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UK Leaders Debate on Afghanistan (Published in Guardian)

Ironically, when the UK stood by the United States in the ‘War on Terror’ in 2001, they didn’t try to influence or solicit the public opinion on why they went to Afghanistan, but today when leaders are competing for a general elections, Afghanistan becomes a top foreign affairs priority.

Sound political leadership is about shaping public opinion. When a crowd of anti-war protests were asking for the UK troops to get out of Afghanistan, the leaders weren’t convincing enough about their strategies in Afghanistan. While all the three leaders accepted failures in strategies in Afghanistan, none of them illustrated any changes or anything new to recuperate the sinking mission in Afghanistan.

As an Afghan I believe the leaders too are already convinced by the popular views that come from the United States, rather than coming up with their own perspectives in relation to Afghanistan war. I also think the three leaders are too obsessed with the southern region of Afghanistan and base their whole analysis to Helmand rather than understanding the overall challenges of Afghanistan. David Cameron tried to impress audience by his mythical general knowledge that most of the Taliban insurgency is based in the South, which is a Pashtun dominated region and then the National Army are dominantly Tajiks. However, we Afghans believe that the problem of continued militancy is the lack of a cohesive strategy of the UK and other international allies that have built a parallel government in Afghanistan. The success of this war does not depend on helicopters as claimed by Cameron, but depends on the coordination and partnership of UK with the Afghan government, none of the leaders talked about the importance of governance and working along with the Afghan government.

I also found contradictory remarks in the debate by the political leaders. While Nick Clegg claimed for a value based politics and complained about human rights violations and torture by the UK troops, at the same time he said that UK is in Afghanistan just to keep itself safe from the terrorists, rather than ‘parachut democracy’ in Afghanistan. How can we Afghans then believe that the troops and international assistance comply with their political values rather than a mere national interest realism.

While UK is the second largest donor of the international aid in Afghanistan, the leaders seemed unaware about the importance of aid effectiveness. As none of them raised the issue, we Afghans believe that the international aid has not been effective enough to help Afghan government and Afghanistan to stand on its own, and haven’t seen strong accountability mechanisms in the aid.

While Gordon Brown tried to link up the resurgence of the Taliban with the border infiltration but leaders do not seem to understand that the Alqaida threats are flourishing in Pakistan beyond its Frontier provinces, given the arrests of the Taliban leaders in Karachi. They need to realize that Taliban insurgency is being supported by the Pakistani intelligence, considering that Pakistan itself is a nuclear power and the more insurgency strengthens in the region, chances are that nuclear bombs will fell into the hands of the Alqaida.

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