“The danger is being outgoverned, rather than outgunned”

We must prevent Afghanistan becoming a crucible once again for attacks against the rest of the world

The deaths of two British soldiers on 15 January and the attacks on government buildings in Kabul three days later were a reminder of the challenges of the campaign in Afghanistan. Last year, the NS warned that Afghanistan risked becoming another Vietnam, with western forces bogged down in an unwinnable war and waning popular support at home. I take the warning seriously. But I don't accept the thesis.

The conflict in Vietnam was the product of a world divided by the cold war. The UK and its European partners did not join the US in Vietnam, unconvinced by the arguments for intervention. By contrast, the intervention in Afghanistan was triggered by a direct attack against the US on 11 September 2001. It has commanded widespread global support since then and the rationale for our continuing effort remains a direct concern about the threat to our national security if Afghanistan once again becomes safe ground for al-Qaeda under the umbrella of the Taliban.

The Vietcong were a broad, deeply rooted, popular movement tapping into nationalist feelings throughout the country and society, and their appeal and legitimacy ultimately proved superior to that of the South Vietnamese regime. The Taliban have limited appeal due to their ethnicity, geography and the recent memory of their brutal, reactionary misrule. Afghans fear their return. They worry that when coalition troops begin to leave, the Afghan government will be too weak to stand up to the Taliban. That is why international troops are focusing on building up the Afghan army. It is now 100,000-strong, on the road to 134,000 in the course of this year.

General McChrystal is getting international forces not just to train Afghans, but to fight alongside them - there is no quicker or better way to build the expertise of the army than learning side-by-side in theatre.

To remain resistant to Taliban intimidation, Afghans need to know that their government can provide basic justice and maintain order. This is especially relevant as the Taliban seek to offer an alternative to the state. They appoint their own shadow governors and administer their own crude brand of "justice". The danger is that, rather than being outgunned, the Afghan government is outgoverned.

So it must build on and implement President Karzai's promise to tackle corruption. Provincial and district governors need to be given more power to govern and reach out to communities. That will include working with shuras of local elders to resolve disputes and expand social and economic provision. One example, in Helmand, is Governor Gulab Mangal's wheat distribution programme, supported by the UK, which has helped more than 35,000 farmers to grow wheat for the open market instead of opium poppies, the profits from which fill the Taliban coffers.

The enemy we face in Afghanistan is a diffuse network of insurgent groups with diverse motivations. The Taliban leadership is linked to al-Qaeda. The great mass of fighters is not. Most are driven by pride or the pursuit of profit or power rather than ideology.

Where the Vietcong were unified, the insurgency is a coalition of convenience that is capable of being divided. In his inauguration speech, President Karzai committed to an open and inclusive settlement for Afghanistan, beginning with a peace jirga - a gathering of the leaders of tribes and groups that make up Afghan society. We must support the government in its efforts to draw conservative Pashtun nationalists away from the insurgency. We must separate those who are prepared to participate in the free and open society enshrined in the Afghan constitution from the hardline ideologues whom we must face on the battlefield.

Neighbouring countries are suffering from the terrorism, drugs and crime that spill over Afghanistan's borders. As a result, it is becoming increasingly clear within the region that a stable, sovereign Afghan state is in the interest of all its neighbours. We need to build trust between these countries about each other's intentions. Pakistan is key. The history of finger-pointing (at best) with its neighbour has been replaced by co-operation. The Pakistani army's offensive in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas means that the Taliban are being squeezed on both sides of the border.

The implications for how we succeed are clear: military and development resources are critical, but they need to be channelled towards a clear political strategy aimed at maintaining the support of the Afghan people, dividing the insurgency and building regional co-operation. That is the task when more than 70 countries and international organisations meet in London on 28 January to discuss Afghanistan. We will be looking to President Karzai's government to show that its intentions on security and governance will be carried through into action. And the international community must renew and redouble its commitment to success.

This is a critical year for Afghanistan. The tempo of operations will increase - so, too, the resources. We are not trying to build a colony for ourselves. We are trying to prevent it becoming a crucible once again for attacks against the rest of the world. This is a necessary and achievable goal.

David Miliband is the Foreign Secretary and MP for South Shields

David Miliband is the  President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee
He was foreign secretary from 2007 until 2010 and MP for South Shields from 2001 until this year. 

This article first appeared in the 25 January 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Afghanistan: Why we cannot win this war

Photo: Getty Images/AFP
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Why is the government charging more women for selling sex but turning a blind eye to buyers?

Since 2013, the number of women charged for selling sex gone up while the number of men charged for buying it has gone down.

It’s no surprise that prostitution policy is an area rarely visited by our legislators. It’s politically charged - a place where the need to prevent exploitation seemingly clashes head on with notions of liberal freedom; where there are few simple answers, a disputed evidence base, and no votes.

There’s also little evidence to suggest that MPs are different from the rest of the population - where one-in-ten men have purchased sex. It is little wonder therefore that our report on how the law should change, published in 2014, was the first major cross-party intervention on the subject in twenty years.

Some take the view that by removing all legal constraints, it will make the inherently exploitative trade of prostitution, safer. It’s not just me that questions this approach, though I accept that - equally - there’s no consensus that my preferred measure of criminalising the purchase of sex, while decriminalising the sale, would fundamentally change the scale of the problem.

Where all sides come together, however, is in the desire to see women diverted from the law courts. It is still possible for women (and it still is women; prostitution remains highly genderised) to go to prison for offences related to prostitution. Today, in 2015.

The total number of prosecutions for all prostitution offences in England and Wales has been decreasing since 2010, but not in a uniform fashion. This does not reflect a reduction in the size of the trade, or the violent nature of it.

There were once consistently more prosecutions for kerb crawling, profiting, and control of prostitution. But since 2013, there have been more prosecutions for soliciting or loitering than for profit from prostitution and kerb crawling each year.

In simple terms, offences committed by men with choice, freedom and money in their pocket are having a blind eye turned to them, while women are being targeted - and this trend is accelerating. In the law courts, and in prosecutions, it is the most vulnerable party in the transaction, who is taking the burden of criminality.

Take on-street sex buying as an example. In 2013-14 just 237 prosecutions were brought for kerb crawling, but there were 553 - more than twice as many - for loitering and soliciting.

There is a similar pattern in the 2014/15 figures: 227 charges for kerb crawling reached court, while 456 prosecutions were initiated against those who were selling sex. Just 83 prosecutions for control of prostitution, or ‘pimping’, were brought in that same year.

These are men and women on the same street. It takes a high level of liberal delusion to be convinced that prostitution is caused by a surge of women wishing to sell sex, rather than men who wish to buy it. And yet women who sell sex are the ones being targeted in our law courts, not the men that create the demand in the first place.

This situation even goes against the Crown Prosecution Service’s (CPS) own guidance. They say:

“Prostitution is addressed as sexual exploitation within the overall CPS Violence Against Women strategy because of its gendered nature… At the same time, those who abuse and exploit those involved in prostitution should be rigorously investigated and prosecuted, and enforcement activity focused on those who create the demand for on-street sex, such as kerb crawlers.”

Why then, is this happening? For the same reason it always does - in our criminal justice system stigmatised, poor women are valued less than moneyed, professional men.

My debate in Parliament today raises these issues directly with the government ministers responsible. But to be honest, the prosecution-bias against women in the courts isn’t the problem; merely a symptom of it. This bias will only be tackled when the law reflects the inherent harm of the trade to women, rather than sending the mixed signals of today.

That’s why I welcome the work of the End Demand Alliance, composed of over 40 organisations working to end the demand that fuels sex trafficking and prostitution, advocating the adoption of the Sex Buyer Law throughout the UK.

This would criminalise paying for sex, while decriminalising its sale and providing support and exiting services for those exploited by prostitution. Regardless of these big changes in the law, I don’t see how anyone can support the current state of affairs where there are more prosecutions brought against women than men involved in prostitution.

The authorities are targeting women because they're easier to arrest and prosecute. It goes against their own guidance, common sense and natural justice.
And it needs to stop.

Gavin Shuker is MP for Luton South and chair of the All Party Group on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade.