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By Peter Hoskin
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Afghanistan
is on the agenda as David Cameron sweeps into Mumbai. The Indian Government is,
apparently
(£)
, concerned at our PM’s efforts to involve Pakistan in the maintenance
of the Afghan state after Western troops have departed. They fear losing whatever
influence they currently have in Kabul.

But
questions about Afghanistan are also waiting for Mr Cameron back home, in
Britain – and they’re questions which, I suspect, will take on ever greater
significance as the year progresses.

One
of these questions is implicit within Dominic
Raab’s article for the Financial Times (£)
this morning. Mr Raab recommends
a swathe of further cuts to bolster the economy and public finances, but there’s
one that stands out above all the rest. “Beyond Whitehall,” he writes, “bringing
all UK troops home from Afghanistan by the end of 2013 (instead of 2014) would
save £3.6bn.”


There
are plenty of Tory backbenchers who are sympathetic to this argument – as one
put it to me, “The country’s going to be left a mess anyway, so why not get our troops out and save some money?” And there are signs that George Osborne thinks
likewise, too. According to reports last
year
, he asked generals why British forces couldn’t just return home now.
This was dismissed as a “provocation” at the time, but you can understand why
the Chancellor might be eager to provoke in this case. How he could do with a
few extra £billion, whether to ease the course of deficit reduction, or to fund
some budgetary giveaway or other.

So,
will Mr Cameron buckle to any of this pressure? It is, in truth, unlikely; and not
least because the British withdrawal is currently aligned with America’s.
Barack Obama last week announced that around
half of his country’s troops would leave Afghanistan by early 2014. Our own
departure—announced before last week, but after phone conversations between
Messrs Obama and Cameron—is, currently, similarly
paced
.   

But
there is still some room for Mr Cameron to balance backbenchers’ fiscal
concerns against the demands of the generals. Neither America nor Britain has
made any firm commitments about how many troops will remain after 2014 to help train
the Afghan army, among other tasks. If savings are to be found, expect them to
come from there.

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