Come clean on Afghanistan

What on earth is Gordon Brown trying to say? On the one hand, “I will not risk British lives if Afghans do not end corruption “ On the other: “ We will not walk away”. Well, are we in or out? All we have in a few sentences of typical boilerplate is more Brown confusion and tetchiness from the near-rebellious chiefs of staff. Of course we know British nerves are stretched, waiting on Obama. So why expose yourself now Gordon, and underscore British impotence? Maybe the 7th cavalry are on the way. If so, let’s hope it’s not to Little Big Horn. The New York Times reports that Obama is about to plump for a middling option of 30,000 extra troops, judiciously less than McCrystal’s bid for 40,000. This smacks of a political compromise. When you see a foreign deployment being discussed in largely domestic political terms as in both London and Washington this week, be very afraid. It suggests they don’t know really what they’re doing; the message that carries is, give him most of what he wants and cross your fingers.. And oh, by the way, that’s all you’re getting. We think.. Meanwhile Alexander Cockburn in the Indy on Sunday persuasively puts the counter strategy of withdrawal, with an impressive display of knowledge of the area. In a Tajik vs Pashtun ethnic struggle, one-sided foreign deployment and conceiving of Afghan governance in terms of the UN Charter seem like big mistakes. I’m bursting to hear what the US reply is. I might just wear the argument for an Iraqi style surge, accompanied by moves to talks to “Taliban” (i.e. Pashtun) factions while ISAF hold the ring on the Afghan side of the border, and the Pakistanis tackle al-Qaida at last. We know from our own little experience that these things take time. A scuttle could throw the whole vast region from Israel to India into worse turmoil. But where is the informed debate?

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London