When I was 7, the Taliban threatened my family’s lives after they killed my father for opposing their rule. Soon after, when Americans invaded, I began to learn English with the encouragement of American soldiers, who helped me practice while I lived at an orphanage. The service members’ kindness, and my learning English, led me down a long road to getting an education — first in Jordan, then in America.
But few Afghan women have been so lucky, and the Biden administration’s decision to pull U.S. troops from Afghanistan by Sep. 11 makes me feel anxious about what will happen to Afghanistan once the Americans leave. I fear for the future.
It is hard to convey how oppressive Taliban rule was, and it cannot be whitewashed. They treated women as property.
After the Taliban killed my father in 2000, my mother had no means of support. She could not leave the house without being accompanied by a male. The Taliban’s version of Islamic law forbade my mother to hold a job. Because of this, she was unable to provide for the family. In desperation, she put my sister, brother and me in an orphanage in Kabul. Only after the Americans landed and drove out the Taliban was my mother able to work. And only after the U.S. military came did we children get the chance to attend a school that taught more than just the Quran. Finally, we were able to learn math, science and other subjects that opened our eyes to the world — not just religion.
Imagine a country or a regime that believed the only proper subjects to learn in school involved religious texts. Its people would not be prepared to help the country assume its proper place in the 21st century. But that was the reality under the Taliban. And while some argue that the Taliban of today are different from the Islamic extremists of yesterday, it is difficult to believe that they have so turned away from their core ideology.
Troops in Afghanistan: Withdraw troops as Trump administration scheduled. The Afghanistan Study Group is wrong.
To help protect the progress that has been made, I hope the Biden administration considers the following:
Don’t abandon Afghanistan. After the Soviets withdrew from the country in 1989, America walked away, too. It was a shortsighted move. The power vacuum that followed enabled the country to be taken over by Islamic extremists. Ultimately, they welcomed Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida, the terror group that carried out the 9/11 attacks. President Joe Biden vows he will not walk away and will continue support for the Afghan military. That is crucial, if only to serve as a counterbalance to the Taliban and make terrorism — both in Afghanistan and against Americans — less likely.
Women’s gains must be protected. Women gained basic human rights after the Americans invaded. They made progress in ways that were not even dreamed of in previous years. Girls were able to attend school. Women could work. Females could aspire to future roles beyond the limits of marriage and motherhood. Half the population faces servitude and oppression after America leaves and women’s equality is imperiled. Women deserve to be treated as equals in Afghan society. And the peace process itself. Yet, the American plan offers them, not equality in the peace process, but merely “meaningful” participation, according to foreignpolicy.com. There must be a solid plan to protect the rights of women after the U.S. withdraws troops.
Engage neighboring countries. What happens in Afghanistan will have an impact on countries in the region, and vice versa. It is impossible to gain peace without some cooperation, if not strategic pressure, from countries near Afghanistan. America must use leverage wisely to ensure that such cooperation occurs.
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Efforts of Americans have made a difference in the lives of countless anonymous people, like me, and I will always think of the American government’s actions as those of a liberator. Millions of Afghans will always be grateful. Those efforts deserve one last attempt to protect the real gains that have already been made at such costs.
Zarifa Hamidi has a master’s degree in international relations with a concentration in international security and conflict resolution from the Fletcher School at Tufts University. She lives on Long Island.