Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Afghanistan’

Grilling Frederick Forsyth

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 14th September, 2016

frederick-forsyth-1“I have no respect of admiration for the Establishment,” novelist and occasional MI6 collaborator Frederick Forsyth declared yesterday at a gathering of the London Grill Club, an informal lunch club for journalists and other professionals who give a prominent public figure a grilling once a month. Forsyth campaigned for Brexit long before this summer’s EU Referendum campaign, but he was as scathing about British politicians as he was about Brussels bureaucrats. David Cameron’s resignation from Parliament obviously figured large in the conversation, but the novelist felt the now departed Prime Minister only had himself to blame: he should have been neutral in the referendum debate, as Harold Wilson was in 1975, rather than being the “chief prosecutor” for Remain. Tony Blair also came in for criticism; although Freddie supported the Iraq War, he was appalled by what he saw as Blair’s lying to Parliament, and he backed Reg Keys, father of one of the Iraq casualties, when Mr Keys stood against Blair in Sedgfield at the 2005 general election. Forsyth at 78 is a more mellow personality than even five years ago, but he still has some robust opinions. “Political correctness has replaced Christianity as a religion in Britain,” he pronounced at one point. He does not intend to write any more books; his autobiography The Outsider “is my swan song”. But that does not mean that he will abandon campaigning when there is an issue he feels strongly about, his current hobby-horse being to expose what he sees as “a stitch-up” involving a Royal Marine convicted of shooting a wounded Taliban fighter in Helmand province in Afghanistan in 2011.

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Afghanistan: Mission Accomplished?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 1st April, 2014

AfghanistanAfghan craftsmanThis Saturday Afghans will go to the polls to elect a new President to replace Hamid Karzai. As NATO troops are also being wound down it’s an opportune moment to examine whether Western intervention in Afghanistan has achieved its intentions. As was made clear at an excellent seminar put on by the Global Strategy Forum in the National Liberal Club this lunchtime, the answer to that question very much depends on how one’s defines those intentions. In the narrowest sense, yes, Al Qaeda lost its operational base and the Taliban government was ousted, though the Taliban are still a force to reckoned with on the ground. Rory Stewart MP — who worked in both Afghanistan and Iraq — argued that a certain degree of stability has been achieved in some areas, despite recent setbacks, and highlighted developmental achievements such as the Turquoise Mountain Foundation which helps artisans market their produce abroad. Caroline Wyatt of the BBC talked of advances that have been made by Afghan women — though most would still think it impossible to carry on working after marriage. The Afghan Ambassador pointed out that these days 21 million Afghans have access to a mobile phone and many young people in Kabul have got into social media. Certainly the relationship between Mr Karzai and NATO forces — particularly the Americans — has been difficult over the last few years and there is no guarantee that the new president will be able to maintain even the uneasy calm that currently exists. The panel thought it unlikely that the Taliban will simply take over again — and were certain that they would not try to impose the same sort of extreme religion-based policies if they did. I have only been to Afghanistan once, in 1969, travelling overland on my way back from the Vietnam War, but I loved the country, with its wild terrain and colourful people. They have suffered a lot since then and certainly deserve a quieter future, and one that is determined by Afghans, not by outsiders.

Links: http://www.turqouisemountain.org and http://www.globalstrategyforum.org

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Political Islam at the LibDem Conference

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 11th March, 2013

MENA regionThanks to a three-year cooperation programme with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and the British Embassy in Tunis the Liberal Democrats hosted a group of visiting politicians from Tunisia and Lebanon at the Brighton Spring Conference. On the Saturday afternoon there was a closed session with the visitors and most of the Party’s International Relations Committee and parliamentary International Affairs Team, identifying how best that programme might proceed. But in the evening there was an open fringe meeting that addressed the subject of Liberalism in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and how various political forces that might consider themselves Liberal can or should relate to ruling parties that base their core inspiration from Islam. I was the opening speaker, drawing on my professional experience working or travelling in all of the MENA countries as well as teaching at SOAS. I made the point that Islam is the most political of all religions in that it is not just a faith but a code of practice for both private and public life. A number of parties that have come to power since the Arab Awakening — such as Ennahda in Tunisia and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt — are indeed Islamic in inspiration but it is important to make a distinction between them and extremist, exclusive Islamists who have turned a perverted interpretation of the Koran into an oppressive and even murderous ideology (such as the Taliban when they were in power in Afghanistan). There is a worrying influence of salafi or ultra-conservative Islamic thought in much of the MENA region but people need to recognise at the same time that the main reason groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood gained such support was because they looked after people’s needs in societies in which the government was singularly failing to do so — in a sense engaging in community politics. I also made the point that the Arab Awakening, now barely two years old, is still in its infancy and it is likely to be a decade or more before its outcomes are clear.

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Bernard Jenkin on Afghanistan

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 17th May, 2012

This afternoon I attended the second half of a Global Diplomatic Forum conference on “Two Years of the UK Coalition Government’s Engagement with the World”. Barbara Serra from Al Jazeera vigorously chaired a session on the UK’s Role in the Middle East and North Africa Politics, but it was disappointing that no-one on her panel spoke up forecefully for the rights of the Palestinians; the mantra that ‘both sides must go back to negotiations’ in the Israel/Palestine conflict was intoned by both DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson and Labour’s Shadow Minister for the Middle East, Ian Lucas, though at least the latter seemed to have a better grasp of the injustices inherent in the current situation. Far more stimulating, however, was the following session on the UK’s Approach to International Security Issues, which focussed almost exclusively on Afghanistan. The big surprise (for me) was how vigorously Bernard Jenkin, defence buff and Tory MP for Harwich and North Essex, spoke about the unwinnable situation in which British (and other NATO) forces have landed themselves in there, not least in Helmand province, where the insurgeny, he argued, was actually fuelled by the presence of Western troops. Al Qaeda is finished in Afghanistan, he said, and the insurgency is essentially one of Pashtun revolting against Kabul’s rule, some of which have been successfully wooed by the Talisban, who, he feels, will be back in power not long after the Allies leave. This was hardly official Coalition Government policy on Afghanistan, but I confess it chimes in with what I have increasingly felt — and a sizeable proportion of the British public, so opinion polls tell us.

Link: www.diplomatsblog.com

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Nick Clegg Engages with London LibDems

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 10th August, 2011

There was standing room only at the National Liberal Club this lunchtime when Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg spoke at a question and answer session with local party members — one of a series he is doing around the country. He thrives on the rigorous debate that such ‘internal’ events engender, so was able to respond head-on to challenges such as why it always seems to be LibDem Government Ministers who get to front the bad news, and whether we ought to be seen to be so chummy with the Tories. This gave him the opportunity to explain  a little how the Coalition government works,as well as to agree with the questioner who said that all the media seemed to be stacked against us, and to clarify several of the ‘wins’ that there have been because LibDems are now in government. He reminded people that for all of Labour’s shrieking about cuts, under Alistair Darling’s (Labour) plans, seven out of eight pounds being cut by this government would have been cut by a returned Labour administration, had Gordon Brown not lost the election. Nick defended the British armed forces’ involvement in Libya, describing himself as a Liberal Interationalist as well as a Liberal Interventionist, but he assured one lady that British troops will be out of Afghanistan before the 2015 election, as a result of LibDem pressure.

 

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The World after Osama Bin Laden

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 2nd May, 2011

The US administration is understandably cock-a-hoop about hunting down and killing the inpiration and figurehead of Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden. It was no surprise to me — or anyone else routinely covering events in the region — that he was located in Pakistan, though it was a startling that he was living cheek-by-jowel with some of Pakistan’s most elite military units in Abbottabad. He did, of course, have allies or at least sympathisers in some elements of the Pakistani security forces, not to mention the Pakistani Taliban. But I guess it makes sense to hide in th sort of place people wouldn’t expect to find you, rather than hanging on in some cave in Tora Bora. However, celebrations about his removal in Washington, London or elsewhere may be short-lived. Just as the death of Colonel Sanders did not lead to an end to the KFC franchise so Osama bin Laden’s demise will not necessarily harm Al Qaeda dramatically. In the short-term, it might evn increase terrorism. Nonetheless, it would be churlish to be anything other than grateful that the wretched man has been disposed of. And who knows: maybe this will give the United States, Britain and their NATO Allies the beginning of an exit strategy from Afghanistan?

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Peter Schrijvers at the Biographers Club

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 29th June, 2010

The Flemish author and academic Peter Schrijvers was the guest speaker at today’s gathering of the Biographers’ Club, held at the Savile Club off Grosvenor Square. His book Bloody Pacific has just come out in a second, paperback edition (Palgrave, £12.99) and I hope to review it shortly. Peter Schrijvers had prepared an excellent, thoughtful written presentation focussing on some of the core issues in his book, which deals with the way the Americans fought the Japanese in the Second World War, and in particular the experiences of individual soldiers, what they thought of the enemy and their behaviour (often brutal or outright criminal) on the battlefield. Hearing the author speak, I was struck by the similarity with my own observations in the Vietnam War, of how young US troops there, many of them only teenagers, considered the Vietnamese subhuman — the Viet Cong of course often indistinguishable from ordinary peasants — and how gungho they were about killing them. I wish things in warfare had improved since then, but I fear the same has probably often been true in Iraq and Afghanistan, and not only on the part of the American forces.

Link: www.palgrave.com/products/title.aspx.?pid=416257

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Banning Islam4UK Is Not a Smart Move

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 12th January, 2010

The British government has banned a radical Muslim group called Islam4UK, which gained notoriety recently by suggesting that it would hold a march in the English garrison town of Wooton Bassett to protest the deaths of Afghan Muslims killed in British and NATO military action. Had the group gone ahead with the march (which was far from certain; they never asked for permission for it), there would certainly have been some angry disturbances, as Wootton Bassett has been solemnly greeting the coffins of fallen British soldiers killed in Afghanistan in recent months. Like most Britons — whatever their religion — I find the attitude and behaviour of Islam4UK’s spokesman, Anjem Choudary, repulsive. But that does not mean that I welcome the government’s move against Islam4UK. On the contrary. I think it plays into the hands of extremist groups, as it enables them to portray themselves as victims. Moreover, a core British value — something Mr Choudary and his colleagues firmly oppose — is the defence of the right of free speech. No evidence has been produced that Islam4UK or any of the associated organisations (such as al-Muhajiroun) — several of which have also been banned under Britain’s anti-terror laws — have practised terrorism. Banning them is an essentially illiberal act, but alas typical of the way this Labour government reacts to such situations.

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Have the Media Lost All Sense of News Values?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 10th November, 2009

Sun Brown letterGiven all that there is going on in the world at the moment, it is astonishing and depressing that the British media — including the BBC — have gone totally over the top on the story of Gordon Brown’s handwritten note to Jacqui Janes, the mother of one of Britain’s latest Afghanistan casualties. Let us remind ourselves that the reason this is ‘a story’ is because the Sun newspaper, that most reptilian of organs, has tried to smear Mr Brown by concentrating on his bad handwriting, spelling mistakes etc, while trying to spin that the Prime Minister has insulted the bereaved parent, though I have no doubt that he (having lost one child himself) was being sincere. The Sun, of course, recently announced that it was switching from supporting Labour to the Conservative in its editorial policy, but this whole episode is a shoddy way to underline that point. What is even more disgraceful, though, is that the BBC, in particular, should allow its agenda to be set by a highly partisan piece in the Sun, therefore itself putting Gordon Brown in the pillory. There have been repeated, extended TV news items on the story over the past day or so. Rightly, this evening, the BBC report did acknowledged that the Corporation had received an unprecendented number of emails protesting that the Prime Minister was being treated unfairly on this issue. It would have been interesting for viewers also to have been told how many emails arrived saying that the BBC seemed to have lost its sense of news values, along with most of the rest of the British media.

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Time to Take Tea with the Taliban

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 21st September, 2009

Ed DaveyEd Davey, the Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman (or Shadow Foreign Secretary, as he is termed in keeping with the party’s rather grandiose way of refering to its frontbench team) gave by far his best speech to an autumn conference yesterday, with a tour d’horizon of prime foreign affairs issues. Most noteworthy was his signalling of a shift in emphasis in the party’s policy towards Afghanistan, including the deliberately catchy statement that it is ‘time to take tea with the Taliban’. In other words, it is no longer a viable strategy to rely entirely on military action. The Western forces in Afghanistan need to sit down and talk with the people fighting against the current government in Kabul and foreign troops. As Ed rightly said, under the term ‘Taliban’ are bunched a motley crew ranging from genuine religious extremists who would like to see the return of the ghastly pre-2001 Taliban regime, to Pashtun nationalists and ‘ten dollar Taliban’ — essentially mercenaries who will support whichever side pays them a local living wage.

TalibanPersonally, I have always doubted the wisdom of the West’s engagement in Afghanistan. History has shown repeatedly the folly of believing that Afghans (in all their rich diversity and legendary tenaciousness) can somehow be subjugated to the will of an outside power. Victorian Britons discovered this was not the case, as did Soviet Russians. So how come NATO member states, led by Washington, believed they could be different?

Yes, it is time to change our Afghan policy. And taking tea with the Taliban could well be a good place to start.

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