The key to ending the conflict in Afghanistan may be for us to stop thinking of it as a unified state
Nearly two years ago David Miliband, then foreign secretary, addressed a meeting of Nato confident that the right strategy was being pursued in Afghanistan. They would not force the Taliban to surrender, nor would they convert them. But he went on: “By challenging the insurgency … by building legitimate governance … the Afghan government, with our support, can prevail.” Today Mr Miliband, backbench MP, is less certain – on any of those three counts. Last week he said the Taliban’s numbers were growing, quoting an Isaf estimate of 35,000 full-time fighters; he challenged the idea that law and order could be delivered by the forces of a central state; and as for legitimate governance, there were two views of Hamid Karzai – a man uniquely qualified to unite his people, or its weakest link, with electoral fraud, corruption, cronyism and caprice sapping the strength of the Afghan government. Mr Miliband did not commit himself, but said it was incontestable that the Taliban are outcompeting the government in too many areas, dispensing their own rough but incorrupt justice. So while the west has set a date for the end of the war in 2014, Mr Miliband concluded that no political strategy yet exists to end the conflict.