Sunday, 17 January 2010

You ask David Miliband: the questions so far

By Tim
Tomorrow is the deadline for the first set of questions on Afghanistan to be put to UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband. 

These are being gathered on the Foreign Office website using a Yoosk widget [see below for more details]. Nearly 2o questions have been posted and apart from two, most of them are firmly on topic and very well worded. 

The questions we have so far appear to have been put by users from a range of ethnic groups and nationalities. 

Thematically, I’ve sorted them provisionally into five broad groups, although of course it would be easy to categorise them differently.

A complex regional challenge
The first group reflects people's concerns that Afghanistan is part of a wider regional challenge involving a large number countries. There are questions about the link between Afghanistan and Yemen and the role of the Saudi Arabian government. What is the plan for combating the Taliban in Pakistan- will we get sucked in there? And is the UK satisfied with the cooperation of the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan?

How Afghanistan is governed
The next set of questions concentrates more on the complexity of the political situation inside Afghanistan itself. One question from Rassa asks if Western governments are committed to ‘Afghanisation,  Tribalisation or Talibanisation’. User  Itsmattsmith asks what measures are being taken to move towards state building and away from ‘tribally orientated politics’. These sound to me like fundamental questions for people inside Afghanistan and perhaps not as simple to answer as they sound.

Several questions demonstrate real discontent with the current government and serious worries about the institutions of law and order, questioning President Hamid Karzai’s control over Parliament and the dominance of Pashtuns in the Cabinet (many of whom –as one questioner points out- have had their nomination by President Karzai rejected by MPs).  Other questions focus on corruption in government, as well as the judiciary, army and police.

For me, one of the most interesting questions asks how the Taliban would be involved in any future government- under what circumstances would they not be allowed to stand or enter Parliament if they chose to take part in the democratic process.

Role of religion and culture
This group includes questions on the status and treatment of women.  one user asks to what extent Western leaders analyse and address Islamic philosophy, law and practice when planning how to deal with extremism. 

Economic considerations
A few questions ask about the international community’s plans for combating poverty, with one user focusing on how the situation of Afghanistan is communicated in the UK, with the questioner feeling that coverage of the military situation overshadows issues connected with poverty and development.

A popular question is one that centres around the policy on opium and why with an international shortage of medial opium, the West doesn’t buy it from Afghan farmers.

Chances of success
The final group of questions are related to the likelihood of eventual success or perhaps the impossibility of success. They ask about the real effectiveness of fighting ideology and non-western values with military action, the historical lessons of the Russian occupation and wider lessons of post war western military intervention, including the Korean War.  Yet other questions reflect users concern that the UK's intervention does not have popular support.

There is another day to go until Mr Miliband answers the first set of questions so keep them coming.