Following the withdrawal of American troops, the Taliban are now on the brink of taking power. This is a disaster for Afghan women, who are going to face Islamic Law in its strictest interpretation.
This is a bleak retreat. After withdrawing their troops, the Western countries engaged alongside the United States in Afghanistan are completing the repatriation of their citizens this July. The most scrupulous have taken their Afghan collaborators and interpreters with them, thus undoubtedly preventing reprisals by the Taliban once their employers have departed.
With little glory, this departure from Afghanistan comes so close to resembling an act of abandonment that it is almost pitiful. The longest American intervention on foreign soil, launched in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks to prevent al-Qaida from planning other attacks from its Afghan lair, is coming to an end 20 years later with a sad record of achievement. This war cost the lives of tens of thousands of civilians, more than 3,500 NATO troops and even more in the Afghan military, not counting the injured and those maimed for life.
Chased from power at the beginning of the American offensive, the Taliban, those fundamentalists who protected Osama bin Laden, are making a spectacular return in many areas of the country as foreign troops leave the territory. Their progress since the United States completed its military withdrawal on July 3 astounds experts. The possibility of a nationally unified government in Kabul, consisting of the current regime and the Taliban, seems increasingly unachievable.
An Unwinnable War
Taking a realistic approach, the Joe Biden administration has no interest in fighting an unwinnable war on the other side of the world, when it has so many emergencies to deal with at home and elsewhere. In Washington, the Iranian fiasco has for some time undoubtedly dampened the enthusiasm of those who favor foreign intervention. The American president argues that nation-building was not the goal of the United States going into Afghanistan. “It’s the right and the responsibility of the Afghan people alone to decide their future and how they want to run their country,” he said. So be it. In 20 years, however, the American presence did change the lives of many Afghans. One segment of the population in particular -– the women -– has a lot to lose with the departure of the Westerners.
Women, indeed, are most at risk if the Taliban return to power in Kabul. The female condition has considerably changed over 20 years. Not without difficulty, they gained access to school — today 40% of Afghan children attending school are girls — and to university. They have entered sectors of the workforce that were completely off limits to them, including law enforcement.
Fundamentalists did everything to hinder this evolution. They murdered female journalists, doctors, police officers and artists. They massacred schoolgirls, attacked maternity wards. For all these women, the war is not over.
During the five years they were in power, from 1996 until the American intervention, the Taliban imposed the harshest interpretation of Islamic law on women and girls and demanded full submission, severely punishing those who rebelled. Education beyond the age of eight was forbidden to women, as was paid work. For those Afghan women whom America has prided itself on helping to liberate by giving them the prospect of equality, the return of the Taliban would be an enormous step backwards. Whatever Biden may say, in this respect, this withdrawal is indeed an act of abandonment.