In Love and War

On Sunday, I read an article in The Sunday Times that gave me hope that we might start having a more honest debate about Afghanistan and the war we have undertaken. It was called ‘In Love and War’ by Christina Lamb, who is living the life of equality, that we protest so much. It was a brilliant article because it highlighted the complexity of the culture in Afghanistan and the complexity of the solution required to achieve stabilisation. Christina Lamb writes; ” For this is no Shangri-La, just a sad, filthy, dangerous and – from the right vantage point – ravishingly beautiful place, where women are nowhere to be seen and men make their own companionship.” Having read this article, I now feel that this is a solution that won’t be delivered by soldiers but by a modern form of colonisation. To colonise Afghanistan is imperialistic, but to leave it to rot in anarchy is irresponsible.

Finally, it is also being publicly stated how intrinsic the links between Pakistan and Afghanistan are intertwined in the conflict. Although, I had heard this stated previously out of the mouth of Dr Liam Fox, when I visited him in Westminster on behalf of The Army Rumour Service to present him with the forum’s questions, before he was the Secretary for Defence. It was encouraging to read it openly in a more public forum.

The problems, as I understand it, are these:

1.) Afghanistan is a corrupt patriarchial society where violence is exacerbated by ISAF’s martial law
2.) The male leaders of Afghanistan steal Western funds from their own people, recreationally take cannabis, opium and indulge in the sodomy of young boys
3.) The majority of the population are illiterate
4.) The economy and governance is founded on protectionism and bribery
5.) The trade routes between the SWAT Valley and Afghanistan for the illegal trafficking of weapons, drugs, goods and people are between the Pakistan and Afghanistan border which is impossible to police
6.) The SWAT valley in Pakistan is lawless and run by bandits, who profit from the conflict and rule with violent aggression and manage the trafficking
7.) The volume of insurgents who are willing to die for the cause is a production line of a cheap, disposable fighting force that just keep on coming

To put some perspective on this situation this is a modern day Wild West – a new frontier of lawlessness versus western civilised order, where the Taliban, and other insurgents, have a cheap, ready supply of men willing to die for a cause.

The Russians destroyed Afghanistan. They destroyed it’s agriculture, it’s chance of self-governance and then they left it to rot. The Taliban controlled the country with a rule of Roman terror but it maintained order and stability, albeit repression. The ISAF forces overthrew the Taliban and then pledged to re-build the country under The Bonn Agreement but just like the Russians they have underestimated the complexity of the conundrum. The people of the Afghanistan are warriors, who hate each other, but more importantly, they collectively hate foreigners more.

At an event recently, I met Tom Coghlan from The Times, who had lived in Kabul for 5 years. His handsome weathered face, was tired and weary, I can only assume from years on the ground. He said that he himself endured a turbulent relationship with the country. I could see from his achingly considered response that he battles internally with a solution. In haste, just before he departed, I asked him one last question, “Is it irresolvable Tom?’ I said.
He paused, looked at me through his dark, mysterious eyes.
“I have to go.” he said.
“In a nutshell?” I batted my lids, pleadingly.
“It’s complicated and I have no time,” he said, ‘but, ultimately……yes.”

So now what? What are we going to do? How can we create a civilised response to a highly uncivilised situation? I am genuinely at a loss for words.


  1. Such a powerful post. Thank you for setting it out. I find myself wondering what we are doing there as in are we making a difference & most of the time the answer is no. It is so complicated but if the will is not there to make long term, deep setted changes then perhaps we need to putour hands up & admit defeat. However as you say, what will take our place? Very thought provoking!

    1. Thank you for your comment. The silence has been deafening. I wondered if I had gone too far – if it was simply too much with people to cope with in their summer holidays. It is so complicated that evolution, education and civilisation has to be implemented to make it work and this is not the job of soldiers but governments and civil servants. It’s heart wrenching for me when I know that Hagar will be back on the battlefield before we know it. I want victory for them – this talk of defeat is self-perpetuating but the problem is ‘what does victory look like?’

  2. I have so much to say to you right now. I am currently reading Christina Lamb’s Sewing Circles of Herat.

    I read this out loud to my husband who got back from Afghanistan in December and feels strongly for the country and it’s people. His response to your post:

    “It’s hard. But you have to have been there to TRULY understand.

    It makes me sad. It takes time. But here’s the thing about time. We’ve got a watch, they’ve got the time. Just like the Russians we’re going to go broke before we fix it for them. Ultimately, they’re going to have to fix it for themselves. But just as stated, if they don’t have a common enemy, the common enemy is themselves.”

    My husband will go back and fight for those people in an instant. If he was called up tomorrow he would be up bright and early raring to go. He cares deeply for those people. Christina Lamb is an amazing person. I’m reading her book and I’m only 60 pages in and I feel the need to protect these people and their land.

    Amazing post. And I’m sorry if my words to you are incoherent and don’t make sense. We are on our second, very large, bottle of wine tonight. 😉

    1. It’s always a pleasure to read your comments. I agree with you wholeheartedly, I have researched the campaign in great detail and time is the key to success. We need decades at least. To support the evolution. It’s hard to convey this in a short blog post. I want us to talk in more detail about the complexity to generate a greater understanding of the task at hand. I hope it didn’t come across as cry for withdrawal. I didn’t mean that at all. I want success for everyone’s sake. There is no quick fix. But I am not sure we are even clear on what success looks like. I should read more Lamb stuff. I will get some of her books.

  3. A powerful, considered & eloquent post. I’ve read alot about Afg and that cut through the waffle. Great stuff!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: