Afghanistan

Securing Women's Rights

In a northern Kabul neighborhood in December, I met with the director of the Afghan Women's Skills and Development Center, a non-governmental organization working to enhance the basic skills and capacities of women and girls through education and training courses. The center is a member organization of the Afghan Women's Network (AWN), an umbrella association of more than 60 women-focused NGOs.

The two organizations have signed a report submitted by 29 NGOs working in Afghanistan documenting their serious concerns over growing insecurity for ordinary Afghans. The report indicates that 2010 was the deadliest year for Afghan civilians since 2001. Careful to outline that a majority of deaths are at the hands of armed opposition groups, such as the Taliban, the report emphasizes that current U.S./NATO military actions -- including arbitrary detention, night raids, bombing, and the financing and arming of militia groups -- are the most significant factors creating instability for civilians.

The AWN and its partner organizations have been working since the fall of the Taliban to advocate for legislation that would protect, and maybe in the future even improve, the status and rights of women across Afghanistan. All are starkly aware of the realities "on the ground" for women, and speak passionately about the need to create security before any substantive work toward human rights can be accomplished.

Still, the issue of security in Afghanistan is as pressing as it is contested. The narrative of guaranteeing women’s rights in Afghanistan has served as a highly politicized adjunct to the 9/11 rationale for the U.S. invasion. And this objective remains a potent piece of the political puzzle in Afghanistan. Thus, while these two organizations have been clear in their condemnation of U.S. military strategy, they have also argued that a troop presence is necessary because of the violence women would likely face if there were civil war.

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Sojourners Magazine February 2011
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Finding the Way Out

The clock is ticking toward a July decision by President Obama to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, as he has promised. The White House will face pressure from military commanders and Republicans in Congress to postpone the decision or to remove only a token force. The president should proceed with the July timetable, sooner if possible, but the U.S. also has an obligation to support the Afghan people, especially women, and to help them build a more secure and stable future without war. The challenge is to achieve a military exit in a manner that enhances security, development, and human rights. It’s a tall order, but I believe it is possible.

The logic of withdrawal. The withdrawal of U.S. and other foreign troops is necessary because the current militarized strategy is not working. Violent incidents in Afghanistan have increased 70 percent in the last year, according to the Pentagon's November 2010 progress report, and are up more than 300 percent since 2007. The number of districts with "good" security has remained unchanged despite the deployment of 30,000 additional U.S. troops. The percentage of Afghans rating their security as “bad” is increasing.

Nearly every independent study of the war concurs that the presence of American and other foreign troops is a major cause of the insurgency. The number of Taliban fighters has increased in proportion to the expansion of foreign military forces. Insurgents are motivated by a desire to end military occupation and rid their country of foreign forces. As the scale of the military intervention has increased, the insurgency has become stronger and the influence of the Taliban has spread. Reversing this perverse dynamic will require a new strategy of demilitarization.

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Sojourners Magazine February 2011
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'Judge, Appeal To Your Inner Self!'

I spent all day Saturday at a middle-school debate tournament. My seventh-grade son Luke loves being on his middle school baseball team, but also on the debate team, and this weekend his school competed with ten others. It was fascinating to watch and fun to be there. The topics of debate included statements such as, "All private citizens should be prohibited from owning a hand gun," and "Social media networks should have a minimum age of 18 or older to be a member." They have previously taken up subjects like "Should the U. S. leave Afghanistan?" "Is torture ever justified?" and "Should the Redskins (our local NFL football team) change their name?" Joy and I thought it was pretty cool that a public middle school would even have a debate team, with 6th, 7th, and 8th graders taking up subjects like that, and it helped draw us to Alice Deal Middle School.

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