Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

“Broken Afghanistan” hits back at Britain

May 24, 2010
British Defence Secretary Liam Fox with troops in Helmand province.

British Defence Secretary Liam Fox with troops in Helmand province.

New British Defence Secretary Liam Fox’s remarks describing Afghanistan as a broken 13th-century country have predictably touched off a firestorm of criticism both at home and in Afghanistan.  For a moment, though, if you drove around  Kabul’s dusty hillsides dotted with dirt-poor, crumbling dwellings and saw the war-ravaged capital’s ruins, you could  forgive Fox for thinking he was in a medieval-era country.

Indeed the criticism against him in Afghanistan is not so much about it being a broken country, but that who exactly is responsible.  Mandegar, a local  newspaper, kicked off its reaction with the headline : “Our 13th century society is the result of your colonialism.”  It reminds readers about the British wars in Afghanistan and how each time Afghans succeeded in driving them out of the country.  “We don’t need Britain in Afghanistan,”  the Arman e-Melli daily said.

Referring to Fox’s remarks that troops were not in Afghanistan to promote education, but rather to defend British streets, the newspaper said Afghans were very aware that the British involvement in south Asia throughout history was aimed at protecting its interests, often at great cost to the countries in the region.  It was a pity that Afghans were fighting each other, otherwise they would have lifted the country out of the “13th century”, the newspaper said.

Fox’s characterisation of Afghanistan was raised at a meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai at the weekend, the Times said. It quoted an Afghan source as saying that the remarks showed Britain to be a “colonialist, orientalist and  racist country.”  In his defence,  Fox’s office has pointed to similar remarks made by Karzai in the past about the Taliban leaving behind a 13th or 14th century country.

Some people are saying it’s Britain that’s broken and is looking for a reason to leave Afghanistan.  British  soldiers are horribly over-extended, taking an ever higher number of casualties and the country can hardly afford the financial costs of keeping them there indefinitely, the Independent wrote.   On Monday, the British Defence Ministry announced that the army’s top bomb disposal officer had resigned , a move which the Sun newspaper said was prompted by concerns that a shortage of  trained bomb disposal experts was putting troops in Afghanistan under strain.

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