BBC2’s Superb “Afghanistan: The Great Game, A Personal View by Rory Stewart”.

Rory Stew­art is the per­fect guide to walk us through the last few hun­dred years that the peo­ple of Afghanistan have been forced to suf­fer through.

Not yet 40 and cur­rent­ly serv­ing as a Tory MP, he was a star pupil at Eton where he active­ly sup­port­ed the Labour Par­ty, and then at Oxford and Har­vard, before work­ing as a diplo­mat in the Balka­ns, and as a senior coali­tion offi­cial in Iraq between 2004–5. But he is prob­a­bly best known for his award win­ning book The Places in Between, which charts his 32 day trek across Afghanistan in 2002.

So he is nat­u­ral­ly reluc­tant to draw any obvi­ous par­al­lels between the dis­as­trous cam­paigns con­duct­ed in Afghanistan in the past, and those that the peo­ple there have been sub­ject­ed to more recent­ly. Which only serves to make those com­par­isons all the more conspicuous.

The first part of his BBC2 pro­gramme focused on the British and Rus­sians as they fought for influ­ence in the region dur­ing the 19th cen­tu­ry, in what came to be known as the Great Game. Whilst the sec­ond looked at the Rus­sians and the Amer­i­cans as they fought for exact­ly the same rea­sons, in exact­ly the same region, and with exact­ly the same results, in the 1970s and through­out the 1980s.

One of the more inter­est­ing ele­ments in Stew­art’s mea­sured yet impas­sioned pro­gramme was that, far from stum­bling blind­ly into the region both the British and espe­cial­ly the Rus­sians knew per­fect­ly well how fraught with dan­ger, polit­i­cal­ly and mil­i­tar­i­ly, med­dling in Afghanistan was. But they felt oblig­ed to do so any­way, for fear of appear­ing weak to the com­pet­ing super­pow­er on the oth­er side of the fence.

The results were, almost need­less to say, dis­as­trous. You can prac­ti­cal­ly trace the dot­ted line link­ing the CIA’s clum­sy and stag­ger­ing­ly mis­cal­cu­lat­ed attempt to make up for the shame of Viet­nam by arm­ing the muja­hedeen to the teeth in the 80s, and the destruc­tion of the Twin Tow­ers 20 years later.

Amer­i­ca’s response of then stam­ped­ing blind­ly back into, where else, but Afghanistan was as pre­dictable as it was, from Amer­i­ca’s own per­spec­tive, trag­ic. That, of all things, a British prime min­is­ter should have been so imper­vi­ous to his­to­ry to have so will­ing­ly fol­lowed them in there is, again, almost beyond belief. God save us all from con­vic­tion politicians.

One of the things that this pro­gramme was par­tic­u­lar­ly good at was remind­ing us all that, as bad as it was for the pow­ers engaged there in their vain pur­suit of influ­ence, it was of course immea­sur­ably worse for all the actu­al Afghans there caught in the result­ing crossfire.

This is the sort of thing that the BBC still does so well. And Stew­art is, demon­stra­bly, some­thing of a star.

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