Commentary Magazine


Topic: Afghan women

Our Shameful Afghanistan Legacy

On Monday, Josh Rogin reported on a “shadow summit for Afghan women” held in Chicago during the NATO summit there, calling attention to the concern that allied withdrawal from the country will leave women in Afghanistan at the mercy of the grotesquely misogynistic Taliban. Yesterday, Human Rights Watch’s Ken Roth followed by lambasting NATO’s seeming lack of attention to human rights, especially for women in Afghanistan.

Roth noted that “many of the world leaders assembled in Chicago — though, notably, not Karzai — spoke eloquently about their commitment to human rights, particularly for women. But the test of that commitment is whether anybody cares enough to put in place a concrete plan to carry it out.” Human rights advocates are worried that when troops leave, the Taliban will work to delete any and all progress on women’s rights. This morning, the Taliban again answered that concern: they will not wait for the troops to leave:

More than 120 schoolgirls and three teachers have been poisoned in the second attack in as many months blamed on conservative radicals in the country’s north, Afghan police and education officials said on Wednesday….

Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS), says the Taliban appear intent on closing schools ahead of a 2014 withdrawal by foreign combat troops….

Afghanistan’s Ministry of Education said last week that 550 schools in 11 provinces where the Taliban have strong support had been closed down by insurgents.

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On Monday, Josh Rogin reported on a “shadow summit for Afghan women” held in Chicago during the NATO summit there, calling attention to the concern that allied withdrawal from the country will leave women in Afghanistan at the mercy of the grotesquely misogynistic Taliban. Yesterday, Human Rights Watch’s Ken Roth followed by lambasting NATO’s seeming lack of attention to human rights, especially for women in Afghanistan.

Roth noted that “many of the world leaders assembled in Chicago — though, notably, not Karzai — spoke eloquently about their commitment to human rights, particularly for women. But the test of that commitment is whether anybody cares enough to put in place a concrete plan to carry it out.” Human rights advocates are worried that when troops leave, the Taliban will work to delete any and all progress on women’s rights. This morning, the Taliban again answered that concern: they will not wait for the troops to leave:

More than 120 schoolgirls and three teachers have been poisoned in the second attack in as many months blamed on conservative radicals in the country’s north, Afghan police and education officials said on Wednesday….

Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS), says the Taliban appear intent on closing schools ahead of a 2014 withdrawal by foreign combat troops….

Afghanistan’s Ministry of Education said last week that 550 schools in 11 provinces where the Taliban have strong support had been closed down by insurgents.

Perhaps it would be worse if officials pretended to care, because that would create expectations. But it’s worth remembering that, as Jamie Fly wrote in the April edition of COMMENTARY, concern about the treatment of women in Afghanistan under the Taliban predated 9/11:

The year was 1998 and Hollywood was up in arms over a new social cause: the plight of Afghan women under the repressive rule of the Taliban. Mavis Leno, wife of Jay Leno and chair of the Feminist Majority Foundation’s Campaign to Stop Gender Apartheid in Afghanistan, told members of Congress, “The U.S. bears some responsibility for the conditions of women in Afghanistan. For years our country provided weapons to the mujahideen groups to fight the Soviets.” Leno and the Feminist Majority pushed an extensive U.S. campaign to delegitimize the Taliban until the rights of female Afghans were recognized.

The Taliban enforced a strict morality code for both men and women, but women and girls bore the brunt of the most brutal repression… It is not surprising that such a moral wasteland came to serve as the staging ground for Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda as they planned the attacks of 9/11. Bin Laden’s ideology and that of his Taliban hosts sprang from the same vile swamp.

And to that “moral wasteland”–and the security threat it poses–Afghanistan may soon return. Fly argued for reversing cutbacks to Afghan security forces and renewed focus on negotiating with and strengthening the Afghan government, not the Taliban. Roth suggested the two sides “establish an independent mechanism — some sort of national ombudsman — where civilians could file complaints about the use of abusive force, and where officials would be authorized to investigate and, if appropriate, recommend prosecution.” He added that American aid to the Karzai government can be used as leverage.

But he also said that when he talked to officials about it during the NATO summit, everyone liked the idea, and no one expressed the least bit of interest in actually proposing it or fighting for it. The women of Afghanistan won’t soon forget the brief window of opportunity they had, nor will they forget our apparent apathy as it is taken from them.

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An Actual War on Women in Afghanistan

Let’s take a brief interlude from the very fake war on women in the U.S. for some disturbing news about an actual war on women in Afghanistan, where 150 schoolgirls were reportedly poisoned by radical insurgents today. Withdrawal gives President Obama a box to check on his 2008 campaign promise list, but unfortunately it likely means more attacks like this one:

About 150 Afghan schoolgirls were poisoned on Tuesday after drinking contaminated water at a high school in the country’s north, officials said, blaming it on conservative radicals opposed to female education. …

Some of the 150 girls, who suffered from headaches and vomiting, were in critical condition, while others were able to go home after treatment in the hospital, the officials said.

They said they knew the water had been poisoned because a larger tank used to fill the affected water jugs was not contaminated.

“This is not a natural illness. It’s an intentional act to poison schoolgirls,” said Haffizullah Safi, head of Takhar’s public health department.

None of the officials blamed any particular group for the attack, fearing retribution from anyone named.

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Let’s take a brief interlude from the very fake war on women in the U.S. for some disturbing news about an actual war on women in Afghanistan, where 150 schoolgirls were reportedly poisoned by radical insurgents today. Withdrawal gives President Obama a box to check on his 2008 campaign promise list, but unfortunately it likely means more attacks like this one:

About 150 Afghan schoolgirls were poisoned on Tuesday after drinking contaminated water at a high school in the country’s north, officials said, blaming it on conservative radicals opposed to female education. …

Some of the 150 girls, who suffered from headaches and vomiting, were in critical condition, while others were able to go home after treatment in the hospital, the officials said.

They said they knew the water had been poisoned because a larger tank used to fill the affected water jugs was not contaminated.

“This is not a natural illness. It’s an intentional act to poison schoolgirls,” said Haffizullah Safi, head of Takhar’s public health department.

None of the officials blamed any particular group for the attack, fearing retribution from anyone named.

Attacks like these are just a preview of the Taliban violence and intimidation campaigns that awaits Afghan women as U.S. forces withdraw. Notice that the school will not even name what group carried it out, for fear of reprisal. Already preparing for the coming day when U.S. protection will no longer be available?

The future for Afghan women is an issue that’s weighing heavily on congressional critics of the withdrawal timetable. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers spoke about what the withdrawal will bring for Afghan women in an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg yesterday:

“We said to these women that we’re with them,” [House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers] said. “What are we saying to them now? I was in one of the first congressional delegations into the country, and I met a woman, a doctor, who spoke better English than I do. She has a U.S. medical degree. She took me to her hospital, a children’s hospital. She told me that when she first heard of the fighting in 2001, she took off her burqa and walked something like 25 or 30 miles to the hospital. She had basically been a prisoner in her husband’s house for three years, and now she was doing surgeries.”

He continued: “And I get angry now because we’re walking away from her. We’re inviting the people, the Taliban, back, the very people who shoot people in soccer stadiums, who chop peoples’ heads off. What message does that send to her? That she might as well put on her burqa and walk back to her husband’s house?”

A little more national media attention on the war on women in Afghanistan would be nice, if only because it would help give partisans on both sides a much-needed reminder about what the term actually means.

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