Jimmy Sergi writes about the situation in Afghanistan from the perspective of someone born after the conflict began, and explores the debate over whether intervention was the correct decision.
In the wake of the tragic events we have seen in Afghanistan in recent weeks, one question seems to have emerged more than any other; were we right to intervene in the first place? From the perspective of someone born in 2004, after the war in Afghanistan started, this point seems futile, and could be blocking meaningful discussions about how we can help those affected by the Taliban takeover. Focusing the coverage of this situation around the nature of this crisis with that of 20 years ago will do nothing to help the innocent people of Afghanistan.
Our priorities must be focused on protecting the people currently trying to escape Afghanistan. Ensuring the safe escape of all remaining military personnel and those who have worked with NATO forces must be the immediate focus of Britain and the USA. Beyond this, Britain must be open to Afghan refugees escaping the Taliban, as they seek a life free from persecution. By centring the debate around delivering these three key points, the Labour movement can ensure that our values of internationalism, tolerance and fairness are delivered on a national and global scale. It is vital that we use our energy to protect those most vulnerable due to these recent events, rather than using this as an opportunity to rehash old battles and strengthen certain narratives.
In October 2001, almost three years before I was born, the United States invaded Afghanistan with the support of its allies. The reasons were fairly straightforward: to deny al-Qaeda a safe base of operations in the Taliban-controlled nation. However, 20 years on, opinions vary drastically within the Labour movement and beyond over whether this was the correct course of action, highlighted by the recent discourse on Afghanistan that has dominated the media. While some argue that the intervention allowed Afghan people freedoms that they previously did not have, those against the war point to the tens of thousands of deaths caused by the conflict, and the fact that Afghanistan is now likely to be left in a position indistinguishable from that of early 2001.
However, in the discussion over how we can ensure that our military forces, those who have worked with us and Afghan civilians can be best protected, this debate provides no solutions. British and American troops have been deployed in a large number of overseas areas for the entirety of my life, from Cyprus (where lots of my family originate) to South Korea, Germany, Kenya, and many more, for a variety of reasons ranging from peacekeeping and training to humanitarian work. While for those older than me, Afghanistan is unique as an operation which began well within living memory, from the perspective of a younger person, discussions about why western forces intervened there are as academic as discussions about any of the other territories listed. This idea that it is impossible to continue some sort of military presence in Afghanistan, even at a reduced scale, therefore seems false, especially when considering the fact that no allied soldier has lost their life since February 2020, while combat operations ceased seven years ago in 2014. If we are comfortable to accept that NATO troops are required to protect other parts of the world, how can we justify abandoning Afghanistan to be taken by the brutal regime of the Taliban?
While, of course, debates around the history of why this war began have value in order to understand the situation and have a comprehensive understanding of international relations, while people are desperately trying to flee from a group known for their repression of women and other minority groups, these abstract discussions do little to alleviate fears around how the international community best responds to this crisis. With the withdrawal currently under way, we must look to prioritise the safe escape of the people we are responsible for. The chaos of the operation so far, exacerbated by the holidays of government ministers, was never inevitable, even after the decision to withdraw was taken. Britain, the USA, and all of our NATO allies must take responsibility for looking after every single person who has worked with our forces over the years, rather than ignoring this responsibility, and all countries must be looking at how they can play their part in helping Afghan people to escape persecution from the Taliban.
We must listen to the reports coming from the ground in Kabul and across Afghanistan. Already the Taliban have reportedly killed women for not conforming to their strict rules, and searched door to door for those who worked with western forces. While the situation may be different to that of 2001, describing this generation of the Taliban as ‘more sensible’ than their forerunners does nothing to change what they are doing to Afghan civilians. Instead, we must face the reality of the situation, not relying on any assumptions or preconceptions, so we can best respond to what is happening in reality.
Only by looking at the present, and to the future, can the international community effectively work to protect the human rights of the people caught up in this horrendous conflict. By focusing on the ways in which we all can provide assistance to all the people affected by this takeover, rather than on hypothetical arguments on what we could have done differently at the start of the millennium, we can focus this discussion on the humanitarian response that the millions of affected people need.
Jimmy Sergi is a 17 year old Labour activist from the Wirral and Secretary of the North West Young Fabians. Jimmy tweets at @jimmysergi_