Taliban is new reality in Afghanistan – let’s talk to them: Former Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee

Former Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee wants to see the international community engage with the Taliban because the “guns blazing” efforts by the West have failed and the new regime in Afghanistan is the reality.

“The guns blazing has pretty much failed,” Brownlee told the Herald.

“The consequences of that could well be that Afghanistan becomes a home again for the sort of terrorist activity that threatens anybody, anytime. They will become a rogue state if the rest of the world doesn’t engage with them on some level.”

That didn’t mean accepting “the philosophy of that regime”.

“But we have to accept the reality of there being that regime. Their history is not one of compromise, nor generosity to people who’ve been opposed to them in the past.

“But you would hope that as they re-assume control of the country, they might want to be more engaged with the international community so they can achieve some of the things they claim they’re able to deliver for Afghan people.”

Overnight, thousands of foreigners as well as Afghans fled to safety as the capital Kabul fell to the Taliban.

The Green Party said it was “heartbreaking” to know that Afghans face the prospect of living under Taliban rule once again, with women and girls at the greatest risk of sexual and gender-based violence.

The party’s human rights spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman said New Zealand could work with allies and partners to ensure Taliban fighters have no more funding and resources, even if that means standing up to our trading partners.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that Cabinet will today discuss the 30-odd Kiwis and their family members in Afghanistan, as well as a group of 38 Afghan civilians who helped the New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction Team in the Bamyan Province – including interpreters, carpenters, electricians, mechanics, cleaners and female kitchen workers.

They are fearing deadly reprisals from the Taliban now the Kiwis, Americans and other Nato allies have abandoned the country.

Some of them had had immigration applications to New Zealand denied last year, but Brownlee wouldn’t say if the Government had dropped the ball.

“You can go through that endlessly. The reality is we’ve got a very, very awful situation in front of us at the moment. The focus needs to be on what should be done, and done quickly.”

The first priority was getting New Zealand citizens out safely, he said, followed by the locals who helped the NZ Defence Force.

“A third group would be those who have spoken internationally against the Taliban regime, whose lives will also now be in threat.

“Anyone who’s associated with or been part of any resistance to the Taliban will be definitely in danger. We know what will happen to those people [if caught]. They will be subjected to very rough treatment, and at the end of it, lose their life.”

Brownlee wouldn’t say whether the Government had been too slow to help those people.

“There’s a difficulty in making any sort of statement that not enough has been done. The Government would have relied on the intelligence coming out of Afghanistan, particularly out of Kabul, where the expectation was that the Afghan military would be able to hold off the Taliban advances.

“Clearly over the last two weeks, it’s become less and less of a prospect. Given the situation is now upon us, the focus should be on what we do right now.”

New Zealand efforts in Afghanistan had spanned 20 years, but Brownlee said it wasn’t wrong in hindsight for New Zealand to join international efforts there.

“The world was pretty much gripped by the fear of terrorism taking more rampant hold of activities that threaten countries like us.

“The reality is, what we’ve set out to do can’t be achieved. Let’s now get our people out of there as quickly as possible.”

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