Frank Field MP
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A Grandmother Changes a Nation

20
Jul
A grandmother's piercing cry as the coffin of her grandson moved in front of her sounded of more than the anguish of one family. It heralded, I believe, the end of the Government's current strategy in Afghanistan.

The grandmother's cry, that was carried on the news broadcast two weeks ago, has done more than all the groups campaigning against the British strategy in what Neville Chamberlain would have called a "faraway country". The intensity and drama of the pain has made the bringing back of soldier's bodies a media and hence a political event of real significance.

What began as a politically thought out campaign to overthrow a Taliban government has become war that dictates the politics. Putting back the politics into the war is urgent.

Tony Blair managed, as usual, to confuse the issue. A new government that did not support or give cover to Al-Qaeda was required. The Taliban government was overthrown by invading forces.

This key issue of a non-supporting Al-Qaeda government was wrapped up in the most daring of liberal agendas. The war was also being fought for the equality of women; although that is a goal that is yet to be fully achieved in our own country.

The Taliban-enforced inequality is symbolically represented by the burqa. But what can those solider make of this kind of campaign when we allow such symbols to reign in some areas of our own country?

The most urgent task is to give our troops the very best equipment, including helicopters, pilots and more troops, but this must only be a holding operation.

Politics must now come into the fore. How much longer can we go on supporting a corrupt government who cannot even deliver order? Sooner rather than later we need to be talking to the Taliban.

There is a huge difference between our wish to impose a Western-type democracy of Afghanistan and of the political tradition of that country being able to respond positively. The one objective on which we should have majored is a Taliban that would attack Al-Qaeda as effectively as they have been fighting us.

We owe it to those Afghans who have supported us to take some time in letting them know that a change in policy might be on the way. They must be given the chance to make their own deals long before we cut and run.

Those chilling pictures of the South Vietnamese struggling to get on the last helicopters leaving Saigon are a reminder of how a withdrawal should not be accomplished.

Those who criticise this line argue that the front line in fighting Al-Qaeda is clearly drawn in Afghanistan. I agree with them. The debate, however, has to be how we defend that line.

How many more coffins will have to come home before the political class realise that our strategy is losing this very war.

The chief of staff should argue rigorously for resources. But it should be the politicians that dictate the politics of the wars. At the moment the two sides are playing out the other's role.

In other context R. H. Thomas wrote of nailing our doubts to an untenanted cross. That single piecing cry of pain from one grandmother has ensured that a growing concern about the war is now being nailed to that cross. It cannot be long before British politics responds to the sounds that nailing.
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