31 May 2021

The Atlantic: “Our Cynicism about Afghanistan Comes at a Cost”

Withdrawing completely from Afghanistan is a decision I don’t agree with, even if it’s one that fits the mood of our country (or the slick optics of a war’s ending on the anniversary of the attacks that prompted it). To simply wash our hands of an entire country and its people is deeply cynical. Currently, approximately 2,500 U.S. troops are serving in Afghanistan, a fraction of the 100,000 troops serving there when I left a decade ago. In 2020, more U.S. troops died in training accidents at Camp Pendleton in California than died in combat in Afghanistan. Signaling our commitment by keeping a small U.S. force there wouldn’t prevent every attack, but it would go a long way toward stabilizing the region, and allowing the Afghans to finish the fight against the Taliban for themselves. But the Biden administration has made its choice and doesn’t appear likely to reverse course, no matter how many schoolgirls the Taliban or the Islamic State massacre.

The events in Kabul last weekend teach us that our cynicism comes at a cost, to Afghanistan and to the U.S. In the months ahead, we will see more images like those out of Kabul. Our current hard-edged national mood will endure for only so long. Eventually, we will have to reckon with why we chose this path, one that allows girls to die in the very schools we encouraged them to attend. If we as a country are going to actually “come home” from Afghanistan, we’re going to need to find a better answer than Our effort there at the end was hopeless. Because cynicism won’t allow us to move on. It never does.

Elliot Ackerman

Following the announcement of a complete withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan later this year, I went back and read the investigation published in The Washington Post in late 2019 – about half of it anyway, since it has six sizeable parts. It is truly remarkable how badly the situation in Afghanistan was mismanaged by several consecutive US administrations, from the lack of clear strategic goals, to pumping endless funds into unsustainable infrastructure projects, to a general lack of understanding of the culture and society – and how army generals tried to conceal the lack of meaningful progress.

Crocker, who also served as U.S. ambassador to Pakistan from 2004 to 2007, told government interviewers that Pakistani leaders did not bother to hide their duplicity.

He recounted a conversation he had with Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, who was then Pakistan’s intelligence chief, in which he “was getting on him again” about the Taliban.

And he says, You know, I know you think we’re hedging our bets. You’re right, we are, because one day you’ll be gone again, it’ll be like Afghanistan the first time, you’ll be done with us, but we’re still going to be here because we can’t actually move the country. And the last thing we want with all of our other problems is to have turned the Taliban into a mortal enemy, so, yes, we’re hedging our bets.

Craig Whitlock
An officer from an Afghan police unit at an outpost in Zabul Province last year
An officer from an Afghan police unit at an outpost in Zabul Province last year. Kiana Hayeri for The New York Times

And while US and allied forces are already in the process of evacuating the country, the locals are left to bear the consequences of this decades-long failure. The Afghan security forces seem unprepared to hold back the Taliban without foreign support, and so it is probably just a matter of time – a year or two, or even less – until the Taliban take control of the entire country again. Those who collaborated with coalition troops fear for their lives once the Taliban will return, and many are seeking asylum abroad. The much bigger issue is the treatment of women in Afghanistan once the Taliban resume control. I remember reading in the novel A Thousand Splendid Suns how radically and abruptly life changed for women the last time that happened – and there is no indication that this time things will be any different…

The Taliban’s notions of religion, politics and governance are based on a combination of a very orthodox interpretation of Islam, Shariah and tribal values. The “Emirate” they established in Afghanistan in the 1990s, which they are now seeking to establish again, barred women and girls from most jobs and forbade us to continue our education at schools and colleges, turning us into prisoners in our homes.

The Taliban see their Islamic government as duty bound to safeguard Muslim society from corruption and moral decadence, which they blame on the presence of women in public spaces, including universities and offices. They want to reduce us to bearing children.

The wars that men started and fought in Afghanistan have disproportionately devastated the lives of women. Yet the compositions of the peace delegations from Afghanistan reveal that women are barely considered as worthy of having a say. It is this knowledge and the memory of the Taliban rule in the 1990s that make me fear for the future of Afghan women.

Farahnaz Forotan

Post a Comment