For eight years, many Americans have justified the war in Afghanistan as a moral battle to "protect" Afghan women. But Afghan women tell another story: more U.S. war will bear them more suffering.
Three decades of foreign occupation -- with little sign of ending -- have led to the complete collapse of more than a century of progress in Afghanistan for women's rights, which reached their peak in the 1970s. Occupation destroyed Afghan public services and created incredible poverty, a perfect void of power ready to be filled by the Taliban (encouraged by the U.S. to counter Soviet influence). Many Afghan women say the collapse poses a greater threat to women's lives: 87 percent are illiterate, 1,600 out of every 100,000 mothers die while giving birth or of related complications, and 1 and 3 women experience psychological, emotional or physical abuse.
Since the 2001 invasion, despite rhetoric of "saving" Afghan women, U.S. policies put in place did not do so. Meanwhile, this week, Congress is debating a $84.2 billion war funding bill that designates only 10 percent of the funds for development assistance -- the rest goes to military efforts. If the United States really cared about the women and children of Afghanistan, it would fund real needs-health care, education, food security- and minimize spending on weapons systems and combat troops. Gen. Petraeus himself outlined a counter-insurgency doctrine of 80 percent non-military and 20 percent military, and told the Associated Press earlier this year that "you don't kill or capture your way out of an industrial-strength insurgency."
But in the "save the women" argument, many say more troops will protect Afghan women from the Taliban. Not so -- increased troop presence will raise the risk as it further incites the Taliban and al-Qaeda and inspires more of their propaganda; as they strengthen, they further destabilize the country, spark many more to live in constant fear or to join the insurgency. Troops cannot defeat an ideology: a RAND Corporation study last year found that only seven percent of terrorist organizations gave up their violent activities as a result of military defeat.
In addition, more troops has led to more civilian deaths through raids, drone attacks and general violence. A 2009 United Nations report found more than 2,100 civilians were killed in Afghanistan last year, a 40 percent rise from 2007; about 700 were killed by international forces. Hundreds of Afghans, in student, women's and human rights' groups, have protested these conditions and called for their end (these protests were largely unreported, however). Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently warned that "we cannot succeed ... in Afghanistan by killing Afghan civilians."
The United States must quit hiding behind the skirts of Afghan women and come forward in support of real and sustained peace. Drone attacks, midnight home raids, and increased U.S. military presence only serves to alienate Afghans and fuel support for the Taliban's armed resistance. Afghan women are calling on the Obama administration and Congress for a surge in doctors, teachers, and economic development for food security, job training and infrastructure. If only they would listen.