Oh, Afghanistan.

Afghanistan has become what Eritrea once was – forgotten. The violence and horror that is currently occurring (and has been for a while) has slipped off our television screens and out of our newspapers. Is this another example of western interest? Since the end of the NATO ISAF campaign ended in 2014 after 13 long years of conflict, Afghanistan appears to be of little interest to the western world. The lack of news coverage is not the only shift we have seen in European attitudes towards the country but also the change in policy towards Afghani refugees and asylum seekers.

The conflict in Afghanistan was arguably never going to be a success story. The ISAF forces invaded on the grounds that the Taliban had been harbouring terrorists and training them which obviously caused 9/11….not because of the horrible treatment of Afghani women and anyone who didn’t comply with the Taliban’s strict implementation of Shari’a law. Further to that, in recent years the US and NATO have not been especially successful with their hearts and minds campaign. To many normal Afghanis it was probably better to keep your mouth shut under the Taliban – at least you could get on with your life as normal whereas under the NATO ‘occupation’, the chances were you’d be kicked out your house so it could be used as a base – if it hadn’t already been bulldozed. Further to that, a lot of Afghanis relied on the poppy trade. Although it may perhaps not be the most morally right career, it was at least a way for ordinary people to make money. The ISAF forces simply tried to destroy the trade with little left to replace it.

It is no secret to anyone that Afghanistan suffers from severe corruption in almost all forms of government, police etc. and for that, I do not have an answer. I do know however, that this corruption was one of the reasons many turned to the Taliban. I once read that if someone stole, say your car, and you went to the local police station, they’d probably suggest you paid them and they’d look into it. If you went to the Taliban, they’d probably ask you for all the information possible and then ask you how you’d like the person to be punished (if they knew who it was). Although neither option is perhaps moral – with many criminals being stoned to death or their hands cut off under the Taliban – people were frustrated with the lack of action from the Afghani authorities. This is something too that ISAF failed to solve.

Furthermore, the ISAF forces themselves were flawed. There seemed to be a serious lack of  coordination between the forces. It was often mentioned that on rotation with US troops coming to a base/area to replace British troops after 6 months, the US troops would simply end up doing the same things that had been done before under the British tour – sometimes messing things up. This was not the only issue. Many governments followed different agendas. For example, under the British campaign it was decided that British troops could not shoot unless shot at first and with Germany, due to their difficult past, had very strict operating rules of what force could be used. This lack of coordination undoubtedly cost the campaign significantly.

Despite all this, when the last ISAF troops left Afghanistan in December 2014, success was very much celebrated. As far as NATO were concerned, they’d fought the Taliban and pushed most of them out of ‘troubled regions’ such as Helmand, they’d built some sort of infrastructure, trained the police and military and left behind a decent government structure. Yet Taliban are very much making a comeback in the country. I hate to use a saying from the Vietnam war, but I will. NATO might have won some battles but they certainly lost the war. Their impact has barely been felt in a positive way and now many individuals are not only threatened by the Taliban but ISIS too. Many districts have been taken back by the Taliban with even more being contested.

To add another flip side, the European Union declared that Afghanistan was now a safe place (or at least parts of it were – such as Kabul) meaning that European states could now return Afghan asylum seekers. Numbers of Afghani teenagers who have spent the most important years of their life in Europe and are now very much European have been returned. From the people I have known and the contacts I have had with various Afghani refugees and refugee agencies, Afghanis are all returned to Kabul regardless of where they come from. Imagine that. On arrival many also realise the broken promises of Europe – that they will get help to find jobs and reintegrate. Instead, many are killed or turn to drugs. If you look at Afghanistan, is it really safe? Would you want to go there on holiday right now? Absolutely not. It puzzles me how the European government justifies these returns.

With many Afghanis still making the treacherous journey to Europe to escape fear and persecution and find themselves a better life, the future looks bleak. They face failed asylum claims in Europe and possible return to Afghanistan. Another tragic story of a forgotten state.

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