Foreign Affairs

The abandonment of Afghanistan

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After twenty years of Western presence in Afghanistan, the Taliban officially reclaimed the capital city, Kabul, on 15 August 2021 in a startling advance. The unexpected news shocked many, leaving human rights activists fearing for the safety of Afghan people especially women and children. Western media quickly shone a light on the confusion and panic within Afghanistan surrounding the new leadership and the need to get British and American troops and citizens out of the country.

Whilst closely examining the removal of these individuals, Western media failed to divulge into the blatant fear of those native to Afghanistan – the women’s rights activists who feared for their lives, the young children who were now facing exclusion from education services and the millions who now did not know where their next meal would come from. Also ignored were the estimated 100 US citizens who were not successfully removed from Afghanistan and the 300,000 Afghan citizens who may have been eligible for an expedited visa yet were never considered.

Even though the supposed “extraordinary success” of withdrawal failed the people of Afghanistan, considerably it also failed a large proportion of its western counterparts who were left stranded by an operation that ultimately, strived only to maintain the safety of its leaders’ own backs and not the tangible human experiences of millions.

Concurrent to the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan was the immediate slowdown of their economy, resulting in banks running out of money creating millions of unpaid workers, immense food shortages and a crumbling health care service. The abundance of these factors resulted in desperation from Afghan citizens who pleaded on social media and to media publications for international aid and awareness to their situation.

Although, a small minority of media did illuminate these issues during the month following the Taliban takeover, most of the British journalism chose to focus on the singular case of Pete Farthing, a British citizen who ran an animal sanctuary in Afghanistan and was forced to flee to attempt to rescue 150 animals.

As hashtags and public support grew, the occurrences of prominent female activists who regularly spoke out and attacked the Taliban regime disappearing, went under the radar with a marginalisation of the attention. American media designated attention to criticising Biden for his approach to removing troops resulting in Biden’s lowest approval ratings of his presidency rather than condemning the beginnings of human rights abuses.

And as the West once again got blindsided by the actions of its leaders, we began to lose focus and care for those we had left behind. Not only the many citizens of the UK and the US who were unable to return home in time, but also the millions of Afghan citizens who had relied on us for two decades were now being side-lined and disregarded as collateral in a devastating yet inexorable situation.

Biden’s admission that the sudden takeover had happened “more quickly than we anticipated” evidences the inevitability of this situation and points to the question why was the west not more keenly prepared to aid the people it was leaving behind when it had vowed continually to support and keep them safe?

When denounced for its approach to aiding the Afghan people the British government vowed to supplement the situation with £286 million yet as of January 2022 only £145 million has been distributed. When these figures of inadequate aid get brushed under the rug, the promises of an extra £45 million in aid to help those one million children who are estimated to die because of freezing conditions and poor resources serve only as comfort to those living safely in the West.

The stark reality remains that the aggregated aid promised by western governments is not either reaching those who need it or is not being evenly and correctly distributed. Instead of scrutinising this, the government and public are seemingly placated by the supposed good will of the British government and media and are failing to question the complexities of the situation.

As the Taliban spends its sixth month in power, grievances of human rights abuses and severe restrictions continue to go unheard and often ignored by large media corporations. The case of Afghanistan will remain a lesson in the entrenched saviour complex of the West and the blatant disregard of both the public and governing bodies who continually ignore or fail to prioritise important issues in favour of trivial matters.

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