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OPINION: The story of Afghanistan is not over

Philip Maher reflects on his time working in Afghanistan and the changes that have taken place in the country over the year

Watching the rise and fall of Afghanistan has been heartbreaking for Afghanis living in Wellington County and indeed for a globe wanting better for Afghanistan.

Last week about 100 Afghanis and friends marched in downtown Guelph asking for Canada’s help.

I worked in Afghanistan consuming a goat’s weight in Kabobs and rice. So, it is particularly sad for me personally. I grew to love this rugged landscape and its equally rugged people and the city of Herat, the first city the Taliban overran this summer. I enjoyed speaking to students at the newly opened school for girls.

I recall friends telling me about the austere life under the Taliban. Music was banned. They said living without music is bland, like food without spice. One Taliban leader has already said this ban will be re-instated. In Herat 20 years ago they were forced to watch firing squads. There were other brutalities that I’ve tried to forget.

I’ve been talking to my Afghani friends in Guelph and elsewhere about their thoughts. The day Kabul fell, one woman told me she’d been crying all day at work. I’m sure she’s continued to weep as this story has unfolded and collapsed.

Afghani’s will tell you that everyone has tried to ‘tame’ the country, but with little success. Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, the Greeks, the British and more recently the Russians and of course, the American-led coalition have all tried. Each new regime was less a conquest and more an intermission.

Managing a country from outside, especially one like Afghanistan is nearly impossible and it is fraught with eventual failure. Governments limp away with damaged reputations. World leaders failed this past month including those here in Canada.

One of my Wellington County Afghani friends said, “Philip, I don’t completely blame foreign governments. My country has to take some responsibility for all that has gone on.” Fair enough, the blame train has left the station and we are all on board.

In fact, decent governance is a global challenge. Seeing a problem and fixing it are two different things. Afghanistan is just another case of good intentions leading to unpredictable futures. There are other examples.

Is there peace in the Balkans, or are they simply weary of shooting each other? Haiti, within spitting distance of Florida, recently had their president assassinated. Zimbabwe, Somalia, and the list goes on. Even with military might and one trillion dollars, it is nearly impossible to usher-in democracy and change hearts and minds.

This brings me back to Afghanistan and a world that is now having to become the reluctant host to refugees. I am glad we’ll receive some of the refugees to the Guelph – Wellington region. It is the least we can do. This is especially true for those who risked their lives to work with Canadians in Afghanistan.  

The story of Afghanistan is not over. History has shown that. I have no predictions for the future except that things will get worse in the short term. My heart is broken for people I worked with and with whom I have no contact. We can only hope for better days. Many organizations are helping refugees.

As ever, they need our financial support. It’s not much, but it’s something. I hope you’ll consider donating.


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About the Author: Philip Maher

Philip Maher is a consultant and photojournalist. He has managed international communication projects for more than 20 years, taking him to more than 80 countries. His twitter is @mercytraveller.
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