Why is it so hard for people in the anti-war movement to hold two ideas in their heads at the same time? Can't we want to end the war inAfghanistan and at the same time practice solidarity with its victims?
As the Taliban, prompted by Pakistan's ISI, becomes ever more aggressive, Afghan women and civil society campaigners are asking for support to protect the gains they've made, but nobody in the US government – or the left – seems to be listening.
Obama's realpolitik has replaced the Bush administration's rhetoric about bringing democracy to the region. "Afghan good enough" is the magic phrase in Washington. If this entails throwing women overboard, hey, that's realpolitik. In March, 2011, Rajiv Chandrasekaran of theWashington Post asked a senior State Department officer what the policy would be towards women as the US withdrew. The answer:
"Gender issues are going to have to take a back seat to other priorities … There's no way we can be successful if we maintain every special interest and pet project. All those pet rocks in our rucksack were taking us down."
The war has cost too much in lives and money to be sustainable, and no one questions that it has been badly managed. The latest US blunder, according to Human Rights Watch, has been to make a huge strategic investment in the Afghan Local Police force; unfortunately, the ALP is full of rapists and thugs who are not held accountable for their crimes. The latest horror story concerns Lal Bibi, an 18-year-old girl abducted by an ALP leader in Kunduz province, chained to a wall, and raped, beaten and tortured for five days in revenge for an offense by a distant cousin. Normally, Lal Bibi's family would have killed her – they may yet do so – but they have gone public and are trying to get justice. Meanwhile, theUS military continues to express confidence in the Afghan Local Police.
And if its misjudgment is behind the ALP, the US is equally to blame for the rise of the Taliban; together with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, the US funded them and gave them weapons in the late 1970s, when they wanted a proxy to fight the Soviets. Thus the US people have some responsibility to make sure that the result of all this intervention is not the Talibanization of the Karzai government.
Further, Obama has committed us to financial aid to Afghanistan for the forseeable future. What kind of financial aid should the US be giving, and what conditions should it place on such aid?
The anti-war movement isn't discussing these issues. It simply echoes the position of the Obama administration – out as soon as possible and no questions asked. The movement's entire attention seems to be focused on drones, as if wanting to end the war precludes thinking constructively about peace. Mention women and somebody will bring upLaura Bush and say that Afghan women need to liberate themselves – as if they hadn't been struggling to do so, and making inroads against massive odds, for the last 100 years.
In fact, Afghan women have already said what they want loud and clear. Last October, before the Nato meeting in Bonn, the Afghan Women's Network put out a position paper, to be found on their website, containing a blueprint for a transition process that would protect human rights, based on ground-up participation by women and civil society actors.
After April's bombings of civilians in Kabul, Nangarhar, Lugar and Paktia, 22 groups issued a joint statement, We condemn the 15 April terrorist attacks. They said:
"The attacks pointed out the incorrectness of the actions and the strategy of the Afghanistan government and its international supporters under the pretext of reconciliation and demonstrated once again that 'Peace without Justice' will be fragile and not last."
What can people in Europe and North America usefully do to help? In February, I posed this question to Sima Samar, who set up underground clinics and schools during the Taliban period. She was the Karzai government's minister for women's affairs until forced to resign, and is now head of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission.
Samar said the most important thing we can do is keep up pressure by advocacy and petitions, to make sure the issue of what happens to Afghan women and civil society remains in the public eye. She also mentioned: continued funding for education; resources earmarked for human rights; and the need for a women's college, since women's families won't let them go to the men's colleges.
These demands seem modest and do-able considering the size of the military budget. A concerted effort should be made by US women and the antiwar movement to support them, as well as to ensure that women have enough security to carry on their work.