The August 9, 2010 issue of TIME magazine featured a striking cover photograph of an 18-year-old Afghan woman, Aisha, who was disfigured by the Taliban last year. The cover title read, "What happens if we leave Afghanistan." While Aisha's story and the stories of many other women like her may depict some part of the reality of women's lives under the Taliban, TIME's conclusion that continuing the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan is necessary, is highly misleading and troubling.
Afghan women, like women around the world, have lived under very oppressive conditions for decades. Many women remain indoors, without education or health care, or economic security, have early marriages, and are unprotected from domestic violence. Today, after a decade of the U.S.-led occupation, the lives of Afghan women have become worse, not better: in addition to facing continued oppression under the Taliban and the equally oppressive Northern Alliance, they also live in a war zone.
TIME's statement echoes and resurrects the same justification for the war given during the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan: if U.S. forces withdraw from Afghanistan, any rights gained for Afghan women will be reversed by fundamentalist forces. However, this false logic grossly ignores the history of the U.S. imperialist relationship and presence in the region and its effect on women's rights. During the Soviet occupation in the 1980's, the U.S. armed the anti-Soviet Mujahideen forces, who were at one point led by Osama Bin Laden. In subsequent years the Taliban rose to power, with the Unitd States as its ally. In 2001, when the Bush administration sought to topple the Taliban regime, the United States armed and enlisted the help of the Northern Alliance, a coalition of warlords with its own track record of human rights abuses. Indeed, the United States has consistently chosen the side of fundamentalist allies at the expense of Afghan women, and has always sought its own gains in the region.
In its nine long years, the U.S.-led occupation of Afghanistan has done nothing to improve the conditions for people in Afghanistan, especially for women. As the classified documents recently leaked by WikiLeaks.org corroborate, the coalition forces have been killing hundreds of civilians in unreported incidents. According to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, the 2009 civilian death toll, close to 2,412 civilian deaths, was the highest of any year since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, and an increase of 24% from 2008. There has been a general increase in violence and civilian deaths because of occupation. A Human Rights Watch Press Alert in 2005, stated that up to 60% of law makers in the lower house of Afghanistan's newly elected parliament are directly or indirectly connected to human rights abuses. By 2009, the U.N. human development index ranked Afghanistan 181 out of 182 countries. The maternal mortality rate in Afghanistan reveals the highest ever documented. Over the past decade, the immensely corrupt, U.S.-backed Afghan regime led by Hamid Karzai has passed and maintained numerous misogynist laws, including the one that put Aisha in jail after she fled from her in-laws.
For the last decade, the occupying forces of the U.S. and its NATO allies have nourished warlords and supported a corrupt government, leading many to join the Taliban and increasing their influence across Afghanistan. Increased civilian deaths, a fundamentalist resurgence, and deadly bombing raids have led to a devastated country and a Taliban stronger than ever before. TIME's claim to "illuminate what is actually happening on the ground" falsely equates the last decade of occupation with progress. The occupation has not and will not bring democracy to Afghanistan, nor will it bring liberation to Afghan women. Instead, it has exacerbated deep-seated corruption in the government, the widespread abuse of women's rights and human rights by fundamentalists, including Karzai's allies, and stymied critical infrastructure development in the country. The question should not be "what happens if we leave Afghanistan," the question should be "what happened when we invaded Afghanistan" and "what happens if we stay in Afghanistan."
The Afghan people are capable of creating their own democratic future. Progressive groups and democratic parties in Afghanistan are fighting to reconstruct the peace and safety of their country, and more often than not, are forced underground for fear of their safety. Despite the repression from the U.S.-backed Karzai government, thousands of brave students and women have come out on to the streets of Kabul to protest the bombings and the continued war. It is from these forces that a larger progressive movement will emerge that could play a role in bringing real democracy to Afghanistan. If the United States continues the occupation, the space for progressive forces becomes increasingly limited.
We must know and remember, that liberation never comes from occupation. We must know and remember, that there will always be resistance to occupation. Occupations, no matter where they take place, from Iraq to Palestine to Turtle Island, are unjust. The American people must come out in support and solidarity with the resilient peoples of Afghanistan and elsewhere who are fighting for their own liberation, and must call for the end of all U.S. wars and occupations.
South Asia Solidarity Initiative
Iraq Veterans Against the War
Derrick O'Keefe co-writer of the autobiography Malalai Joya -- A Woman Among Warlords
Veterans For Peace
Courage to Resist
Anjali Kamat, Producer, Democracy Now!
Robert Jensen, University of Texas, Austin, TX