From soldiers to trade

Chronicle from North Jutland Stiftstidende on July 26, 2021

The evening back in 2012 I got a little tab of a feel for what it would say to be a Danish soldier in Afghanistan. We were in Helmand and away from the base to visit one of the outposts, and talk to a group of farmers. Due to a storm, the helicopter could not pick us up as planned. It was therefore legible as it finally arrived, and we had to hurry out and into the helicopter who immediately eased again. We flew with great haste to reduce the risk of shelling in the dark night.

There in the dark and the noose I was nervous and thought about how it would be if we had been going against a military mission. I also remember that I concluded that I would probably not have the courage to.

About 12,000 Danish soldiers have had the courage to. It is the number of Danish soldiers who have left to efforts in Afghanistan. Many of them were even off several times. 44 Breakdown Danish soldiers lost life, of which 37 in combat actions. 214 was injured. In almost 20 years, Denmark was militarily present in Afghanistan.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021 at 13.50, the last Danish soldiers left the country.

The event was mentioned in a number of articles in the newspapers, but otherwise there was surprisingly quiet. No official ceremony. No celebration. No selection. It was a silence that might be due to uncertainty about the outcome of the distinctive effort. We lost? Won we? Did we do a difference? How does the Afghanistan look like we are now leaving? How does the future look for the Afghan population?

The uncertainty I understand well and I experience it yourself. I am several times a week in touch with Afghans and Afghan companies through our company, Warfair, where we import goods from Afghanistan. It is clear to feel the concern and uncertainty. But we also notice optimism. They believe in a brighter future for Afghanistan, if only the fighting of them.

Although there have been great mistakes along the way, even though it has been difficult and although Taliban is now gaining back, the Danish and international efforts have made a positive difference. The Afghan population has seen the war and unimaginable disorders, but they have also seen good changes over the last 20 years they would not otherwise have seen.

The changes I have also experienced in Afghanistan, when I met strong women in Kabul, who fought for human rights and democracy, debated goats and gets with laborous farmers in Mazar-e Sharif, visited school teachers and nurses who worked hard to ensure education and health And sat in Afghan classrooms with children who told about all their hopes and dreams for the future.

I still experience them today. As a just a small example, the four Afghan companies we trade with between 50 and 80% women have employed. It is women with dreams and hope and a career that they proudly and would like to tell about. The opportunities they would not have had if the Taliban continued. Afghanistan is a country other than it was 20 years ago.

The criticisms of the Danish effort often pointed to the scary many who have lost their lives in the conflict - both military and civilians. It is an eligible criticism. But it is important to remember two things. First, Afghanistan was home to fundamentalist terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda, who scattered death and destruction both in and beyond Afghanistan's borders. Second, there was both war, conflict and brutal oppression in Afghanistan before international intervention. Under the 1990s fought various mujahedin fractions and killed thousands of people. Even when Taliban in 1996, power in the majority of the country continued the fighting between Taliban and the Northern Alliance.

The matches were most likely continued. Afghanistan has for many decades been plagued by war and conflicts. And the fighting will greatly try again, now that the international strengths have left the country. We already see how Taleban steps up and how militers not least in northern Afghanistan, break up in the fight against Taliban. Other fundamentalist groups, including Islamic state, try to win foothold in the fragile country. Unfortunately, the war and fighting are not over.

But I think and hope that the more moderate part of the Taliban - and the countries supporting Taliban - realizes that there is no military victory. And that there is no way back to the fundamentalist and repressive rule, which was in 2001. It takes place, international efforts can lead to a peace agreement that leaves the population with much more rights and opportunities than they had in 2001.

And although Taliban, military or through negotiation and election, end up getting power in Afghanistan, they take over another Afghanistan and another population. Millions of girls and women, boys and men have got an education, and no one can have taken from them again. Hundreds of thousands of nurses, school teachers and police officers today get their salary every month from the Afghan state. A wealth of associations, initiatives and not least good Afghan companies created workplaces and income and slowly but surely builds a new Afghanistan. Them get Afghanistan need no matter who gets power.

Afghanistan also needs economic development, and it needs to increase as development assistance to Afghanistan unfortunately falls markedly the next year. It is crucial that we do not give up, but maintain an involvement in Afghanistan and one of the most important things we can do is strengthen trade and cooperation to create economic development, income and jobs. We must act for peace.

In this way, we can contribute to that Afghanistan, who is about anything but war and conflict. AFGHANISTAN must again be known for the amazing Jaghoza pine nuts, Kishmish raisins, Gurbandi and Satarbai almonds, the beautiful hand-wrapped carpets and vests of Kashmir Wool, the unique saffron, strong liquorice root and hopefully a wealth of other quality goods. We must listen to the Afghan Rap and Hip Hop musicians, invite Afghan students and researchers to the Danish universities, invest in the Afghan companies and cheer on their football team. That's what now is the task.

We should, you can say in the backlog's exclusively clear light, have taken on us far stronger, much earlier. We have focused too much on assistance, too little on trade. That responsibility I also take myself on me. The Danish imports from Afghanistan are vanishingly small. But it may be done. We have in a short time more than doubled imports and eg. Getting Afghan Safran on the shelves in Irma in good cooperation with Karlsen's spices in Hadsund. Through trade and collaboration, we can send a signal to the Afghan population that they are not forgotten and that there is another and better future if the fighting stops.

For 20 years, we have struggled militarily for peace and prosperity. It was necessary. Now the task is to act for peace and prosperity in Afghanistan. Here, North Jutland companies can also be with. Here everyone can be with.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021, therefore must not mark a goodbye to Afghanistan. The day must mark a new start for our cooperation with Afghanistan and the country, the population that we know far better today. We have a strong foundation for creating the future through the knowledge and friends we have gained over 20 years. We can build on the many skilled Afghan refugees, who now live in Denmark, and have networks, family and friends in Afghanistan. We can exploit the solid foundation that the Danish soldiers have helped build up.

Together creates countless good opportunities for cooperation and trade with Afghanistan.

From soldiers to trade. It is the task.


Posted by Christian Friis Bach, founder of the company Warfair, former Development Minister.