Forget about geopolitics. Focus on the human cost of leaving Afghanistan

Forget about geopolitics. Focus on the human cost of leaving Afghanistan

Narges and Hasina – these aren’t their real names – are the best 15-year-old friends I recently met in Kabul. Narges told me about her dreams of studying for a math degree, and Hasina gave me a painting of a girl staring into the pale purple of a dawn sky, a shooting star streaming overhead. her head. They had the chuckle, shy enthusiasm of teenagers with their lives opening up before them. But they also have relatives living in areas recently taken over by the Taliban.. And as they left, their aunt asked me in a low voice, “So what do you think – is Kabul in danger?”

Militants have swept through Afghanistan in recent weeks, seizing territory, including places that were once anti-Taliban strongholds, and besieging major cities. In areas they control, Taliban commanders are already preventing girls from going to school. Women are flogged for “adultery,” a drastic label that covers all sex outside of marriage, including rape. If they tried to defend themselves in a Taliban court, a judge told the Observer, their testimony is only worth half that of a man.

I thought of Narges and Hasina when I read a prominent American scholar describing the departure of foreign troops amid the Taliban’s lightning advances as “luck [for Afghans] to find their own long-term stability ”. I thought of them and Afghan friends, when Joe Biden ignored questions about the future of Afghanistan, before the day his own officials announced that the last American troops would be leaving. “I wanna talk about happy things, man,” he irritably told reporters.

Afghans would also like to talk about “happy things”. For many particularly educated professional women with an extremist militant group on their doorstep, this is almost impossible. There is an insensitivity in these discussions about Afghanistan and its future, which is deeply disturbing. It is being treated as an abstract geopolitical problem, to be solved or perhaps set aside, not a country of 38 million people, with lives, loved ones and dreams, desperately wondering about their future.

Criticizing the nature and timing of the US military’s departure from Afghanistan is often tantamount to arguing for a permanent foreign presence, or ignoring a disturbing toll of death, abuse and festering corruption left by Western troops. But you can spend years deeply criticizing the way a war is waged – I’ve reported abuse and failure for over a decade now – and still think the way it ended is reckless and cruel.

This race to exit is likely to have disastrous human fallout, even beyond human rights violations under the Taliban, with the resurgence of militias and heightened violence almost inevitably resulting in more civilians being killed and injured, and funding aid collapsing in the midst of a catastrophic drought. It can also be irresponsible from a security point of view. It is not known whether the Taliban have kept their promise to sever ties with al-Qaida, and Islamic State’s Afghan franchise is flourishing. The chaos of the brutal civil war that followed the withdrawal of the Soviet Union helped give birth to the Taliban, who offered sanctuary to Osama bin Laden.

Many generals and politicians who have waged the war in Afghanistan since 2001 have shown a startling disregard for the lessons of history, perhaps reinforced by a reliance on American exceptionalism. It was a campaign sold on the promise of justice for the 9/11 attacks on America, but carried out as a mission of revenge. The quickly defeated Taliban demanded peace and wanted to negotiate two decades ago, when they were overthrown by US special forces in alliance with their former enemies. He was ignored by an American establishment that thought it could easily rebuild a country in its own image, a pride fueled perhaps by the wealth of America over the poverty of Afghanistan – which does not want to improve the lives of their children ? – and by the impressive power of its military force, deployed against a motley guerrilla army.

I first arrived in Afghanistan in 2009, when President Obama’s troop influx was underway, and spent much of my time battling the official illusion that things were going well. in terms of security. Generals and diplomats had their slogans. “The Taliban are losing momentum,” they told us at briefings, as thousands of new forces flocked to and around Afghanistan. They pushed back our questions about why a diminishing threat needed an expanding force to counter it.

Biden’s team had initially chosen July 4, one of the largest national holidays in the United States, as the day of departure of the last troops from the country. It was a bewildering choice, suggesting that what much of the world sees as a humiliating retreat they saw as some sort of victory (although as the Taliban advance accelerated, the administration backed down. from that date, and the last troops will now be out in August).

Some who support Biden’s decision to leave Afghanistan as logistically as possible argue that there are many places in the world where women or minorities experience such brutal, perhaps more brutal, treatment than the one the Afghans face under the Taliban. America does not intervene. But that’s ignoring the 20 years that have taken Afghanistan to this point. The country America and its allies are leaving is the country they have shaped.

The corruption that has spread throughout the system has filled the pockets of Afghanistan and the West. The warlords who initially helped the United States oust the Taliban have been cemented in power and past abuses have been ignored. The Americans relied on and promoted younger commanders with a history of torture and extrajudicial killings, when they saw them as effective. Warnings from human rights groups that this violence was only fueling a cycle of civil war were largely dismissed.

But in those two decades there has also been relative peace and stability in Kabul and other major cities, and a generation has grown up, educated, started families, started businesses and s is fighting for a better life. Almost two-thirds of Afghans are under 25, so they have never known, or cannot remember, the years when the extremist ideology of the Taliban controlled the whole country.

A recent survey of Afghan women in rural areas questioned the idea that the work of feminist activists fighting for education, freedom of movement and other rights is an isolated elite; these are goals shared with their sisters, even in the most conservative parts of the countryside. As the Taliban draw closer, those of us in other countries who support their struggle must find ways to continue supporting Afghan women. There are still opportunities if the international community cares enough to use its diplomatic capital on it.

We need to make sure we continue to fund women’s services and activism, listening to their voices and accepting that no matter what territory they take, no government that treats women and girls like the Taliban continues to enjoy. of international legitimacy.

Emma Graham-Harrison has been reporting from Afghanistan since 2009


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