Keep your promise, cut the red tape for Afghans
The anniversary came this week… 11 years have passed since I landed in an isolated area near the Northern limits of Afghanistan, called Feyazabad. It drew my thoughts back to the article I wrote last autumn, a personal and soul-searching recall of what we had all tried to do and the heartbreak of yet another fall of Afghanistan to the brutality of Taliban rule.
At that time, I mused on my initial thoughts of what the future would hold for the country and that community, as the Taliban took control yet again, erasing the efforts of many countries as well as my own meagre attempts. We are approaching one year since that horrible day when Western countries abandoned Afghanistan once again, and we need not wonder where Afghanistan is at this point.
Repeatedly throughout the second half of 2021, Canada made grandiose promises that would alleviate some of the suffering of the Afghan population. Our government promised opportunities for 40,000 refugees to flee that land and settle in Canada. Many of those selected would be those who worked for Canada during the conflict, accompanied by their families. We are now in June of 2022, and as I pen this article, the government has fallen tragically short of that goal, with only some 16,000 being given refuge in this great country. Despite the very serious threats facing those still trying to escape the Taliban rule, procedural and paperwork roadblocks put in place by Government of Canada officials have provided politicians with excuses for such truly unconscionable delays. Protests decrying the miserable governmental efforts happen frequently in Ottawa by those Interpreters who were able to escape over the last years – leaving behind family and wondering why the government has failed so miserably. A recent Parliamentary report has criticized the efforts of the Government.
Afghanistan has been under Taliban control for almost a year now, and despite the promises of a more “tolerant” Taliban, the suspicions we all initially felt have come to stark realization. The government installed by the Taliban hasn’t been recognized as legitimate by the vast majority of the world’s governments. The plight of women, promised a more permissive culture under the new regime, has proven to be a complete lie, with severe restrictions on dress and a ban on schooling beyond the sixth grade being imposed yet again. Internet, or even the capacity to access the Internet, has been greatly reduced.
Financially the country is in dire straits, with the majority of world banks freezing any Afghan assets. This has left much of the country in a humanitarian crisis, with the widespread inability to provide wages, and the lingering fear of starvation as food supplies continue to run short. The vast majority of the population is suffering – with the realistic potential for death – as they lack the ability to gather food to sustain themselves.
For those who were able to escape after the initial Taliban victory last summer, many remain in refugee camps throughout the assisting European countries, waiting for the lengthy process of immigration to a friendly state. The fate of one of my interpreters remains unknown, the other in a camp in Amsterdam waiting for official status somewhere in Europe. As employees of the European Union during the war, and not Canada, it is unlikely, despite all of my efforts, that they would be on the preferred list to emigrate to Canada.
As we look at what has occurred to Afghans over the past year, the initial focus to their plight has been diminished by the war in Ukraine, the current world tragedy. As Russia attempts to gain control of that country, potentially a fruitless effort that will last for years, I expect that the oppressive Taliban see that conflict as a welcome distraction from their efforts. Those efforts being a regression back to the Middle Ages, where their extreme Sharia Law can flourish away from prying Western eyes.
The unfortunate truth is that the West is easily distracted as they continue to respond to the latest world crisis, a revolving cycle of attention that seems to change with political whim or country of origin. It was the same when the Afghans struggled to defeat the Russian Invasion in 1979, and despite U.S. covert support during that war, the U.S. neglected to continue humanitarian aid when the Russians left some 10 years later. The void created during this power vacuum allowed the Taliban and others to sweep into the country, starting a civil war that led to Taliban control in 1996. As stated by Charlie Wilson, a U.S. Congressman who led the efforts to support the Mujaheddin during the Russian conflict (epitomized by Tom Hanks in the movie Charlie Wilson’s War) “these things happened… they were glorious and they changed the world… and then we f’ed up the end game.” It is clear, over so many years, that the West has a propensity to respond to many crises, with the most ardent of intents, then move to the latest wild fire that presents itself.
So here I remain, musing about things done or attempted, thinking of the like-minded people I served with. Some 11 years have passed, and the time I spent in that war torn land remain sharp in my mind. Those I met and worked with may be far from my immediate contact, but hopefully will remain forever in my memory. I turn 60 years old in July, and though I have many accomplishments for which I can be proud of in my life, I believe that my year-long sojourn in Afghanistan will remain as my most significant. Too bad the Government of Canada is, as Charlie Wilson might say, f’ing it up.
Pray for the people of Afghanistan… a most resilient population that will yet survive.
Stephen Sadler spent 30 years with the Toronto Police Service and was an Officer in the Canadian Military Reserve prior to that. He spent a year as an advisor / mentor in Afghanistan between 2011-2012. He currently works as a Security Manager for a Provincial Corporation.