Afghanistan is known as “the Graveyard of Empires” for a reason. It has been fought over for millennia as one of the most strategically important parts of the world.
Its geography has given native fighters an edge over their invaders. They can melt away into the mountains and wait. “You may have watches, but we have time” is a taunt the Taliban used towards coalition forces over the past 20 years.
The UK and US governments have left the people of Afghanistan, and particularly the women and girls, to the murderous intentions of the Taliban death-cult. That is unforgivable and may well be recorded as one of the worst betrayals in our country’s history.
I am a Quaker (by choice rather than by birthright) and have always been deeply sceptical of any military action to further the interests of the British state. I marched against the wars in Iraq and many other international incursions besides. I struggled with the original invasion of Afghanistan, not for any love of the Taliban, but because I doubted the motives behind it and military aggression repels me.
So, it was strange this week to find myself actively calling for US and UK soldiers to stand their ground and remain in the country. The reason? Well, this is one of those rare occasions where the removal of armed forces will actively result in brutality, oppression and murder.
The war in Afghanistan in practical terms has ended. The last British soldier killed in combat – the last of hundreds – was buried several years ago. We have not been fighting a war in recent years but training and advising the Afghan security forces and institutions so that they may build a country. It turns out that fledgling democracy wasn’t ready for us to leave.
Under the guise of a managed ‘drawdown’ of troops, the US and the UK exited the Afghan theatre and, in a heartbeat, the apparatus of government was captured and overthrown by the Taliban.
There will surely follow a corrupted brand of sharia law imposed on the people of that country. That means the subjugation of women, the outlawing of their education and their possible torture or murder for transgressions. Their style of government has been characterised as ‘medievalism’. But that’s an insult to the Middle Ages.
The monstrous deed is done and, while I’m not advocating re-invasion, Britain needs to be actively involved in international efforts to do two things, right now:
1: The establishment of an internationally protected transit corridor, to allow anyone who wants to leave Afghanistan a safe route out of it.
2: We need to recognise our complicity in the collapse of the country and work with our international partners to offer protection and safe harbour especially for those who worked alongside our armed forces and the Nato mission.
This week, Afghanistan’s reputation as a Graveyard of Empires remains intact, while the reputations of both Britain and America lie in tatters. May the Afghans forgive us, because history won’t.
Alex Cole-Hamilton is Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP for Edinburgh Western