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Eden MP's Afghanistan documentary airs tonight on TV
1:13pm Monday 28th May 2012 in News
Sited at a crossroads between the Middle East, Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent, Afghanistan has been fought over, occupied and exploited for centuries, not least by opposing superpowers in the west and east.
Penrith and the Border MP, Rory Stewart, has spent years getting to know the country's people and its politics – he even spent two years walking across Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, India and Nepal, on a 6,000 mile journey.
Tonight, in the first of a two-part documentary, Mr Stewart will present The Great Game – a Personal View, looking at the tangled history of the country from the first British invasion in 1838.
His journey of discovery was the culmination of over seven years of research and work, and is based on hundreds of interviews. He said it marks the end of the chapter of his life before becoming a Cumbrian MP.
He met with historians and academics from around the world, Afghan royalty, veterans and former CIA chiefs in the USA.
“What is interesting for me is the parallels we have with the 19th century,” he said. “The ways in which empires and superpowers repeatedly get themselves stuck in Afghanistan.
“Quite quickly the conflicts cease to be about Afghanistan and become about ourselves, our pride and our reluctance to admit something has failed, with a sense of inertia.”
A former student of politics, philosophy and economics at Oxford University and officer in the Army, Mr Stewart joined the British Diplomatic Service and served in the British Embassy in Indonesia and, in the wake of the Kosovo campaign, as the British representative in Montenegro.
In 2003, he became coalition Deputy Governor of two provinces in the Marsh Arab region of Southern Iraq and from 2006 to 2008, he lived in Kabul.
There he was the founder and Chief Executive of Turquoise Mountain, a non-profit, non-governmental organisation investing in the development of Afghanistan’s traditional crafts and the rehabilitation of the commercial heart of the old city of Kabul.
Speaking about his experiences in filming the documentary, Mr Stewart said: “The Afghans that I met were often straight forward and just wanted to talk about their personal stories. I heard things from friends that they had never spoken about before, about their part in the wars. One said when he was fighting the Russians he was so hungry and cold and depressed, he felt like walking into a minefield and killing himself.
“Looking at the troubled history of Afghanistan was a reminder of the continual tragedy of the country and how there are just no easy solutions.
“It was very easy for Britain in the 19th century to convince itself it needed to occupy Afghanistan to protect itself, and the same for Russia from the USA and Pakistan. We did the same thing in protecting ourselves from Al-Quaeda.
“When you bring in lots of foreign troops and money, it distorts things in unintended ways. Money brings corruption, troops unfortunately bring violence, and the very presence of a foreign government undermines the Afghan government.”
Mr Stewart said looking at 200 years of the region's history throws up lessons for today's politicians.
“We need to plan better, learn to admit mistakes, and admit sometimes we can't understand something,” he said. “When soldiers have died, nobody wants to feel that it has been in vain. But you don't honour a soldier's death by continuing a war.”
The Great Game – a Personal View airs tonight on BBC2 at 9pm.