John Oliver: ‘Things are going worse in Afghanistan than you may know’

·4-min read

John Oliver spoke about the “dire crisis” currently taking place in Afghanistan on the first anniversary of the US withdrawing troops.

On his HBO show Last Week Tonight, the host looked back on the events of 2021, referring to it as “complete mayhem” with surprise all round from inside and outside Afghanistan.

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Within days, the Afghan government was replaced by the Taliban, a devastating blow for the people. The US chair of the joint chiefs of staff, Mark Milley, referred to the decision to leave as “a swing and a miss” which Oliver said “describes roughly 40% of the US government’s history”.

He then moved on to “everything that’s happened since”, focusing on a country that is “in dire crisis right now”.

He continued: “This is a grim topic but it’s also an important one because things are going worse in Afghanistan than you may know for reasons that have even more to do with our decisions than you might think.”

Oliver started by talking about the Taliban’s brutal reprisals against US allies and the former Afghan government with nearly 500 people killed or forcibly disappeared within the first six months.

The takeover obviously led to the Taliban taking “a sledgehammer to women’s rights”, with major strides in education and government representation over the last two decades being rolled back and women being told not to leave their homes unless necessary.

The Taliban also went back on a promise and are preventing girls from getting a secondary school education in most of the country, claiming that it’s just temporary as they need more time to decide on an appropriate school uniform.

“For an organisation so concerned with virtue and purity, taking months to brainstorm a schoolgirl uniform you like is objectively the single perviest thing you can do,” Oliver said.

There has been a “cascading series of humanitarian crises” including earthquakes, droughts and most recently flooding and the new rulers are “in no way equipped to take it on”.

“A militant insurgency group is pretty low on the list of people that you want leading a government right around the Hells Angels, the Manson family and Ron DeSantis,” he joked.

Because of so many sanctioned individuals and wanted terrorists now being part of the government, the economy has taken a nosedive. Seventy-three per cent of the former budget came from aid and grants and all that aid disappeared almost immediately.

It’s affected everything, with $600m of healthcare aid frozen and the US freezing $7bn of central bank assets. This money was used to keep currency stable and so this decision has kneecapped the entire country’s banking system.

There is a literal cash shortage with huge lines and waits just to get money out and not enough paper currency to purchase food. Over 1 million severely malnourished children will be at risk of death if they don’t receive treatment this year and so “families have been forced to make some harrowing choices”.

Parents have been selling kidneys for money to feed families, “a desperate decision that you can make precisely once” and some have sold children to feed others, an “unimaginably heartbreaking” turn of events.

But Joe Biden has been “alarmingly blithe” when talking about it and while the US still sends more relief money than any other country, Republicans have spoken out about any help as they see it as going toward the Taliban.

The US is currently working on a proposal to release some frozen money into a trust fund, which could make a major difference to the Afghan people.

“I do get the broad worries that sending money to Afghanistan might inadvertently help the Taliban but I’d argue the key question here isn’t just what happens if we send Afghanistan money and aid, it’s what happens if we don’t and we know the answer to that,” he said. “Millions of Afghans will suffer and die under a government they did not choose. The reality is there is no one simple solution here that is not without risks but 38 million people’s lives are at stake.”