LONDON (AFP) – Britain will need to stay involved in Afghanistan for “decades” to help restore stability, London’s ambassador in Kabul said Wednesday.
In an interview with BBC radio, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles put greater stress on Britain maintaining a “long-term development” presence rather than a military one.
“I wouldn’t say my picture is gloomy, I would say it’s realistic,” Cowper-Coles said. “It’s a marathon rather than a sprint. We should be thinking in terms of decades.”
“We’re standing up a country that is near the bottom of the world development index, a country that has suffered from 30 years of war … (with) an insurgency spreading across the Pashtun belt.”
He said Britain, with 5,200 troops in Afghanistan as part of a NATO-led force, was waging a winnable counter-insurgency war that resembled those it had fought before in Malaya and Northern Ireland.
He said the allied campaign was made easier because most Afghans oppose the Taliban, the radical Islamist movement that led the country until its overthrow in a US-led war in late 2001.
Although he regretted that Afghan civilians were killed by NATO forces, he said the allies were taking “sophisticated” precautions to warn villagers ahead of military action.
Citing Human Rights Watch, a New York-based human rights group, he said: “The Taliban kill five times as many as NATO do.”
“The great thing about the Taliban is that they haven’t been reading their chairman Mao. They don’t have popular support. They’re try to swim in a sea that doesn’t exist.”
The Afghan people want the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and US forces to stay in Afghanistan to ensure their security and prevent the Taliban from returning, he said.
“If there’s one thing they’re clear about is they do not want to return to the dark days of medieval Taliban rule,” he said.
Afghans want foreign powers to finish the job of developing effective police and security forces, creating a judicial system and establishing enough schools and hospitals, he said.
Besides troops, the British government has also deployed civilians to provide aid, promote development and fight drug smuggling. It is now sending diplomats with language skills and knowledge of the country, he said.
“Maybe we should have raised our game earlier. But now we have,” he said. “But everything is subject to the Brown administration.”
The BBC added that there was “real concern” in the Foreign Office in London that the new British government under finance minister Gordon Brown, who succeeds Tony Blair as prime minister June 27, will take “a short-term view” of Afghanistan.