Surprisingly, donations to aid charities have held during Covid. Kiwis may feel an inexplicable need to throw a punch to reach the toilet paper in aisle five, but when we watched Delta rampage through India and the Pacific, a massive explosion go off in Lebanon, and we saw that vaccines weren't reaching the poorest countries, our better selves took over, and we did the only thing possible with closed borders—we gave money. About $198 million went to New Zealand charities working in these countries in 2020.

We care. The public expects us to do more to help Afghans who have worked with our Defence Force and our aid charities for over 20 years, at huge personal risk. Lockdown hasn't stopped nearly 30,000 people from signing a petition in less than a week to bring more Afghan refugees to New Zealand now.

In 2015 when the Key government hesitated to increase refugee numbers for Syrian families fleeing the bombs, communities stepped up. Like my mum’s Catholic church group who raised enough to sponsor a family. Mayors across the country increased their popularity by offering sanctuary. Finally, the government offered 750 extra visas to fleeing Syrians.

This time it's more personal. New Zealand blood has been spilt in Afghanistan. We know the mountains and the people of Bamyan as friends and colleagues.

That’s why the government should agree to a one-off increase to our refugee quota of 1000 Afghan refugees, and back Turkey's offer to the Afghan government to run aid and evacuation charter flights in and out of Kabul airport.

woman-and-child-walking-1.jpg
Council for International Development director Josie Pagani says the government should agree to a one-off increase to our refugee quota of 1000 Afghan refugees.


Second, just as the United Kingdom has done, New Zealand needs to double its aid to Afghan community organisations now. These are the local people who have made the tough call to stay and distribute food and shelter. They depend on aid.

Then we have to get our heads around what happens next for a small country like ours if America continues its retreat from the world. The withdrawal from Afghanistan shows Biden has every intention of honouring Trump's ‘America First’ foreign policy.

The only surprise is that people were so surprised. Many on the left have campaigned against America's self-appointed role as ‘policeman of the world’ since the Vietnam war. American foreign policy debacles gave them good reason. But it should give them pause they’re now joined by Trump supporters in QAnon and the racist Proud Boys who agree, America's ‘Liberal interventionism’ and its ‘forever wars’, need to end. That includes interventions to prevent crimes against humanity.

 

children-in-shack-1.jpgChildren huddling under a makeshift shelter. Photo credit: Tearfund UK.


The images from Kabul airport are what it looks like when America goes home. Clearly, the opposite of intervention isn't peace.

Bill Clinton said that one of his deepest regrets as president was the failure to prevent a genocide against Tutsis in Rwanda. Nearly a million people were slaughtered in 100 days when the United Nations failed to act.

So, what happens next time there is the threat of a state-sanctioned genocide? We may look back on the humiliating fall of Kabul as the moment when America's decline as a superpower crystallised.

This will challenge New Zealand, caught between our ties to the United States and China. We depend on a global system of trade rules, as well as for human rights and conflict. That's why we're strong advocates for multilateral trade deals rather than just bilaterals. On our own, we struggle to bring enough to the negotiating table.

It's why we were a loud and lonely voice at the United Nations sounding the alarm about impending genocide in Rwanda when America was silent. We too depend on an international community willing to intervene.

Without rules, small countries like ours get caught up in superpower struggles. Looking to our past can help us now. We should be proud that New Zealand was one of the original architects of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) principle in international law after the horrors of Rwanda and the massacre of Muslims at Srebrenica. It has our name on it and commits us and every signatory country to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

New Zealand must keep speaking out against the retreat of big countries behind their own borders, in favour of an international community willing to uphold the rules and the rights of citizens to be free of harm.

As the last American planes left, Beijing looked likely to formally recognise the Afghan Government. Russia could follow. Superpower dynamics are shifting. New Zealand must be ready. We can start by showing that we are independent and still a strong advocate for international rules.

And we can reserve more MIQ rooms now for Afghan families who worked with us.


Banner image credit: Laura K Smith.


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