Backbench Business — [3rd Allotted Day] — UK Armed Forces in Afghanistan
Rory Stewart (Penrith and The Border, Conservative)
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. Of course, Afghans must be allowed to do their own politics, and whether they have a decentralised or a centralised state or recognise ethnic boundaries is up to them. Our role is to accept the limits of our power and accept that there are things we cannot do. There are things we can do, but they have nothing to do with troop surges or counter-insurgency. We must find a moment-this is why the 2015 deadline is absolutely correct-at which we say about the current strategy, "Enough, no more. We've done enough."
What then will we do after 2015? I suggest that with the end of UK combat operations in Afghanistan, we concentrate on three things: continuing limited counter-terrorism operations; continuing to support development projects, probably in the centre and the north of the country; and continuing to try to ensure a political solution, or, to put it another way, to decrease the likelihood of a civil war and increase the likelihood of a political solution by gaining leverage over the Taliban.
Is this as scary as we believe? Is this really the nightmare we have conjured? No. The Taliban are unlikely to be able to take over Afghanistan, because this is not the mid-1990s. This is not groundhog day-we are not repeating 1996. In 1996, when the Taliban came swarming into Kabul, mujaheddin were shelling each other in the centre of the city, the Afghan people were appalled by years of corrupt, abusive government, and the Taliban were untested-and there were no foreign troops on the ground.
Today we are in a completely different situation. The Taliban are discredited from the time when they were in government. There is much more coherence between the central and northern groups. There is very little likelihood of the Taliban being able to present a conventional threat. If they try to roll artillery or tanks up the main streets, as they did then, we can deal with that. That does not mean that they are not going to increase their presence in the south and east of the country-they almost certainly will. But even if they do, it is extremely unlikely that they will invite back al-Qaeda in the way that they did in 2001. From their point of view, that was their No. 1 mistake. If they had not invited in al-Qaeda, they would still be in power. Even if they do invite back al-Qaeda, it is something that we can manage. We have the willpower, the technology and the public support to deal with it in a way that we did not in the 1990s.