On September 11, US and other Nato forces will leave Afghanistan. What could this mean for the Afghan people who have been living with war for more than 40 years?
Violence has been a reality for at least three generations in that country and few Afghans have been unaffected by it. My four years based in Afghanistan gave me a perspective of what it means to try to live and work in this war-torn land. It also has given me an understanding of why the Nato withdrawal is viewed with great apprehension by many Afghans.
I left the New Zealand Parliament in 2011 to take up a senior UN role in Afghanistan. My team of more than 500 national and international staff worked in all 34 Afghan provinces to try to improve local governance.
l got to know the country and its diverse peoples well. l experienced the generosity of its people and the extreme dangers they can face on a daily basis.
In Kabul in October 2013, l narrowly escaped serious injury when a suicide bomber attacked a US military convoy passing my residence. l was exiting my compound as a car bomb exploded around 20m from my UN vehicle. Fortunately, my injuries were minor although a number of US soldiers were killed close to me.
As l watched the coverage of the bombings that killed more than 60 Hazara schoolgirls, I understood what that violence can mean for those affected by it.
Most older Afghans l met remembered with dread the terrors of the civil war that followed the collapse of the communist Najibullah Government in 1992. The victorious mujahedeen (the coalition of warlords who fought the Soviets and their Afghan allies) soon fell out with each other.
Kabul and other regions of the country were gripped by a vicious civil war with rape, torture and death on a horrific scale. The Taliban largely ended this inter-Afghan violence but installed an extremely conservative Islamic regime; a government that ended education and employment for women and imposed extreme medieval Islamic law.
In Afghanistan today, many fear either a civil war or a rapid return to Taliban rule after the Nato forces depart.
The Hazara community have been particular targets of attack by insurgents over the last few years.
They are ethnically and religiously different to most other Afghans. Hazara are followers of Shiite Islam and many physically resemble their Mongolian ancestors. The bulk of the Hazara community are very fearful of any return to Sunni-dominated Taliban rule. They are not alone in this.
Many young people in Afghanistan, particularly women, are afraid of what life could become once Nato forces leave the country. Violence against civilians, especially women and children, has surged over the past year according to UN statistics.
The government led by President Ghani is weak and divided. Local warlords are setting up militias, further weakening the US-supported Ghani Government. Taliban control of the country is greater than at any point in the past 20 years.
Just before this year's Eid ceasefire, Taliban insurgents seized a key district just outside Kabul, forcing government forces to retreat. None of this bodes well for a post-Nato Afghanistan.
What could a likely Taliban victory mean for the world and how should the international community respond?
Firstly, there will be a huge surge in refugees fleeing Afghanistan. Already Afghans outnumber Syrians in the UN-administered migrant camps in Greece. These numbers will skyrocket if the Taliban returns to Kabul or the country descends into civil war. Europe will be at the forefront in trying to manage this influx, but we can play a part.
In New Zealand we have a small Afghan community. Most are Hazara and many have links with the 131 Tampa refugees that the Labour-led Government accepted in 2001.
Our Government should again be generous and allow Kiwi Afghans to sponsor relatives who may be part of any mass refugee exodus from Afghanistan. They could be given places among our annual refugee intakes.
Secondly, we in New Zealand and other western countries will need to raise our voices strongly with the UN in condemnation of any human rights abuses that may occur under any new Government in Kabul, particularly around rights and protections for girls and women.
We will need to be active in building support for our advocacy on human rights and refugee issues in Afghanistan with key regional neighbours like India, China, Iran and Pakistan. All four have important strategic and economic interests in Afghanistan and they are the countries who will have the most economic and political influence on any new Kabul regime.
A Taliban Government will want to develop the country and may therefore be more receptive to persuasion from important regional neighbours.
Like many foreigners who have worked in Afghanistan, l developed a strong affection for the country, a land of poor but generous people living among vast sweeping landscapes and majestic snow-covered peaks. A truly beautiful place, blighted by conflict.
In 1526 the Afghan King, Babur, conquered northern India and established the Mughal Empire which ruled most of India for the next 300 years. When Babur died, he left instructions that his body be taken from the magnificence of Mughal Delhi to Kabul, a city he described as the most beautiful place in the world.
He would weep today if he could see the destruction of his beloved city and the fear among its people of what the future may hold.
• Chris Carter is a former Labour Party Minister and former UN official.