The Afghanistan anniversary ended with silence and inaction
It has been more than a year since I realized the government of Afghanistan was about to collapse. During the first week of August 2021, I kept scrolling in disbelief as the Taliban started taking over major cities that were previous strongholds of the Western-backed government. Meanwhile, messages from those inside the country who feared being targeted by the Taliban poured in, fearing the absolute worst.
A year later, those messages haven’t stopped. While the Taliban rendered women second-class citizens, closed girls’ schools and ethnically cleansed parts of the country, millions cling to hope from broken promises made by the U.S. Afghanistan’s youth, who were once encouraged by the U.S. to break glass ceilings in a conservative society, are losing the hope President Biden gave them when he declared last year, “there is a home for you in the United States if you so choose, and we will stand with you just as you stood with us.”
Meanwhile, the one-year anniversary of the withdrawal has come to pass with a serious lack of public attention and accountability. While the entire world was witness to the shameful debacle last August, there have been no public congressional hearings on what transpired and no government official has resigned due to the failures.
The occupation is over, but in the aftermath of its 20-year ordeal, America seems eager to pretend Afghanistan has ceased to exist when it’s indeed responsible.
The rushed withdrawal and abandonment of those desperate to flee the country is not the only mistake the U.S. has made since last year. We’ve pursued economic warfare on the Taliban with zero consideration for the collateral damage it has inflicted on regular Afghans.
The United States’ seizure of sovereign Afghan assets, hard-hitting sanctions and abrupt end to foreign aid has led to the world’s most dire humanitarian disaster, leading more than half the country to the brink of famine. Afghans seeking evacuation now not only live in fear of arbitrary arrest or execution from the Taliban, but they are also jobless and going hungry. Many others, especially young women and girls, mention suicide if no help reaches them soon.
The double standard between how the U.S. treated Afghans and Ukrainians is tough to swallow. While the White House created a special parole program for Ukrainians with a free-to-use online portal that will allow 100,000 Ukranianians to enter the country, Afghans who stood alongside America’s two-decade military occupation despite the risk of Taliban retribution were not given the same treatment. A recent report by Reveal exposes government data that points to a racist immigration system: Out of 66,000 humanitarian parole applications, the government approved only 123 while collecting roughly $20 million in fees.
Despite all this, it is not too late for America to live up to its moral obligation and promises to the Afghan people.
First, the Biden administration must ensure that at-risk Afghans who got left behind are allowed to seek refuge in the United States. It can do so by establishing an Afghan parole program, which it historically has done for Vietnamese, Kosovar, Iraqi Kurds and other refugees from areas where the United States has been involved militarily. Many Afghans remain in Afghanistan or a third country, such as Albania, awaiting processing of their special immigrant visa (SIV) or priority-2 applications. The administration, once and for all, should stop making excuses for bureaucratic delays and ensure Afghans find a dignified welcome in the United States.
Second, Congress and the administration must fulfill one of its promises by passing the Afghan Adjustment Act with no excuse or delay so that President Biden can sign it into law. This bipartisan piece of legislation, which has support from both Democrats and Republicans in both the Senate and the House, would allow newly arrived Afghans to have a pathway to permanent protections inside this country. The asylum process is expensive, traumatic and deeply burdensome; many did not have the chance to bring all their documents in their quest to be evacuated and find safety.
Third, there must be a renewed focus on welcoming Afghan refugees with dignity. Thousands of newly arrived Afghans continue to live in temporary housing such as hotels, motels and Airbnbs, with the prospect of finding affordable housing for them increasingly daunting in an inflationary economy. Countless others are unable to access healthcare, given America’s confusing and shallow social safety net. Community organizations are overwhelmed while inaction by the federal and state governments is failing new arrivals.
While the chaotic airport scenes at Kabul airport last summer have ended, Afghans are still in need of refuge and safety. President Biden ran on a campaign of welcoming refugees and made solemn promises to Afghans in need of refuge ahead of the withdrawal. Millions of Afghans’ lives have been upended at the hands of the United States, both through its unfulfilled promises and the humanitarian crisis it is partially responsible for.
Afghans are no strangers to being betrayed, forgotten, or abandoned, and recent history is rife with examples of the world doing exactly that. But America made a promise and must live up to it. Otherwise, the calamity that will unfold will be America’s responsibility. Time is running out.
Arash Azizzada is the co-founder and co-director of Afghans For A Better Tomorrow. He is a writer, photographer and community organizer in the Afghan diaspora. His work has been published in The New York Times, Newsweek and more.