The all-party consensus on Afghanistan is about to collapse.
A chance chat this evening with a top Tory spokesman on these matters was very revealing. it was on an informal basis so I will not reveal his name.
But the Tories' tentative questioning of Gordon Brown this afternoon and the news from my contact indicate the deep unhappiness with the continuing futile military strategy. All Tory Opposition Ministers were instructed to read ‘Afghanistan: The Great Game Revisited’ as part of their recess reading.
The Great Game always led to victory for the Afghans and humiliation for the West. This is the inevitable result now as we hurtle blindly towards the inevitable NATO Vietnam. Gordon Brown was magnificent but wrong in the House today. After his exhausting journey of two countries a day, he was bright, tireless and resourceful at the Despatch Box. He swatted the questions on the EU summits with complete mastery of the half hearted opposition.
On Afghanistan Gordon has convinced himself but few others. The Tory frontbench pussyfooted. Some of us condemned the policy. My line is a familiar one for readers of this blog. He had announced 300 extra troops. There was no hint on whether he wished join the Obama surge. Hansard records,
Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab): The previous increase in British troops in Afghanistan two years ago resulted in an increase in the deaths of our brave soldiers, from a total of seven to a total of 132. Is there not a grave danger that an increase in the number of troops means more targets for the Taliban? Is not the best way of consolidating the gains made in Afghanistan to embark on a new policy, based not on a military victory but on tackling the causes of terrorism with a peace strategy?
The Prime Minister: I should point out to my hon. Friend that our strategy is based on complementing the military intervention that is necessary to keep peace in Afghanistan and maintain democracy with other measures that will build up the confidence of the Afghan people so that they are enabled to govern themselves. That includes, as I have just said, training the Afghan forces and police, as well as building up local government, working with the tribes to create a means by which localities are properly governed and cleaning out corruption from the centre—on which I have pressed President Karzai, and why our multi-agency task force is going in. It also includes giving Afghan people a stake in their future—by helping them to become wheat farmers, for example, rather than farmers of drugs and narcotics—whether they are in villages, towns or in the countryside. That is our strategy for Afghanistan. It is necessary that we have the number of troops to deal with the Taliban, but it is also necessary that we train the Afghan army and police and that we invest in building the facilities that are necessary so that people have a stake in Afghanistan’s future.
His answer was courteous, defensive and unconvincing. Veteran Tory Peter Tapsell was as magnificent as always. He recalled his earlier prophecies of today's lamentable situation. He asked Gordon Brown if he was seeking the invasion of Pakistan. The other Tories are muttering and plotting. They are nervous about appearing unpatriotic. But we are near the point when they will condemn the war. At the moment, it is support with weak praise.
Another tragedy involving a large number of British casualties will push them over the edge. Meanwhile the tragic futility of sending soldiers on missions to die in foreign fields continues. They are sacrifices to political cowardice.