Cameron in Blunderland

Published on Dissident Voice, by Felicity Arbuthnot, February 6, 2013.

… On Monday (February 4) David Cameron hosted Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai and President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan at a dinner at the Prime Ministerial country home, Chequers “as part of his ongoing efforts to help to strengthen Afghanistan-Pakistan relations and promote regional peace and stability”, according to The Independent.  

It would have been interesting to have been a fly on the wall as the canapes did the rounds. Ahead of this much touted mini summit, President Karzai gave lengthy interviews to the Guardian and ITN. It was to put it mildly, a bit of a broadside:

“In 2002 through 2006, Afghanistan had a lot better security. When we had our own presence there, with very little foreign troops, schools were open in Helmand and life was more secure”, said the President.

Moreover, whilst he appreciated “the sacrifices” and “contributions” of the British forces: “ … we also would like our allies in the west to recognise the immense sacrifices of the Afghan people in the last ten years, the immense loss of life and the suffering that the Afghan people put up with …”

Acknowledging corruption within the Afghan government and its agencies (indeed the allegations leveled at his own family and connections are a litany) he stated that: “In comparison to the corruption coming through the international donor contracts, and the way the money was spent (it was) really insignificant.” He gave examples.

Asked about the attacks by Afghan troops on coalition forces, he said it “pained” his Administration as a “serious breach of hospitality” for which Afghanistan is known, but “ …there has to be a lot more cultural sensitivity by our allies when they send troops to Afghanistan. Plus much more.”

Given night raids, wholesale destruction of lives, livelihoods, homes, terrorism by Drones, his restraint was commendable, the more so since he and colleagues survived a US “friendly fire” missile attack in 2001, suffering serious injuries, his also involving damage to facial nerves, still sometimes noticeable.

Asked what stood in the way of progress in Afghanistan: “The risk is continuation of foreign interference …” Further: “The exit of foreign forces will not bring more violence … but a serious, strong, good reduction in violence will occur.”  Earlier he had said:  “On our own, as Afghans, we will be good. It’s the external factors that will determine the extent of progress and stability or the lack of it.”

On the planned departure of western troops from Afghanistan one comment was that perhaps the reason was: “ …that they have felt that there was no fight in Afghanistan from the very first day, that terrorism was not in Afghanistan to be found, that they had to go to the  (Taliban’s) sanctuaries long time back, that they didn’t do that and since they cannot do that even today there is no point for them to stay in Afghanistan, so they would like to leave …” Ouch!

(It should be said that in the mid nineties Karzai not only worked with the Taliban, but they asked him to be their Ambassador to the United Nations.)

In a long interview there are certainly some enlightening lines. US and UK “progress” and conquest of “hearts and minds” over twelve years in Afghanistan seems to lie buried in that “graveyard of empires.”

The US is committed to “an enduring presence” in Afghanistan (it’s the minerals, stupid.) So far Hamid Karzai is talking a conciliatory line. They would perhaps be confined to the odd base, but in no towns or villages. Mr Karzai seems like a man who is capable of changing his mind.

It is to be hoped nothing went wrong with the menu of that bridge-building Prime Ministerial dinner. Britain has had another major food scandal, with horsemeat found in beefburgers – and pork in halal meat. Hope none found its way to Chequers to round off Cameron’s latest accident prone couple of weeks.
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(Felicity Arbuthnot is a journalist with special knowledge of Iraq. Author, with Nikki van der Gaag, of Baghdad in the Great City series for World Almanac books, she has also been Senior Researcher for two Award winning documentaries on Iraq, John Pilger’s Paying the Price: Killing the Children of Iraq and Denis Halliday Returns for RTE (Ireland). Read other articles by Felicity).

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