By Huda Jawad
Time Magazine's cover for pro-war propaganda
Time magazine must be experiencing a severe case of amnesia, judging by the cover of this week’s issue which asks, “What Happens If We Leave Afghanistan .” At best, this effort by Time is irresponsible slick journalism; at worst, it is one of the most blatant pieces of pro-war propaganda seen in years. The world owes Afghanistan’s women an honest answer as to why we apathetically allow their condition to deteriorate from horrible to simply unspeakable. Instead, Time is willingly deceiving readers into thinking that the condition of Aisha – the woman pictured on the cover – is a product of the Taliban 10 years ago. It is not. Aisha’s scarred face is a heart-wrenching reflection of the state of Afghan women today in the year 2010, and under the absurd assertion of democracy and the presence of thousands of US and NATO troops in the country.
Aisha was attacked by the Taliban last year, the same time that thousands of foreign troops were running around the country under the guise of liberating it. Time is repeating the inexcusable and now redundant mantra used by the Department of Defense and by just about every neocon politician: We’re in Afghanistan to save the women. Here’s the problem: as US troops remain in the country and have dominated it for the past 10 years, violence against women in Afghanistan has been increasing – not decreasing. The actions of the Taliban have been reprehensible and the farthest thing from Islamic doctrine; however, Time magazine and Katie Couric (who gave a humiliating endorsement of the cover and succeeding article) seem intent on fueling the fire of Islamophobia using such images.
The media incessantly teaches us that Muslims – particularly the male gender – are cruel and behave scathingly towards females. In the case of the Taliban this is the truth, and it’s an insult to Islam that such vile characters claim adherence to it. However, equally insulting is the notion of the US being in Afghanistan to protect the women from the Taliban, which was created and funded by the United States during the Cold War against the now-defunct Soviet Union. Those absurd enough to propagate that the US is out to liberate Muslim women seem at a loss to explain why the US is not currently sending F-16’s into Saudi Arabia to free its women from the chains of oppression, and from the threat of honor killings and child marriages. Then again, the United States has no qualms about supporting Saudi Arabia with billions of dollars in military sales and various “aid” packages each year – in addition to whiskey and other unmentionables – in order to maintain the status quo that currently operates the Middle East for American interests.
The same misogynistic warlords and drug lords responsible for mass murder in Afghanistan are now running the government, thanks to the US support they enjoy. Perhaps the only difference now is found in the suits they wear and the masks of so-called democracy. There are currently three major parties at play in determining the fate of women in the country: the US-installed government, the Taliban-influenced insurgency, and the US itself. Here’s a wild thought: at those top secret meetings between these three altruistic set of agendas, the last thing they concern themselves with is whether or not little Fatima or Aisha is allowed to go to school without acid being thrown on her face. Instead, the rights of women becomes a breaking point only when the Afghan government and US make undignified concessions to the insurgency regarding women’s rights, in order to maintain a cease-fire with the insurgents or to obtain more political leverage.
The United States shows such grave concern for the plight of Afghan women that they continue to ensure support for Hamid Karzai, even deeming the latest elections “legitimate” despite the apparent fraud and voter intimidation that keeps him in power. In addition to open negotiations and concessions with the Taliban, Karzai is also gaining concessions from Hezb-i-Islami (Islamic Party) led by Gulbuddin Hekmatya – a faction whose attitude towards women rivals that of the Taliban in cruelty and oppression. There is another myth being promoted by the Afghan and US policy makers that some form of moderate Taliban exists; in reality, it is the same group of terrorists responsible for making life an utter hell for millions of Afghan women, but with more power and money.
The numbers sold to the media paint an upbeat picture of the state of Afghan women. In reality, these statistics are a cruel joke and do nothing to improve the social standing of women. Ten years and 300 billion dollars later, the United States has done little to empower females in the war-torn country. In the Uruzgan province there are officially 220 schools, but only 21 of them function. According to researcher Rachel Reid in Kabul for Human Rights Watch, “only four per cent of secondary school age girls reach grade 10.” Instead of bringing democracy and social equality to Afghanistan, the US helped turn it into the world’s largest opium producer, at 93% of the world’s opium produced. That is hardly shocking when we consider that Hamid Karzai’s brother is the country’s biggest drug dealer. While the warlords are profiting from the neocolonialism brought forth by the occupation, the most recent United Nations Human Development Index ranked Afghanistan 181 out of 182 countries. Around twenty million Afghans live on less than $2 a day. For many mothers in impoverished Afghanistan, the situation has led them to consider selling their children due to their inability to feed them.
Only in Afghanistan can child rapists and war criminals be allowed to enter negotiations with a so-called democratic government, and to top that – with US support. Take the rise of Mohammed Mohaqiq into political power for example. In 2001 and 2002, Hezb-e Wahdat began a systematic targeting of Pashtuns in Afghanistan due to their ethnic ties to the Taliban. As a result, whole villages of civilians were attacked and young girls were abducted on their way to school by Mohaqiq’s armed thugs. In 2002, Mohaqiq landed himself a position as the Vice-Minister of Planning in the new and “democratic” Afghan government. In 2007 he masterminded the Afghan amnesty law which granted total protection and forgiveness to Taliban warlords. The law was not passed in 2007, but during the 2009 Afghan elections – an event which history will forever paint as the paragon of the corrupted – Mohaqiq threw his support behind Karzai who promised him a new position in the new government. Interestingly enough, Karzai would also quietly place in effect the Afghan amnesty law in 2010, subsequently forever immunizing Mohaqiq and his criminal counterpart for their crimes against women.
The “let’s save Afghan women” rhetoric looks terribly hypocritical, considering that the US and NATO stood by idly as Karzai and the warlords mounted the biggest voter fraud scheme in modern history. The Time article ponders the fate of Afghan women once the US stops sending down packages of humanitarian aid on them in the form of drone attacks on civilian populations and attacking wedding parties, among other dangerous targets. However, in defense of the US army, once you legitimize the Taliban and even enter secret negotiations with them, they aren’t really your enemy anymore – so why not bomb the civilians to death? In Afghanistan, the very presence of a foreign army has brought with it indiscriminate bombings by the “forces of freedom,” massacres of civilians by US troops, and wide-spread public corruption by US-installed stooges.
It is an unforgivable sin by the US media and policy-makers to continue shamelessly claiming they are in Afghanistan to liberate its female population.
Perhaps it makes sense for the US and Taliban to enter into agreements, considering that they both have a knack for killing innocent civilians in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Instead of asking what happens if we stay in Afghanistan, Time is jumping on the pro-war, right-wing media juggernaut and throwing its weight behind the continued destruction of Afghanistan ’s social and civil infrastructure. The US owes it to Afghanistan ’s women to at least cease to insult them by claiming that making their living conditions more reprehensible is somehow “liberating” them. These women and young girls have been through enough. Let’s not make them the poster children for more airstrikes on civilian neighborhoods.