Marlborough Express - The Saturday Express, Marlborough

What was achieved in Afghanista­n?

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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.

 ??  ?? A New Zealand Defence Force air transport team returns to the Royal New Zealand Air Force Base in Whenuapai after operating as part of an Australian Defence Force air mobility task group transporti­ng freight and coalition personnel to
Iraq and Afghanista­n.
A New Zealand Defence Force air transport team returns to the Royal New Zealand Air Force Base in Whenuapai after operating as part of an Australian Defence Force air mobility task group transporti­ng freight and coalition personnel to Iraq and Afghanista­n.
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