Afghanistan and the Great (Blame) Game

Posted on May 26, 2011

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The former UK representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, has written a new book about his time in the region. I’m usually sceptical of contemporary political memoirs, but I thought I’d take a chance with this one, and it arrived this morning. His views about the conflict have been trailed in The Guardian today, anyway: that whatever progress we make militarily, it is always undermined at the political level; that General McChrystal had the correct military strategy; General Petraeus ought to be ashamed of himself, however, for escalating the violence in Afghanistan. We need a coherent political strategy, says Cowper-Coles, but, ‘as long as [he] is in Kabul, the military approach will take precedence.’

Now, I’m open to argument that the military share responsibility for mistakes in Afghanistan, but, as I wrote some time ago, surely most responsibility rests with politicians and diplomats like Sir Sherard and the late Richard Holbrooke? The problems that prolong this war are political (corruption in the central government) and diplomatic (the role played by Pakistan), and in ten years the ‘civ’ side of things haven’t been able to do much about them. If the military have ‘hijacked’ policy-strategy, as some argue, then, as in the First World War, they are filling a vacuum created by weak policymakers.

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