Afghan schoolgirls ‘don’t justify war’

By Alex Stevenson

Social improvements in Afghanistan should not be used to justify Britain’s military involvement in Afghanistan, Liam Fox has claimed.

The shadow defence secretary concentrating on reconstruction as the motivation for British military commitment overseas was a “recipe for disaster” – and blamed the government for relying on it excessively.

He told a fringe meeting at the Conservative party’s autumn conference in Manchester Harriet Harman’s justification – that there are more girls in schools in Afghanistan – was not good enough for the British public.

“It’s very nice that more girls are going to school. It’s very nice that more women are getting human rights. It’s very nice that people are getting to vote, but that’s not why we’re in Afghanistan,” Dr Fox said.

“We have to be very clear that we are there, asking our young men and women potentially to die for us, because of reasons of our national security, not educational policy on the other side of the world.”

Improving school standards in Afghanistan, Dr Fox explained, was not a justification for risking British lives.

“If we try to explain away the priorities of a national security mission using terms which describe reconstruction, we’re going to get what we’ve got now – which is falling public support for the mission,” he added.

“It is a recipe for disaster and a bit of frankness and honesty would be timely here.”

Dr Fox served as an undersecretary of state in the Ministry of Defence in John Major’s government. Twelve years later he is preparing to become a defence secretary with a greater emphasis on realism in his security outlook.

He said an understanding of what is possible in Afghanistan was vital, claiming the government’s legitimacy depended solely on the attitudes of Afghans rather than the west. A raft of problems blighted August 20th’s presidential and local elections, leading some western commentators to question their credibility.

“If we keep trying to apply western concepts of Jeffersonian democracy on to a broken 13th century state and expect it to be operational in 20 years, we’ve had it,” Dr Fox said.

“We have got to be realistic. We’ve got to understand history and what is possible in the time available.”

Calling for “severe remedial measures” to maintain Nato, Dr Fox was uncompromising in his assessment of the Russian threat to the alliance.

“What we’re dealing with in Russia is a gangster state, where the political stakeholders are the same as the property holders, are the same as the economic giants,” he said.

“They have now a grip that the mafia would have loved to have had in their operations. That’s what we’re dealing with. We must get into that mindset or we will miscalculate what they are likely to do.”

A further strain of realism emerged when the shadow defence secretary refused to be upbeat about the British Army’s reputation in the United States military.

“You’d have to be on another planet not to believe that what happened in Basra diminished the standing of our army in the eyes of the Americans,” Dr Fox said.

“It’s by no means an irreparable situation but we would be making a mistake if we were in denial about it.”