Concessions to the Taliban Necessary to Get Out of Afghanistan … and Women’s Rights Not a Priority

No matter your political position, there is no question that the United States cannot stay in Afghanistan indefinitely. As the transition continues, it has become apparent that the Taliban is going to have to be part of any legitimate government in Afghanistan. Therefore, concessions will have to be made to reach core guiding principles that can be agreed upon by all factions including the group that aided and succored Osama bin Laden. There is no question that this realization is going to be detrimental to women in the country.

Time recently released an abbreviated version of an upcoming cover feature story focused on this horrible issue.

In June, Afghan President Hamid Karzai established a peace council tasked with exploring negotiations with the Taliban. A month later, Tom Malinowski from Human Rights Watch met Karzai. During their conversation, Karzai mused on the cost of the conflict in human lives and wondered aloud if he had any right to talk about human rights when so many were dying. “He essentially asked me,” says Malinowski, “What is more important, protecting the right of a girl to go to school or saving her life?” How Karzai and his international allies answer that question will have far-reaching consequences, not only for Afghanistan’s women, but the country as a whole.

The question of life versus quality of life is disturbing. Is a woman in Afghanistan better off being alive …

… and oppressed in ways that I cannot fathom if it means some facsimile of peace in a country that has long been characterized by war?

18-year-old Aisha might have something to say about that … if anyone was willing to listen. She is the girl in the picture above, the victim of a vicious, violent, and deplorable attack that was condoned by a judge with Taliban ties.

The Taliban pounded on the door just before midnight, demanding that Aisha, 18, be punished for running away from her husband’s house. Her in-laws treated her like a slave, Aisha pleaded. They beat her. If she hadn’t run away, she would have died. Her judge, a local Taliban commander, was unmoved. Aisha’s brother-in-law held her down while her husband pulled out a knife. First he sliced off her ears. Then he started on her nose.

This didn’t happen 10 years ago, when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan. It happened last year. Now hidden in a secret women’s shelter in Kabul, Aisha listens obsessively to the news. Talk that the Afghan government is considering some kind of political accommodation with the Taliban frightens her. “They are the people that did this to me,” she says, touching her damaged face. “How can we reconcile with them?”

If this sort of thing happened to Aisha (and, presumably, many other girls) while under U.S. protection, how commonplace would this be should the Taliban return to power?

And inclusion of the Taliban in any new Afghani government is apparently inevitable.

As the war in Afghanistan enters its ninth year, the need for an exit strategy weighs on the minds of U.S. policymakers. Such an outcome, it is assumed, would involve reconciliation with the Taliban. But Afghan women fear that in the quest for a quick peace, their progress may be sidelined. “Women’s rights must not be the sacrifice by which peace is achieved,” says parliamentarian Fawzia Koofi.

Yet that may be where negotiations are heading. The Taliban will be advocating a version of an Afghan state in line with their own conservative views, particularly on the issue of women’s rights.

Already there is a growing acceptance that some concessions to the Taliban are inevitable if there is to be genuine reconciliation. “You have to be realistic,” says a diplomat in Kabul. “We are not going to be sending troops and spending money forever. There will have to be a compromise, and sacrifices will have to be made.”

It is sometimes hard for me to fully understand the differences in cultures, religions, and countries in general. On the one hand, I make every effort to look at things with an open mind and try to appreciate the millions of varied strings that make up the mosaic of humanity. However, there are some things that just violate all norms of humanity.

Take another look at Aisha’s face. Her husband cut off her ears and nose with a freaking knife. Cut them the fuck off. And this was government-sanctioned. I’m not trying to force my views on anyone or think that my beliefs are the be all end all, but this is just unspeakable.

Refugees like Mozhdah Jamalzadah, who had been living in Canada, have already found that the potential exit of international forces does not bode well.

[Jamalzadah] recently returned home to launch an Oprah-style talk show in which she has been able to subtly introduce questions of women’s rights without provoking the ire of religious conservatives. On a recent episode, a male guest told a joke about a foreign human-rights team in Afghanistan. In the cities, the team noticed that women walked six paces behind their husbands. But in rural Helmand, where the Taliban is strongest, they saw a woman six steps ahead. The foreigners rushed to congratulate the husband on his enlightenment — only to be told that he stuck his wife in front because they were walking through a minefield. As the audience roared with laughter, Jamalzadah reflected that it may take about 10 to 15 years before Afghan women can truly walk alongside men. But once they do, she believes, all Afghans will benefit. “When we talk about women’s rights,” Jamalzadah says, “we are talking about things that are important to men as well — men who want to see Afghanistan move forward. If you sacrifice women to make peace, you are also sacrificing the men who support them and abandoning the country to the fundamentalists that caused all the problems in the first place.”

I am well aware of the cost of continued U.S. presence in Afghanistan, both in terms of American lives lost and almost unspeakable financial drain in a struggling economy. However, I will be haunted by Aisha’s face for as long as I live.

Is there any way out of this horrible war without making women’s rights in Afghanistan the most long-lasting casualty of all?



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26 thoughts on “Concessions to the Taliban Necessary to Get Out of Afghanistan … and Women’s Rights Not a Priority

  1. I’m not sure if this is ironic or not,but the fuckers who did this to that young lady sometimes live in caves! Also,if she keeps her vail on,like a good little muslim girl,no one will know that she doesn’t have a nose. When I hear mainstream Islam doing something about this bullshit,I’ll become a little more tolerant. Excellent article Katy!

  2. This article made me physically sick. Not from the writing standpoint (excellent job Katie), but from the content. I am 18 years old, about to go to college, and sometimes I think that all my peers worry about is the latest gossip on the Facebook news (ha) feed. Granted, I too am sometimes guilty of that. It’s mind-boggling to think that we’re in the fucking 21st century and this still happens. You’re right, Kaite, the picture is haunting…almost reminiscent of Steve McCurry’s Afghan Girl http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Afghan_Girl
    Thank you so much for shedding light on this article…it’s really given me something to reflect on.

  3. If concessions are made with the Taliban and they are allowed some power, their “agreement” with the US will promptly be ignored the second troops leave Afghanistan and all the women will be abused and in burqas. There’s really no other way; does anyone really think that reasoning with the Taliban will work? We’ll be leaving Afghanistan EXACTLY the way we found it.

    If you’re going to spend billions on a war in a foreign country, at least make a fucking difference when you leave!

  4. Great post Katie… even if you completely neglected to mention Canada’s role (what, with training the police forces that will be expected to keep the Taliban from seizing control) =P. When both countries leave, there’ll be a power vacuum. The result is going to be pretty ugly, and women’s rights is going to take a hell of a hit.

  5. Sadly I don’t think there’s anything we can do. I think it’s pretty obvious Talibans and those who support them are so violent they will smother any opposition in the heartless fashion we have seen. We can only hope for new generations to change the country, but I think sadly this is one of those countries who are absolutely doomed, like Yemen or Ethiopia. Maybe if they stop living in the Middle Age.
    Last but not least, and this might feel shallow, but I feel so sorry for this girl, you look at her and you just know she was absolutely stunning, and now they’ve done this to her.

    • Things can only get better,but many muslims live in fear over leaving Islam,which is punishable by death. I had a young Bosnian muslim working for me a while back,he told me no longer practiced the faith but asked me not to repeat that to anyone. Even here in America he was worried about that information falling onto the wrong persons and resulting towards harm to his remaining family in Bosnia.

  6. I have a friend from Kabul. Her name is Shari and she was born there in 1968. Though she fled during the Russian invasion she remembers it fondly. She has show me picture of the Queens Palace and the beautiful gardens it once over looked. She talks about festivals and bazaars and her mother in the latest American fashions of the time (a wrap dress then) and how she was all the envy of her friends. She never wore a burke or was beaten by her father, nor was her mother. She speaks of a piece of paradise and the hope her family had for the new and more modern ways being adapted by her country. Did you know Americans used to vacation there? She is and always was a Muslim and it hurts her to know that people have slandered her religion with these vile acts. This is not what the Koran teaches. But as in any religion it has its fanatics and they are usually the loudest. I urge you all to look up pictures of Kabul and Afghanistan in the 60′s. Perhaps we can all see what she remembers and know that what was is still possible.

      • In Iran there was a secular government that actually disallowed religious garments (hijabs, etc.) so I understand a little better how the revolution happened there. When you do not allow people to practice their own religion the way they want to, it’s causes great anger that eventually erupts.
        The pendulum will swing.

  7. The Taliban isn’t the only problem. Every group that has run Afghanistan since the Soviets left have been fundamentalists who strip the rights of women. When the Taliban took over, people were happy that they were getting rid of the Northern Alliance because not only were they fundamentalists, they were rapists. The one good thing about the Taliban was that at least they weren’t rapists.
    The problem in Afghanistan is one of religious intolerance and fundamentalism. The US is not going to do anything about that. They can’t.
    This is an issue that the people of Afghanistan are going to have to solve. I have no fucking clue how they are going to be able to do that, but I do know that an invading army (which is how they see the US) is not going to do anything to change the way people think.
    Afghanistan used to be a normal, democratic country. There were women in positions of leadership at every level of government and society. The people are going to have to remember that life was better then and work to change it themselves. This is not a problem that can be solved by anybody but the citizens of Afghanistan.

    • I’d like to disagree with Alzaetia. Afghanistan has never been a normal democratic country in the past. Up until 1973 was a feudal country ran by a King and supported by clan lords, which is a fairly stable society as things go, but exceptionally unfair to the poor. Then the King’s brother-in-law overthrew him and proclaimed a Republic, which, while seemingly democratic, set of the civil unrest that has continued since. Just because a country seems stable doesn’t mean a great majority of people, including all of their women, aren’t oppressed.

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  12. Moonbat, my thoughts exlacty, nothing cures people of being assholes when they’re living in squlaor than having a prospect for a decent life.I think the myth of widespread abuse of women is akin to the cold war day myth of all Russian women being grossly overweight, toothless, and dumpy, it made the possibility of nuking them much easier to accept.The US is simply NOT going to continue the occupation to protect Afghan women.The occupation will continue to clear a path and protect a popeline, and to provide protection for western corporations while exploiting Afghanistan’s mineral wealth.If we were concerned for the safety of Afghan women and children, we would stop using predator drones and aerial bombardments.Beyond that, where does it stop? I’m sure women are abused by asshole fundies through North Africa, the Saudi penninsula,India, and throughout Central Asia.It is mission impossible.

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