Captain Jeremy Hann of the Royal Dragoon Guards blogs about a couple of newspaper articles he’s read recently.
A wonderful conversational reprieve arrived this week in the form of a flying visit from my RDG brethren, Capt ‘Spike’ Lee. He is a great bear of man-shaped bonhomie. Always dry and amusing, the following Bon-Mot was uttered over a coffee whilst talking about Spitfires, and no doubt would have had me in stitches if I had the faintest idea what it meant:
‘The elliptical wing plan-form is the mathematically optimized shape to minimize reduced drag!’
Who says Fluid Dynamicists don’t know how to have a laugh? A career of after-dinner-speaking beckons…..
I thought I would draw upon two articles I have seen in the global press as platforms for observations. In a document ‘leaked’ (odd euphemism describing the act of breaking confidence entrusted in return for remuneration) to the New York Times, it has been reported that a geological survey team from the Pentagon have discovered vast mineral wealth in Afghanistan. As well as pleasing deposits of gold, copper and iron ore, there are huge amounts of natural gas, a world-beating amount of lithium, prompting one observer to state that ‘Afghanistan could become the Saudi Arabia of lithium’, and also something called niobium. I have not the first inkling as to what this is, and if it is important, I am not sure how I have survived this long without it in my life. It is believed that the mineral deposits are worth $1 trillion.
These finds are, if handled correctly, fantastic news for the region. Over the course of the next decade it could generate such revenue, employment and wealth that there is genuine cause to assume that this war-ravaged and poverty-addled society could well see a stable and nebulously flourishing society in its place.
Flying in the face of this optimism, and in the hope of many, was an article written by Mary Riddell. She penned the article for The Telegraph, and claimed that there was no point in continuing the battle against insurgency, that the effort in Afghanistan was futile and that the country’s welfare and infrastructure was deteriorating as the campaign continues. A much easier sentiment to convey when one is engaged in rhetoric, not in the daily grind of reality. It is very easy to pass judgement from trendy Hoxton, or Esher, or Malvern or wherever it is she resides, when it isn’t your life, or that of your family and friends, or that of the whole community that lives in the face of constant and lethal threat.
I found the article irritating, upsetting and infuriating for several reasons, but it does give us a hypothetical benchmark by which we can gauge the progress that is being, and is to be, made. I am not sure if she knows how many of the Afghan National Police are losing their lives everyday fighting alongside us, but it is a terrifying statistic.
The statistics that she cited, mostly from her source (an aid-worker in Kabul) were inaccurate. She claimed 70% of schools in Kandahar were now closed. Well I live here, and I am on the ground every day, and I can tell you without fear of contradiction that this simply is not true. More children are in schools than ever before, in fact over six times more than prior to 2001 and most pleasingly this includes an ever increasing number of girls. Mrs. Riddell in her erroneous omniscience also stated that the health care was ‘failing’ and not reaching the population. I feel this is a harsh viewpoint as, although technically correct, in as much as, in no way does every Afghan receive healthcare, but a vast improvement has been made in this area by the international community, specifically NATO. Since the deposing of the Taliban regime, Healthcare now reaches 85% of the population, compared with just 9% then. The rise in child immunisation alone has led to the decrease in child mortality by approximately 35,000 per annum. Is that ‘failing’? It may not be perfect, but it is unarguably a great stride forward.
What is upsetting, but a necessary product of freedom of speech, is that opinion, in this instance; Delphic pessimism and myopic clairvoyance, can be portrayed as an inexorable truth. There is much to occur between now and the point at which this campaign to deny indiscriminate violence can be assessed, in retrospect, as either success or failure; and even then it is unlikely to be a cut and dry conclusion in the eyes of many.
I wish I had the ability to see so assiduously and accurately into the future, I would break my bookmaker at Cheltenham next year.