Watching the events in Afghanistan unfold, the haunting question is: what happens now? What do our fallen soldiers, wounded, and broken hearted who served, totalling over 40,000, feel and think? As I watch this tragedy, a numbness of mind descended. All this time, all these lives, all this war…for this end?
Long ago, I stood at the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan looking over the Kyber pass. The Russians were fighting in Afghanistan, so tourists could not travel there. My reaction was: no, I hoped this was not ever to be Canada’s fight. A simple explanation of the Russian defeat is fierce Afghan fighters, armed with weapons from the West and the US primarily, broke the spirit of the Russian Empire to continue to lose lives and treasure. But, also Afghanistan is a mountainous desert combination of a formidable landscape and a fierce tribal land of many tribal loyalties.
Years later, the US and a coalition of other countries did win a sort of victory trying to win against terrorists. The presence of these forces fought back the Taliban and other extremist groups. They put in infrastructure and built Kabul and other cities into modern places. Women were allowed in schools and educated. Lots of changes in all areas of society. Many challenges remained. But the Taliban and terrorist groups continued throughout to dog the heels of the coalition troops. Suddenly, a US president called Trump gave the Taliban legitimacy by agreeing to talks, and even a withdrawal date for US and, by extension, all coalition forces.
Then another US President called Biden, who beat Trump, without due warning, with an existing elected Afghan Government, suddenly honoured the withdrawal date agreed to by the Trump administration with a terrorist group in talks in Doha, Qatar. Obviously not located in Afghanistan. Obviously not the Taliban or US negotiators were elected representatives by or for Afghans.
They represented themselves, this insurgent declared terrorist group, this Taliban. It is probably more complex, but just as the Russian Empire had no more will to fight, the Americans, too, reached a point of not having the will to invest more lives and treasure in their Afghan fight. Yet their coalition, that included Canadian lives and treasure too, got much done on all fronts in building a new democracy identity and infrastructure for Afghanistan. Unfortunately, more work and time was needed. All abandoned suddenly.
The result is brutal rule by the never-elected or chosen declared terrorist group, the Taliban! Others as well. It is chaos at the Kabul Airport and now, on August 26, 2021 in the morning, an explosion killing an unknown number of people.
Politicians on left, right, and centre philosophise, what next? What mechanisms exist in our government, civil service, armed forces, and diplomacy in future international interactions? Why did we not, like other countries, think of how to get people to the airport? Other countries brought armed buses to transport their designated people. Was the Canadian message really to wear red and, once at the airport, to shout for attention from our soldiers on the ground? Really? Our last flight has now left Kabul. Who with Canadian links was left behind? What now?
(From US NEWS a quote) “But Biden can go only so far in claiming the agreement boxed him in. It had an escape clause: The U.S. could have withdrawn from the accord if Afghan peace talks failed. They did, but Biden chose to stay in it, although he delayed the complete pullout from May to September.” How true? How Complicated?
(Quote from Veterans Affairs website, “veterans.gc.ca”): “Canada’s combat role in the country ended in 2011 when the focus shifted to training Afghanistan’s army and police force, and the last of our service members left the country in March, 2014. But Canada’s efforts in the troubled country have been numerous. Reaching out in an attempt to build trust and win the hearts and minds of the people of Afghanistan was an important goal. In addition to their military activities, Canadian Armed Forces members engaged in many humanitarian efforts like digging wells, rebuilding schools, and distributing medical and relief supplies, both as part of their official mission and on a volunteer basis.”
A tragic outcome.