From soldiers to trade

Chronicle from Nordjyske Stiftstidende on July 26, 2021

That night back in 2012, I got a little tab of a sense of what it means 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 dark when it finally arrived and we had to hurry out and into the helicopter that immediately lightened again. We flew with great urgency to reduce the risk of shooting in the dark night.

There in the dark and the noise, I was nervous and thought about what it would be like if we had been on our way to a military mission. I also remember that I concluded that I probably wouldn't have the courage needed.

About 12,000 Danish soldiers have had the courage needed. This is the number of Danish soldiers who have been off to the effort in Afghanistan. Many of them were even off several times. 44 courageous Danish soldiers lost their lives, including 37 in combat actions. 214 were injured. For almost 20 years, Denmark was militarily present in Afghanistan.

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

That event was mentioned in a number of articles in the newspapers, but otherwise there was astonishingly quiet. No official ceremony. No celebration. No marking. It was a silence that may be due to uncertainty about the result of the marked effort. Did we lose? Did we won? Did we make a difference? What does the Afghanistan look like we are leaving now? What does the future look like for the Afghan population?

I understand that uncertainty well and I experience it myself. I am in contact with Afghans and Afghan companies several times a week through our company, Warfair, where we import goods from Afghanistan. It is clear to feel the concern and the uncertainty. But we also feel the optimism. They believe in a brighter future for Afghanistan, if only the matches will subside.

Although big mistakes have occurred along the way, although it has been difficult and although the Taliban is now winning again, the Danish and international efforts have made a positive difference. The Afghan population has seen the war and unimaginable suffering, but they have also seen good changes over the last 20 years that they would not otherwise have seen.

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

I still experience them today. As a mere small example, the four Afghan companies we deal with between 50 and 80% women employed. These are women with dreams and hopes and a career that they proudly and would like to tell about. They would not have had those opportunities if the Taliban had continued. Afghanistan is a different country than it was 20 years ago.

The critics of the Danish efforts often pointed to the awful many who have lost their lives in the conflict - both military and civilians. It is a legitimate criticism. But it's important to remember two things. First, until 2001, Afghanistan was home to fundamentalist terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda, which spread death and destruction both in and beyond Afghanistan's borders. Secondly, there was war, conflict and brutal oppression in Afghanistan before the international intervention. Throughout the 1990s, various mujahedin fractions fought and killed thousands of people. Even when the Taliban took power in most of the country in 1996, the fighting between the Taliban and the northern alliance continued.

Those matches were most likely to continue. For many decades, Afghanistan has been plagued by war and conflicts. And the fighting will most likely be increasing now that the international forces have left the country. We are already seeing how the Taliban escalates and how military leaders not least in northern Afghanistan are upset in the fight against the Taliban. Other fundamentalist groups, including Islamic State, try to gain a foothold in the fragile country. Unfortunately, the war and fighting are not over.

But I believe and hope that the more moderate part of the Taliban - and the countries that support the Taliban - realize that there is no military victory. And that there is no way back to the fundamentalist and oppressive government that was in 2001. If this happens, international efforts can lead to a peace agreement that leaves the population with far more rights and opportunities than they had in 2001.

And although the Taliban, militarily or through negotiation and elections end up gaining power in Afghanistan, they take over another Afghanistan and another population. Millions of girls and women, boys and men have received an education, and no one can take it from them again. Hundreds of thousands of nurses, school teachers and police officers today receive their salary every month from the Afghan state. A wealth of associations, initiatives and not least good Afghan companies have emerged that create jobs and income and slowly but surely build a new Afghanistan. Afghanistan needs them, regardless of who gets the power.

Afghanistan is also in dire need of economic development, and this need will increase as development assistance to Afghanistan unfortunately decreases significantly over the next few years. It is crucial that we do not give up but maintain a commitment to Afghanistan and one of the most important things we can do is strengthen trade and cooperation to create economic development, income and jobs. We need to act for peace.

In this way we can contribute to the Afghanistan, which is about anything but war and conflict. Afghanistan will again be known for the amazing Jalghoza Pine Needs, Kishmish Raisins, Gurbandi and Satarbai Mandels, the beautiful hand -nisted rugs and vests of Kashmir wool, the unique saffron, strong licorice root and hopefully a wealth of other quality products. We need to 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 teams. That is what is now the task.

We should say that task in the unbearably clear light of hindsight, have taken on us much stronger, much earlier. We have focused too much on assistance, too little on trade. I also take that responsibility myself. The Danish imports from Afghanistan are vanishingly small. But that may be possible. In a short time we have more than doubled imports and among other things. got Afghan Safran on the shelves of Irma in a good collaboration with Karlsen's spices in Hadsund. Through trade and cooperation, 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 fought militarily for peace and progress. It was necessary. Now the task is to act for peace and progress in Afghanistan. Here, Nordjyske companies can also join. Here everyone can join.

Therefore, Tuesday, June 22, 2021, should not mark a goodbye to Afghanistan. The day will 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 made for 20 years. We can build on the many talented Afghan refugees who now live in Denmark and have networks, family and friends in Afghanistan. We can take advantage of the solid foundation that the Danish soldiers have helped build up.

Together, it creates the countless good opportunities for collaboration and trade with Afghanistan.

From soldiers to trade. That's the task.


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