Facing up to realities in Afghanistan

He was “seconds from freedom” according to Stephen Farrell, the British journalist who was rescued from Taleban hostage-takers yesterday.

He was talking about his Afghan translator, 34 year old Sultan Munadi who, apparently was leading Mr. Farrell to freedom with his arms in the air when he was shot dead.

Sultan Munadi was employed by the New York Times, partly educated in the States and in Germany but he had elected to live in Afghanistan and to do his bit to reclaim it from the chaos there.

Apparently he was not “just” a translator. He was, like many of the other Afghans who take on this dangerous work, someone who could brief journalists on the history, the culture and often the realities of life in this complex country.

He was a man who was proud of his university-educated wife and who had high hopes for a civilised Afghanistan where his two sons could grow up in freedom. He was, I guess, putting himself on the firing line.

So whilst I am glad to hear of Stephen Farrell’s freedom and I am also sad to hear of the death of the British soldier during the raid, I was depressed to see another example of British short-sightedness when our news gatherers somehow down-graded Mr. Munadi into the role a lowly and anonymous “native”.

That is one of Britain’s problems of course. We, the great British public, are not very good at seeing foreigners as human beings.

If we had more empathy for all those anonymous Asians, Arabs and Africans then maybe we would not be in the position we are today where we are seen as one of the “bad guys” by that vulnerable, impressionable and put-upon generation of young martyr wannabes who, as I write, are in training to blow us up on our holiday flights or when we are dancing on a night out or simply going about our day to day business.

The latest opinion poll here in Britain showed that more than half of the population is against British soldiers being deployed in Afghanistan. This is of course quite normal whenever Britain is at war. Quick and easily won wars are always very popular here but we do not like them to be complex, difficult or protracted.

Rather like when you see people opening their cans of coke immediately outside the store where they bought it, we are encouraged to expect instant gratification in our indulgences and in our military campaigns.

That 53% of the British people who say that they don’t want our soldiers out there in a situation that certainly has its problems, technically and strategically, just don’t seem to have grasped what this fight is about.

We can blame the politicians of course. Our Prime Minister, Gordon Brown tried and failed to reinforce the nation’s resolve last week but his problem, as always it seems, is his inability to inspire. What he said was correct and frighteningly realistic.

I remember, as I am sure we all do, those horrifying and unprecedented scenes as they unraveled in front of us live on our television screens on the Eleventh of September 2001, eight years ago tomorrow. It was in New York but the nearly 3000 people who died there came from 90 different countries. We were all involved then just as we are now.

I remember too, the reportage developing during the day.

There was much speculation about who could have been behind this horror. I heard some unfamiliar names that day: Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden and, let’s not forget, Taleban.

We are used to our politicians telling us what has amounted to lies and putting up smoke screens to cover their actions ever since troops were dispatched to Iraq. That unwise war distracted us from the grim reality of the work that had to be done post 9/11. Not enough troops were sent to Afghanistan in those early days and not enough attention was paid to the problem there.

It will not just go away, this business with Al-Qaeda and international Muslim extremism. Just like the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland, this is no less serious a problem just because it can’t be sorted overnight.

With due respect to each member of that 53% who think this can be resolved by just opting out, I am sorry, but you are wrong.

Like the heroic Sultan Munadi who died yesterday, we have to stand up to Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda and their supporters, the infamous Taleban. The mess that is the Afghanistan General Election is no excuse for us to pack our bags and hide.

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