Afghanistan and the assault on human decency

In this Friday, Oct. 9, 2015 photo, Parisa Aimaq, an Afghan female reporter for privately-owned Khawar Television, cries during an interview with The Associated Press at the Afghan Journalists’ Safety Committee in Kabul, Afghanistan. Within hours of seizing the northern Afghan city of Kunduz last month, Taliban fighters went door-to-door, hunting down not only those accused of working with security forces, but women’s rights advocates and journalists. (AP Photo/Massoud Hossaini)

I’ve written in the past about why the war in Afghanistan isn’t as black-and-white for me as it is with, apparently, the other 321,966,075 Americans and last evening’s The World segment on MPR did nothing to settle the conflict I have over a war that won’t end. No matter how long the war drags on, I can’t seem to reach a clear conclusion of how I feel about it.

When the president announced his intention to keep the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan going yesterday, he tried to rally support for the continuing American presence by putting an Afghan face on the reason.

Perhaps you, too, noticed something missing in his selection of stories: women.

I’m speaking of the Afghan army cadet who grew up seeing bombings and attacks on innocent civilians who said, “because of this, I took the decision to join the army, to try and save innocent people’s lives.” Or the police officer training to defuse explosives. “I know it’s dangerous work,” he says, but “I have always had a dream of wearing the uniform of Afghanistan, serving my people and defending my country.”

Or the Afghan commando, a hardened veteran of many missions, who said, “If I start telling you the stories of my life, I might start crying.” He serves, he said, because, “the faster we bring peace, the faster we can bring education, and the stronger our unity will grow. Only if these things happen will Afghanistan be able to stand up for itself.”

The president didn’t mention Manizha Naderi, if he knows of her at all. She runs Women for Afghan Women.

When the Taliban took over Kunduz earlier this month, they had a list of women they were hunting she told “The World” last evening (by all means, listen to the interview here).

  1. Listen Manizha Naderi, director of Women for Afghan Women, on The World.

    October 15, 2015

Their crime? They had jobs outside the home. And they were educated. The Taliban has a name for women like this: “sluts.”

“They actually had a hit list. They knew addresses. They knew that, at 7:30 in the morning, a car was coming to pick the women up and take them to their offices,” she said.

Her story mirrors the ones told this week in a New York Times account of the assault on human decency.

The events in northern Afghanistan have made stark the immoderate position of the Taliban, in spite of publicity statements issued by the group in recent years. Among the organizations destroyed by the Taliban were three radio stations run by women, the Fatima Zahra girls’ high school and the Women’s Empowerment Center, which held social and political awareness sessions and taught women to sew.

Women for Afghan Women’s office and children’s center were looted, its computers and cars stolen, and the organization’s shelter for abused women was completely burned and attacked with sledgehammers. Allegations of rape — in the women’s prison and university dormitories — have also been made but not proved. Taliban commanders threatened to kill “any staff or reporter” of the local media who made the allegations, calling them “satanic media” that repeated “propaganda.”

There is deep concern that women’s rights and protection in Kunduz have been devastated for the long term, with women unlikely to return to work where they feel so unsafe. Kunduz is known for having some of the most horrific cases involving women, including at least two cases of stoning in the last five years.

The Afghan forces have recaptured Kunduz, but all of the educated women have left the city.

By what conscience do we turn our back on this? How does someone balance being both anti-war and anti pro-women?

Coincidentally, the last time I wrote about this was four years ago yesterday. Nothing has changed.

Few people are mentioning this on the rare occasion when the war comes up in the presidential debate. Staying guarantees the deaths of more U.S. soldiers. Leaving probably increases the likelihood of more Malalas.

When is war worth fighting? What is the cost-benefit analysis of protecting girls anywhere from those who would deny them something as basic as an education? Is it our problem?

For many people, perhaps, the answer is as easy as figuring out which side “their guy” is on. But as people who watched last week’s debate figured out, “their guy” doesn’t seem to have an easy answer.

And I know exactly how they feel, although I’ll actually say the words they won’t: I don’t know.

Related: Afghanistan Is Not Iraq (Foreign Policy)