Sadness for Afghanistan

Sherard Cowper-Coles, St John’s Chapel, Chichester, Monday, July 9, 6pm.

Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles speaks with great love for Afghanistan. He also speaks with great sadness.

Tonight for the Festivities, the former Ambassador to Afghanistan explains how we got into the quagmire of that country, and how we can get out of it.

As he says, Harold Macmillan is reputed to have once said: “The first rule of politics is don’t invade Afghanistan.”

It’s a mistake we made – though Sir Sherard says the real failure lies not with London or Kabul, but Washington where there simply hasn’t been the will to broker a political settlement.

In a sense, the problem is not that we are there; it’s that we haven’t fully followed it through.

For Sir Sherard, his love of the country lies in so much: “It’s the physical beauty of the landscape, the mountains, the valleys, the desert, the plains in the north, the colours, the light, the extremes of temperature. Afghanistan has got everything except the sea, but it has got great lakes. It is not West Sussex, but the Hindu Kush is almost as magnificent as the South Downs!

“So there is the landscape and the history. Everyone from Alexander the Great to the Russians and the Americans have passed through there. It is one of the great crossing points. And it is also the people. The Afghans are very proud of never having been conquered by anyone, at least not since Genghis Khan. There is a nobility about them.

“But it is a very, very sad story. We went in there to do one thing, to deal with al-Qaeda and we found ourselves doing another, which was rebuilding a state. We mistakenly believed that the Taliban had been defeated when they had in fact just been pushed aside. And we thought we could solve the problem just by garrisoning various parts of the country. It was incredibly naïve. We are the victims of military over-enthusiasm. We are the victims of wishful-thinking. We are the victims of wanting to do a good thing – and in fact doing a good thing – but pursuing tactics without strategy.”