I need to say a few things about Afghanistan. My heart is broken by what I see going on there right now. I know I am just another voice among thousands, but we did live in Pakistan for five years in the early 1990s. During that time I got to know many Afghan merchants and had the opportunity to speak to groups of Afghans emigrating to Canada. My kids went to school and hung out with Afghan kids. There were so many Afghan refugees in Pakistan back then that, when driving into the city of Peshawar you might have thought you were entering Afghanistan. The vast majority of these people were warm, hardworking souls who just wanted to live in peace in a beautiful, rugged country they loved. I have written about all of this and more in my latest memoir, Geckos & Guns: The Pakistan Years.
Now to fast forward to these past two weeks. Reports, photos, and video footage out of Afghanistan in recent days have been devastating. People around the world are expressing sadness, anger, hopelessness and so much more. I understand that American troops and their allies have been there for 20 years, and it is well past time to leave. However, this pullout appears to have been disorganized, thoughtless, careless, and maybe even cruel. Why has world history not taught us that when troops from one country (or countries) occupy another there is never a positive outcome? In fact, much as we might believe that occupation is motivated by good intentions, that has rarely, if ever, been the case.
The Americans initially went to Afghanistan to find Osama Bin Laden and root out embedded terrorist groups as well as the governing terrorists, the Taliban. Regrettably, these goals had little to do with the average citizens of Afghanistan. 9/11 had just occurred and the U.S. was hungry for vengeance. So they tromped into yet another foreign country, set up their bases, and brought as much of the good old U.S.A as possible with them. They managed to push back the Taliban for a while, but they never did find Bin Laden there. I’m sure he escaped to Pakistan before the troops even had boots on the ground.
The Taliban are horrible louts who weaponize religion, commit atrocities and suppress the rights of women. I’m sure most Afghans were happy to see them gone. It must have seemed as though life was getting better for a while. That is until the Taliban started to mount armed insurgencies and the American war machine struck back with deadly drone strikes that left innocent villagers terrified. In hopes of glossing over the toll this was taking on the daily lives of the Afghan people, the U.S. started talking about nation-building. Trillions of dollars were poured into a beleaguered Afghanistan. Did that do any good? How much of it became a source of corruption? Was any of it spent on grassroots infrastructure? How much of it benefited the average Afghan? Did any of this money create sustainable change for the better?
Now it seems that the U.S. and its allies are leaving Afghanistan in much the same way as they entered—with little thought even less planning. It is chaos. What happened to a predetermined strategic plan to secure the safety and evacuation of all those Afghans who assisted the occupying troops? Why does the American government suddenly think that they can trust the Taliban? Do Americans and their allies really care about the plight of the Afghan people? One positive outcome of the American occupation was the resurgence of freedoms and rights for women. Will the Taliban honor these rights? History has proven the opposite.
I am genuinely worried about my Afghan friends and their families. As a Canadian, I imagine how I would feel if another country suddenly decided to occupy my country, ostensibly to look for bad guys. Deeming themselves to be superior, they would then feel free to impose their ideas upon Canadian citizens and drop bombs on innocent people in the name of getting those bad guys. Then, after 20 years of winning our confidence and dependence, they decide to depart just as suddenly as they arrived, leaving us with the rubble of their misplaced good intentions. Leaving those who trusted them in the hands of terrorists. My heart breaks all over again.