Are the Independent newspapers independent? It's an imponderable question, perhaps, but it would seem that they are at least independent of each other.
On Thursday, the leader column told readers that the case for withdrawal from Afghanistan was "not yet made". "This newspaper supported the Western intervention to topple the Taliban in 2001 after the regime refused to expel the leaders of al-Qa'ida who had masterminded the 11 September terror attacks," it read. "And we have backed Western efforts in the years since to help rebuild the shattered Afghan state." There were, the editorial now conceded, growing calls to pull out of the war. But:
However, the case is not yet overwhelming; not least because no convincing alternative strategy for protecting Western security interests in the region has been put forward. We need to consider the consequences of letting the Afghan government face the growing Taliban insurgency without Western military assistance. There is a significant risk that the Taliban would return to power. And such an ideologically driven regime might well decide to host al-Qa'ida once again.
The paper appeared to accept the Brown line that the mission was justified in terms of keeping Britain's streets safe:
Unlike Iraq, Afghanistan was not a "war of choice". And the Pashtun tribal areas are still at the centre of global terror networks. Those advocating Western military withdrawal from Afghanistan need to do more than simply urge a rush for the exit. They need to provide a realistic replacement strategy for protecting Britain's national security and promoting stability in this most dangerous of regions.
Today's Independent on Sunday takes a strikingly different line, with the front page and many inside devoted to explaining why the war is, and always was, unwinnable. The leader, headed "Why we must leave Afghanistan", claims that "one by one" the arguments for Western involvement in the country have fallen away - the last one being the need to police this year's disastrous election. The IoS was "never keen on the Afghan intervention", apparently, although they "welcomed the fall of the Taliban and reluctantly accepted Mr Blair's argument, made with his trademark persuasiveness, that the best protection against their return was to help rebuild the country." Like the Heresiarch the other day, today's Indie notes the "glaring contradiction" between Gordon Brown's claim that the war was essential for our security, and his implicit threats to Karzai that if he government didn't improve it would be on its own. It ends:
It is time, on this solemn day on which we remember the sacrifice of those who gave their lives for our freedom and security, for a change in policy. It is time to say that this war is ill conceived, unwinnable and counterproductive. It is time to start planning a phased withdrawal of British troops.
Of course, the Sunday paper is right.