David Pratt is correct when he writes: “We are losing the war in Afghanistan … the mission is lost” (“Now civil war looms for the lost cause that is Afghanistan”, The Herald, September 17).
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The reasons for this defeat have been obvious for some time. Uppermost among them is the fact that the US and Britain are occupying a country which doesn’t want us to be there. The majority of Afghanistan’s 33 million citizens now see British and American soldiers as armies of occupation. The origins of this lie in Tony Blair’s decision to invade Afghanistan in 2001, claiming it was responsible for the 9/11 twin towers attacks. He knew then that Afghans were not involved. So Britain invaded a country guilty of no crime, has occupied it for the best part of a decade and some 50,000 innocent Afghan civilians have been killed.
The insurgency is winning in Afghanistan because Britain and the US alienated the population by installing a corrupt, illegitimate and despised puppet regime with Hamid Karzai at its head.
All the polls here highlight the lack of confidence the UK population has in the political leaders as 75% want to see the troops brought home. Our soldiers will continue to die until the discredited Afghan army and police can take over. Yet there is, in reality, no such thing as a national army or police force in Afghanistan -- only militias and paramilitaries loyal to warlords who pay their wages.
David Pratt is right to suggest that Britain’s legacy to Afghanistan will be the same civil war which followed the Soviet withdrawal of the 1980s.
If Afghanistan is to prosper as a democratic and stable country, the future rests with people like the remarkable Afghan MP Malalai Joya, one of the few actually elected. She campaigns for a democratic, multi-ethnic Afghanistan and she asks of people who share her vision that we first of all withdraw foreign forces.
David Pratt laid bare the real political situation in Afghanistan and explored the level of social instability which could define the near future of that country.
However, those in power there and here must already recognise that the near future stability of Afghanistan lies less with politicians and more with those who control the military, in a society which is traditionally so in thrall to warlords. So, the Taliban, having undoubtedly infiltrated the new army, and being prepared to nudge aside the Afghan leadership to an exile of luxury in the west, must be licking their lips at the prospect of inheriting one of the best trained and equipped armies in the region.
When will we see sense?
If we are to believe what we hear, then Defence Secretary Liam Fox is on the verge of resigning over a delay to Trident (“Trident decision may be delayed”, The Herald, September 16). Paddy Ashdown, however, is hailing the same postponement as a great victory for the Liberal Democrats. But all is not what it seems.
The programme to replace Trident is currently a year behind schedule -- a normal state of affairs for any major defence project. Until recently, the MoD has claimed that, despite this delay, it would bring the submarines into service on time. Now it looks as if it will postpone the decision from 2014 to 2015. This is neither a magnificent victory for the LibDems nor a humiliating defeat for Dr Fox. It is simply an acknowledgement that they are not going to make up for the time already lost.
There is a real danger that this phoney war will divert attention from the real decision which is about to be made. Not the “main gate” decision, four or five years away, but the “initial gate” at the end of 2010. This will allocate billions of pounds over the next four years to designing the new submarines and to acquiring long lead items for them. This decision is imminent and, so far, there is no sign that it will be postponed.
Coordinator, Scottish CND,
15 Barrland Street, Glasgow.
Margo MacDonald’s ‘suicide’ Bill deserves support from MSPs
Margo MacDonald’s End of Life Assistance Bill will be discussed today at the Scottish Parliament.
There is a striking gap between the views of most of the public and the positions taken by “institutional” Scotland. Many of us, possibly the majority, would like to know that if we were in the extreme stages of a terminal illness, we would have the option of ending life a little sooner.
This Bill is based on humane principles and has been carefully framed to protect against abuse. Some of the critics are using exaggerated assertions of risk and slippery slope as the basis of their opposition. The very fact of this legislation with all its protections being in place would ensure careful monitoring and could not be extended without another full and open legislative process.
One aspect of this debate about which there has been insufficient emphasis is that all the Bill does in effect is to give those in extreme incapacity the same right as the able-bodied. Any of us who are physically fit can find ways of ending our life. It is tragic when it happens to someone with potential for a full life but it is a choice they can make. For someone severely incapacitated, this is not a choice they can make for themselves. They cannot even choose starvation if they are being fed intravenously. They are left powerless. To force people who are terminally ill to prolong life when they clearly express a wish not to do so is not compassionate.
Of course we must give people the very best of end of life care, and few will choose to leave life early, but knowing that they have a choice will provide a reassurance. I fail to see the moral purpose in a few extra months of physical suffering.
This is a brave initiative by Ms MacDonald and I hope (but doubt) that MSPs will have the courage to support it, despite the institutional pressures.
Universities will have to adjust to declining standard of entrant
with regard to the recent publication of international league tables, maybe the reality should have set in earlier, and perhaps it’s not the universities’ fault (“Glasgow University slides down world league table”, The Herald, September 16).
A key factor in the slide has been a lack of quality assessment of literacy and numeracy from the early school years onwards. For too long we’ve had too many P2s passing their level-A maths with a lack of fluency in key numeracy skills at that level, and similarly for pupils at subsequent stages. At each stage, it leaves the pupils’ next teacher with a widening problem, resulting in pupils with Higher maths passes unable to do basic calculations.
Yet, if the assessment procedures lack dependability, how can a teacher effectively identify, far less meet, the individual needs of their pupils? How can a headteacher target support to the class most in need? How can a local authority best target support to schools most in need? How can the Government best target its support to communities most in need?
Maybe a cause of the banking collapse was a lack of numerical understanding associated with risk or even an appreciation of the significance of a negative sign. Or was it simply having got rid of “borrow and pay back” when doing subtractions?
It’s likely that universities will have had to adjust their expectations over the years to accommodate the quality of entrant and it remains to be seen whether the assessment procedures for Curriculum for Excellence will be rigorous enough to address what has been a problem for some time. I hope so.
Pope’s move towards ecumenism is welcome but unlikely to bring substantive change
I do not share Iain A D Mann’s disdain for the expenditure lavished upon the papal visit (Letters, September 20). People always spend money on that which they highly value and I thought the opulence and theatricality of the Bellahouston Mass was splendid, and the music by James MacMillan was magnificent.
In one of his addresses, the Pope spoke approvingly of the 1910 Edinburgh Conference which inaugurated what he called the “modern ecumenical movement”. He commented that much had been done but that “more progress needs to be made” and, in other addresses, he referred to the desire for greater unity.
He is, of course, right that much has been achieved and is reducing the alienation of Christians one from another: joint worship, more ease in inter-church marriages, shared activity in social concerns, clergy of all denominations meeting in groups and so on. All good and much to be welcomed. The question is that, having come this far, how do we go forward into greater “unity”? Where is the “progress” to be made? Does the Pope really mean “unity”?
I think not, at least not in any sense to which I could subscribe. Is it likely the Pope will suddenly decide Anglican orders (let alone Presbyterian ones) are “valid”? Are Catholics to abandon their understanding of the Mass? Will they forsake their understanding of the papacy and the whole structure of the church? Of course not. And why should they? These are the distinguishing marks of their church which are, quite rightly, held dear and, if I can use this word, are non-negotiable.
It seems to me that we will continue to live in a mixed ecclesiastical economy. That is the hand that history has dealt us and it is not likely soon, if ever, to change.
There is much in the Catholic Church I admire, not least its strong sense of community and worldwide fellowship, a unity expressed in the visible person of the Pope as so spiritedly demonstrated at Bellahouston. Perhaps there are things in the Reformed tradition Catholics could see as valuable and worth trying to understand. Were such creative dialogue to take place, things could move forward, even if they fall well short of the “unity” the Pope seems to want.
Rev David A Keddie,
I value science and empirical evidence over myth and superstition. I value reason over irrationality. I value real people over imaginary friends. I value scepticism over dogma. I value equality over sexism and homophobia. I value freedom of choice for children over indoctrination. I value the use of condoms over the spread of HIV. I value openness and freedom of information over secrecy and systematic cover-ups. I value the feelings of the victims of child rape over the people who perpetrate it and the organisation that protects them. According to the Pope, my values somehow place me alongside the Nazis. I do not value his insulting and offensive comparison.
Now that Pope Benedict is back in the Vatican, the rest of us might reflect on his pronouncements during his visit. The essence of these is that secularism is dangerous, it imperils decent social behaviour and is spiritually ruinous. I was taught at school that church and state were not one and the same and, therefore, in essence, we live in a secular state. It was the secular state that funded the papal visit.
NTS staging of Black Watch was brilliant
Congratulations to Shona Craven for heaping Black Watch with the praise it richly deserves (Arts, The Herald, September 20). I attended the first night with friends who had not seen the play and they were blown away by the experience. This is evidence of the quality of direction, production, sound, lighting, choreography and commitment shown by the changing cast.
Despite recent letters criticising the National Theatre of Scotland’s direction, I wish the company every success with this tour and subsequent productions.
It has been so depressing hearing what is to happen to the orchestra of Scottish Opera. The thought of all the work and dedication by Sir Alexander Gibson and his friends in building up the wonderful company makes it unbelievable. It is sad and will be a terrible loss to the arts in Scotland and to the perception of our country by those further afield. Can nothing be done?
Catherine M Bergamini,
Scotland needs to rethink its approach to tackling a looming problem in public health
Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia, a fact recognised today with World Alzheimer’s Day. Another, less commonly discussed, is vascular dementia, which accounts for 20% of all dementias and is linked to stroke. In fact, stroke is a major cause of vascular dementia.
Research published in the British Medical Journal last month highlighted that people’s risk of developing vascular dementia (and stroke) can be significantly reduced if key physiological risk factors such as obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol are prevented or identified early and treated effectively.
Previous research has also shown this is the case but I am pleased to see new research, which strengthens the argument for improved investment in appropriate public health measures, given the direct benefits this would provide in terms of the reduced incidence of dementia and stroke in Scotland -- and, indeed, reductions in other related conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.
The necessary public health measures are familiar to us all: improve healthy eating, increase physical activity, reduce unsafe alcohol consumption and reduce exposure to tobacco smoke.
I know the Scottish Government is committed to improving public health. We have made excellent progress with tobacco and smoking -- although much remains to be done. We are not, however, doing so well with the other areas of healthy living in Scotland. This is illustrated by the fact that we are now the second most obese country in the world after the US and have major problems with unsafe alcohol use.
Our economic problems will place further pressures on public health in Scotland and progress to date may be lost.
It is time for a rethink of our approach and investment to public health in Scotland to make it more effective. Otherwise, we will face a growing and potentially overwhelming struggle to deal with the economic, social and personal consequences of all vascular related conditions, including dementia, stroke, heart disease and diabetes.
Director Scotland, The Stroke Association,
Links House, 15 Links Place, Leith, Edinburgh.
Coalition renders LibDems irrelevant
Andrew McKie’s endorsement of the LibDems has probably sealed their fate in Scotland (“Right-thinking has liberated the LibDems from obscurity”, The Herald September 20). If the English electorate wants a party of the right, committed to damaging public services and attacking the jobs, living standards and vital services of the least privileged in society while protecting the rich and powerful, why not vote for the real thing: the Tories? The LibDems’ future is now irretrievably damaged.
In Scotland, the LibDems are on their way to the kind of irrelevance the Scottish Tories have brought already upon themselves. The sight of Danny Alexander nodding enthusiastically beside his new Tory pals on the Government front bench at Westminster has ensured that outcome. The 2011 Holyrood elections will be a straight contest between Labour and the SNP, unless, of course, a Scottish Tea Party bursts upon the scene, led by a Sarah McPalin or Christine McDonnell, eager to inflict their strident and simplistic solutions on the rest of us.