Adam Holloway is Conservative MP for Gravesham, a member of the defence select committee and a former soldier who has served in Iraq, Bosnia and Afghanistan.
I am back from Afghanistan where I travelled to avoid the Conservative conference, with all its lobbyists and the latest batch of Special Advisors quite new to their subject areas. The most comfortable way to get to Afghanistan is via Dubai. This is where the mafia that runs Afghan politics has deposited much of the money we thought we were giving to the Afghan people. In the uncertainty about the country’s future, they have this year exported some $4 billion through Dubai - and the value of a “Poppy Palace” in Kabul’s centre is down by nearly 50%: this suggests some lack of optimism about the future once NATO withdraws most of its troops post-2014.
Dubai stores much of the money that was meant to turn the country round - and it is the place that even some of those sympathetic to the insurgency own apartments to run to in the event of the civil war that we are in danger of leaving behind. It is also the place in whose more quiet corners political leaders meet representatives of the Taleban, in the hope that ending the insurgency lies with them, rather than with the Pakistani military establishment – who would prefer chaos in Afghanistan to an Afghan government sympathetic to India. In a hotel lobby I briefly spot another meeting, as a well-known Afghan politician walks past with a ridiculously beautiful and over-done Russian or Ukrainian girl in her early 20s.
...And the "Axis of Evil" terminal
Flights to Kabul leave via Dubai’s Terminal 2, known locally as the “Axis of Evil terminal”. Flights leave here for those places in between, and Iran, the ‘Stans – now even scheduled flights to Camp Bastion – the vast desert base in Helmand province where tens of thousands of US, UK and Afghan troops are based. As I wait to board my flight I notice an absurd number of girls that look like exhausted supermodels: the flight from Gate 5 is about to depart for Kiev.
An hour and a half later I am at 30,000 feet looking down over the Helmand desert, eating a chicken sandwich and feeling chilly from the airconditioning. Thousands feet below fly the artillery shells that mark the presence of our troops on the ground, and local tribespeople enraged by the mission our party conference classes handed out to our army. Seven years after the arrival of British troops in Helmand, they continue die in the absence of any sort of coherent US political strategy for the conflict. Perhaps Prince Harry flies somewhere beneath us too.