THE fall of Kabul just over a year ago may go down as one of the key turning points of the 21st century. Yet which direction this turning point takes us in remains to be seen.

I remember seeing David Pratt’s film Pictures from Afghanistan. David’s work in the country shows at once the indomitable spirit of the Afghan people, as well as the tragedy of 40 years of war in the country.

Much has already been written on how daily life has deteriorated in Afghanistan. Minorities have been silenced, hopes have been shattered, and women’s rights have been reversed. The situation for women has become particularly dire, with many told to hand over their hard-earned jobs to men.

Having seen the number of women participating in the workforce rise to 22% over the past 20 years, it has now collapsed to 15%. Despite promises to allow women to continue studying, secondary schools remain closed to girls. When women and girls want to play sport, the Taliban continues to say no.

When they bravely protest, they are met by a hail of bullets.

READ MORE: Alyn Smith: Yes movement should take inspiration from Scotland's athletes

Meanwhile the humanitarian situation continues to worsen. The UN Secretary-General noted in June that 24.4 million people – 59% of the population – needed humanitarian assistance. 19.7m people are facing acute hunger, with 6.6m Afghans facing “emergency” levels of food insecurity. Drought has amplified worsening conditions.

Afghanistan’s economy has cratered too – the World Bank noted that in the first 10 months of the Taliban takeover, Afghanistan lost 15 years of economic growth.

The UN reported that the prices of basic necessities have remained substantially higher than a year before, with poorer households having reportedly “sold assets or incurred more debt to survive”. One in three businesses have temporarily ceased operations since August 2021, putting further strain on an already crumbling banking sector.

To understand where and how it all went wrong, we must return to that point in time when Afghanistan fell to the Taliban. I recall vividly the days when we all watched the news in horror at what was unfolding in Afghanistan – particularly the distressing images of people hanging off moving planes at Kabul airport.

In the days before and after, I and the rest of our SNP team did what we could to proactively help constituents who had friends and family trapped in the country. Interpreters who had assisted our forces desperately got in touch with anyone who could help, fearing the reprisals that were to come. Our teams (and those of other politicians across these islands) had to deal with thousands of cases, with every one of those individuals getting in touch fearing for their life.

And where was Global Britain? Missing in Action, as the title of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee’s report said. The same report noted that the manner of the withdrawal was “a disaster, a betrayal of our allies, and weakens the trust that helps to keep British people safe. It will affect the UK’s international reputation and interests for many years to come. There were systemic failures of intelligence, diplomacy, planning and preparation, which raise questions about machinery of Government ...”

I wholeheartedly agree with these findings. Yet the fact that there has still not been a full-scale inquiry into what went wrong in Afghanistan over the previous 20 years shows that lessons have not been learned. If we fail to analyse and reflect on what went wrong, then we are condemned to repeat the mistakes of history.

READ MORE: Sri Lanka’s tragedy should be of Scotland’s concern

And the UK did fail. It failed the people of Afghanistan that placed their hope in it as they sought a better life for themselves and their families. The UK Government failed elected representatives as we desperately tried to help Afghans escape the oncoming terror.

The UK failed to help Afghanistan help itself, with the result that when it pulled the carpet of support, the institutions which cost billions collapsed like a pile of cards.

Afghanistan is not the only place that has changed. The whole world appears to have been triggered by the Afghanistan faultline, 20 years of hope that ultimately failed. Had the West succeeded in Afghanistan, would Putin have invaded Ukraine in a moment of malicious madness?

Would tensions between China and Taiwan have ratcheted up to levels not seen in recent decades? Might we have found ways to help the people of Lebanon, Yemen, Ethiopia from the catastrophes that are wrecking their countries? Perhaps these things may have still happened; equally, perhaps not.

The National: National Extra Scottish politics newsletter banner

Some may ask what any of this has to do with independence. Scotland as an independent state will not be a state of isolation. We will be in a world of competing powers and interests, as well as a world of opportunity and hope for co-operation. The forces of global geopolitics shape our daily lives: from the availability of food in our supermarkets, to the energy that powers our homes and economies. We both shape and are shaped by the world we live in.

If we are serious about an independent Scotland in Europe and the world, we must be realistic about the challenges and obstacles we will face. The fall of Afghanistan has led to a more uncertain, insecure, and dangerous world. We must be aware of the past failings of our history so that when new crises arise, we will have the tools and knowledge to tackle them. And it is more vital than ever that we continue building ties with like-minded allies and friends in Europe and around the world. In such a way, we might go some way towards addressing the mistakes that were made in Afghanistan.