The new administration, along with President Biden’s campaign promise President Biden’s campaign promise to “end the forever wars,” should give new impetus to finally withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan. We are, however, concerned about recent indications that the Biden team intends to keep troops in Afghanistan indefinitely, which concurs with the conclusions of the recent congressional Afghanistan Study Group Report.
American troops have been stationed in Afghanistan since late October 2001, when the U.S. invaded in the aftermath of 9/11 and in pursuit of Osama Bin Laden, who had been given refuge by the ruling Taliban regime. Initially defeated and dispersed, the Taliban re-emerged in 2006 and waged war on both international forces and the Afghan military. They now control 70 percent of the rural areas of the country.
In the crosshairs have been Afghan civilians, who have been the victims of both U.S. drone attacks and Taliban assaults. This “longest war” for the U.S. has been condemned by the peace movement, which has urged U.S. administrations to end the military presence. The peace movement largely welcomed the Trump administration’s announcement of the onset of peace talks with the Taliban and a May 2021 deadline for withdrawal of the last of U.S. troops. The reality is more complex, both on the ground in Afghanistan and in the halls of Congress.
The feminist peace movement joins in the call for U.S. troop withdrawal and the successful conclusion of peace talks. At the same time, we have two concerns. One pertains to the lives, dignity, and interests of Afghan women, and we insist that any peace agreement between the Taliban and the Afghan government should not be concluded in the absence of representation by Afghan women’s rights groups. The other concerns the recent Congressional Afghanistan Study Group Report, which urges an extension of the current withdrawal date. We welcome the Study Group’s recommendation of diplomacy and negotiations, but we prefer that the “regional diplomatic strategy implemented over the longer term” should begin as soon as possible, to expedite U.S. troop withdrawal and replace it with a regional strategy overseen by the United Nations. We further believe that the U.S. has a special responsibility for peacebuilding, reconciliation, and reconstruction, given its long involvement in Afghanistan.
Background. The people of Afghanistan have had to contend with external intervention, war, and violence since at least 1978, when President Jimmy Carter and his national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, decided to subvert a national-democratic experiment aligned with the Soviet bloc and to support a reactionary tribal-Islamist uprising. The Soviet intervention in December 1979 was intended as a temporary measure to shore up the Afghan military, but the Reagan administration prolonged the war by arming the rebels through the Pakistani military and waging a propaganda campaign against the Afghan government and its Soviet backers. Numerous foreign fighters, including the Saudi Osama bin Laden, joined the Mujahideen in its “holy war” against the Soviet and Afghan troops.
The arming of the Mujahideen set off a chain reaction that reverberates to this day. The “collateral damage” includes Afghan women and girls, who are mired in patriarchal structures and fear for their security. When the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (DRA) was established in April 1978, among its first decrees was compulsory schooling for girls – something that has yet to be achieved more than four decades later.
After the last of the Soviet troops withdrew in February 1989, the Afghan government fell to the Mujahideen in spring 1992. The U.S. washed its hands of Afghanistan and the Mujahideen began to fight among themselves. The Taliban emerged, brought order to the Mujahideen’s chaos, and restored a modicum of stability, but one that was accompanied by a reign of terror on women and children, which included forbidding girls to attend school. After 9/11, the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 in pursuit of Osama bin Laden and installed a government led by Hamid Karzai that was weak and corrupt. The Taliban resurgence in 2006 brought intensified conflict, which continued beyond the 2009 U.S. military surge. The new government, led by Ashraf Ghani since 2014, is deeply divided and unable to secure peace, stability, and development. Violence remains endemic and includes the deliberate killings of Afghan women in leadership positions. For example, on January 17, 2021, gunmen killed two female Supreme Court judges.
Our recommendations. Because of the long involvement of the U.S. in Afghanistan, we are acutely aware of its responsibility for Afghanistan’s instability, violence, poverty, and economic chaos. The withdrawal of U.S. troops is a critical first step towards peace in the country, but we also call for the following:
- Insist on the presence of women’s rights groups in all peace talks and involve the international feminist peace movement in deliberations to ensure the safety, security and education of girls and women.
- Create a dedicated fund for Afghanistan's reconstruction and social development, to be administered by the appropriate UN agency.
- Support a broader mandate for the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) to extend beyond September 2021 so that it can continue its peacebuilding, humanitarian, and governance activities, including a possible peacekeeping force drawn from neighboring countries.
- Call upon Pakistan to actively support both a peaceful transition in Afghanistan and efforts toward regional stability.