Opinion: ‘We can’t abandon Afghan people’

Councillor Shaz Nawaz, Labour group leader on Peterborough City Council, writes...

Sunday, 22nd August 2021, 3:15 pm
Afghans head to Kabul airport in their droves to escape the Taliban. Photo: Getty Images

It was once said that history doesn’t repeat itself, though it often rhymes.

In the case of Afghanistan, we are witnessing as close to a repeat to the 1975 collapse of South Vietnam as we are ever likely to see.

Afghanistan’s government, like South Vietnam, was corrupt and disliked. Few were willing to fight for the corrupt regime, let alone die for it.

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South Vietnam was supposedly protected by agreements with its opponents which would allow it to continue.

But it collapsed into a heap as soon as outside support was withdrawn.

We are now seeing scenes such as helicopters landing on the roof of the American embassy and mad scenes at Kabul Airport which echo the events of 46 years ago. Maybe this time we will learn from history rather than be doomed to repeat it.

There are immediate needs that arise from Afghanistan’s collapse: it is not an exaggeration to say that anyone who helped Britain, America and other members of the alliance now has a target on their back.

The Taliban have pledged not to take revenge, but who knows what will happen? The Afghanis themselves are not convinced and I suspect in the coming days we will see a refugee crisis unfold.

What we do now matters.

The Afghanis who helped British troops and personnel took their lives into their own hands.

There should be no prevarication or hesitation, we should get them out.

A symptom of our Government’s view arose from the sudden withdrawal of visas for Afghani Chevening scholars: there were only 35 of them.

Fortunately, the Prime Minister intervened, and it looks likely the matter may be properly resolved. But that is just 35. How many hundreds, if not thousands, need to be saved?

Canada has shown the way: they have set plans in motion to evacuate 20,000 Afghanis.

I suspect that as traumatised and unhappy as the refugees will be, nevertheless, once they adjust to their new home, they will become enthusiastic Canadians.

The reason is simple. It’s not the mere gratitude that arises from being saved, rather it comes from keeping a promise.

Canada said to the Afghanis that helped them that they would not be abandoned.

Canada fulfilled its promise; trust and genuine affection flow from pledges kept.

I suspect that in time, the 20,000 and their descendants will make a valuable contribution to Canadian society. After all, they already had courage.

We should keep our promises.

Not only will we gain a group of people who could make a valuable contribution to our society, our ability to be “global Britain” relies in part on our credibility.

Our credibility rests upon our trustworthiness. If we don’t keep our word to these few thousand people, how good are our pledges to anyone else?

Peterborough’s council can – and should – show some leadership; we have a significant population of service people in our area, a portion of whom no doubt were helped by some of the Afghanis we should save.

We should make whatever representations we can to central Government that we should fulfil our promises.

Afghanistan, regrettably, is lost; at least we can end our involvement with a semblance of dignity.