Robert G. Patman explains why New Zealand should not
cut and run in Afghanistan.
The "ramp" ceremony at Christchurch Airport for the bodies
of Lance Corporals Pralli Durrer and Rory Malone, killed in
Afghanistan. Photo by the NZ Defence Force.
Foreign policy decision-making is often about the act of
choosing from imperfect policy alternatives.
The recent news that three New Zealand soldiers -
Lance-corporal Jacinda Baker, Private Richard Harris and
Corporal Luke Tamatea - had been killed by a Taliban roadside
bomb in Bamiyan was a deeply shocking blow to this country.
The latest deaths followed in the wake of a Taliban ambush
two weeks ago which killed Lance-corporals Pralli Durrer and
Not surprisingly, this tragic loss of life has raised very
real questions about the future direction of New Zealand's
policy in Afghanistan.
It should be recalled New Zealand deployed an SAS unit and
140-strong NZDF Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) to
Afghanistan in 2001 and 2003 respectively.
The SAS unit was withdrawn from Kabul in March and Prime
Minister John Key decided after the recent NZDF deaths to
accelerate the timetable for withdrawal of the NZDF
contingent from the Bamiyan PRT to April 2013.
By most accounts, the performance of NZ PRT has been highly
effective. Its primary goal has been in the area of
reconstruction and capacity-building.
Between 2004 and 2010, the NZ PRT implemented 70 projects at
a total value of $NZ8.5 million.
These projects embraced areas such as infrastructure, health,
governance, education, human rights and agriculture.
In addition, the NZ PRT has contributed to the security of
Bamiyam by providing local security training, including the
training of an indigenous rapid reaction force, police
training, and community-based armed patrols.
It should be added all governments in Wellington during the
past decade have believed New Zealand involvement in
Afghanistan served the national interests of this country.
Like the United States and many other members of the
international community, including Australia, New Zealand
recognised the need after September 11 to counter al Qaeda
and Taliban-supported terrorism, and contribute to conditions
in a post-Taliban state that would strengthen the economy,
facilitate democratic governance and extend human rights.
New Zealand's commitment in Afghanistan also raised New
Zealand's diplomatic profile and seemed to be consistent with
a view in Wellington New Zealand stood to gain if it was seen
as a "good international citizen" prepared to shoulder its
share of the burden of collective security.
But after the deadly attack on New Zealand forces last
weekend, a number of observers have challenged the rationale
for New Zealand involvement and demanded the immediate
withdrawal of the NZ PRT from Bamiyan.
Among other things, it is said that the war in Afghanistan is
unwinnable, the NZDF should not be fighting other people's
wars and that we are only in Afghanistan to please the US,
and that New Zealand has no business trying to protect a
deeply corrupt government in Kabul led by Hamid Karzai.
These points warrant careful examination.
First, it is apparent, at least since 2009, that the US and
Nato no longer seriously entertain the prospect of a
comprehensive victory over the Taliban. The priority for the
Obama administration has been to marginalise the al Qaeda
leadership and to degrade the Taliban to a point where they
cannot use military force to seize power again in Kabul and
reverse the social and political changes that have been in
train since their demise in 2001.
Second, the idea the Afghan conflict is none of New Zealand's
business is debatable. The reality is we live in an
interconnected world where security, economic and
environmental problems do not respect the boundaries of
sovereign states. And, as a small but active global trader,
New Zealand has a huge stake in countering threats to
international stability whether they are in Afghanistan or
Third, it would be wrong to assume New Zealand or other
members of the international coalition are in Afghanistan
simply to protect Mr Karzai's corrupt leadership. Yes, he is
widely regarded by coalition members as self-interested and
weak, but he is not expected to contest the 2014 election,
and therefore the focus is on trying to consolidate a
transitional political system that is resilient enough to
outlast Karzai's departure and face down the fundamentalist
challenge of the Taliban after 2014. It should not be
forgotten in this context few Afghan citizens are nostalgic
for the Taliban era.
Thus, while it is clear there are major challenges ahead for
the NZDF PRT between now and 2013, there also are moral,
diplomatic and strategic reasons why New Zealand should stick
to its international commitment and contribute as best it can
to an orderly transition in Bamiyan.
• Robert G. Patman is professor of international
relations in the department of politics at the University of