Gold and guns

IF Russia in 1939 was a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma, as Churchill said, then Afghanistan is similarly impenetrable today. Winning the war and controlling the peace in the former Taliban-run nation has proved a gargantuan task for decision-makers in Whitehall and Westminster but, more than nine years after Britain and America invaded, there are signs the West is beginning to see what needs to be done.

Guns alone will not build a more prosperous future for Afghanistan. Aid spending is vital and that's why the Government is increasing funding for such projects by 40 per cent – which would be considered a lot even when Britain is in good times, let alone when it is struggling – however unpalatable this may be to some voters. There is certainly money to be saved by reducing aid to India, now an economic rival rather than a poor relation.

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Opponents of the Afghanistan plan will describe it as "spending our way out of trouble" but the reality is more complex. Britain does not have the resources to hold an area like Sangin and if increased aid improves conditions, hastening the day when America takes control there, then it should be a cause for relief.

Aid is also provided on the basis that it helps to remove the temptation for Afghans to turn to the fundamentalists who once ruled their country. The ancient tribal system means people sided with the Taliban for ideological reasons, but also for protection, food and shelter. If aid ensures Afghans enjoy better living conditions and an education, however basic, it lessens the chance they will accept the abhorrent teachings prorogated by extremists.

This, as many a serving soldier might attest, is one of the reasons for our country's presence in an arid and dangerous land more than 3,000 miles away. The death of four more British servicemen on Friday and Saturday remind us that preventing the creation of a new generation of Western-hating jihadis is vital to securing the future of Afghanistan as well as to protecting Britain from further terrorist attacks. If that can be done, then our brave men and women will be that bit nearer to coming home.