Afghan-Aussies Divided Over Withdrawal


On Tuesday Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced that most Australian troops would leave Afghanistan by the end of 2013, a year earlier than expected. On the same day about 150 Afghan schoolgirls were hospitalised after drinking poisoned water at a high school in northern Afghanistan, probably by elements opposed to female education, possibly Taliban. An Afghan National Army soldier was shot dead one day prior after opening fire at NATO soldiers in a military base in Kandahar. Last weekend Taliban assailants launched coordinated attacks across Eastern Afghanistan and the most secure area of Kabul, the Wazir Akbar Khan district — the largest attack on Kabul since 2001.

The unprecedented increase in the number and intensity of violent incidents in Afghanistan, of which these are only a few examples, has eroded the Western public’s support for the war. At least 64 per cent of Australians favour withdrawal. Similar numbers of Americans think the war is not worth its cost in money and lives.

But opinion is diverse among Afghan-Australians. Some oppose the planned withdrawal of foreign forces because they believe it will push the country toward an all out civil war and the return of the Taliban. Others see the continued presence of foreign forces as the main catalyst for the prolonged conflict. It may simply be beyond the power and capacity of the western forces to resolve a conflict that is lengthy, messy and very complex.

Hameed Aabid, a software developer in Melbourne, is disillusioned with the news coming out of Afghanistan. He believes both the Taliban and International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) operate propaganda machines such that the Taliban exaggerates the number and scale of their attacks on foreign forces while the ISAF downplays the Taliban’s influence. Although Hameed is not sure who is telling the truth, he thinks there is no doubt that that number of attacks and the level of violence will continue to rise.

Hameed thinks the ISAF lacks the capacity to resolve the country’s complicated conflict. He opposes the presence of international forces in Afghanistan and argues for immediate withdrawal.

"A withdrawal will end the NATO occupation of Afghanistan, and probably convince many insurgents to stop fighting," Hameed told New Matilda.

Afghan-Australian student Atika Hussain is completing a Bachelor of Law at the University of Canberra. She is sceptical of the effectiveness of US policies in Afghanistan and thinks all future policies and strategic agreements need to be revised and reconsidered in the light of current failures. Atika says that many members of the Afghan-Australian community doubt if continued war will lead to a settlement or stability.

Atika is doubtful about the ability of the Afghan government and its national army to defend the Afghan people against an onslaught of the Taliban. She thinks that the withdrawal of US and international forces would be catastrophic for Afghan women and religious and ethnic minority groups.

"Afghan women have struggled hard and made outstanding achievements in the last 10 years. Their gains are unparalleled yet extremely fragile and susceptible to change. Withdrawal of foreign forces will leave them at the mercy of the Taliban and conservative forces," she said.

Mohammad Hassan Afzali, a student at Deakin University in Melbourne, thinks the real cause of violence and conflict in Afghanistan lies not in Afghanistan but in the neighbouring Pakistan. He thinks the Taliban owe all their political and military power to the active support of Pakistan’s main intelligence agency, the ISI: "Violence will not decrease and the Taliban won’t weaken so long as they continue to receive support from Pakistan and have sanctuaries inside Pakistan tribal areas," he told NM.

Mohammad has doubts about the benefits of an Australian withdrawal. He thinks an unstable Afghanistan is as much a threat to world security as it is to South and Central Asia. He believes a quick withdrawal would lead to disaster for Afghanistan and leave the country at the mercy of the "forces of darkness".

Mohammad Nabi is a student at the University of Wollongong and has extensive experience working with various organisations in Afghanistan. Nabi believes that long-standing problems with the intervention and policy making in Afghanistan have led the country to where it stands today. As such the Afghanistan question should be seen and judged in full context.

He believes that the voice of the Afghan people, the real stakeholders in the post-9/11 intervention, have been constantly ignored, and "troops out" has become the winning slogan of the decade. He thinks the expectations of the Afghan people were not reflected in any government initiatives, except in formal speeches and abstract documents which were never translated into meaningful practice on the ground.

Lacking a long-term goal in Afghanistan the international community chose warlords, human rights violators, drug mafia and criminals as their local partners. Nabi says that the Afghan people were given the status of the "silent spectators". Countries party to the intervention relied on "their good boy" on the ground for initiatives in and about Afghanistan and ignored the very basic requirements for transparency and accountability. He says that the people in the West have been provided only a small glimpse of how the war has played out on the ground.

Around election time "success stories" have been used as election campaign messages; Nabi condemns the "anti-war campaigners" for acting as "volunteer public relations practitioners" for the Islamic extremists, for providing them with a platform and lobbying on their behalf. Their demands and actions, he says, will once again turn Afghanistan into a safe haven for terrorism and religious extremism.

Nabi thinks that a fair share of the responsibility lies with the politicians, who instead of admitting their blunders and telling the truth are using the withdrawal from Afghanistan as a selling point in their election campaigns. They ignore the millions of voices from inside Afghanistan, who see the notion of "troops out" as disastrous.

Afghan-Australians have divergent opinions on the nature of the Afghan conflict and the question of the best way forward. However, most of them have deep reservations about the country’s future, and express consistent fear that the Afghan government alone will not withstand a Taliban revival.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.