Two former prime ministers – Sir John Key and Helen Clark – are sceptical of promises made by the Taliban that Afghanistan's future will feature an inclusive government, and are dismayed that 20 years of military intervention have failed.
Despite their respective old political allegiances, the ex-premiers share similar fears over the future of a Taliban-led Afghanistan, including that it could again become a global breeding ground for terrorist groups.
Watching Afghanistan fall so rapidly to the advancing hard-line Islamist Taliban organisation over the last fortnight has been "frustrating and deeply disappointing" for Key, whose three terms as Prime Minister spanned 2008-2016 during which Kiwis were serving in Afghanistan the whole time.
"Trillions of dollars have been spent, thousands of lives have been lost, and we're completely back to square one," Key told the Herald yesterday.
"In fact, we're arguably in a worse position than we were because you've now had two campaigns in Afghanistan – one from the Russians and now one […] effectively led by the United States – and you'd have to say both failed. So under what circumstances would you have a third campaign?"
Clark, who was New Zealand's prime minister during the 9/11 terror attacks on America, which sparked the decision for military action in Afghanistan, believes the sudden withdrawal from Afghanistan this year by the US and other Nato allies has been a major, and unnecessary, blunder.
The former boss of the United Nations Development Programme cites the example of Germany, where 76 years after the end of World War II there are still nearly 40,000 permanent troops stationed, and around 50,000 soldiers in South Korea 68 years after the Korean War.
"It was never a 20-year project," Clark says.
"It's all gone up in flames. People are traumatised from decades of sorrow and heartbreak, and then you expect a fragile government army, instead of institutions, to stand up when the rug's been pulled from underneath them? No way, it's humanly impossible."
When US President Joe Biden announced earlier this year that they would be gone by August 31, Clark says it signalled a green light to the Taliban insurgency, undoing years of "fragile progress" on education, health, governance, and human rights.
Clark, who has visited Afghanistan three times including once as Prime Minister in 2003 where she met then President Hamid Karzai, is devastated that progress she'd seen first-hand, has disappeared within days.
"The whole show collapsed with lightning speed but it's not like [the Taliban] weren't there - they were poised waiting for this opportunity," says Clark.
"To see us back to where we were 20 years ago is just heart-breaking.
"I just know that everything I saw is not just chucked back in the bottom drawer, it's on the funeral pyre."
Since taking power last week, Taliban leadership have claimed they'll seek to build an inclusive government, which will include women, while one senior member told the Herald at the weekend that the group seeks strong ties with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's Government, willing to put two decades of war with New Zealand behind it.
They also claim that any interpreters or other Afghan civilians who formerly worked with foreign troops would not be targeted in revenge killings.
But both Key and Clark are sceptical whether the Taliban will live up to their claims.
"Will they actually honour that?" Key asked.
"Are they really, genuinely going to let women participate in society fully as they do in every other Westernised economy? I'm sceptical of that.
"Will they really take a sympathetic view to those who worked against them when the Allies' forces were there? Again, I'm sceptical of that.
"If they really were going to govern for everyone, in a fair and decent way, well that's really a matter for the Afghan people, but that hasn't been the history and it doesn't feel realistic."
New Zealand has vowed to try and evacuate those with legitimate ties to the Defence Force, or New Zealand Police, aid missions, and those who helped in the Operation Burnham inquiry.
A Royal New Zealand Air Force C-130 left Whenuapai on an emergency mercy dash last week and has already airlifted people out of Kabul's Hamid Karzai International Airport, where there has been chaotic and deadly scenes over the last week.
Asked if enough has been done by New Zealand governments to help the Afghan interpreters in the past, Key pointed to the fact that New Zealand has resettled 44 former Afghan interpreters and employees, along with 96 immediate family members since 2012-13.
Key feels that Ardern's Government is doing what they can and that they were "looking sympathetic to all those who supported us".
"And they should be," Key said.
"The reality is that these are people who, for all intents and purposes, took enormous risks to support New Zealand forces on the ground in Bamiyan and Kabul, and they did so with an expectation that if this happened, we would take care of them."
Clark says while immigration decisions in the past "weren't generous enough", she hopes the Government will be "as open-hearted as possible".
The former leaders are also unanimous in their fears the landlocked nation will again become a safe haven for plotting terror groups.
"In a gangland like this, where there's no proper governance and accountability, these groups will thrive as they did in the past," Clark warned.
"It is a direct threat to the security of all of us."