OPINIE – Lessons learned

United States forces recently pulled out of Afghanistan after twenty years of combat during which time thousands of US and Allied forces have been killed, tens of thousands wounded. Additionally, the casualties of Afghan military and civilians also ran into the tens of thousands. Their primary reason for going into Afghanistan was to hunt Osama Bin Laden and halt the country being a haven for terrorists.  A secondary goal was that of nation building; try to make Afghanistan a western-styled democracy with a modern constitution and recognizable institutions. Western forces would assist writing the new constitution, train civil servants and also train military, police and other security forces so that they would be up to the task of running their country in a modern way, and also defending it; able to withstand rogue elements.

After twenty years the only certified success was the capture of Bin Laden. Furthermore, the prospect of achieving the other goals was getting dimmer by the day. The traditional institutions of the country were disrupted or set aside, thereby disorienting and confusing the Afghan people. So, what should the US and their allies do? Commit to another twenty years or as long as necessary? Pour more money in to assuage and mollify the Afghan people to get them on your side? Call on the Afghan people to fight some more, sacrifice some more, bury some more relatives and friends, in the hope of a better outcome sometime, sometime in the future?

American politicians criticized president Biden for his decision to rapidly pull out of the country, although the decision was actually already put in motion by his predecessor. It did not help that the actual pullout was somewhat chaotic, even giving opportunity for rogue forces to detonate a bomb in the mass trying to flee the country. President Biden stood his ground and said twenty years is enough. Time to bring troops home, time to focus on the problems of Americans at home. Selfish? Maybe. Practical? Based on all that we know now, hell yes!

On the other side of the globe, in February 2018, a much smaller invasion took place when the Dutch government intervened in the administration of the island of Statia, by expelling the local elected representatives, both executive and legislative bodies, from office and installing a hand-picked ruler and lieutenant. The goals, to restore order in government and end neglect. Also, the new regime would train the civil service, write necessary laws and improve the overall quality of government, to the level that the civil service could stand its ground when a future local government is installed. Sounds familiar?

Additionally, the “task neglect” and the dilapidated infrastructure would be a matter of priority so that the people of Statia would see in a short period of time what a proper government could do for them. Money is no problem, they said. Finally, future politicians and elected representatives must undergo prescribed training in order to take up their positions. So much for hitting the ground running.

Just three years later, the people of Statia are now asking, how long, how long? A couple roads have recently been completed, a few infrastructure projects have been taken up, the civil service has been reshuffled a few times it seems, numerous European civil servants have been hired. The financial household is yet to reach full compliance with applicable laws.

An election took place one year ago in which the ousted elected representatives, in the exact same constellation as before the invasion, were elected. Meanwhile, the imposed administration is now in its third iteration.

So, the question is, how long still? When will the stated goals be achieved and the island returned to an elected administration?

We are asked by some to remember how we got here. More important at this point is how long do we deny the people the government they deserve, the government they elect. It is unconscionable and unheard of in any modern democracy that a people is denied democratic representation for such a long period of time. What is there left to gain? The outside forces have a choice of saving face now or losing much more the longer this lasts. Like president Biden it’s time to say enough is enough. Let us focus on rebuilding our island, our democracy, and allow the people of this island to govern themselves once again.

Sometimes one needs to admit to overplaying one’s hand; cut your losses now before you do more harm to yourself and others. Time for the Afghan veteran to make a decision.

Progressive Labour Party

St. Eustatius

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