THE first Caledonian recorded in history is Calgacus, who owes his immortality to the Roman historian Tacitus.

It was Tacitus who put into the mouth of the legendary chieftain an extraordinary address rousing his troops in advance of losing the Battle of Mons Graupius in the foothills of Bennachie, which contains the memorable and bitter line “they make a desert and call it peace”

Tacitus is generous to Calgacus and the defeated Caledonian tribes. He admires their bravery and even empathises with their wish to live free from Roman domination.

Since the victor of the battle, the great General Agricola, was actually his father-in-law, we can assume an element of family bias. Indeed it served Tacitus’s purpose to present (and perhaps even totally imagine) Calgacus as a fierce and exceptional commander, since it emphasised the greatness of the imperial achievement in destroying the Caledonian confederacy.

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But it is that line “they create a desert and call it peace” which resonates through history and which, one year after another peace, now describes the plight of the people of Afghanistan.

While Europe’s mind is fixed on the war in Ukraine, the peace in Afghanistan is being allowed to drift into chaos, famine and humanitarian tragedy on a country-wide scale.

I hold no brief whatsoever for the Taliban. Their human rights record is deplorable and they have failed to keep any part of their commitment to protect human rights in general or women’s and girls’ rights in particular. Last month’s report by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) makes depressing reading for people who were hoping for much better. They still offer little in the way of life chances for my Muslim sisters in Afghanistan.

The US-based Human Rights Watch is excoriating in its criticism of the Taliban’s failure to change their old bad habits, but interestingly it is becoming almost equally as scathing about the attitude of the US and other western governments in completely destabilising the Afghan banking system.

The Afghan national bank is unable to function, Afghanistan’s own assets are seized, sanctions against individual Taliban leaders mean that the country is prevented from accessing Afghanistan’s own resources – $7 billion of which are held and frozen in a US bank.

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Human Rights Watch says: “Without a functioning banking system, UN-led humanitarian activities have become exceedingly difficult; some have had to cease operations altogether. Humanitarian actors, legitimate businesses, and ordinary Afghan citizens need access to banks to function.”

The consequences of this are profound. There is no amount of relief assistance which will be able to feed and sustain a nation of 40 million people. Without a functioning economy an entire nation will be doomed. In 20 years of war, the US and its allies spent the best part of a trillion dollars on weapons of war and occupation and in propping up corrupt regimes.

Last year’s personal humiliation for President Biden in the chaotic and bloody retreat from Kabul seems to have hardened the soul of the president to fulfilling the proper role of the world’s most powerful country – the generous attitude to brave, if savage, opponents that Tacitus would have expected of the Roman imperial power.

Instead, to fend off continuing attacks from House Republicans, the White House boasts that the recent strike which killed al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri evidences that the US does not need a permanent troop presence to defend against terrorism.

In which case, what on earth have the last 20 years’ expenditure of lives and treasure been about? What then was the loss of 3500 coalition soldiers, 60,000 Afghan soldiers and 200,000 civilians really for, if America could always drone strike and eliminate its enemies from afar?

Amid the Washington mud wrestling, it seems little priority is now being given to the fact an entire nation is drifting into malnutrition and starvation – more just grim satisfaction that the Taliban are so plainly failing to effectively run the country.

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In fact, it would be impossible for them to succeed without the armies of doctors, engineers and the technicians to put Afghanistan back on its feet – the real armies which are necessary to help the people of Afghanistan.

The first casualty of war is the truth. The second will be the women and children we were claiming to want to help. As the bodies pile up again in Afghanistan, this time not from bombs and bullets, but from lack of protein and health care, there will not be two lines for the good dead and the bad dead. There will just be the dead.

We are creating a desert and calling it peace.