By Mark Wallace
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The Military Covenant is a weighty responsibility. The wars of recent years have greatly increased the public and political recognition of how important it is that those who fight for all of us should receive a fair deal as well as the respect and support they are due in return for their service.
That means many things – from troops in the field getting good body armour to their children getting proper access to schools back home, despite the regular moves involved in a military life. The Armed Forces are some of the most enduring bastions of decency and honourable service in our society – so it is fitting that those of us not in uniform should treat them with the same values they exemplify.
It is not often that I agree with Liberal Conspiracy, but they are right to argue that our responsibility to those who serve extends to offering sanctuary to the Afghan interpreters who helped our troops to do their job over the last 12 years.
This is not an open door to the whole Afghan army, this is an offer specifically for a few hundred people who worked directly for us, and their dependents. These are people who risked their lives to keep our soldiers safe, assisting them in a bitter war against the Taliban, and who could far more easily have stayed at home and looked the other way.
They volunteered when we asked, and now many of them are in fear for their lives and the lives of their families. The vast majority have received death threats – a bitter harvest to reap from doing a good deed for British troops.
I appreciate that allowing them to settle in Britain for their own safety may be embarrassing when the official line is that Afghanistan is pretty much sorted, the Government is stable and the domestic security forces are completely up to the job, but this is far more important than following Foreign Office Media Lines To Take.
This is about the fundamental trustworthiness of the United Kingdom and her forces – we can send the message that we take care of people who help us, or we can demonstrate to the whole world that we repay a favour by abandoning our friends in mortal danger. Shockingly, Britain is now the only NATO country which intends to leave its interpreters behind in Afghanistan.
There are precedents for bringing the Afghan interpreters within our Military Covenant. When British forces withdrew from Iraq, a similarly lackadaisical approach was taken – until public and political outcry forced the Labour Government to let them in.
As well as the moral responsibility to act, there is a political risk in failing to do the right thing. Many readers will remember the humiliation of Labour minister Phil Woolas at the hands of Joanna Lumley, during her Gurkha campaign. It is hard to imagine any coalition minister wanting to play his part in an Afghan re-run of that fiasco.
The Military Covenant rests on familiar, fundamental values – decency, honour, service and gratitude. It would be a grave disservice to those values to turn our backs on these interpreters.