One way to have a safer U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan would have been to set up a U.N. peacekeeping mission ahead of time, rather than drawing back troops and leaving civilians scrambling to evacuate as a lightning Taliban offensive retook the country, according to a former Afghan official who was forced to flee her homeland.
Nargis Nehan, Afghanistan’s former minister of mines and petroleum, had to leave her ailing father and sister behind when she fled Taliban-occupied Kabul this week with help from Norway, the U.S, and others.
“None of us thought that so suddenly everything would collapse, would fall apart,” she told Fox News Saturday.
Nor did they foresee such a poorly planned U.S. draw down, she said, in which the military pulled out of Bagram Air Base before evacuating American citizens and Afghan allies.
“The withdrawal and the evacuation itself was very irresponsible,” she said. “In a country like Afghanistan, where the risk of the conflict was so high, we were expecting for them that if we’re withdrawing at least they would deploy a U.N. peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan so we could have prevented the catastrophe that’s going on in the country right now.”
In fact, women’s rights groups, faith leaders and humanitarians had called for U.N. peacekeepers back in July, The Associated Press reported at the time.
The job of U.N. peacekeepers is to help “countries navigate the difficult path from conflict to peace.” Peacekeepers currently have operations underway in 12 areas, but Afghanistan is not one of them.
And that means uncertainty for 38 million Afghan civilians – the majority of whom do not support the Taliban, Nehan said.
More than 80% of those people are youths, she said, and roughly half of them are women. So she called on young people and women’s rights groups around the world to rally for the cause.
“Please hold your politicians accountable,” she said. “Please, pressure them to deploy a U.N. peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan, and please help us prevent the humanitarian catastrophe and crisis that we see ahead of us.”
Nehan told Fox News Saturday that decades of strife in her homeland were in part due to foreign powers vying for influence through decades of proxy wars.
“Many people thought that if you make a peace deal with the Taliban, at least the violence in Afghanistan would stop,” she said. “But what we know is that in the last 40 years, people are saying that we have to make peace with this group, with that group, and the fighting will be over — but we see the fighting is not over.”
Before Nehan left the country, she said she met with former President Hamid Karzai and peace negotiator Abdullah Abdullah, who remain involved in talks with the Taliban.
But aside from blaming exiled President Ashraf Ghani for creating a power vacuum when he fled the country, she said they offered few details about Afghanistan’s path forward.
“They say that these are the promises that we have from them, but only time will tell,” she said. “We have to wait for the Taliban to form their government and see how inclusive that is going to be.”
The last time the Taliban was in power, from the mid-1990s until the U.S. invasion in 2001, women like Nehan could not participate in public life, let alone hold office. Women could not go to school, work outside their homes or even go out in public without a male chaperone.
But she said some Afghans are hopeful of a different situation this time around.
“One step forward that we do see, in case of not only Taliban, but I think all sides, is that everybody has concluded that violence is not the solution for Afghanistan,” she said. “At least, unlike the ‘90s, where without talking, they continued fighting. At this date, they are giving talks a try.”
If those talks fail, however, she said severe fighting could erupt again.
The chaotic withdrawal resulted in panic outside the U.S.-held airport over the past two weeks.
Afghans desperate to flee were photographed clinging to the outside of a departing military plane – and some fell to their deaths.
Afghans eligible for special immigration visas, American citizens and other refugees reported Taliban patrols going door to door looking for former Afghan soldiers, officials or U.S. interpreters, as they hid and prayed for a chance to escape.
And on Thursday morning, the ISIS-K terror group set off a suicide bomb outside the airport’s Abbey Gate, killing 11 U.S. Marines, an Army soldier and a Navy medic – as well as dozens of Afghan civilians.
Numerous evacuees have described chaos outside the airport – Taliban checkpoints and huge crowds that made it difficult to reach the U.S. perimeter for safety.
Nehan said it took her several tries to get through.
On one, she actually made it inside the airport but then her father passed out and had to be rushed to the hospital, she said. She went with him, she said, reluctant to leave him behind. But later, Norwegian officials offered her another chance to evacuate with several other family members. Ultimately, she accepted – but that meant leaving her sister and father behind.
When she reached Oslo on Thursday, she tweeted that the ordeal left her shaken.
“Finally landed in Norway with my family leaving my father & sister behind. I can’t stop my tears for my people & country,” she wrote. “I am not a Proud, Resilient & Hopeful Afghan anymore. I am again a hopeless & helpless Refugee whose search for Identity, Home & Peace is never ending.”