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UK Foreign Minister Lectures at MIT

By Jenny Wong
Published: March 2010

On Wednesday March 10, David Miliband, the UK Foreign Minister, visited the Massachusetts Institute of Technology delivering “The War in Afghanistan: How to end it, MIT’s annual Karl Taylor Compton Lecture.

Miliband was a Newton student (Bigelow Junior High, 1977-1978), and has kept his connection with Newton teachers and Denebola.

This series was created to provide the MIT community direct contact “with people who have contributed much to modern thought on important current events. In recent years scientist Steven Chu, President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, and the late Edward M. Kennedy have all contributed to this series.

David Miliband is currently the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs of the United Kingdom, a position he has held since June 2007. Miliband earned an MA in political science at MIT in 1990,

“The core of my argument is simple, Miliband said in his Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) blog on March 10. “Only politics will end the War in Afghanistan. The immense effort of [the] UK, ISAF and Afghan troops is vital¦[but] the key is a genuine political settlement.

Miliband cited other prominent political figures to back up his argument. “As President Obama put it, ‘Ëœwe are not going to succeed simply by piling on more and more troops.’ Or as Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said, we need ‘Ëœnot just a military push¦ but a political push’ he said.

Miliband specified that a political settlement would include three things in particular.

First and foremost is “the reintegration into Afghan society of low-level insurgents [who are] prepared to lay down their arms and accept the writ of the government.

In his presentation, Miliband stressed that insurgency must be reduced in order for the Afghan authorities to govern effectively in the long run.

He discussed a program of reintegration for these insurgents, which “the UN defines as ‘Ëœthe process by which ex-combatants acquire civilian status and gain sustainable employment and income.’

Miliband explained that this program would work because increased military pressure would force insurgents to reconsider their loyalties. Also, “a serious alternative future for the insurgents, which would include both employment and protection from their former allies would allow a desirably low level of insurgency to be sustained.

Second, his plan for political settlement includes “political engagement with those disaffected by the current settlement, but [who are] prepared to renounce violence, split from Al Qaeda and accept the constitutional framework. While Miliband admitted that some members of Al Qaeda cannot be reconciled with, he argued this is not the case for the majority of the insurgents.

Third, Miliband stated that “a wider regional political settlement that sees all [of] Afghanistan’s neighbors and near neighbors supportive of an independent Afghan state is necessary. After discussing the importance of a new internal political settlement, he stressed the significance of a new external one as well.

Furthermore, Miliband identified two facts that need to be made known to these neighboring countries in order for progress to be made: the first is that “no country in the region, let alone the international community, will again allow Afghanistan to be dominated, and the second is that “the status quo in Afghanistan is damaging to all.

These two facts that will “provide the basis of a shared interest around which the countries of the region can coalesce.

Towards the end of Miliband’s presentation, he shared his vision of Afghanistan’s future in two to five years time. “It is realistic to aspire to see a country on an upward trajectory, still poor but with a just peace, with democracy and inclusive politics bedding down at all levels and with incomes growing, he said.

“The urban population should have access to electricity 24/7¦more children – and in particular more girls – will be going to schools. Most grass roots insurgents¦should be resettled in their villages with at least some of the insurgent leaders reconciling into the legitimate political process. Communities will be increasingly able to rely on the Afghan National Security¦and above all, Al Qaeda will be kept out.

Miliband concluded that his vision “depends on sacrifice and money, but¦is only feaible if politics comes to the fore, [and that] only then will the War in Afghanistan come to an end.

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