Over the centuries and even millenia, Afghanistan has been subject to at least seven distinct periods of partial or complete occupation. The Persians, the Mongols, the Mughal’s, the Greeks, the British, Soviet Union and Americans have all invaded the country for one reason or another in the period between the 9th Century B.C. and the 21st Century A.D. Prior to the American invasion triggered by the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, Pentagon and – if the fourth hijacked flight had hit – the White House, all have similarly disappeared having temporarily altered a region of the world that few seem to have ever truly understood.
So how did this latest attempt to change the unchangeable Afghanistan come to this?
In 1979 the U.S.S.R. began what would turn into a 10 year incursion that only ended in 1989. It led to an anglo-American programme of support to an insurgency that following the invasion would go on to kill civilians indiscriminately. It was supported by a Texan Democrat called Charlie Wilson, whose lobbying lead to substantial C.I.A. interference in the country, and whose supply of small arms continued even after the Soviets withdrew and the insurgency had turned on the civilian population. The Soviet incursion killed about 95,000 Mujahideen combatants and killed at least 562,000 Afghan civilians, and involved the use of chemical weapons.
Following the departure of the U.S.S.R., which was in the late stages of collapsing, Afghanistan plunged into civil war which ended in 1996, and was then followed by the rise of the Taliban. This fundamentalist organization had no time for civilized ideals, particularly those of western origin. Education for girls was banned. Having access to television, radio and the internet all became criminal offences. Beer was banned, with the Taliban taking pride in showing tanks crushing beer crates. Only the most opaque clothing was permitted.
Even humanitarian N.G.O.’s were badly received, with those that had female staff coming in for particularly severe treatment. Which, is why, after two decades of progress, albeit fraught with danger, Afghans would be right to be worried about a return to Taliban like extremism.
There will be no winners in this. Not among the ordinary Afghani. Not in terms of socio-economic gain or liberties. Not in terms of developing a civilized nation.
Among the women, who under Taliban control, were subject to appalling violence, degrading restrictions on what they could/could not do; could/could not wear; could/could not go, the fear of what the future is will be palpable. Many will be scared for the future in a country where many still believe that a woman who is raped has somehow shamed her male family members, where adultery is punishable by death and where women have some of the least secure rights of any women in the world.
There will not be any geopolitical winners. The trillion dollars that have been wasted on this war could well have gone to any number of other much more useful projects in the Middle East that might have had some lasting positive impact for the countries in which they happened. Removing unexploded ordnance, assisting with the rebuild of infrastructure such as schools, hospitals, power, water and sewerage utilities all would have been much more helpful.
As for New Zealand, my position is unchanged. We have no purpose there and should get any military assets we might have in Afghanistan out. Any and all assistance to Afghanistan – like Iraq – should be strictly humanitarian and funnelled through organizations such as the Red Cross, or the Mines Advisory Group.
In a war that cost America a trillion dollars, there does not seem to have been much winning. Unless one is talking about the military industrial complex, which have done very well out of it.