Similarities Between Afghanistan and Libya

The dreadful situation that has developed in Afghanistan during the past week reminds me of what happened in Libya after US Ambassador Christopher Stevens was murdered in Benghazi on 11 September 2012.

For those who don’t remember there was a mass evacuation of western diplomats as the country was abandoned by its erstwhile friends. As a result, a civil war began that has been fuelled by outside actors for the best part of a decade. In addition, the country became a safe haven for Islamic State terrorists and a launch base for illegal migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea.

Yesterday, the Italian coastguard had to rescue 539 people crammed onto a fishing boat drifting off Lampedusa. Many of these had been attacked while in Libya.

John Simpson has just said “peace is further away than ever”, but he could also say that brutal regimes are nearer than ever”.

When will we learn that we need to share the risks in dangerous countries if we are to be credible partners and fulfil our international responsibilities to prevent crimes against humanity?

Libya 2012

Afghan Regrets

In 1972, I was at school with Mir Wais Zahir of Afghanistan, which was a country like Nepal with low development, but high happiness. A year later, my father had to close his office in Kabul after the bloodless coup that ended two centuries of royal rule and I said farewell to the prince whose father went into exile in Italy. Little did I know then that I would write the UK government’s strategic concept for the reintegration of Afghanistan into the international community after decades of civil-war in 2001.

Twenty years later, the country has made so much progress and is no longer in the bottom 20 developed countries in world. Improvements to the child mortality rate, village water supplies and women’s education have been dramatic. Social justice, political freedoms and sporting achievements have followed the hard-fought stabilisation of the country by NATO.

All this progress towards the goal set out in 2001 is now being unravelled and in the blink of an eye Afghanistan seems to be reverting to the forbidding country that existed under the repressive Taliban regime of the 1990s. Time will tell whether this iteration is the same as the last, but in the meantime my thoughts are with the thousands of terrified citizens who are now living in fear of their lives as the West abandons them again. Even if Washington feels no remorse now, the key question is whether America will regret their Afghan retreat in the future?

The Khyber Pass looking east at daybreak in September 1972

What good is our Aircraft Carrier now?

The United Kingdom’s Foreign and Defence Policy has been exposed as a paper tiger in the past few days. By prioritising spending on the aircraft carriers, cyber warfare and drones, the government has allowed the British Army to deteriorate so much that we can no longer play a significant role in the World. What good is an aircraft carrier when the key decisions about whether people live or die are taken on land? What message does the government send to its enemies by evacuating its people from Kabul? Where is the international stabilization force and the battle-ready British fighting division that was promised as part of “Army 2020”?

The Taliban have already declared they will re-establish their brutal system of governance that demeans women, rewards criminals and promotes international terrorism. There is no doubt in my mind that they will collaborate with other repressive regimes and create a refugee crisis that will increase the strain on the global humanitarian sector. We need to act quickly if we are not to repeat the mistakes from Syria and Libya.

Kabul Airport 2005

Afghan U Turn

This week, a raft of veterans who served in Afghanistan described the shame they felt about the way the West has abandoned the country in the past six weeks. In turn, the anti-interventionist campaigners put forward a grieving mother, whose son, Jake Hartley, was killed while on patrol 25 miles north of Lashkar Gah in 2012.

These two reactions to the recent Taliban military conquests in Afghanistan summarise the current divide in the British government. An increasing number of MPs are focused on domestic issues and don’t care about helping those who live in fear around the world.

This “arm’s length” foreign policy is short sighted because it has not prevented attacks in Britain and it is only a matter of time before those who are profiting from violence, export their terrorism to the United Kingdom… again.

Time is short and we need to get moving if we are to prevent Afghanistan falling into the abyss.

Kandahar 2005

The Return of Ghadafi

Reports that Colonel Ghadafi’s son, Saif al-Islam is alive and re-entering the political arena in Libya have added interest to the planned elections later this year.

The tenth anniversary of the death of his father in Sirte on 20th October is one of several commemorations leading up to the 70th anniversary of independence and the December elections.

Saif is a controversial figure in Libya. Although he was responsible for the rapprochement with the West after his father agreed to give up his nuclear weapons programme, he will always be associated with the government repression after his “rivers of blood” speech at the beginning of the 2011 revolution.

He will certainly have some support among those who wish Libya to be a strong country again, but he will only be considered a viable candidate if he unites with Field Marshal Haftar, who is currently backed by the Russian security company Wagner. If that happens, the West will lose one of the most important countries in Africa that is key to solving the migration crisis.

There is much more on Saif’s role in Libya and the current crisis in my forthcoming book, Liberating Libya which is launched just before the anniversary of Colonel Gadhafi’s death.

Libyan elders outside the prison in Zintan where Saif was held in November 2011