Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
No place for women in the Great Afghan endgame
A Time magazine cover showing the face of an 18-year-old Afghan woman mutilated by the Taliban has set off a furious debate about how far to go in search of a political settlement with the resurgent Islamist group to end nine years of fighting.
On the one side are those who point to the latest atrocity as a reminder of the brutality of the Taliban, and that nothing really had changed. Women will pay the heaviest price if the hardline Islamist group returned to power, they warn. On the other hand are those who argue that America cannot indefinitely remain in Afghanistan to defend women’s rights which in any case remains an elusive goal. Indeed the latest abuse took place while troops are on the ground which goes to show the limits of military power.
How do you reconcile the two, that is, win peace for Afghanistan without giving away women’s rights?
But first the horrific Time story. Here’s an excerpt:
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.”
She is not the only one asking that question. Across Afghanistan, not just the conservative southern part of the country which is also the spiritual home to the Taliban, girls’ schools are closing, working women have been threatened and advocates attacked, the New York Times reported. Families are increasingly confining their daughters to home as the Taliban and allied groups extend their sway into the north and centre of the country.
The women are saying they don’t want war, but they also don’t want the Taliban of 1996. “No one wants to be imprisoned in the yards of their houses,” the Times quoted Rahima Zarifi, the women’s ministry representative from the northern Baghlan province, as saying. With the Obama administration’s self-imposed deadline to begin a troop drawdown from July 2011, there is almost a frantic search for an end-state. A Gallup poll just out piles on the pressure, with 43 percent of Americans saying going into Afghanistan was a mistake in the first place, a new high for those opposed to the war.
That comes even as the administration is struggling to limit the damage from the revelations of WikiLeaks showing a war going wrong, of civilians killed and the cover-up involved, and above all , a frontline ally, Pakistan, actively collaborating with the insurgency while accepting massive U.S. aids. No wonder, some people are arguing the sooner America is out, the better.
Time quotes one anonymous diplomat as saying “You have to be realistic. 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.”
The one person who has warned against any compromise of women’s rights is U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She told reporters that women’s rights are a “red line” that won’t be crossed: “I don’t think there is such a political solution, one that would be a lasting, sustainable one, that would turn the clock back on women.”