Editorial : Honour the debt

Last updated 10:00 14/11/2012

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Afghan translators who helped New Zealand troops and contractors must not be left to the vengeance of the Taleban.

The Government is offering resettlement packages - the choice of coming here or being paid three years' salary to relocate in Afghanistan - to 23 interpreters employed by the provincial reconstruction team last month.

But former interpreters, whose hides are no less on the line, have not received this offer. They can apply to come here as refugees, and Prime Minister John Key says their cases would be viewed "a little bit more" sympathetically than others.

That is not good enough, not enough commitment when lives are at stake.

It seems to draw a considerable distinction between the risk faced by past and present interpreters. Those who worked with our soldiers earlier have, he says, already assessed for themselves that it's OK to reintegrate into Afghan society.

It's far from that clear-cut. Take the case of Mustafa Ahmadi, 26, who was forced to leave the Kiwi team and go into hiding with his wife and baby son after receiving death threats from insurgents.

On top of which there's been a rotation practice under which an interpreter serving our soldiers might work for non-military contractors before being rotated back.

In any case, past-or-present status will matter little to the Taleban once the international troops are gone. The identities of those who have helped Kiwi troops are hardly secret in a society where the Taleban has a great many eyes. Critics say the Government's package is lean compared with other countries, such as Britain and Canada, and could permanently scar New Zealand's reputation. But lives matter a great deal more than our reputation. This is a conscience matter.

Twelve former interpreters, each of whom has more than five years of service with the Kiwis, have pleaded to the New Zealand Defence Force to extend the resettlement offer to them before the pullout in April. One has seen five of his neighbours who worked for the Americans resettled in the United States while he languishes.

The promise to translators for the British has been that "people who have put their life on the line for the United Kingdom will not be abandoned". This sounds more reassuring than Mr Key's "we'll see what we can do". We have a debt to these people and we must honour it.

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- The Marlborough Express

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