The latest entry into the trumped-up debate over the fate of women in Afghanistan comes from Judy Bachrach, an editor at Vanity Fair. It’s all part and parcel of a campaign, by some well-meaning people and some not so well-meaning, to justify America’s failing counterinsurgency policy in that devastated nation by raising the banner of women’s rights, a debate kicked off by the now ubiquitous Time magazine cover photograph of an Afghan woman whose face was mutilated, allegedly by a Taliban-allied, reactionary tribal potentate. Referring to a CNN interview of Nancy Pelosi by Christiane Amanpour, Bachrach writes:
For effect she shoved the photo of the mutilated face right under the speaker’s startled gaze, adding: "To put it right down to its basics, is America going to abandon the women of Afghanistan, the people of Afghanistan, again?"
“To put it right down to its basics—Yes, Christiane. We are. You can bet your ass Nancy’s not going to tell you this, in fact she’ll tell you nothing at all substantive on your show in response to any of your questions, but abandonment is the American way.”
To her credit, Bachrach does go on to admit that the United States is not in Afghanistan because of the plight of its women but, as Pelosi told Amanpour, “because it’s in our own strategic national interest.” But, since the Time cover hit the newsstands, it’s allowed proponents of the war to argue that America has a moral obligation to defend that country’s woman against the predatory nature of the Taliban.
However it’s being used by the supporters of the war, it’s an issue that progressives and antiwar activists need to address squarely, too.
The issue is, what might happen if there is a Taliban restoration in Afghanistan. Now, it’s true that it’s possible to argue that the departure of US and NATO forces might not inevitably lead to a Taliban comeback. It’s even possible to argue that the US presence in Afghanistan makes a Taliban comeback more likely, not less. But that’s not the issue. The question is: might they come back? Might they seize Kabul, or just entrench themselves, in the manner of the autonomous Kurdish zone in Iraq, in the Pashtun areas? Personally, I’m an agnostic on this question. But it’s foolish to dismiss the possibility, even probability. It’s one thing to argue that the Taliban is a complex organism with many moving parts, and that it would be resisted by non-Pashtun minorities in the north and west and by liberal and enlightened Afghans everywhere. Still, it might come back, especially if Pakistan decides that’s the game it wants to play.
If the Taliban does come back, it would be a bad thing for Afghanistan—and not just for women. Women may have their noses sliced off when they act uppity, and schools for girls may close. But the cultural backwardness and reactionary politics of the Taliban will slice across all sexes, ages and ethnic groups. In other words, the Taliban’s comeback isn’t just bad for women. Both men and women will be forced to live under the benighted and despicable reign of the Taliban’s thugs. Like the reign of the mullahs in Iran, the Taliban is bad news for all. Men and boys, like women and girls, will be forced to abandon modern life; they will be crowded into oppressive Islamist schools, compelled to forget that they live in the twenty-first century, and beaten or killed for listening to music, reading banned books (pretty much everything but the Koran), watching DVDs or flying kites. Tribal and clan leaders who are more enlightened, who’d like to bring Afghanistan into the modern world, will be slaughtered, just like tribal leaders who opposed the Taliban in FATA were obliterated by the hundreds since 2001.