Jonathan Steele: One War That Might Never Be Won, EIBF 2012, Review

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Edinburgh International Book Festival
Jonathan Steele with Jennie Walmsley (Chair)
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Jonathan Steele is a journalist with The Guardian and has been reporting on Afghanistan since 1981. He was also based in Moscow for a period, so has an interesting slant on events in Afghanistan.

He was introduced by Jennie Walmsley who said that Steele's new book "Ghosts of Afghanistan: The Haunted Battlefield" made frightening reading. She described Afghanistan as "a confused mess" where some of the world's poorest people were subject to the whims of war lords who controlled the country.

Walmsley said that Steele's book attempted to debunk some of the myths by taking a forensic approach to analyse the situation in Afghanistan and the ongoing influence of the Taliban.

Jonathan Steele said that our involvement in Afghanistan had simply ignored the lessons of history and, following the Soviet disaster there in the 1980s, the western nations all continued with catastrophic mistakes.

War in Afghanistan had sucked in more and more troops and caused an increasing number of deaths and large numbers of wounded. Steele's line was that the current western strategy does not work. You are creating more resistance simply by being there.

He said that the resistance is generated by foreign troops being in the country and threatening the way of life of the population, so the occupying force actually causes the resistance to increase.

In Steele's view the situation was very similar to the one which the Soviets faced just before they abandoned the country - we've been told that NATO will leave Afghanistan by 2014. He reminded the audience that Afghanistan has never lost to a foreign army fighting within the country's borders. 

Looking back on the Soviet occupation, their officials were very confident of success and in many ways things were somewhat better; the Soviets could rely on the Afghan army and police and in the towns there was more freedom generally, with the Burka only being worn in the market. Of course in those days the west were arming and helping the Mujahideen to fight against the Soviets.

So what of the future?  Jonathan Steele saw a return to rule by the Taliban after the NATO forces pull out.  He also felt that drugs were a "sideshow" and politically neutral in the future of the country.   We were left with a pretty grim picture and not one that seemed to be worth all the loss of life and injury that the NATO troops have suffered.

Steele has a wealth of knowledge about Afghanistan, so for those who seek a well informed view of the current situation this book is well worth reading.

Ghosts of Afghanistan: The Haunted Battleground, Jonathan Steele (Portobello Books Ltd)