Dáil debates

Wednesday, 29 September 2021

Afghanistan Crisis: Statements


7:32 pm

Photo of Michael McNamaraMichael McNamara (Clare, Independent) | Oireachtas source

I am sharing time with Deputy Connolly.

Like my constituency colleague, I commend the Minister and his Department on the work they have done and continue to do in evacuating Irish citizens. The type of interaction he described is one that reflects those I have had with him the past, when he has been contactable late at night when officials are not, and that is not a criticism of officials. They are not paid to be contactable by Deputies late at night. Nor is the Minister, but he tends to be available and I, for one, appreciate that.

In framing a policy on Afghanistan as a neutral country - I support our neutrality - we need to reflect on what has happened there. From what I can see, Osama bin Laden, pretty comprehensively, achieved what he set out to achieve more than 20 years ago. That is not palatable to many but that is what has happened, in light of the state Afghanistan is in now. The Taliban is comprehensively in control of the territory of Afghanistan in a way it was not then. The Panjshir Valley seems to have fallen, although there are disputed reports from there. The Taliban pretty comprehensively controls the entire territory in a way it never did before. The only difference now is that it has trillions of dollars of western military hardware at its disposal, which was left in a panicked retreat.

We can see it even more broadly than that, in the context of the US presence in the world, and in particular in the Muslim world and the proxy war happening between the Sunni forces, led primarily by the Saudis, and Iran and the impact that is having throughout the Muslim world. We need to reflect on that, how that victory came about and what the West did. I acknowledge it is easy to talk about the West, but what happened to facilitate that? Massive corruption was exposed by WikiLeaks and the then Vice President of Afghanistan was reported to have arrived in Dubai with $52 million in cash. I am sure the corruption being reported was reported to all western embassies but, nevertheless, it continued.

I worked in Afghanistan in 2004 and 2005. I have to say, what I saw there was not the paradise it is being portrayed as now. I am not saying the Taliban was not worse or that what is going to happen now is not worse, but that which was portrayed as a great revolution was certainly not that and did not quite enjoy the popular support because ordinary people on the ground were not enjoying any of the benefits of it. It was all being filtered off into the corruption of officials. We must not lose sight of the fact that the military victory, such as it was when the Northern Alliance took Kabul, was really warlords who got air cover from the West to retake Kabul before carving it up among themselves again. They have very recently retreated, for now, into neighbouring states.

There are not really good guys and bad guys. The idea that they might be bastards but they are bastards - that might not be parliamentary language but that is the realpolitikof international relations - only got us so far. We are right back now to where we were then, faced with the question of whether we - Ireland, the West - should negotiate with the Taliban now as we could have then or go through this all over again and lose further western lives in Afghanistan. For every western life lost, a multiple of Afghans were killed. It is not a very happy or cheerful message but it would be wrong to think the Taliban came to power without popular support. No occupational force could sweep through a country as quickly as it did without considerable support on the ground. It was obvious from a long time ago that the western project would not succeed there, such as it was.


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