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Paul Thomas is a Weekend Herald columnist

Paul Thomas: Why should we leave? History has the answer

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Last respects for fallen Kiwis ... but it's time for everyone to come home. Photo / NZDF
Last respects for fallen Kiwis ... but it's time for everyone to come home. Photo / NZDF

Last week's column suggesting Afghanistan wasn't worth the lives of young New Zealanders drew a range of responses, some uplifting, some depressing.

One respondent reckoned that if I was going to advocate withdrawal, I shouldn't bother writing about Taleban atrocities, like the beheading this week of 17 young people for socialising with the opposite sex and having a "music party".

Others took me to task for seeing the world as it is, as opposed to as it should be. They interpreted my view as indifference to the bleak future facing many Afghans, particularly women, when the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) withdraws.

The operative word is "when". Some of my critics appeared to believe the West's involvement in Afghanistan is still up for debate. It isn't. The participating Governments, including our own, have made the decision.

The question "should we stay or go?" is academic. The pertinent question is should America and its allies have entered Afghanistan in the first place, given that regime change and occupation amounted to making a promise to the Afghan people that was never likely to be honoured?

Humanitarian intervention and nation-building are noble and seductive notions; in practice they tend to bear out the adage that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. (Remember George W. Bush predicting that the invasion and occupation of Iraq would lead to that country becoming an oasis of freedom and democracy that would transform the Middle East?)

First, some citizens of whichever nation the West is trying to drag into the 21st century would much prefer to remain right where they are.

Many Afghan men are fighting for a medieval status quo in which women are essentially vassals.

Second, nationalism tends to supersede other ... isms.

Some of those resisting the ISAF mightn't be ideologically opposed to gender equality and human rights, but they resent them being imposed by foreigners.

Hence the frequent "green on blue" incidents - Afghan soldiers and police turning their weapons on their supposed allies - which have accounted for 14 per cent of ISAF fatalities this year. This week three Australian soldiers were killed in such an attack.

The 1982 Falklands war brought down Argentina's murderous fascist military junta and led to the restoration of democracy. Are the Argentines grateful to Britain? The hell they are. Until the British hand over Las Malvinas, they will be resented, if not hated.

Thirdly, America and the West lack the will, the patience, the fortitude and, increasingly, the financial resources to do what is required to transform these societies.

It would take decades of western occupation and many more lives before Afghan women were no longer at risk of mutilation or murder for exercising rights and freedoms that western women take for granted.

That won't happen, as the Taleban's leaders have known from the outset.

They have their satellite dishes. They would be aware of how much anguish they caused by killing five of our soldiers last month.

That in itself would convince them we're not in it for the long haul. If they can behead 17 of their youth in one night for listening to music, imagine what they make of a nation that weeps every time one of its soldiers dies in battle.

A reader asserted that my column "was offensive to those [slain] soldiers and their families. War is the price we have to pay for democracy."

I'm part of a generation that protested against the Vietnam War, in which New Zealand soldiers served with great distinction at the cost of 37 lives.

We were told we were pitifully naive. Our elders shook their heads despairingly. Couldn't we see what was going on? Vietnam was the first domino, they said.

If it went, the others would follow. The Red (and yellow) hordes would sweep down through Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia, and eventually their landing craft would plough onto Takapuna beach.

Millions of deaths later, America and its allies cut and ran.

The clear and present danger to our way of life and very existence that was used to justify this carnage obviously wasn't quite so clear and present after all.

No dominos fell. These days the Socialist Republic of Vietnam is a popular tourist destination. It hasn't thrown its weight around apart from invading Cambodia to get rid of the genocidal - and communist - Khmer Rouge.

We were right. Those who told us to shut up and support our troops were dead wrong.

- NZ Herald

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