Afghan Horror – Scotsman Article – 20 August 2021


As the Afghan horror unfolds before our eyes, I’m minded of Spinoza’s comment that “if you want the present to be different from the past, study the past”. From Alexander the Great, through the British Empire to the Soviet Union, history’s littered with failed military interventions in that forsaken land. 

Tragically, that wasn’t heeded and it’s poor Afghanis paying the price. Corrupt leaders bailing out and foreign allies abandoning them. 

I’ve never been there but reading has simply shown western duplicity and the calamity inflicted on its people. The Soviet invasion was unequivocally wrong. But the glee with which the USA and allies, including the UK, armed and backed the Mujahedeen unleashed a monster and the whole world’s paying a price for that foolhardiness.  

The CIA and western intelligence chortling, as the Soviet conscript army lost young men by the score. Its horror all poignantly recounted by the Russian narrator Svetlana Alexievich in her book “Boys in zinc”. Zinc coffins being how many were returned to their grieving mothers. Rather than learning any lessons, instead its been mothers in the UK, USA and other NATO forces who’ve since been shedding tears.  

Ironically I recall reading how the Afghanis had if anything got on better with the Soviets. Many Red Army conscripts being from central Asia and farming backgrounds, more able to relate to the people than Ramboesque soldiers from American cities. Neither though were welcome.  

But what was our intervention for? Ostensibly to hunt down Bin Laden hiding in a cave in Afghanistan? But reading Jeremy Scahill’s expose “Dirty Wars” it seems that the evil mastermind had been holed up in Pakistan for quite some time. Not in a cave or hidey hole either. Instead in a large and rather luxurious complex in a town, all apparently unknown to the Pakistani authorities. Aye right. 

Even more mysteriously when the Americans moved in for the kill, Pakistan air defences miraculously shut down for a few hours allowing the stealth Black Hawk helicopters entry. As far as I’m aware Pakistan has never complained about the military incursion into their territory or if they did they’ve never pushed it. Presumably, the USA insisted, Pakistan conceded and the fiction remains that Afghanistan’s the problem, not our Pakistani  allies. 

And the there’s the ignominious withdrawal. Less costly in British lives than the disastrous retreat in Empire days but worse for the Afghanis we’ve left behind. A few rich and powerful evacuated and some others managing to flee. Many more though left to reap what the west has sown.  

It’s been ever thus for the Empire. A century ago Britain pulled out of the Irish Free State but left the Royal Irish Constabulary to its fate, despite their pleas. Summary justice was wrecked on a few. 

But what will happen when Afghani refugees try to land on our shores in years to come. Doubtless, Priti Patel seeking to repel all boarders, even stopping the RNLI from assisting. It’s shameful what’s been done to that land.