Don’t slavishly follow Obama

The Guardian has just come up with a half-coherent exit strategy from Afghanistan that for once, doesn’t duck the consequence of pull-out. But it does pin an awful lot on the Taliban HQ at Quetta, Pakistan. Why should “regional guarantees” be offered by China, Russia etc. and how would they be enforced? The editorial itself admits there are “many pitfalls” in the case. Still, it challenges the present sloganising from the US and UK governments from Brown and Miliband. Recent pronouncements capture the worst of both worlds, talking of limited expansion and withdrawal at the same time. The Daily Telegraph reveals a strategy with a similar thrust to the Guardian’s but couched in different language, in 423 pages from the Chief of Staff. The bit about tackling the “irreconcilables” is the least convincing. So you could say that the British media left and right and the military are groping towards agreement on how to exit. But will any government follow? First, the present position is torn apart by Simon Jenkins.From Jenkins

“Almostnothing Brown says on Afghanistan makes sense, and he seems painfully aware of it. He must say that soldiers are dying in Helmand to make Britain’s streets safe, even when intelligence reports say the opposite. He must remain obsessed with “training bases”, as if the 9/11 plotters had learned to fly in Tora Bora. He must believe that building an Afghan security force and ridding Hamid Karzai’s regime of corruption can be achieved, and that they hold the keys to a British withdrawal. Pigs will fly.”

Then the more nuanced editorial. Remind you of anything in say 1997 (allowing for a few differences)?

First, it should stop the fighting by offering the Quetta Shura, the Taliban HQ, a ceasefire. Progress should not be contingent on a ceasefire. The Shura have said they will only stop fighting when the foreigners leave. But this is a matter of sequencing, if a ceasefire entails, as it must, a commitment to leave. Second, a Loya Jirga should be called to which the Taliban leadership should be explicitly invited. The obvious question is: will the fundamentalist Taliban leadership bite? Why talk when they are doing so well at fighting? And who exactly would talk, when this religious movement lacks a Sinn Fein, a political arm doing the thinking?

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