LIKE so many, I have looked on in horror at the chaotic ending of the 20-year NATO invasion and occupation of Afghanistan.
The immediate priority must be to repatriate UK citizens who remain in the country and those Afghans who are now in danger after supporting Western operations in Afghanistan.
The safety of women and girls must also be at the centre of the debate as they face the threat of having their right to work, have an education and go about their everyday lives taken away.
In the long term, the speed of the collapse of the old NATO-backed regime and the utter humiliation for British Government foreign policy must herald a reappraisal of the UK’s role in the world.
NATO policy on Afghanistan has been at a crossroads for many years.
Invading a country is the easy part, but as US General Colin Powell remarked to President George W Bush before the second Iraq war, “if you break it – you own it.”
In other words, a policy of regime change means that the invading forces have the responsibility to ensure effective governance of the country.
NATO’s strategy was based on forming an alternative Afghan government and building the civil, defence and security infrastructure required to develop a functioning polity that would be able at some stage to stand on its own two feet.
The Soviet Union attempted the same blueprint in the 1980s.
The strategies adopted by both NATO and the Soviets failed because they did not maintain popular support across the whole country.
They were both left facing difficult choices; ramp up military action in a war that could not be ‘won’ and, in doing so, escalating death and destruction and fuelling insurgency, commit to permanent support for the proxy government, or accept defeat and withdraw.
Like the Soviets, NATO chose the latter.
As I write, the Taliban are sitting in the Presidential Palace in Kabul, and Ashraf Ghani, the former President, has fled the country whilst his government and army have collapsed like a pack of cards.
The cost of the war in Afghanistan has been astronomical.
Nearly 4,000 coalition troops were killed, including 454 British military personnel, over 2000 British military and civilian personnel injured, and 64,100 Afghan military and police dead.
Having spoken to former service personnel this week, the sense of betrayal at their sacrifice is palpable.
Brown University estimates that in total, a quarter of a million people have been killed, including civilians who were indiscriminately bombed by Western drones, raising a whole range of questions about the ethics and accountability of military engagement by NATO forces.
The National Army Museum estimates that the cost to UK taxpayers has been nearly £40bn or £2000 for every household.
For the US, the war was costing $100bn a year at its height.
The question that many are now rightly asking is, what did all this achieve?
The President of Pakistan, Imran Khan, has labelled the Taliban victory as ‘breaking the chains of slavery’, a clear indication that the invasion and occupation were not universally popular amongst the key regional players.
In March, I challenged the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, asking what efforts were being made to engage vital regional partners to replace NATO in the country.
I mentioned the Shanghai Corporation, a political, economic, and security alliance of China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan – countries that all have a dog in the race when it comes to the future of Afghanistan.
I was met with a blank stare.
The truth is that the British government has failed on long-term planning and building stable structures in the country.
This brings me to the repercussions for UK foreign policy.
The UK has had a military presence in Afghanistan for 20 years; yet, once the US unilaterally and without consultation decided to leave the country, the UK had no choice but to follow.
The British establishment is already attempting to rewrite the narrative to argue that this humiliation indicates the need to independently project foreign and defence policy – in other words, ramp up spending on military capability.
The imperial delusions of Westminster have been refuelled and re-energised.
A more considered approach would be to ask what sort of future we want for our children.
Surely it is one in which they aren’t sent worldwide to fight foreign wars so that the British establishment in London can fantasise that they still rule the waves.
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