As I shuffled into the compound in Camp Bastion, dusty, heavily laden with backpacks, body-amour covered in greasy splotches of helicopter hydraulic fluid, I ran into a distinguished looking gentleman and his military aide sipping tea in the morning sun. We exchanged pleasantries as I battled past with my bags, and was mildly startled to see his eyes light up when I mentioned my role in Musa Qal’eh.

“Do come and join me for a cup of tea.” He exclaimed, ignoring the aide’s pointed glance at his watch. “I’ve been dispatched by the Chief of the UK Defence Staff to look into this business of transition,” he announced. “and Id very much like to hear your views.”

Much to my surprise, and to the exasperation of his aide, we talked for the next hour and a half.

It became clear that that my well-dressed inquisitor was visiting in response to recent announcements by the US President and UK Prime Minister of timetables for troop reductions and a renewed focus on the ‘end-state’ for this campaign.

Despite my eagerness to change into a shirt not saturated with oil, I found the conversation stimulating – adding fuel to the gathering embers of interest in Musa Qal’eh about ‘what happens next.’ For a short while at least, it prompted me to step back from the mire of day-to-day dilemmas and frustrations to examine the big questions that define our collective contribution in Musa Qal’eh:

– What must be done in the time remaining to ensure a smooth transition to a state that is able to protect its people and govern with a reasonable degree of accountability and legitimacy? In other words, what is ‘good enough’ for the international and Afghan community to feel confident that progress will sustained?

– How must we involve Afghans in this process? Indeed – to what extent should Afghans lead the process? And which Afghans? How important is re-integration of the Taliban to the success of transition?

– Where must we focus our developmental and reconstruction efforts – and what are the minimum standard of education, healthcare, basic services such as power and clean water that should be reached as a basis for transition?

– How should the role for international civilians and institutions evolve to support this milestone? How can the space for military, governmental, private and humanitarian actors best be reconfigured?

– And what happens when we formally hand over to full Afghan control? How valid are fears of disintegration and a return to the dark days of Talib rule, warlordism and a feudal state?

– How must we forge a regional settlement in the meantime – and what will be the implications for those of us, Afghan and international alike, in remote areas such as Musa Qal’eh?

– How, (from a selfish point of view) should my daily contributions be defined such questions?

It occurred to me that our chance encounter had been unexpectedly refreshing. It had forced me to grapple with big issues that were genuinely hard, with no quick remedy or silver bullet for a solution. And I realised that such discussions – at every level – were more and more essential, even if it left me pondering many more questions than answers.

As we parted ways – to an audible sigh of relief by a now thoroughly irritated aide – and exchanged contact details, I discovered that I had been talking to Dr The Honourable Gilbert Greenall CBE, High Sheriff of Herefordshire and Fourth Baron of Daresbury.

Remarkable place this Camp Bastion; you never know who you’ll run into around here.

What next for the people of Musa Qala?