The government is being urged to push for the safe passage of anyone who is eligible to leave Afghanistan but is stranded there, now that the Taliban have taken control.
On Thursday, New Zealand made its last evacuation flight from Kabul after the airport bomb attack that killed dozens of people.
It has been estimated that hundreds of people who are New Zealand citizens or visa holders and their families are likely to still be in Afghanistan and now face retaliation from the Taliban for their connections to New Zealand.
People who have helped foreign countries for the past 20 years are under attack.
A senior lecturer at Massey University’s Center for Defense and Security Studies, Dr Anna Powles, said the government should, to the extent possible, lobby through the United Nations and other international organizations for people to who want to leave pass safely.
” New Zealand has a moral obligation to continue to focus on what is happening in Afghanistan, beyond the news cycle, as we see so often, and we should accept more refugees. We need to have that conversation.
“New Zealand applying so much moral authority, so much soft power, to this situation will be incredibly important.” It is not necessarily going to influence the minds of the Taliban, but it will keep the focus on the issues. ”
Powles said that what the Taliban government will face will be incredibly difficult.
” There is a triple threat. Decades of conflict, a severe drought, Covid, and now increased security in the wake of terrorist attacks. ”
He said a growing humanitarian crisis is unfolding in Afghanistan.
“There is a growing number of internally displaced people, the population is growing significantly, there are Covid, aid organizations that lack the funds to do what they need to do.”
Powles said the World Food Program alone said it needs $ 200 million today to be able to buy food.
“There are huge challenges ahead and we have this rookie, factionalized Taliban government, a banking sector that has largely frozen, and the currency has fallen, so this is a great sense of a huge unfolding disaster for Afghanistan”.
“Obviously New Zealand has a role to play in protecting the Afghan people.”
ISIS-K, an ISIS separatist group, claimed responsibility for the bomb attack at the Kabul airport.
Powles said more terrorist activity appears likely in the country.
Many of these groups do not fit into a natural picture in terms of who they belong to, so there are a lot of blurred lines between many of these groups, but also some clear tensions between the Taliban and ISIS-K, such as as well as within the Taliban themselves. ”
Fear of ‘significant retaliation’
University of Waikato professor of international law Alexander Gillespie said there is not much evidence that the Taliban have changed their ways since they were last in control 20 years ago.
“Especially in terms of human rights and restrictions on the population that is now captive and if past practices are what you can follow, you can expect significant retaliation on those who would be considered traitors.”
Gillespie said the mistake made by the West was to assume that the Afghan government could hold out longer than it did, which was a complete intelligence failure.
“Whether it was corruption or complicity or ferocity on the part of the enemy, they were wrong and this meant that they collapsed so quickly that no one could see what was happening.”
He said the focus now on refugees.
” The number of internally displaced people is in the hundreds of thousands.
“As the Taliban consolidate their control as a sovereign power, those people can be expected to increase and so what we saw with the Syrian conflict in 2014/15 we will see in Afghanistan next year.”
He said that some of the five countries bordering Afghanistan will try to prevent the arrival of refugees.
“The appetite for more refugees is not great in any country at the moment.”
Gillespie said the refugees are most likely going to Iran because that would be the shortest route to Europe.
“The tolerance of the Iranian regime towards refugees is unlikely to be positive at this time.”
He said the relationship between Iran and the Taliban is strained.
“I think Iran’s readiness to turn into conflict if things go wrong with the Taliban will be relatively high in the next two years.”
He said a big question facing governments, like New Zealand, is whether they recognize the Taliban as the legitimate sovereign government of Afghanistan.
Until recently, the Taliban were considered, by designation of the UN Security Council, as a terrorist organization.
“They lost that designation as part of the negotiation process in Doha. Those negotiations ultimately failed, but they are no longer considered a terrorist organization. ”
He said countries will have to decide what conditions they consider basic before deciding whether the Taliban are legitimate and can enter the international stage.
Gillespie said New Zealand needs to start thinking about expanding its quota of refugees from Afghanistan.
He argues that New Zealand should do so because the last time this country was involved in a conflict and ended up on the losing side was in Vietnam.
” Since the mid-1970s there has been a flow of refugees that we used to call boats. New Zealand raised its hand and said that we will accept more people because of our responsibility to be in this conflict and we took 1500 people in the late 1970s.
“I think based on that precedent, we should do the same again and accept 1,500 more people in addition to our standard refugee quota.”
An 18-year-old crisis in the making
Robert Patman is Professor of Politics and Director of International Studies at the University of Otago.
He said the problems in Afghanistan did not arise out of a clear blue sky, as it has been brewing for 18 years.
” The United States and its allies have not really prevailed, with a few exceptions, in Afghanistan since 2003, when Mr. [George] Bush made his fateful decision to invade Iraq and effectively the invasion of Iraq allowed the Taliban to regroup and resurface as a powerful force in 2006. Basically, they got off the hook when they were on the ropes.
“The stage was set for the current debacle.”
He believes that New Zealand’s contribution to Afghanistan was significant and important.
” We were not there simply to carry out the orders of the United States. It was not 20 years in vain. We help transform Afghanistan in many ways. ”
He said that there are historical problems in Afghanistan that cannot be solved quickly, such as ethnic rivalry and corruption.
“While at least the democratization process passed, I would say that the last two governments were probably elected fraudulently and clearly there were problems in gaining the loyalty of the Army.
” The Taliban, to some degree, battle-hardened and highly motivated, have capitalized on the situation, but
It is one thing to overthrow an elected but corrupt government, it is a great thing to run a country that has been transformed in the intervening period. ”
Patman said that one of the lessons of the war on terror is that it cannot be fixed by a superpower, or a superpower with a coalition of volunteers behind them.
“The Taliban have international ties, so winning power in Afghanistan is not only a catastrophic situation for many Afghan citizens, it is also an international problem.”
He said the international community can be quite tough and quite demanding of the Taliban about protecting its own citizens and should also demand that it end any connection it has had to international terrorism.
“Whether they will respond to that is another matter.”
He said the Taliban have a hard time just running Afghanistan.