The U.S. State Department on Monday announced it was cutting $1 billion in aid for Afghanistan. The news comes after the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made an unanounced visit to Kabul to meet with Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, both of whom declared themselves president after last year’s elections—he also reportedly met the Taliban leaders in Qatar on March 23 in a bid to end the political deadlock; there has also been a refusal of rival factions to work together on a peace plan with the Taliban brokered on February 29.
The goal of the deal aims at ending the 18-year war in Afghanistan after the September. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks—the US intervention was able to eliminate the al-Qaeda camps that flourished in Afghanistan under the Taliban and has also kept that extremist infrastructure from being reestablished. The accord came after President Donald Trump last September called off a secret meeting with the Taliban at Camp David that would have put a stop to the fighting in order to facilitate a withdrawal of US troops—Trump had put a full halt to the negotiations after the Taliban had killed an American soldier and 11 others in the Afghan capital of Kabul.
Wanting to end America’s longest standing war, as well as bring peace to the region, Trump had accepted the fact that the Taliban, for better or worse, are a political force to contend with and has involved them in the negotiations. Rather than maintaining a U.S. presence in alliance with like-minded Afghans, the agreement effectively made the Taliban a principal guarantor of U.S. counterterrorism interests. In theory, the deal holds out the tantalizing prospect of transforming Afghanistan from a problem that will require the perpetual military management of the United States into one that can be altogether resolved politically. That accord also calls for the Afghan government to release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners and for the Taliban to free 1,000 government personnel and Afghan troops they hold captive. The deal is also supposed to be followed by intra-Afghan peace talks that would include the Taliban.
But the risks presented by this gamble are huge, and the signs from the deal’s early aftermath—continued Taliban attacks and an Afghan government in disarray—are not encouraging, especially with an escalation of jihadist violence.
Last Wednesday in the southern district of Greshk, a roadside bomb killed at least eight civilians, including six children; the victims were all from a single family, according to Helmand police spokesman Zaman Hamdard. While no one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but both the Taliban and the Islamic State militants are active in the province. And just yesterday, it was announced that senior female official of the Afghan Intelligence, National Directorate of Security General Sharmila Frough succumbed to injuiries from a magnetic bomb explosion planted in her vehicle, in Kabul City. For 30 years she had been role model as a founding member of the women’s security shuras. The latter tragedy reflects what may happen to women if and when the U.S. fully pulls out, leaving the Taliban to dictate policy for the country.
Phyllis Chesler, author of American Bride in Kabul, had said last year: “I do fear for the Afghan people — particularly women and young girls—if and when America leaves, especially those who have shown so much courage in standing up for themselves against incredible odds.”
From the 1920s when Queen Soraya Tarzi (wife of Afghan King Amanullah Khan) pushed for changes to improve women’s lives and their position in the family, to the early 1970s, Afghan women were able to exercise some rights. As the wife of the king, Soraya fought to prohibit the wearing of the veil and the observance of polygamy. Women and girls were encouraged to get an education, and not just those in the capital city of Kabul, but also in the countryside.
Notwithstanding the violent protests by the country’s religious sects which forced the king to abdicate the throne in 1929 and go into exile, women maintained a certain amount of freedom, at least some by Western standards. Yet even as late as the 1960s in many secluded areas of Afghanistan, polygamy, child marriage and honor killing were practiced, and women were forced to wear the burqa. All this being said, this was a hornet’s nest Trump inherited from previous administrations.
When the Soviet Union invaded the country in 1979 in response to U.S. covert operations in the region, which had been well in place for six months to overthrow the Communist People’s Republic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), women still enjoyed certain rights. Coed education was introduced in elementary schools by the PDPA and women were able to teach.
This began to change when the U.S. government backed the drug-trafficking Muhahideen—the forerunners of al-Qaeda and the Taliban—to oust the PDPA. (There is actual video footge [click here] showing then-U.S. National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski directly inciting the Mujahadeen rebels in Pakistan.)
As U.S. drug adviser to President Carter, David Musto, said: because “we [went] into Afghanistan to support the opium growers,” moderate Sufi leaders in the countryside were replaced by radical ones. This was due to massive financial support from agents of the Pakistani Inter-Services, funds that came from both the United States and Saudi Arabia, which were allocated toward jihadist ends.
According to Joe Stephens and David B. Ottaway of The Washington Post, “The United States spent millions of dollars to supply Afghan schoolchildren with textbooks filled with violent images and militant Islamic teachings, part of covert attempts to spur resistance to the Soviet occupation. The primers, which were filled with talk of jihad and featured drawings of guns, bullets, soldiers and mines, have served since then as the Afghan school system’s core curriculum. Even the Taliban used the American-produced books, though the radical movement scratched out human faces in keeping with its strict fundamentalist code.”
All this being said, while we can all accept that the Taliban are “the worst” group in Afghanistan, it is also worth taking a look at the horrific culture of our other Afghani “partners,” who ignore and many times condone the rampant phenomena in the country of the sexual molestation and prostitution of boys.
In what is called Bacha Bazi (boy play), boys are dressed like women and dance for their would-be male predators—primarily Sunni Pashtun Afghan males. The practice often includes child pornography, sexual slavery and prostitution. It is believed by some that this corrupt behavior in part stems from the seclusion of women and the practice of polygamy which limits the access of young men to normal heterosexual outlets for their urges, so Islamic societies, particularly in the less developed areas, have come to resemble prison culture with their sexual predators and defenseless young males.
Trump’s reasons for wanting the U.S. to leave Afghanistan are understandable. Over 2,400 American soldiers have been killed and approximately 20,320 wounded, not to mention the trillions of dollars spent in an almost two decades of fighting. Nevertheless, as former Director of the CIA and then-Commander of Coalition Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan David Petraeus explained, Assessing the Taliban’s compliance with its counterterrorism commitments, by contrast, entails much greater nuance and complexity.
To begin with, do the U.S. and the Taliban have a common definition of exactly what “groups and individuals” constitute a threat to the security of the United States and its allies? The accord makes a fleeting reference to al-Qaeda but otherwise does not explicitly name the entities that the Taliban is now obligated to keep off Afghan soil, such ISIS. Nor does it lay out a process by which the two parties are to reach consensus about the identity of such bad actors.
Does the restriction, for instance, extend to other U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organizations? What about UN-sanctioned extremists? Given the multiplicity of jihadist factions operating in the Afghanistan-Pakistan theater, as well as the Taliban’s long-standing ties to most of them, glossing over these details now would seem like an invitation to crisis later.
There is not a single sane American who does not want to say U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan. At the same time, forging peace with the Taliban is as effective as British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s Munich Pact with Adofl Hitler in 1938. It appears, however, that Trump, who inherited this hornet’s nest from both Presidents George W. Bush and Brak Hussein Obama, understands an immediate and full withdrawal of military personnel would make the political vacuum in the country worse, in addition to giving the Islamic terrorists our soldiers went in to eliminate, another opportunity to strike back at us.
Mario Alexis Portella is a priest of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Florence, Italy. He has a doctorate in canon law and civil law from the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome; he also holds a M. A. in Medieval History from Fordham University in New York, as well as a B.A. in Government & Politics from St. John’s University. He is author of Islam: Religion of Peace? – The Violation of Natural Rights and Western Cover-Up.