As an Afghan Australian, my heart is in my mouth as I watch on in complete despair.
The final nail in the coffin was seeing images emerge of Taliban members perched in Kabul’s presidential palace.
Headline after headline reads that Afghanistan is on the brink of humanitarian catastrophe. The truth is, it’s barely ever stepped out of one.
For most of my lifetime the country of my birth, Afghanistan, has been in a perpetual state of war.
As a female Afghan Shia minority, had my parents not fled Kabul when they did and if Australia hadn’t generously accepted us under its Refugee Humanitarian program, who knows what fate would have been today.
I find myself reflecting on the privilege lottery that has been so good to my family but so cruel to many others. I often reflect on how each of us had no choice over the place or circumstances of our birth and yet because of it, some of us may never have to face the harsh realities my fellow Afghans are facing today.
For my mother who has extended family in Afghanistan, this whole ordeal is very triggering, amplifying existing anxieties associated with life in lockdown in Sydney.
While many of us are shocked at the speed at which the Taliban were able to take hold of the country – a little less than a week – few are surprised that Afghanistan is now yet again in this situation after decades of foreign intervention by countries who have a track record of meddling in the Middle East.
Several commentators have highlighted the bleedingly obvious; this current crisis in Afghanistan was almost two decades in the making.Advertisementhttps://338e613aad9bc8e24d443e3fa36926ed.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
On the whole the US led invasion and subsequent decades-old war (and an alleged rebuilding of a nation – a job the US started but never completed) have been a costly failure on the part of foreign interveners from all political stripes.
The anger and hurt many of us feel is palpable as the reality is that the Taliban would have not risen to have such power and influence, had they not had initial backing from western forces. Combined with a complex multitude of ethnic factions, a power vacuum, an already largely corrupt government weakened further by every attempted invasion/takeover and the international onslaught that follows – Afghanistan has become a country ripe for exploitation from all angles.
To witness what feels very much like a western abandonment of Afghanistan on mass scale is infuriating.
No matter the alleged well intentions of many, we cannot plant the seeds of war, water them, witness the deterioration, strip the country of its dignity, and then withdraw without a well-thought-out exit strategy.
The countless atrocities in Afghanistan did not occur in a vacuum. Several countries (you know who you are) played a vital role in militarising Afghanistan over the 1980s and fuelling the political instability that has plagued the country.
The costs in terms of lives lost is catastrophic – a painful harsh reality many of our Iraqi, Syrian, Palestinian and many other sisters and brothers are very familiar with, especially when you consider the disturbing fact that US has been at war 225 out of 243 years since 1776, that’s 92 % of the time since its birth.
The UN and aid agencies are preparing for a Syria-scale refugee crisis. Minority groups, especially the Shia Hazara are bracing themselves as they are prime targets. Women’s organisations are appalled at the subjugation of Afghan women and girls (and yet so often this issue is viewed through a white saviour lens).
Let’s not forget that like the rest of us, Afghans are also battling Covid19 at the same time, but without access to luxuries we in the west are so blessed to have at our disposable.
The mental health toll of this catastrophe is immeasurable, both for Afghans fleeing and those of us already abroad. For a community who already battles with the taboo surrounding mental health, many will not know how to cope.https://338e613aad9bc8e24d443e3fa36926ed.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
I don’t know what the future holds for my country and the truth is, I don’t have all the answers.
The Taliban claim to have changed and modernised but their ideological extremism and patriarchal foundations would suggest otherwise. Patriarchy in all its forms seems to continue to be an insurmountable obstacle that holds women hostage and everywhere that it rears its ugly head, misogyny pursues.
The Afghan people are not homogenous and have differing perspectives on the unfolding crisis. I am not a military or geopolitical expert.
It’s promising to hear (albeit unconfirmed) reports that there appears to be an Australian rescue mission afoot, to evacuate Australian citizens and Afghans who worked with Australian troops, such as interpreters and security guards, as well as their family members. It is also encouraging that the government plans on expanding the number of Afghans who are eligible to receive visas to include individuals who had less formal links to the Australian government during the decades-long conflict. But we must do more.
Australia was one of the first in 2001 to join the US-led intervention and we have a moral and ethical obligation to help. Australia must show leadership where the US has failed. Moves from the world community to cut and run from Afghanistan are a grave mistake. They betray the many people who have sacrificed so much over the last 20 years to help forge a better future for Afghanistan.
It must noted however that cries for humanitarian aide and assistance should not be interpreted as an invitation for a standalone western-led military response.
Instead, the focus must be on an international coalition, which centres the voices of Afghans themselves, providing humanitarian aid and applying well-thought-out strategic political pressure.
When the dust settles on this, Afghanistan will no longer be in the headlines.
The millions of Afghans who will lose their lives will continue to be nameless and we will all get on with our lives. But the lessons will still not have been learned. And history is doomed to repeat itself.
- Mariam Veiszadeh is a lawyer and community rights advocate. She is fundraising to help people in Afghanistan here.