Not likely, is the answer to that question, in spite of majority public opinion in favour of bringing the troops home. Labour is keen to reassure us that ‘Afghanistan is not a war without end’. The nub of their case for being there is that our national security would be threatened if Afghanistan fell to the Taleban and Al Qaeda regrouped. They claim the emphasis is on training the Afghan forces for a handover and creating the conditions for a political settlement. The Tories basically say the same thing. Neither mentions any time frame for withdrawal.
The Liberal Democrats, whose manifesto is out today, are ‘critical supporters of the Afghanistan mission’, wanting the military surge to be accompanied by a strategy ‘to ensure a more legitimate government’. They do mention a time frame however: with a ‘successful strategy’ – not sure what that would be though – they think Afghanistan could be sufficiently stable to allow British troops to come home during the next parliament. But that is pretty disappointing after the good position they took on Iraq. I still remember Charles Kennedy on the platform at the extraordinary 2003 anti-war demo. And that principled position boosted their support in the 2005 election. I know a lot of anti-war activists who switched their votes to the Lib Dems as a result. But I can’t see that happening this time on the war issue – although their improvement over Labour and Tories on Trident may win them some votes.
For a better position on Afghanistan, you have to turn to the smaller parties. Plaid Cymru voted against the war on Iraq and supports a phased exit strategy from Afghanistan by the end of next year at the latest. For the SNP, Alex Salmond has called for the government to consider pulling out of Afghanistan – that could be a bit clearer. The Green manifesto is due out tomorrow, so hopefully we’ll get something definitive there. That should be the case, as they have conference policy from 2009, calling for immediate withdrawal – although currently that is not featuring on the Green website, so an earlier version of this blog did not reflect that. Otherwise, for an unequivocal line you need to look to the Respect Party.