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Afghanistan – a dark future looms ...

After a week rounded off by a bunch of even nastier guys than the other nasty guys inflicting death and mayhem in Afghanistan, the costs become incalculable. As our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, Boris Johnson’s in trouble, but can count himself lucky he’s not Joe Biden.

Heartbreak piled on heartbreak. Senior British army officers freely admit even their own men will likely suffer post-traumatic stress disorder.

Not to be wondered at, as they witnessed close up and personal the desperation of people struggling to flee the iron grip of the Taliban.

Of course the lucky ones are brimming with gratitude for a mass evacuation effort that clearly made the best of a very bad job.

But as western nations beat their humiliating retreat there no escaping that many deserving people, often with all the right paper work, will not escape.

And contact details of people who’ve served Britain, and others who wanted to, got left behind in the embassy. A shortcut to the retribution that awaits them.

Some have been evacuated. But not necessarily all.

At least ex-marine Paul ‘Pen’ Farthing, who set up an animal shelter in Kabul, made it out, with his two hundred dogs and cats. But, sadly, without his staff.

No question Donald Trump set the grisly ball rolling last year, when he promised the Taliban he’d get his troops out.

Given there was a clear timeline, Boris Johnson has questions to answer about a lack of evacuation pre-planning.

So does Joe Biden, as he stands accused of making a bad situation worse by a series of tragic miscalculations.

He ignored calls for the America’s biggest military base, at Bagram, to stay open. Would have made the evacuation so much less chaotic.

Yet more so if he’d heeded advice to keep two-and-half thousand troops in the country to supervise operations.

He was also woefully inattentive to CIA warnings that the Afghan army might collapse to the Taliban in a matter of days.

Republicans scent a case for impeachment. And could eventually get their way.

As to why this latest stab at what’s been dubbed The Great Game has ended in such ignominy, views vary, but there are underlying hard facts.

After the Twin Towers atrocity twenty years ago the US government decided Afghanistan must no longer be allowed to harbour terrorists.

Hasn’t taken long for that to unravel. Never mind the Taliban, the ISIS-K crazies managed mass murder last week, indiscriminately killing all within range.

Let’s hope the suicide bombers responsible are having a lovely time with all those luscious virgins gagging for them in their vile Valhalla.

The organisation’s a hitherto relatively obscure branch of the group notorious for its beheading videos, genocide, war crimes and ethnic cleansing.

Put crudely, they think the Taliban are a bunch of wusses who don’t really get Islam and are far too soft on folk who don’t do as they’re told.

So what does the future hold for Afghanistan?

Raffaello Pantucci from the UK’S leading defence and security think tank, the Royal United Services Institute, has a dark take.

‘Isis-K’s aggressive and uncompromising brand might become an attractive alternative, stretching Afghanistan’s endless civil war into a new and brutal chapter.’

That’s that sorted then. Not.

And was blowing up bits of the desert really the way forward anyway? Even if it was followed by a crack at nation-building, in the western image?

The answer to that could be yes, so long as it’s not just for twenty years. Two hundred, more like, given the nature of Afghan society.

The Pew Research Center, a Washington-based nonpartisan American think tank, has unearthed rather a lot of inconvenient truths.

It seems almost all Afghans favour sharia law, and eighty-five per cent support stoning for adultery.

In addition, four out of five of them back execution for not being religious enough.

And central government’s made tricky as much of the country is so mountainous it’s pretty much impervious to state power.

At their 2019 presidential election only about one in twenty people bothered to vote at all.

Then there’s the tribal thing. There are fourteen ethnic groups mentioned in the national anthem alone.

And this level of kinship is reinforced by the fact that in Afghanistan more people marry their own cousins than almost anywhere else in the world.

Britain was once just as tribal, but that changed when Christianity took against the idea. By the eleventh century you couldn’t even wed your sixth cousin.

This got people hitching up across tribal lines, so eventually rubbing out all those sectarian divisions.

Yup, a couple of centuries of westernisation should do the trick in Afghanistan.

Meantime, it’s not hard to see why those already up for our values want out so intensely. The poor souls must feel like aliens on their own planet.

All of which puts our problems in some kind of perspective.

Not that many of us don’t also want to get away, even if only for a couple of weeks.

Here at least the news is encouraging, as a bunch of new countries have just been popped onto the travel green list.

You’re now good to go to the Azores, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Liechtenstein, Lithuania and Switzerland.

But Turkey’s still out of bounds, while Spain, France, Portugal and Greece remain tricky.

Time’s running out, however, for families, as it won’t be long before the kids go back to school.

Good news? Bad news? Depends who you ask.

Either way, it’s looking likely all twelve to fifteen-year-olds will be offered the jab. Not yet confirmed, though it will be there for those in the next age group up.

It’s also looking like a runner that lots of grownups will be offered top-ups in the not too distant future.

That’s because a vast study involving more than a million people has shown that protection for many of the double-jabbed starts to wane within six months.

The Zoe Covid study suggests, rather dispiritingly, that by winter it could even fall below fifty per cent for the elderly and healthcare workers.

Professor Tim Spector, the project’s top boffin, says it proves we: ‘Urgently need to make plans for vaccine boosters.’

Meantime, no harm in getting a bit of exercise, though a minister in New Zealand raised a few eyebrows when he tried to describe what he had in mind.

‘Stretch your legs’ is a normal figure of speech. But somehow it didn’t sound right when he said instead ‘spread your legs’. Oops.

Alas, there’s one man who won’t be doing either, now he’s proved The Rolling Stones were right to sing: ‘What a drag it is getting old.’

Charlie Watts, the nearest thing rock has to a National Treasure, finally succumbed at the age of eighty last week.

Self-effacing to a tee, he said of his drumming, in one of his rare interviews: ‘One of the faults in my playing, I never learned to play.’

Also, he declined to take part in the band’s next tour because a health problem had cropped up. Or, as he put it: ‘For once my timing has been a little off.’

Good humoured to the last, as ever.

Still, up there on the great stage in the sky he’ll be able to catch up with that other fabled and newly departed rocker, Don Everly of The Everly Brothers.

Together they’ll have all the time in the world to dream dream dream. Bless them.

Peter Spencer has 40 years experience as a Political Correspondent in Westminster, working with London Broadcasting and Sky News.


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