Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
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.