For the first time since the pandemic began, two weeks ago, the House of Commons was packed with MPs discussing the disturbing events of the past few days. The Taliban took over Afghanistan at a shocking speed, throwing the country into turmoil and chaos.
However, although the past few weeks’ events seem sudden to the general public, they cannot have been a shock for Western governments. In February 2020, President Trump announced that all US troops would be removed from Afghanistan in May 2021 as part of the Doha agreement between the Taliban and the US government.
A notable part of this agreement is that the Afghan government was not involved in it – a particularly disturbing detail given the significance of this deal for Afghan citizens. Although President Biden (albeit unexpectedly) followed through with this agreement in his foreign policy, it does not disguise that the UK and other countries had 18 months to prepare for this foreseeable disaster.
It was clear from the beginning that NATO could not have remained in Afghanistan forever. However, the decision to withdraw the troops was unilaterally made by the US. As Britain’s defence secretary Ben Wallace suggested, NATO allies could have ensured a degree of continued presence in Afghanistan until the time was right to withdraw. As chair of the G7, the UK could have prompted discussions with other allies in advance of the withdrawal rather than its hurried attempts to pressurise the US into extending the deadline during the final week of its occupation. Too little, too late.
A withdrawal was never going to be easy, but 18 months is enough time for it to have been structured better and, thus, safer for Afghan citizens. Instead, the US suddenly took 16,000 aeroplane contractors away from the military base in Bagram (which could have been used as an evacuation base) and rendered the Afghan planes and helicopters futile, stranding the Afghan people with a scant warning in the middle of the night.
Afghanistan was principally under Western control, and no British or American life had been lost in over 18 months to maintain this. As such, we are not saying it was not an arduous task but the very least that we could do, especially considering all the sacrifices made by the Afghan people and Western forces. The extraordinary work of the Afghan people who tirelessly and courageously fought against the Taliban by working with NGOs and embassies, translating for Western countries and campaigning for the rights of women and girls cannot be cast aside.
They did so with the encouragement of the West and under the promise that the West would not abandon them and keep them safe. Instead, a little over 20 years later, they have been left to their own devices with everything they have accomplished hanging by a thread. Although now safe in Istanbul, the palpable fear in Zarifa Ghafari’s statement that she was waiting for the Taliban to kill her for simply being a prominent female politician in Afghanistan is harrowing and a poignant reminder of what is at stake. She was named the ‘International Woman of Courage’ in 2020 by the US Secretary of Defence and yet almost no provisions were made for her safety by the very same government.
What message does this send?
It is clear that the end of Western involvement in Afghanistan was disappointingly chaotic and mismanaged. The West failed to strategically think through their exit and think about the volatility of Afghanistan – something which was emphasised by the horrid terror attacks in Kabul last week.
It is sobering to think of all the lives at stake and the futures of many young children – particularly girls – changed so dramatically. Now, the West must take responsibility for their actions and fulfil their fundamental moral obligation to Afghans by ensuring the safety of those who left and helping those whose lives are currently endangered and who have had to remain in Afghanistan.
Image courtesy of Defence Images via Flickr