Roughly a year ago, the United States withdrew their military assets and personnel from Afghanistan as Taliban forces were gained more and more territories. As Afghans rushed to the airport to catch the last airplane departing Kabul, videos and images of people latching themselves onto to this jet in a final yet desperate futile attempt at leaving Afghanistan flooded social media. Washington’s international standing took a deep nosedive as American politicians and bureaucrats found that they had bitten off more than what they can chew. Now, they are requesting Manila to allow these Afghan refugees into Philippine territory — an issue that now divides Filipinos. Some individuals cited humanitarian reasons in allowing these refugees entry to Philippines. On the other hand, some people vehemently oppose such an arrangement because these refugees can become threats to national security. Looking at these points, we now ask: What is the most pragmatic and practical stance for the Philippines?
Afghanistan is a predominantly Islamic, land-locked country known for its mountainous yet barren topography. With geographical features that seem unsuitable for large-scale agriculture except for opium cultivation, nomadic pastoral groups like the Pashtuns moved together with their flock in search of food and water. This arid territory had bordered notable civilizations including the Indians, Persians, Russians, and the Chinese. Geopolitically, Afghanistan served as a buffer zone between the imperial expansionists of Moscow and London during their “Great Game” rivalry in the 19th century. With the Allies emerging victorious in the Second World War and London eventually granting independence to their most profitable colony, the Soviets exercised significant influence over the region as Kabul aligned itself more towards Moscow.
Hostilities during the Cold War also rocked Afghanistan. The fall of Saigon in 1975 sealed the fate of America’s military intervention in Vietnam. Washington’s embarrassing defeat inadvertently emboldened Soviet militaristic desires and the Soviet Union attacked Afghanistan and hijacked its political institutions. Despite their ideological differences, the Reagan administration supported mujahidin groups that embraced Islamic fundamentalism. Realpolitik called for supporting groups who confront and combat communist hegemony, which was in accordance to America’s containment policy at the time. Moscow’s internal struggles for power, paired with economic and political tribulations, led to the withdrawal of Soviet military forces which came to be regarded as eerily similar with how Viet Cong forces humbled the mighty Americans. This paved the way for these mujahids to take Kabul and establish their own monopoly of violence in Afghanistan.
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As the world order became unipolar under American leadership, the September 11, 2001 attacks sent shockwaves across the globe. Osama bin Laden and his radicalized Islamic militant group Al Qaeda orchestrated these attacks and were being hosted by the Taliban. The Americans wanted vengeance and took justice into their own hands. They requested Kabul to surrender the aforementioned group to Washington. With the Taliban denying that request, a justifiable casus belli led the United States to put boots to the ground. Together with its allies, military forces of the United States invaded Afghanistan. Despite the war beginning during the Bush Jr. administration, it was the Obama administration that executed and witnessed the military operation that terminated Osama bin Laden.
With mounting grievances and war weariness sinking in American society, Washington’s attempt at nation-building in Afghanistan was a failure as no clear objectives were put in place. Ideally, military interventions should be swift and goal-oriented so as to control collateral damage and unwanted additional expenses. However, twenty years of propping up an American-backed Afghanistan reflected how feeble its state institutions were. Washington squandering its resources on the Afghan quagmire for two decades created three undesirable beneficiaries, none of which mirror American interests. The first beneficiary is China and Russia, because American military presence helped their own national security vis-à-vis Islamic terrorism. The second beneficiary would be the corrupt Afghan politicians who funneled foreign cash directly to their own pockets. The last beneficiary is the military-industrial-congressional complex of the United States as they are incentivized to act belligerently in selling armed conflict.
Currently, the Taliban leadership continues to sow fear and sorrow to their peoples. Islamic fundamentalism is returning, where women and girls are robbed of their basic rights such as education and recreation and deemed second class citizens. Brutal and inhumane means of oppression force Afghans to leave their own country, and the United States have officially requested the Philippines to host these individuals. Should Manila do it?
The Philippines has a long history of hosting refugees during international exigencies. During the Second World War, a number of Jews who experienced persecution in Nazi Germany were admitted by then-President Manuel Quezon. During the 1970’s, the Marcos Sr administration hosted thousands of Vietnamese refugees, while then-President Rodrigo Duterte was open to admitting some Rohingya migrants fleeing Myanmar. All these presidents cited humanitarian reasons in letting these refugees stay in the Philippines.
Needless to say, hosting refugees entails various factors that lie beyond humanitarianism as they should be eventually integrated and assimilated into the receiving country. Integration is a process where refugees would experience social inclusion and economic mobility, where their skills and talents would be properly utilized in the receiving country’s respective labor market and economy. On the other hand, assimilation is where migrants would adopt the local culture and become part of that country’s social fabric. Unfortunately, many developed countries are experiencing various issues integrating and assimilating migrants. Germany for its part, had been relatively welcoming of Syrian migrants during Angela Merkel’s term as chancellor. However, societal clashes in terms of culture and religion made integration a difficult subject because it involves taxpayers’ money spent on welfare programs. Home-grown terrorism in France is also a social issue as these migrant families and their offspring failed to assimilate in French society. This can also be observed in Great Britain where a number of British nationals sympathetic to the ISIS cause left the United Kingdom to become citizens of the aforementioned Islamic caliphate. If these wealthy countries are experiencing problems integrating and assimilating these immigrants, how much more developing countries like the Philippines, which have limited resources? Fortunately, the lessons of Bangladesh with Rohingya refugees are there to learn from.
Just like the Philippines, Bangladesh is a middle-income economy. It borders India and Myanmar. Being a predominantly Islamic country, the government of Dhaka welcomed Rohingya peoples leaving Myanmar’s Rakhine State to flee political repression. Many years have already passed but even until now, these migrants continue residing in ghetto-like refugee camps. Cholera runs rampant as clean sources of water are becoming scarce. With limited employment opportunities, they have virtually no financial capability to uplift themselves from poverty. Children are also growing up uneducated as their formative years are being wasted in these dehumanizing conditions. International organizations seem to have forgotten their commitments as Dhaka was unfortunately left to fend for itself. With those Afghan refugees, this situation might also happen in the Philippines if its leaders aren’t cognizant of the country’s limitations.
Manila must look at its own economic capabilities first, before engaging in international activities that require financial and monetary commitments. In the event that these Afghan refugees would arrive in the country, how can they be integrated and assimilated to Philippine society when prospects of employment are woeful even for local Filipinos? Hopefully, Manila must have already learned its lesson from Washington’s failures in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq, which is not to bite more than what you can chew.
A no one who enjoys the fun things of life in private.
A believer of freedom, capitalism, and conservative brand of politics.
A no one who cares less about popular public opinion.
A believer that life can be better, if every one is a tad more responsible.