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Speech: The colossal failure in Afghanistan

Speeches in Parliament
Mehreen Faruqi 23 Aug 2021

I rise to make my contribution to this motion. My heart goes out to the Afghan people, who are suffering the harrowing, horrific and tragic consequences of war at the moment—and have been for decades. So let's not try and obliterate this reality. The truth is Australia failed the people of Afghanistan by waging a war on them with our so-called Western allies, and it's failing Afghans today. Mr Morrison, you have left ADF interpreters and their families in extreme danger. You've offered a paltry 3,000 visas from the existing allocation and you have the audacity to say you wish things were different. There are tens of thousands in Afghanistan at risk and desperately seeking to flee to safety. There are thousands in Australia waiting to be granted permanent visas. What a terrible show of apathy and action from this government. We know you had months of warning to evacuate people from Afghanistan, and yet you did nothing.

For 20 years, Afghans were subjected to an imperialist war waged in the name of curbing terrorism. They lived under the direct and violent occupation by Western military forces, and warlords propped up by the United States. Allied forces dropped bombs on children, on farmers and on wedding parties. They've been killed in crossfire and by improvised explosive devices, and there have been assassinations. We will never know the full toll of this 20-year invasion, but we do know that thousands upon thousands have been massacred. We know there is more poverty, there is lack of access to health services, and millions of Afghans have been displaced. And now the Taliban are back in power and they are emboldened.

History, unfortunately, is riddled with these colossal and unmitigated failures of Europe, the United States and their allies, like Australia, to intervene, to control and to attempt to extinguish complicated Middle Eastern conflicts. Every time, it has made the situation worse and inflicted an insurmountable heavy toll on the people who have been invaded, all to keep the Western military war machine going—the same war machine that enlists and uses people and then abandons veterans in the aftermath.

For decades now, the people of Afghanistan have been caught between the misogynistic and extremely violent Taliban on the one hand and the deadly consequences of allied forces on the other. In all of this, the hollow self-serving concerns about the safety of women were paraded around to justify the ongoing Western intervention and Australia's involvement in the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, when we know full well that women, girls and children bear a vastly disproportionate burden of war itself and the havoc that comes after. People love to speak on behalf of Muslim women—as if we have no agency, no capacity to resist or fight back; as if we need to be perpetually protected by the 'white saviour' industrial complex. I know this very well, even though I am in a position of relative privilege. But no-one knows this better than my sisters in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, who have endured Western military invasion, occupation and war. So this is an important time to step back and listen to what Afghan women have to say.

Malalai Joya, a leading Afghan women's activist and former parliamentarian, has said the plight of women in Afghanistan has always served as a very good excuse for Western military invention and has asked that the occupation be rebranded from 'the war on terror' to 'the war on innocent Afghan people'. All the while, she says, the nature of the Taliban hasn't changed and women are again going to bear the brunt of the current crisis. Malalai Joya says: 'No nation can donate liberation to another nation. What we need from abroad is not war machines but humanitarian aid.' And this is the time for Australia to provide that aid in spades.

History will not look kindly upon John Howard for being part of creating this bloody mess, nor Scott Morrison and his government for their morally bankrupt response to the crisis in Afghanistan. We don't just owe the people of Afghanistan an apology; we owe them permanent protection in Australia. We owe them reparations and humanitarian assistance, the scale of which should dwarf our military spend. This is the least we should do, and we must do it right now.


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