It's time to leave Afghanistan

A mourner cries over the bodies of Afghan civilians, allegedly shot by a rogue US soldier, seen loaded into the back of ...

A mourner cries over the bodies of Afghan civilians, allegedly shot by a rogue US soldier, seen loaded into the back of a truck in Alkozai village of Panjwayi district, Kandahar province on March 11, 2012.

As an Afghan-Australian, I find myself increasingly being asked about how I feel about the current situation in Afghanistan.

On March 11th, US Soldier Robert Bales in the dead of night went on a shooting rampage killing 16 Afghan civilians including 9 children, some as young as 2 years old. Some of the victims were later dragged into a room and set on fire.

The hypocrisy is painful to watch. All human beings, irrespective of their ethnicity, background or religious creed, are susceptible to engaging in violent acts of extremism.  

The latest incident have heightened tensions after US troops burnt copies of the Holy Quran in February, causing protests to erupt across the country resulting in the death of 30 people, including 2 US soldiers.   It also follows the release of the infamous video in January showing US marines urinating on the bodies of Afghans that they had killed.

I recall that immediately following the news of the latest incident, a statement was issued by NATO's International Security Assistance Forces describing the incident as “deeply regrettable”. What happened was a complete massacre, not just a “deeply regrettable” incident. The US troops were deployed to help protect the Afghan people.  The trust vested in them by the international community and ultimately the Afghan people, albeit unwillingly in some regards, is no light responsibility and to engage in the horrific acts that they have in recent months and then have NATO describe the indiscriminate murder of 16 defenceless Afghan civilians as “regrettable” is incredibly insulting and a slap in the face of all Afghans. 


I note that the terminology used by US President Barack Obama following the incidents was slightly more serious but arguably this was in response to Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s rare expression of strong opposition and anger.

Ironically, the media has put forward a number of potential motives to try and explain Bales’ actions. We have been told that there may have been alcohol involved, he had experienced trauma watching his colleague’s legs being blown off and he was experiencing marital and financial issues. To the complete contrary, an Afghan, according to the Western media, kills foreigners because they are inherently archaic people or hateful, backward terrorists. The hypocrisy is painful to watch. All human beings, irrespective of their ethnicity, background or religious creed, are susceptible to engaging in violent acts of extremism. Period.

I cannot help but feel that if the tables were turned, and the 16 civilians were in fact Americans who happened to be killed in Afghanistan – thanks to the work of investigative journalists we would have known all of their names, their ages, a brief biography and potentially photographs of each of the victims. Media agencies would be jumping at opportunities to get ‘exclusive’ interviews and photo opportunities with the families and friends of the victims. Unfortunately these victims however will forever remain 16 nameless Afghan civilians. Paradoxically, the alleged perpetrator of this crime has been humanised more than the very victims of this massacre. Bales has been described as a “model soldier, who was calm under pressure and gentle with children."

We can no longer sit back and watch our government pump millions of our tax payer dollars into a decade old war instigated by the US in the ultimate hope of trying to bring stability to the country and to impose a brand of Western-style democracy which the Afghans clearly don’t want.

Clearly there are some examples of where the foreign troops have added value and helped rebuild Afghanistan and for this I am grateful. But on the whole the US led invasion and subsequent decade old war have been a resounding embarrassment and a costly failure. Although we purport to be genuinely concerned about the Afghan people whose country we have invaded, our treatment of Afghan asylum seekers who arrive on our shores seems to suggest otherwise. Clearly we are so concerned for their welfare that we feel the urge to imprison them and their children.

Afghans are well and truly fed up with foreign intervention and as is evident the presence of foreign troops is becoming more counterproductive. The US and its allies invaded Afghanistan over 10 years ago and they haven’t been able to return real stability to the nation. 

Arguably, without foreign troops, there is potential for the Taliban to return and wreak havoc. Foreign troops cannot seriously think that they have a mandate to stay in Afghanistan indefinitely though.

In a similar manner to those brave men and women who participated in the Arab Spring, I am hopeful that one day Afghans will take the world by surprise and fight for their democracy on their own terms and on their own feet.

Afghanistan once enjoyed full independence and sovereignty. There is no reason to believe that with time, the removal of all types of foreign intervention including the removal of a US led puppet government and investing more time in establishing a coordinated regional solution, we can’t return to that state.

To assume otherwise, is an insult to the intelligence of the Afghan people.

Mariam Veiszadeh is of Afghan heritage and a lawyer and Muslim community advocate.


  • That photo alone is very moving and disturbing. . What you said about the civilians versus Americans really rang true. how sad. Great piece, Marian. thank you.

    Date and time
    March 27, 2012, 10:33AM
    • I agree. This is a tragic situation there are no - and there can not be any winners. It's time to leave.

      Date and time
      March 27, 2012, 10:36AM
      • The man in the photo had family murdered I don't know any words for his pain.
        How many incidents like the taliban bombing of people queueing up to join the police get the same level of coverage?The taliban murder 50 and we get a one liner in the paper, a US soldier commits murder and we get two weeks of coverage.
        We have the western world giving money, support and its sons dying every week to make a Afghanistan a better place and stop terrorism and we still have Asylum seekers from Afghanistan turning up here.
        Our sons are dying to make your country better and you cant be bothered to contribute, you leave the dirty work to those left behind. Its disgraceful and its part of the reason that the country is a long term basket case. Many Afghans decide to help by joining the police or Army which is funded and trained by outsiders, others flee to countries with modern social welfare systems conveniently bypassing the 4 countries that neighbour Afghanistan that are signatories of the UN refugee convention and are obliged to help. No free housing and schools there.
        The constant cross generational exodus weakens the society, another generation says this is too hard I'm leaving, if I tell a good story someone will let me in.
        Imagine if Aussies in the 1940s facing Japanese and Nazi forces had same the level of bravery as your average Afghan asylum seeker, we would all be speaking Japanese by now.

        Date and time
        March 27, 2012, 12:42PM
        • That's a very interesting comment Baz. When did the Taliban murder 50 resulting in only a one liner in the paper by the way? Or did you just make that up? Interesting that you would label people who flee Afghanistan as "disgraceful" and then talk about the UN Refugee Convention in the same breath; you're demeaning them and then pontificating on what their rights are. As you may be aware, Australia has too signed the Refugee Convention and as such is "obliged to help". I just hope for their sake that asylum seekers are never settled into Manly lest they bump into you.

          Date and time
          March 28, 2012, 2:57AM
      • Firstly and most importantly the fact that you assume that "foreign troops" think they have an indefinite mandate to stay in Afghanistan. This is a statement that is plain wrong. The armed forces of any state whether now Australians, Americans or British will not concern themselves with the mandate they hold. The armed forces of a state are there to act on a governments disposal and act according to their orders. At no time this will change.
        Secondly your claim that if 16 Americans were to be killed it would create a far bigger public outcry than Afghan civilians. Most important here is to look at the recent months. If you just want to take the news company you published this opinion piece for, and you consider the amount of reports when rouge Afghan soldiers or police attacked the coalition forces in Afghanistan ( who are there under orders of their countries and with the approval of Afghan president Karzai) it would be easy to account for an similar number.
        Third and lastly. ISAF currently has clear plans for a structured withdraw from Afghanistan, which has been approved by president Karzai and his government (further also approved by the UN Security Council).
        While I deeply regret and condemn the events that occurred in the last months in Afghanistan I would like you to consider the way the international system works in regards to rebuilding war zones and withdrawing from war zones. I understand your wish for sovereignty; the Afghanistan war has been approved by the international community and is therefore legitimate until the withdrawal date in 2014 and depending on approval even afterwards.

        Jan Philip Mairhoefer
        Date and time
        March 27, 2012, 7:54PM
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