Proponents of the second escalation of US troops in Afghanistan still insist there’s something tangible we’re fighting there for and that we’re protecting. With every passing day, I find this harder and harder to believe. Recently, for example, I argued that with no viable state funding source, the US could be underwriting the Afghan Army for years and years with no end in sight — unless we just stop. This raises the question of why we should keep doing it right now.
Some surge supporters have specifically cited women’s rights as a reason for the US not to leave Afghanistan now. Well, welcome to 2009 because that argument stopped being legitimate a few years back since the US-backed Afghan government has been doing its damnedest to roll back any ephemeral gains that women made after the fall of the Taliban government in 2001. Most blatantly has been the approval of a bill legalizing marital rape, but it’s just been one drop in the bucket. From Meteor Blades for DailyKos last week:
After the fall of the Taliban everyone wanted to come and work for women’s rights, they were proud to say they were here to help Afghan women. Slowly, slowly this disappeared. Maybe the international community saw that we had two or three women in the cabinet, and thought, it’s ok, now they have their rights. But we have lost everything, from those cabinet positions to the donor attention. Women are not a priority for our own government or the international community. We’ve been forgotten.
—Shinkai Karokhail, member of parliament, Kabul, June 4, 2009
The international Human Rights Watch has published a devastating 96-page report on the situation for women in Afghanistan. “We Have the Promises of the World”: Women’s Rights in Afghanistan explores the reality of everyday life for Afghan women, somewhat improved since the Taliban was forced out of the government, but still rife with intimidation, forced marriage of young girls, rape, including gang rape, and murder, including assassination of high-level women activists. Police and courts and other government machinery is still quite hostile to women, and not just in back-country areas or those where the Taliban has made a resurgence.
There’s a lot more in his piece on the HRW report and none of it looks good. Yes, it will almost certainly worsen if we leave, but this is a no-win situation. I don’t advocate simply abandoning the women of Afghanistan, but we’re not doing much to help them as it is right now. And the folks at Human Rights Watch don’t expect the US to focus enough attention on women under the new strategy. That means we’re betraying the women even without leaving, as we’ve been doing to the Afghan people at large ever since the invasion. But I don’t think anyone can legitimately make the argument anymore that we shouldn’t leave because we would be abandoning the women of Afghanistan. No, it’s too late to say that. We’ve already abandoned them.
So, have we accomplished anything positive and enduring in Afghanistan since 2001? Because we can cross women’s rights off the list.
This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.