Letter from Westminster
Remembrance Sunday this year was a particularly sombre affair as it started with news of further casualties in Afghanistan. It also focused the mind as we remembered those who died in previous conflicts.
The debate that we need to have about our military involvement in Afghanistan can not be held in a vacuum. As I listened to the sermon in the St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall on Sunday news was coming through of a second soldier being killed in 24 hours earlier.
As I write this we have soldiers risking (and possibly losing) their lives there. They do a difficult job and from the relative comfort of Shetland or Orkney it should not be for me to make it impossible.
Some of these soldiers have already been drawn from our communities in the Northern Isles. Mercifully they have all returned safely. I hope to meet them in the next week or so to hear from them how they view the job that they have been doing.
It should be remembered that there were reasons for going in to Afghanistan in 2001. The government there had been instrumental in supporting an organisation that had just bombed the Twin Towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington. The problem is that after eight years we are still there.
The government that we support in Kabul is corrupt – and so is the opposition that sought recently to replace it. The double standards which were highlighted from the pulpit on Sunday about the role of the local politicians in the drugs trade have not been addressed. Any initial goodwill we may have had in 2001 and 2002 has since been dissipated. That is inevitable in any occupying army and should not be any surprise. It is, after all, what happened the last time that Britain occupied Afghanistan and what happened more recently to the USSR.
As a result of the lack of political leadership in London and Kabul the purpose of the war in Afghanistan and the strategy for pursuing it is no longer clear. If that purpose is still there then we need a clear definition of the strategy by which it can be achieved.
It should also be remembered that at the point when we most needed to devote all our resource and attention to the conflict in Afghanistan we embarked on an ill-fated enterprise in Iraq. That meant that we took our national eye off the ball for some years and by the time we gave it our attention again the situation had dramatically deteriorated.
We can have a debate about whether we were right to go in to Afghanistan or not but we can not pretend that having started a war there we can now just walk away. That would have consequences not just for Afghanistan but for Pakistan and other countries in the region.
The Remembrance Sunday of 2009 has been one of the most talked about in local homes for some years. I fear that 2010 may still be giving us plenty to discuss.
Alistair Carmichael MP