Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Taliban’

I Am Malala

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 16th December, 2014

imageWhen the Pakistani teenager Malala Housafzai became the youngest ever Nobel Peace Prize laureate recently her story resonated around the world as a testimony of hope and determination by a very brave girl wise beyond her years. Of course, not everyone is happy with the renown that has been granted her since being shot by a supporter of Pakistan’s Taliban for daring to speak out in favour of education for both girls and boys worldwide. Now based in Birmingham, England, where she had major reconstructive surgery, Malala received thousands of letters and cards after her recovery, from the powerful and famous to ordinary men, women, girls and boys. But the most striking was a letter from a Taliban commander telling her that if she returned to Pakistan, stopped her campaigning, wore a burka and entered a madrasah (Koranic school), he would forgive her! This gem comes right near the end of her compelling autobiography, I Am Malala, (Phoenix, £7.99), written in conjunction with foreign correspondent Christina Lamb. Lamb is to be congratulated for really letting Malala’s authentic voice come through, whether it is piously seeking God’s help in her mission, or fighting with one of her younger brothers, or indulging her girly passion for pink. The attack on Malala, when she was shot in a school bus, was the culmination of a period of increasing conflict with the forces of darkness that took over the Swat valley where she grew up, as well as the indifference and sometimes obstruction of government officials and high military or intelligence officers, some of who were clearly in cahoots with the Taliban. The first part of the book is an excellent first-hand account of what it was like to live in the shadow of fear of the Taliban and as such is an invaluable modern historic resource. But the book is also a song of love for Malala’s father, who from the day of her birth gave her all the devotion and nurturing that many Pashtun fathers would reserve only for sons. There are passages in the book that drive one to tears of despair at the inhuman cruelty of some religious fanatics who justify the most heinous crimes by their warped interpretation of the Koran and a traditional culture of male supremacy. But above all, the book is a triumphant declaration of faith that good and justice can be victorious if people are brave enough to stand up for themselves and for the rights of others, including children.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

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: and

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

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.


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

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?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Speak to Hamas and the Taliban!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 26th October, 2008

  The winner of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, has slammed the United States and Europe for failing to make any headway on peace in the Middle East and has called for an end to the boycott of talking to Hamas. In an interview with Sveriges (Swedish) Radio, he said it was a disgrace that the conflict has not yet been resolved and he accused the West of a lack of political will. I believe he is absolutely right that it is grotesque to believe that a two-state solution involving a viable Palestinian state and a secure Israel can be achieved without talking to the party which won the last Palestinian parlaimentary elections and controls the Gaza Strip. This is a huge challenge for whoever wins the US presidential election, but it is a nettle which must be grasped. Does Barack Obama have the courage?

Mr Ahtisaari also said that it may be soon time to talk to the Taliban in Afghanistan as well. This will be an even more controversial suggestion in some quarters given the energy with which NATO is fighting against them. Having followed Afghan affairs closely since 1969, when I first travelled across the country, I am well aware how ghastly the Taliban regime was and was delighted when they were ousted. But anyone who believes that a military victory can be achieved over their insurgency is frankly living in cloud cuckoo land.

(photo Martti Ahtisaari/World Economic Forum)

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Is Pakistan Going Pear-shaped?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 7th October, 2008

Earlier this year, at a Liberal International British Group Forum on Pakistan, David Hall-Matthews (from Leeds University) and I gave a fairly pessimistic prognosis about how the country would evolve following Benazir Bhutto’s assassination. Some people at the meeting thought we were being unjustifiably gloomy, but recent events have only heightened my concern. Not all Pakistanis are thrilled with having Ms Bhutto’s widower, Asif Ali ‘Mr Ten Per Cent’ Zardari, as President. But even more serious is the deteriorating security situation. The appalling terrorist attack on the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad last month was only the most high-profile example.

This morning, I received a distressing message from a Pathan friend who works for an NGO in Peshawar, in the North West Frontier Province. The other night, a group of Taliban turned up at his door and demanded US$10,000, saying that they would kill him if he failed to come up with the money. Not surprisingly, he has gone into hiding, but both his life and his livelihood are now at risk. NGOs are being deliberately targeted by the Taliban in Afghanistan too, but it is particularly alarming that they now operate with such impunity in and around Peshawar.

As part of the Bush Doctrine of pre-emptive action in Washington’s War on Terror, a number of US attacks have been made inside Pakistan, without the approval of the government in Islamabad. Apart from the fact that some innocent villagers have been part of the ‘collateral damage’ in these attacks, the public relations effect has been disastrous, actually strengthening the hands of the extremists. So, far from being encouraged by what has happened since David and I gave our down-beat predictions about Pakistan’s future, I have the growing impression that the country is going completely pear-shaped.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »