Marlborough Express - The Saturday Express, Marlborough
What was achieved in Afghanistan?
Last week, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that we will be bringing home the last of our six remaining troops in Afghanistan in May, thereby bringing down the curtain on New Zealand’s 20 years of military involvement in that country.
Like the rest of the Nato forces we are leaving, even though any viable peace deal between the Taliban and the Kabul government still looks as far away as ever.
For years, the Nato forces have been crucial to the survival of the Afghan government led by President Ashraf Ghani.
The timing of their departure was one of the few bargaining chips Ghani still had at his disposal. Not any longer. Given how any ‘‘power sharing’’ arrangement with the Taliban is likely to pan out, Ghani could well be gone by Christmas.
The Afghan people of course, have been here before. After the last Soviet troops left Afghanistan 30 years ago, the country dissolved into faction fighting between rival warlords, and thousands of people died. That period of violent anarchy enabled the rise of the Taliban, who at least imposed order on the country, however repressive that order turned out to be.
The current version of the Taliban claim to be a kinder, more inclusive organisation. However, there has been no sign of mellowing n the provincial areas now under Taliban control. US observers have also noted that Al Qaeda still operates in Afghanistan, under Taliban protection.
This dismal outlook has to place a large question mark over the wisdom of New Zealand’s Afghan deployment.
Over the years, 3500 of our troops served there at the cost of hundreds of millions of dollars and the lives of 10 of our troops.
For many Kiwis, the most memorable incident during that deployment would have been the bungled Operation Burnham raid in 2010.
That raid cost the lives of several of the villagers it sought to protect, and failed to capture or kill any of the insurgents it had targeted.
Eventually, it led to a government inquiry that harshly criticised the management of the raid and its aftermath, including the ways in which senior Defence Force staff and politicians had misinformed each other and the public, about what had happened.
Early on, the positive publicity about the Afghan deployment had focused on the ‘‘hearts and minds’’ efforts of our Provincial Reconstruction Team in Bamiyan province.
Unfortunately, even formerly peaceful Bamiyan is reportedly suffering from a recent deterioration in the security situation in the province, and the prospects facing its Hazara ethnic group have dimmed.
Arguably, our Afghan experience should be treated as a cautionary lesson that when we participate in foreign adventures with our alliance partners, the eventual price of involvement may well outweigh any short-term gains.
Any advantages in trade and diplomacy that we might have hoped to win by playing our part on the Nato team seems to have been only temporary at best, and delusional at worst.
Ultimately, perhaps saying no on the next occasion when our allies come a-calling may not only be in our own self -interest, but in the best interests of the people that our interventions are seeking to benefit.