lower-cost areas.

To protect themselves from corrupt officialdom in its various forms, they are considering the re-introduction of local government based on their traditional culture, which is economically non-interventionist, but strong on moral values, individual responsibilities, and property rights. In the light of the neo-liberal objectives of Bush and Blair, what have the Afghans done wrong that needs UK armed intervention?

One wonders why the Prime Minister has committed us to joining yet another ill thought-out US-inspired military adventure. As with Iraq, the only certain result of the Afghanistan operation will be to generate immense resentment.



State terrorism in Forest Gate

Sir: The treatment meted out to the Abdulkahar family demonstrates attitudes diametrically opposed to any decent interpretation of freedom and democracy. It is the kind of thing we expect from totalitarian and morally deficient regimes.

An apology to this family is at least a start, but it will count for very little unless it is followed by a genuine pledge that this kind of thing will never happen again. Three things have to change: the leaders of the Government must drop their cavalier approach to human rights; the anti-terrorism laws must be brought under proper control; and those responsible for executing those laws must be taught how to respect suspects.

I am disgusted to read how the police abused the people they were arresting. Instead of foul language they should have shouted a warning, something like, "Stop. Police. You will be shot if you do not follow orders."

The existence of terrorists does not justify the use of terrorism by the authorities. Wake up, Britain. Be ashamed of behaving like cornered dogs.



Sir: Our justice system does not make provision for punishment by firearm, but the debacle of Forest Gate is further evidence that under this security-obsessed administration "nothing to hide" does not mean nothing to fear.



Horrible history of the British Empire

Sir: Niall Ferguson, in his criticism of Johann Hari's column ("Home truths about famine, war and genocide", 14 June), charges Hari with writing "horrible" history. Well, history is sometimes horrible and it is poor scholarship to pretend it is not.

The record of the European empires that dissolved in the 20th century was horrible. The majority of the people in Britain's erstwhile colonies have witnessed unprecedented advances in human development in the half-century since the end of colonialism. In India, despite the population more than tripling, life expectancy has almost doubled and the literacy rate has quadrupled.

While the unravelling of empires has seen great violence, Ferguson disregards the fact that a large part of the responsibility rests with imperial policies that sowed ethnic and religious division, whether in the Indian subcontinent, central Africa, the Middle East or the Balkans.



Sir: If the Anglo-Saxon "mission" smacked of arrogance, it was undoubtedly blended with a sense of service, taking many of the nation's brightest to work in distant lands.

This sense of the British Empire as having a moral aspect prevailed when I was a child before the Second World War. Empire Days were celebratory affairs, but I cannot remember their being racist. If anything, they related to that "citizenship" and "respect" which Tony Blair would urge upon us.

They had a social counterpart in the Co-operative Commonwealth, one of the motivational ideas of the co-operative movement rarely mentioned today. At the residential Co-operative College I met many students from African nations soon to secure independence. Most were civil servants in development administrations.

They were for the most part the fruit of mission-endowed schools, and sometimes rebuked me, in a rather severe tone, that Britain was not a Christian country as they had once thought. They were eager for independence, of course, but I cannot remember them ever thinking that the days of empire had been fruitless.



World Cup glory in remote Siberia

Sir: I too sort of remember the 1966 World Cup (letter, 13 June). I was in Siberia waiting to board a plane back to Moscow where I then lived. An airport announcement stated that there would be a technical delay.

My British friend and I settled back with our books in the departure lounge for a couple of hours before the Areoflot flight crew appeared. They trooped across the room looking very pleased with themselves. The Captain turned to us and said, "You've won! England's beaten Germany!"

"Oh?" We said. "What at?" The whole crew stopped, amazed at our ignorance. Yet we had just returned from five weeks in China, where the Cultural Revolution had just begun. And we didn't even know about that either! We did however wonder at the nature of that technical delay at Irkutsk airport in July 1966.



Blair deserves his standing ovation

Sir: It's good to read that Tony Blair's question and answer session at the GMB union's annual conference "ended with a standing ovation" ("Blair rounds on his critics at union conference", 14 June). As the Prime Minister whose government has done more than any other in the last half century to improve life for the "working class", he deserved the applause.

His critics on the left seem naively unaware of the restrictions on the power of a government or of the delicate balancing act it must perform to maintain a stable economy whilst bringing reform. No previous Labour government mastered this art.

To have introduced the minimum wage, better maternity and paternity rights and extra holidays at the same time as increasing the number of jobs in the country is a remarkable achievement. And what Mr Blair said about improvements for the poorest pensioners and our state schools is, without doubt, true. Similarly, no impartial observer could suggest that our health service hasn't dramatically improved under his stewardship.

I'm not an uncritical admirer of this government but I'm convinced that it's the best there's been in my lifetime; Clement Attlee was PM when I was born.



The heritage of Savile Row

Sir: Your report on the future of Savile Row (12 June) raises some important issues about the future of this historic street.

Westminster City Council has made decisive moves in an effort to preserve the unique character of Savile Row, to ensure that it remains the by-word for gentlemen's bespoke tailoring. Like the Savile Row tailors, we believe this unique heritage is worth fighting for. That is why we are co-ordinating a group of tailors' and landlords' representatives to preserve what we hope will be a long and prosperous future for bespoke tailoring in Savile Row.



Britain's nuclear lead thrown away

Sir: According to recent news reports Tony Blair is signing a deal to co-operate with France on new nuclear power stations.

If past records demonstrate anything it is the Government's willingness to sell out our technology industries in favour of foreign ownership and "inward investment", which means we can soon expect a merger followed by an outright takeover of the remains of our nuclear industry by the French government.

As this country once pioneered the peaceful use of nuclear power it is another tragic indication of the continuing failures of British leadership, political and managerial, to keep the lead and reap the rewards for all of us.



Road tax? Cyclists ought to be paid

Sir: Gareth Branston (letter, 13 June) recalls being told by an enraged driver that cyclists should not be on the road as they do not pay road tax.

As a cyclist, I am forced to use the road at great threat to my personal safety. Bikes don't need roads. We could cycle through a spring meadow and leave barely a trace. A gravel track would be a luxury.

In towns pavements are rightly reserved for the safety of the pedestrian. All other space for transportation is devoted to those speeding metal boxes on wheels. Roads have been built to manage the threat posed by cars as much as to ease their movement.

Cyclists don't benefit from road tax. All the money spent on highway maintenance and extra roads only acts as a reminder of our lowly status and vulnerability. I propose Gordon Brown offer cyclists an inverse road tax. The Government should pay us for the risks we take daily in easing congestion and living a healthy life, thus making savings in the NHS.

So to all those Clarksons who complain at cyclists' lack of taxation, I say, we're saving you money and we'd like a little appreciation.



Sir: As a London cyclist, I sympathise with Gareth Branston's experience of unjustified abuse from frustrated motorists. Abuse from pedestrians is also common. This morning, I witnessed an angry pedestrian chastising, photographing and making rude gestures at an apologetic cyclist who had, admittedly, drifted over a pedestrian crossing to get ahead of the traffic before the lights changed to green.

The pedestrian had stepped into the path of the cyclist, ignoring his own red pedestrian light. This fact did little to quell his outrage or dent his claim to the moral high ground.

I am not suggesting that pedestrians are any more "the problem" than cyclists or motorists, although they too can be guilty of ignoring red lights and can cause accidents. Levelling blanket blame is not helpful. The current climate of prejudice towards cyclists (aside from your special features this week) leads to double standards and unfair criticism of individual cyclists.

We are all vulnerable on our roads and if we are to take issues of health, safety and sustainability seriously it's time to stop scapegoating cyclists and focus instead on how all road users can become more responsible.



Sir: Wrong, Kevin Costelloe (Letters, 12 June). Bikes do kill. Every time I see a sweating Lycra-clad man with sunglasses, a grey beard and a go-faster helmet I die laughing.



Dreading the darkness

Sir: Bravo Philip O'Donoghue (letter, 12 June) for raising the issue of preserving central European time. Our household is already dreading 21 June, after which the nights start drawing in, let alone 29 October, when we lose another hour of daylight. This brings an increase in crime and road accidents.



By train to Marseille

Sir: I admire your strong stance and continued emphasis on climate change, and I also understand that it's very difficult to reach São Paolo without flying. But in "48 Hours in Marseille" (Traveller, 10 June,) Christine Rush explores the options for getting to the French city - by British Airways and easyJet. What about the fast and climate-friendly train service by Eurostar and TGV, which takes about seven hours from London?



High price for rubbish

Sir: Why should we pay extra for rubbish and recycling material collection (Big Question, 14 June) when our council and other taxes are higher than almost anywhere else in the western world? Most people already sort their rubbish such as paper, plastic, glass, garden waste and metal for the council and at nearly £1,600 for a small two-bedroom bungalow, I feel I am paying enough already for the often inadequate services we receive.



Good year for insects

Sir: The windscreen of my car has more splattered insects on it than for many years. Maybe a cold wet spring followed by a heatwave has created a big flush of insects, to resemble the insect densities of yesteryear. Loss of insects is among reasons for the serious population declines of many birds in the last 30 years. More insects could mean a chink of light for those birds, so while swatting over your barbecue, spare a thought for the good those insects might be doing.



Remember the Blitz

Sir: I do wish the Insider (Save and Spend, 10 June) would learn a little about Second World War history ("Models - replay the Blitz"). The Blitz was the German bombing of London in 1940. There were no American aircraft around, let alone B-17s.