Updated: Sep 10, 2021
Only four days after the takeover of Kabul by the Taliban following the withdrawal of US forces, the London CNN Business team pontificated on the fate of Afghanistan’s trillion-dollar mineral resources. The article is jarringly quick to switch tones from the first sentence of “a humanitarian crisis” being triggered to “renewed focus on Afghanistan’s vast untapped mineral wealth” that “the world desperately needs”, in the second. Such co-opting of the plight of Afghans is not an isolated response. Pulitzer-prize winner Peggy Noonan rousingly calls on POTUS to do his job – “saving the lives of Americans in Afghanistan and their friends”. Even the calls to save Afghan women and children feel dubious, as if Afghan men (a demographic regularly painted as terror threats, criminals, and worse) are not deserving of life and liberty, or as though these same Afghan women and children have not suffered equally reprehensible abuses at the hands of international ‘saviors’.
The global response in the aftermath too, reeks of the sentiment of ‘save what/who adds value or can contribute to us’, a rescue op with a profit motive. From India to the United States, anyone who can is picking and choosing who they will help. French president Emmanuel Macron warned for the need to “anticipate and protect ourselves against significant irregular migratory flows”, India has declared it will prioritize Hindus and Sikhs from Afghanistan, Turkey races to create a wall along its border with Iran, and even in July, 16 House Republicans in the US voted against expediting visas even though the bill was addressing only the needs of the “Afghans who assisted the US military.”
The responses I mention above are just a few examples of how wealthier nations tailor their narratives and calls for protection of human rights only as they contribute to their own interests. But what will it take to acknowledge the plight of those who have not contributed to wealthier nations’ interests? Consider the plight of the average Afghan who never sought an alliance with any faction - local, regional, or foreign. Yet most such Afghans ended up suffering on three fronts simultaneously. Innocent Afghan civilians have been the prime victims of not just the ruthless Taliban, but also of foreign forces’ ineffective, incessant, and indiscriminate offensive campaigns, and then victims of a dysfunctional and unpopular Afghan government. The desolation and destruction wrought upon Afghanistan by the actions of international forces requires – at the bare minimum – taking in as many asylum seekers and refugees as possible.
Now more than ever, the fearmongering and blood lust that brought the invasion to Afghanistan in the first place, must be quashed for an approach that prioritizes ALL Afghans. The global community must create humanitarian pathways for the safe evacuation of those who wish to leave, not just those deemed as ‘allies’. Beyond the evacuation of refugees, host states must facilitate their right to safety, livelihood, and support as they rebuild their lives. On the flip side, the Taliban, too, must be held accountable for the safety of refugees and all Afghans. Promises of providing aid and treating the Taliban as a legitimate government, may provide the best incentive for them to protect refugees and human rights more generally – although collaboration with the Taliban undoubtedly will be distasteful for many. Protecting all refugees and displaced people must remain the priority, rather than entrenching lines between former friends and foes or saving only those who we imagine will “add value” to us.