July 1, 2016
Former first lady Laura Bush made a “case” for U.S. troops remaining in Afghanistan, which The Atlantic reported on June 28 without objection, arguing that if the Americans abandoned the war her husband started, hard fought women’s rights would be reversed. Of course, she overlooks the fact that the United States only cares about women’s rights when it is geopolitically expedient, and willfully neglects that Washington is largely responsible for the current abhorrent state of affairs in the first place.
The United States did not think about Afghan women too much when it provided billions to the most fanatical elements of the mujahideen in the 1980s to fight the anti-Soviet jihad. Prior to the U.S. and Soviets using Afghanistan as a Cold War chessboard, there was a growing women’s rights movement in Afghanistan. Not that it is the most important barometer, but simply as an example, women could be found wearing miniskirts at Kabul University. This was before America’s darling Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and other extremists ran around throwing acid on their legs.
In addition, education in Afghanistan preceding the Soviet-Afghan war was largely secular until the number of CIA-sponsored madrassas increased from 2,500 in 1980 to over 39,000, many of which helped pervert Afghanistan’s traditional school of Islam into a women-hating Wahhabist ideology.
There have been gains in education and schooling for women, there is no doubt, in the post-Taliban era. But let us not forget that the U.S. helped replace the Taliban with northern warlords who were just as brutal to women. In fact, according to a Human Rights Watch report, Northern Alliance leaders committed heinous human rights violations during a four-year reign in the 1990s, a period marked by the murder, rape and torture of tens of thousands of innocent Afghan civilians. At the infamous Loya Jirga in 2003, the U.S. struck a Faustian bargain and awarded ministry posts to these very same war criminals because they helped in defeating the Taliban.
It is reasonable to question how much women’s rights have really improved during this golden era of foreign intervention. It is doubtful that building more girls’ schools and gaining the right to vote in rigged elections necessarily offsets the horrors women face on a daily basis from rising violence levels. Not to mention, 15 years after the fall of the Taliban and the investment of more than $100 billion in U.S. reconstruction aid, women are as poverty-stricken as ever.
Afghan civilian casualties in 2015, according to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, hit the highest level since 2009 while the number of women and children included among casualties also increased. On June 20, according to Pajhwok Afghan News, officials from the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) said that violence against women was on the rise in southern Afghanistan, citing “insecurity, drug addiction, local customs, unawareness and illiteracy,” as key factors driving the phenomenon. While Western intervention has helped women’s rights in some ways, it has also fueled the very factors that lead to violence against women, especially when it comes to “insecurity” and “drug addiction.”
Afghan activist and former lawmaker Malalai Joya made a stark assessment of the situation in 2013, proclaiming that, “Afghanistan is the worst place to be a woman in the world.” Joya also said that ordinary Afghans saw no difference between the Taliban and the U.S.-supported fundamentalist warlords.
“Which groups are labeled ‘terrorist’ or ‘fundamentalist’ depends on how useful they are to the goals of the U.S.,” Joya explained in a 2009 interview with The Independent. “You have two sides who terrorize women, but the anti-American side are ‘terrorists’ and the pro-American side are ‘heroes’.”
Scholar Spogmai Akseer argues that misrepresentations of Afghan women in the Western media as silent and passive victims has served to justify “an imperialist invasion disguised as a humanitarian rescue mission.” Another scholar, Aaliyah Hussain, explains that women’s rights was used by Mrs. Bush and her husband to legitimize the original violent response to 9/11 and is helping perpetuate the myth that all Afghan women have benefited from the U.S. intervention.
“The reality is a much more nuanced picture,” Hussain writes. “While there are no doubt some women who have indeed benefited from various socio-economic projects funded by international donors, there are many others who have seen an increase in restrictions, violence, poverty, and insecurity during the period of occupation.”
Not to mention, he adds, the suffering from bombardment, counterinsurgency, night raids, and drone strikes which have affected ordinary Afghan women’s lives “in the way that only war can.”
Lastly, the rationale behind Mrs. Bush’s entire premise is faulty as well, because if women’s rights are really such a critical criterion for military intervention, the United States ought to invade Saudi Arabia tomorrow, among a host of other countries where women are systemically repressed, sex-trafficked, sold into slavery, and abused.