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Symbolic of 20 years of war in Afghanistan

Waslat Hasrat-Nazimi
Waslat Hasrat-Nazimi
August 24, 2021

For days now, people have been appalled by the pictures coming out of Kabul airport. The West's mission in Afghanistan is ending as it began — with grandiose neo-colonial posturing, comments DW's Waslat Hasrat-Nazimi.

US Marines facing a group of Afghan civilians over the other side of a concrete barrier with barbed wire
The airport in Kabul has been the scene of crowded chaos for daysImage: Nicholas Guevara/US MARINE CORPS/AFP

Dramatic scenes at Kabul airport. American soldiers yelling at Afghans, ordering them to back off. One pushes back against the surging crowd, while another points a gun into it. Some Afghans hold up their passports — some of them are European. But the soldiers don't seem to care. Videos show US military personnel firing into the crowd and using tear gas to try to control the chaos. Women scream and plead for help; some faint. Children stare up at their parents, eyes wide with terror.

These images have been ubiquitous in recent days, on every television screen and smartphone display, like so many little warning signs: Look, this is what happens to those who refuse to be converted from Stone-Age Islam. People in Germany and Europe are aghast. How was it possible that the situation deteriorated so dramatically? How desperate must a person be to hand their baby over a barbed-wire fence when they themselves are unable to follow?

The refugee camp renders everybody equal

A few hours after the first American evacuation flights took off, Kabul airport became a chaotic refugee camp. It makes no difference here who has what passport, who has what visa, whether you were born in Germany or Afghanistan. Here, according to the principle of the survival of the fittest, you are just one thing: Afghan. You are therefore only a second-class person, and you are treated accordingly. Social status, level of education, good contacts, wealth, secure residency status:  None of that matters anymore. Gone is the illusion that all you have to do is try hard enough and you can escape war and trauma, and live like a first-class person in North America or Europe.

Waslat Hasrat-Nazimi
DW's Waslat Hasrat-NazimiImage: Fahim Farooq

What is happening here is symbolic of what has been reflected back to Afghans for more than 40 years: that they are a helpless, desperate people whom the morally superior global community must save ... caught, now, between American soldiers shooting at them on one side, and the Taliban threatening them with archaic punishments on the other. Afghans are dependent on others recognizing their human rights at all, and, following on from this, granting them the right to protection and security.

The neo-colonial gaze

However, even among the second-class people, further distinctions are made. The innocent baby, untainted by suspicion of terrorism and Islamism and rescued by US soldiers, is the most popular category. Children like this are still capable of being molded and integrated into the West. Every day, new propaganda pictures appear showing military personnel carrying babies a few months old in their arms.

It is grotesque. Just moments earlier, the parents of these children were being abused. It is deemed possible to offer them a desirable future only if they are separated from their parents. This is an old colonial strategy, previously used against Indigenous peoples in the United States and Canada.

In extreme contrast with the "pure" child, you have the adult, uncivilized Afghan:  those men with their blood feuds who are forever bashing each other's heads in. Afghan men in particular awaken no sympathy whatsoever in the West. People ask, again and again, why it is almost exclusively men who come as refugees. Why did they surrender to the Taliban without a fight?

Global posturing

This overlooks the fact that the Afghan army did not give up without a fight. It was abandoned by the US and NATO, as well as by its own government. And the reason it is mainly men who are fleeing is that women in Afghanistan scarcely dare to leave the house on their own. There is also generally no acknowledgment of just how dangerous and physically demanding it is for women to flee across the country's land borders. Instead, orientalist and neo-colonialist caricatures are carelessly reproduced.

Let us not forget: 20 years ago, the legitimation for the Afghanistan mission, along with the fight against terror, was exactly this: The West wanted to liberate Afghanistan from the Taliban in order to save Afghan women. Now, these very women are once again being abandoned to their fate. Only those who make it onto a plane bound for the West have the slightest chance of living according to the Western ideal of how a woman should live. All the others —  the men of Afghanistan above all — are being left to fend for themselves.

Afghan refugees in Germany live in fear

This article was translated from German.

Waslat Hasrat-Nazimi
Waslat Hasrat-Nazimi Head of DW Dari/Pashto@washasnaz