America’s nearly 20-year war in Afghanistan – its longest-ever overseas conflict – resulted in catastrophic consequences for the Afghan people, with tens of thousands of civilians and soldiers losing their lives and many more left scarred for life. However, with nearly all American combat forces having left Afghanistan following U.S. President Joe Biden’s confirmation that the U.S.-led military operation in the country will officially end August 31, the Afghan people’s nightmare is likely to take a more terrifying twist.
News of the U.S troops’ departure, and their subsequent overnight abandonment of the Bagram Air Base, has spurred the Taliban, backed by Pakistan’s notorious spy agency, ISI, to make a horrifying comeback. They have taken back control of significant amounts of territory, including capturing Spin Boldak – a strategic border with Pakistan – and one that Canadian soldiers fought valiantly and died to protect.
Canada has had an active development presence in Afghanistan for decades and remains among its top 10 donors, contributing more than $3.6 billion and deploying 40,000 personnel since 2001 to support stabilization, development and humanitarian efforts. In November 2020, Canada pledged $270 million in additional development assistance through 2024. While these supports have enabled Afghanistan to make substantial progress, most notably in priority areas such as health, education, mortality rate, women’s empowerment, human rights, peace and security, the war-ravaged South Asian country still remains one of the world’s poorest and most fragile states, and its need for development assistance remains high. The COVID-19 pandemic has aggravated already difficult conditions, crippling an economy that had been steadily growing and overburdening already stretched health resources.
International Development Minister Karina Gould’s recent announcement confirming Ottawa’s commitment to continue sending humanitarian and development assistance to Afghanistan even after the U.S. completes its troop withdrawal from the country next month, is welcome news.
Nonetheless, the Taliban resurgence is only going to compound an already dire situation, with the potential to spill over Afghan borders and impact Canadians across the globe. The recent rise in attacks on humanitarian workers and the civilian population, despite assurances given by the Taliban that it would not attack provincial capitals or seize them by force, proves that the group continues to be untrustworthy and unreliable, which isn’t surprising considering its zealots harboured the dreaded terrorist Osama bin Laden for years and ruthlessly raped and murdered thousands of innocents before being overthrown by American-led troops in the aftermath of 9/11.
Unfortunately, given that Canada no longer has any military presence in Afghanistan, it can do very little to stop the Taliban from continuing to expand its territory, leaving Afghan security forces and the women and girls – groups that were prioritized to receive most of Canada’s foreign aid to Afghanistan – particularly vulnerable to the terrorist group’s burgeoning threat.
Canada must continue working with other allies like the U.S., France, Germany and India to identify ways to keep a check on the Taliban resurgence, lest years of financial assistance and sacrifices made by their troops don’t end up being in vain. The Trudeau government must exercise every tool at its disposal to ensure that Afghans who helped various Canadian missions in the country must be evacuated immediately at all costs, given they are likely to be executed by the Taliban should they fall into their hands.
The execution of 22 Afghan commandos by Taliban fighters as they attempted to surrender is proof that deserting the Afghan people now at the hands of this vicious group will only result in more terror and bloodshed – the repercussions of which could potentially be felt by Canadians in the years to come. As the Afghan people plead for help from the world, it would be a cardinal sin for Canada to turn a blind eye to their decades of pain and suffering.