“My Lords, on 4th October 2001, less than a month after 9/11 and a few days before the launch of Operation Enduring Freedom, we debated in this House what should be done. I intervene again today, like some other participants of twenty years ago, but miss my dear friend, Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon. In a powerful speech, Paddy focussed on the history of Afghanistan. His family connection went back a century before his birth in India in 1941, to his great grandfather who had been in Kabul, caught up in the First Afghan War, from which we withdrew in 1842, suffering one of the worst military disasters of the 19th Century. Paddy reminded us that Afghanistan had rarely been at peace and advised of the perils of engagement. I said that day that the problem was not the absence of socio-economic development, but of a wholly different culture and beliefs, which we would not change for the better by military intervention. The first rule of Afghanistan is that invaders do not win, and the second is that it will not be a liberal democracy in any foreseeable future. For twenty years, bookended by the geo-political catastrophes of 9/11 and August 2021, we have engaged in a war undertaken in 2001 to address our concerns. It was not undertaken at that time to aid the Afghans, and what could have worked as a short, punitive strike, was ultimately doomed when it tried regime and culture change.
Another colleague we miss today is Baroness Williams of Crosby. She rightly asked then about UN involvement but that was blocked in early 2008, when the Afghan President Hamid Karzai vetoed Paddy Ashdown’s appointment as UN Envoy, despite his highly successful mandate in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Our response then should have been to engage in talks with the Taliban. That was the advice given later to the Foreign Office by my Northern Ireland colleagues, brought in by the British Ambassador. It was dismissed by London. That is my second point. Do not ignore the advice of those who have lived through terror-afflicted violence and come out the other side. We may understand the messy reality better than those whose optimistic wishes dominate their diplomatic assessments.
Thirdly, our research has shown that it is not overwhelming military power and technical sophistication, but the passionate spiritual commitment of devoted actors that wins wars, and this should inform every response to the demand that ‘something must be done’.
We do not have time for a long Chilcott-type enquiry because these lessons are relevant to current involvements across the Muslim world, including as I learnt from some leading Palestinians this week, in Israel/Palestine. I ask the Minister does he recognize that we ignore history at our peril; that we are unable to build liberal democracies from the outside; and ultimately, we will likely end a conflict best by understanding the spiritual strength of our enemies and negotiating with them when the time is right – and it is too late when you have decided you are leaving.”
The speech made by Lord Alderdice in the House of Lords on 18th August 2021 in the emergency recall debate on the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan.