During State of the Union Address, President Trump stated negotiations for peace with the Taliban were underway to facilitate a pullout of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. It is something he said he would never do a year ago.
Phyllis Chesler, author of American Bride in Kabul, recently said: “I do fear for the Afghan people — particularly women and young girls — if and when America leaves, especially those who have shown so much courage in standing up for themselves against incredible odds.”
From the 1920s when Queen Soraya (wife of King Amanullah) pushed for changes to improve women’s lives and their position in the family, to the early 1970s, Afghan women were able to exercise some rights. As the wife of the king, Soraya fought to prohibit the wearing of the veil and the observance of polygamy. Women and girls were encouraged to get an education, and not just those in the capital city of Kabul, but also in the countryside.
Notwithstanding the violent protests by the country’s religious sects which forced the king to abdicate the throne in 1929 and go into exile, women maintained a certain amount of freedom, at least some by Western standards. Yet even as late as the 1960s in many secluded areas of Afghanistan, polygamy, child marriage and honor killing were practiced, and women were forced to wear the burqa.
When the Soviet Union invaded the country in 1979 in response to U.S. covert operations in the region [which had been well in place for six months to overthrow the Communist People’s Republic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA)], women still enjoyed certain rights. Coed education was introduced in elementary schools by the PDPA and women were able to teach.
This began to change when the U.S. government backed the drug-trafficking Mujahideen—the forerunners of the Taliban—to oust the PDPA. (There is actual video footage showing then-U.S. National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski directly inciting the Mujahadeen rebels in Pakistan.)
As U.S. drug adviser to President Carter, David Musto, said, because “we [went] into Afghanistan to support the opium growers,” moderate Sufi leaders in the countryside were replaced by radical ones. This was due to massive financial support from agents of the Pakistani Inter-Services, funds that came from both the United States and Saudi Arabia, which were allocated toward jihadist ends.
According to Joe Stephens and David B. Ottaway of The Washington Post, “The United States spent millions of dollars to supply Afghan schoolchildren with textbooks filled with violent images and militant Islamic teachings, part of covert attempts to spur resistance to the Soviet occupation. The primers, which were filled with talk of jihad and featured drawings of guns, bullets, soldiers and mines, have served since then as the Afghan school system’s core curriculum. Even the Taliban used the American-produced books, though the radical movement scratched out human faces in keeping with its strict fundamentalist code.”
Nevertheless, because of the Afghan Women’s Council, Afghan women were able to maintain some rights, which were altogether eradicated once the Taliban took over the reins of government in 1996. Women seeking an education were forced to attend underground schools, where they and their teachers risked execution if caught.
Women were denied medical treatment for illnesses if a male chaperone did not accompany them. They were also publicly beaten if their burqas slipped or if an ankle or a strand of hair showed. They were stoned to death for “adultery” when raped. Women were even forbidden to laugh loudly as it was considered improper for a stranger to hear a woman’s voice.
Trump’s reasons for wanting the U.S. to leave Afghanistan are understandable. Over 2,400 American soldiers have been killed and approximately 20,320 wounded, not to mention the trillions of dollars spent in an 18-year campaign with no end in sight. Yet, while America did not initiate this socio-political chaos, it provoked it in its support of radical Islamists.
When the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001, as Chesler points out, it was not to defend the helpless women but to kill Osama bin Laden. In fact, America remained silent when Afghan President Hamad Karzai, in an effort to appease the Shi’ite minority, approved Article 132 of the Civil Code, which specified that a woman is legally required to yield to her husband’s sexual requests.
Afghanistan today remains divided, corrupt, volatile and a haven for terrorists. Yet, forging a peace treaty with the Taliban is just as bad as brokering one with ISIS or Boko Haram. If the U.S. does, in fact, reach an agreement with the Taliban and pull out of the country, what assurances will be made for the rights of the women and girls?