Kabul has fallen

16 August 2021

People scrambling for a seat on a flight.

Bearded fighters in gilded halls of power.

Murals of women being painted over.

The President has left the country.

The new map a sea of red.

Public hangings are back in fashion.

Failure is the word of the day.

Blame is being passed around

In tweets and statements on TV.

First, I am numb and struggle for words.

Then heartbreak, sorrow, and rage.

Now, determination.


This is against the cynics

Those that have always known

That Afghanistan won’t be Sweden

That it is a grave of empires

That negotiating with terrorists is futile

That nothing good has come of “us” being “there”.


I do not agree.

Girls know what they have learned in school.

Citizens tasted – a broken – freedom

To speak, to vote, to meet, to organize

They will remember how that feels

And not just bribes and night raids.

Small wins amid colossal mistakes.


Not today, but in the weeks

And months and years to come,

Leaders need to answer

For the mess they made.

But not today. Today, we fly people out

As many as we can

And welcome them with open arms.


When the planes are back

And the tyrants left in control

We need to talk

About interests and the mess we make in their pursuit

About commitment and the hopes we inspire

About the dreams we crush and the bravery we fail.


About strategy and coordination

About planning and assumptions

About preparing for the worst

While working for the best.

About caring for the details and the complexities

About the partners we support

And those we leave in the lurch.


Then, I hope, we’ll realize

(In)actions have consequences

What we do matters

We do not just live for ourselves.


Gerrit Kurtz

(with thanks to Florence Schimmel for comments)

Author: Gerrit Kurtz

Researcher working on conflict prevention, diplomacy, peacekeeping and the United Nations, with a focus on the Horn of Africa, the Sahel and Sri Lanka. Non-Resident Fellow, Global Public Policy Institute, Berlin.

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