Editorial: Bamiyan now in better shape, thanks to Kiwis

Some of the gains made over the past 10 years will prevail, and it's time for the people of the region to ensure their own brighter future

The official closing ceremony of the Kiwi base in Bamiyan. Photo / Supplied
The official closing ceremony of the Kiwi base in Bamiyan. Photo / Supplied

The Governor-General, the Defence Minister and a large group of New Zealand dignitaries have been in Afghanistan bringing the curtain down on the Provincial Reconstruction Team's time in Bamiyan province. As is usual in such circumstances, their tone was upbeat. Sir Jerry Mateparae said it was the right time for the troops to go home.

Bamiyan would be left in a much better state than when the team arrived more than 10 years ago. Others appeared less confident about the future. These included the team's Afghan interpreters whose rush to resettle in New Zealand told its own story.

Their attitude revealed a pessimism about the future of Afghanistan, and the prospect of the Taleban returning to power. That, of course, would undo at least some of the work done by the Provincial Reconstruction Team and this country's SAS troops, a small group of whom will continue in a non-combat role in Kabul for another year. Nonetheless, there is plenty to suggest much has been achieved by the reconstruction team and that it will, indeed, leave Bamiyan in far better shape than when it began work.

The New Zealanders started with some advantages. Bamiyan has always been probably Afghanistan's safest province because of its remoteness and the enmity of the dominant local tribe, the Hazara, to the Taleban. Even so, an atmosphere of unease endured for a long time.

Chris Warr, one of the final contingent there, recalls that on his first tour of duty in 2009, people were too scared to leave lights on at night. Now, he says, they realise the Afghan National Security Forces are well trained and are keeping their lights on and their shops open later.

Others have commented similarly on the improved environment. The New Zealand team has played a role in this, especially in capacity building and reconstruction. This came at a cost when insurgents edged back into Bamiyan in mid-2012, leading the Government to accelerate the timetable for the withdrawal. However, this activity has waned, adding weight to the view that this is a good time to leave.

The acid test will come, of course, when the rest of the international force withdraws next year. The aim of creating a modern Afghan democratic state was abandoned many years ago. But the final withdrawal should not be viewed as conclusive evidence of defeat. It cannot be assumed a militarily weakened Taleban will walk back into Kabul. A power-sharing government is not out of the question.

Nor is it realistic to assume many of the gains made in civil society and human development, such as education for girls, will be quickly reversed. The situation is so far removed from the extremist repression that existed before that it is difficult to see a recurrence. And if corruption is still part of everyday life, the Afghan economy is showing signs of improvement.

The country will also never again be a training base for global terrorism. Al Qaeda's presence sparked the international intervention and the Taleban knows a repeat of such activity will not be tolerated.

For all its divisions and difficulties, Afghanistan is far stronger than the failed state of 2001. New Zealand's Provincial Reconstruction Team has been a small but effective part of that process. Now, it is over to the people of Bamiyan to determine their own future.

- NZ Herald

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