Afghan Regrets

In 1972, I was at school with Mir Wais Zahir of Afghanistan, which was a country like Nepal with low development, but high happiness. A year later, my father had to close his office in Kabul after the bloodless coup that ended two centuries of royal rule and I said farewell to the prince whose father went into exile in Italy. Little did I know then that I would write the UK government’s strategic concept for the reintegration of Afghanistan into the international community after decades of civil-war in 2001.

Twenty years later, the country has made so much progress and is no longer in the bottom 20 developed countries in world. Improvements to the child mortality rate, village water supplies and women’s education have been dramatic. Social justice, political freedoms and sporting achievements have followed the hard-fought stabilisation of the country by NATO.

All this progress towards the goal set out in 2001 is now being unravelled and in the blink of an eye Afghanistan seems to be reverting to the forbidding country that existed under the repressive Taliban regime of the 1990s. Time will tell whether this iteration is the same as the last, but in the meantime my thoughts are with the thousands of terrified citizens who are now living in fear of their lives as the West abandons them again. Even if Washington feels no remorse now, the key question is whether America will regret their Afghan retreat in the future?

The Khyber Pass looking east at daybreak in September 1972

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