For all the bold promises, Afghanistan's future remains unclear

Thumb_john-ray

A decade on from those bold promises about the mission in Afghanistan, the assessment of the last British commander in Helmand was suitably low key.

“They have bought time and space for those Afghan forces to be developed, to allow them to take the lead and now it’s time to step back a little further, allowing the Afghans to continue to deliver the all-important security to their people,” said Brigadier James Woodham as he handed over to the Americans at Camp Bastion.

The last British commander in Helmand, Brigadier James Woodham, pictured at Camp Bastion Credit: Ben Birchall/PA Wire/Press Association Images

By the end of the year, we'll be gone, signalling to the war's many critics here a welcome end to the latest Great Game we played at such enormous cost in the blood of soldiers and civilians. Except of course, the game isn't over. There are just as many players at the table. It's just that we have less immediately at stake.

History and geography means external powers will continue to use Afghanistan as a checker board for their own rivalries.

British army logistics vehicles arrive at the gates of Camp Bastion Credit: Ben Birchall/PA Wire/Press Association Images

There's Pakistan, with its Taliban links, against India, a growing influence. There's Iran, which backs fellow Shia-groups, against Saudi Arabia, the great Sunni force. And then China - with problems in the bordering Muslim Xinjiang region and security solutions it seeks in Afghanistan. Whether Afghanistan's future is one of peace and security or violence and instability depends not just the success of this weekend's Presidential elections; but on the ability of the victor to play another Great Game with many capitals and many competing interests.