Down the barrel of a gun: why we fight for Afghanistan

We are here to help and we’re there to stay, writes Patrick Morrow.

In an ideal world, diplomacy would be carried out without weapons, and agreements might be met without conflict, but we live in a less than ideal world. Our generation is uniquely placed to appreciate the plight of the downtrodden globally. We are also able to do something about it.

To go to war in the name of expansion or conquest has become a faux pas, and rightly so. Quarrels over land and resources; of geopolitics and ideology are cruel and unnecessary. Indeed, the only use for a military in a truly globalised society ought to be in order to assure the freedom of human beings internationally.

This is why we fight for Afghanistan – on behalf of others. Despite a good deal of due scrutiny and criticism from all sides of the political spectrum, our military presence in Afghanistan perseveres, and this is a good thing. For despite the citation of the 9/11 attacks as being the chief impetus for waging war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, the cause, far more importantly, ought to be seen as a humanitarian one.

The average Afghani’s life expectancy is less than fifty years of age, and the nation currently has the highest infant mortality rate, coupled with the eighth highest birth-rate, on the planet. If you are unlucky enough to be an Afghani woman, there is a seven in eight chance that you cannot read.

This is the product of a regime that codifies oppression and encourages submission. It preserves tribal, fundamentalist values and violently repudiates the advances of modernity. This is a regime which, in 1996, decreed that women were to be banned from employment, then further outlawed their education beyond the age of eight. In 2001, at the end of Taliban rule, 97 per cent of Afghani women exhibited signs of serious depression and 71 per cent reported a decline in their physical wellbeing since the Taliban came to power.

But searching for justification need not be confined to the regime’s sick fascination with the fairer sex. Look, if you prefer, to the dynamiting of the magnificent Buddhas of Bamiyan in March 2001, as part of an undignified, anti-polytheistic quiver of policies, amongst which you will find also the eerily Reich-esque, mandated wearing of yellow badges by the nation’s Hindus. The Taliban banned mostly every form of entertainment, music and creative expression not exclusively purposed for Islam.

They do not play well with others, and the climate of Afghanistan, under their rule was (and would be) one of abject, cultural poverty, heinous gender discrimination, and some of the worst human rights abuses of the past century. Though they are no longer in power (in any official capacity) any more, the very existence of the Taliban – clandestine as it has become – is enough to make even the most vaguely humanitarian conscience feel uncomfortable.

It is all too easy to become fatigued by and desensitised to the statistics: seventeen beheaded for attending a mix-gender party with music and dancing on August 27; up to twenty-five killed in a suicide attack on a funeral in Dur Baba on September 4; six street sellers, none older than seventeen, killed in another suicide attack on Kabul’s ISAF headquarters on September 8. How deep is this sea of suffering?

We must not grow weary with or indifferent to these unending headlines; with their dizzying death counts, their alien foreign place names and these afflicted cries for help.

The responsibility for each of the aforementioned tributaries in the incessant trickle of Afghanistan’s civilian blood has been claimed by the Taliban. Our hands are clean by no means, but the removal of this government-no-more (though government seems too generous a title for their fastidiously managed brand of chaos) is one of the most important causes we currently support abroad.

The execution of the war in Afghanistan deserves no praise for its longwindedness, nor for the demagoguery which invariably surrounds questions of its continuation. The appointment of Hamid Karzai and the 2009 elections were a start despite his unpopularity and questionable history. Afghanistan is a worthwhile fight – one that remains unfinished.