Opinion & Analysis

Afghanistan 20 years, $2 trillion in ‘nation building’ yet it fell like a house of cards

Yet again, we've seen the hashtag #prayfor(a country) emerge on social media – this time, it was #prayforafghanistan.

It has dominated news stories all of last week – the fall of Afghanistan, and we have seen images of anguish emerge from Afghanistan.

For those reading this and unsure why Afghanistan dominated the news, a quick Google search with the term “why did the USA invade Afghanistan” answers your question. In pursuit of revenge - some would argue safety - the United States of America, under the Bush administration, invaded Afghanistan and Iraq in 2001 with hopes of getting the perpetrators of 9/11. However, it was not easy to leave after that, and later the narrative shifted to nation-building.

While four presidential terms have passed since, we now see statements emerge from President Joe Biden such as “we did not go to Afghanistan to nation-build.” New Zealand has a legacy in the Afghanistan war, too, as it supported the motive of “return to democracy” back in 2001 and sent its troops.

It leaves one in sheer amazement that after spending $2 trillion, they (all coalition nations) have decided they cannot “nation-build.”

Let us not stop with that, though – the costs of the war by Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs estimates that 241,000 people have died because of the war. To bring it into perspective for New Zealand – that is the entire population of our capital city Wellington. This figure includes an estimated 47,000 civilians, 444 humanitarian aid workers and 75 journalists.

An estimated 2.5 million Afghan refugees have fled the country, becoming the second largest refugee population globally, and the current situation could make this worse.

The Taliban has promised a new era of amnesty, peace and security, yet many nations hold their breath to see what the Taliban do in Afghanistan. But, it is already starting to emerge that religious minorities such as the Hazara community are not safe as reports by Amnesty International suggest persecutions already happening.

The Hazaras have long faced violent persecution from the Taliban due to their religious belief, with the majority of them being followers of the Twelver Shia faith.

With more Afghans being displaced, it could be the worst humanitarian crisis the world could be facing. This humanitarian crisis emerges as we continue to deal with the unprecedented challenges of Covid-19 and climate change.

Meanwhile, European countries seem to be perplexed by the anticipation of an influx of Afghan refugees, with countries such as Albania offering support others such as Austria giving cold responses. Greece has erected fences on its border with Turkey in anticipation of the Afghan refugees trying to reach Europe. It is incumbent that I remind the readers that as responsible members of the planet, in 2015, UN member states (including the countries offering cold responses) shared a blueprint for peace and prosperity for the people and the planet through the 17 Sustainable Development Goals calling it the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. What is happening in response to the crisis in Afghanistan is a reminder that the world will be falling short of this 2030 Agenda incredibly, especially Goal 16 focusing on Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions.

Let us bring the focus closer to home - where does New Zealand stand with its acceptance of refugees? According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, New Zealand has one of the lowest refugee rates, putting us 95th. While New Zealand has increased its refugee quotas and statistics reveal that New Zealand accepted its third-highest number of refugees from Afghanistan in 2020. However, considering the significance of this humanitarian crisis New Zealand and other countries need to increase their acceptance of refugees from Afghanistan in the coming years.

The question that still bothers us is, does the buck stop here for New Zealanders? We can estimate these refugee numbers will continue to rise as Afghanistan continues to deal with the aftermath of the Taliban and particularly the Shia Hazara community.

While it may be possible for some to seek refuge in other countries, there will still be around 35 million Afghans who cannot leave the country.

I write this piece as a person who shares humanity with the people of Afghanistan, not as an expert on foreign affairs or foreign policy or Afghanistan – so the question to ask ourselves is what can we do to support the 35 million Afghans?

The most important thing for all of us to do at this critical time is to become messengers of humanity – uphold human rights and the safety of all human beings, including the women and children of Afghanistan, in ways possible for us.

For if we fail these millions of people, history will not remember it as the fall of Afghanistan but instead as the fall of humanity.

- Asia Media Centre