The U.S. in Afghanistan & What Afghans Want, Part II

(Editor's Note: This is the second part of a three-part series on U.S. policy in Afghanistan and reactions to U.S. doctrine by Afghans. To read this series from the beginning, please go here.)

Kit-Bacon Gressitt

Some years before Al Qaeda’s September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, my attention was drawn to Afghanistan by the revelation in 1996 of the Taliban regime’s practice of stoning for adultery. A subsequent flow of disturbing news from the Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) led to a faulty attempt to convince the newspaper editorial board on which I served at the time to condemn the Taliban’s treatment of women and girls and begin a campaign to encourage U.S. intervention.

I failed, along with human rights organizations around the world. The Taliban atrocities and denial of women’s human and civil rights — even their right to an education — continued freely and enthusiastically, until the U.S. October 2001 retaliatory invasion of Afghanistan. Al Qaeda dispersed and the Taliban regime fell quickly, despite the extremists’ handy stock of weapons previously supplied by the United States to the mujahideen fight against the Soviets and their Afghan puppet government. It’s a bitter irony, made even more so by the persistence of Taliban and Al Qaeda violence in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

This year, greater U.S. and NATO involvement is expected. Afghanistan’s presidential election will be held, and there is a global interest in preventing the failing state from becoming a failed one. Afghanistan is undermined by: the Taliban and Al Qaeda insurgency; poverty; illiteracy; the lack of basic services; and uncoordinated military and humanitarian operations. With a reinvigorated focus, the landscape for daily living in Afghanistan could improve. Ibrahim, who directs literacy programs for girls and women in the Ghazni Province of Afghanistan (see Part 1 of this series), describes in his e-mail below (edited for clarity) his hope that his country will achieve success through international intervention and improved education, particularly for the girls and women denied schooling by the Taliban.

From Ibrahim's e-mail:

After the Taliban were removed from power, I was happily in hope of having a peaceful life, progress in my country and a bright future. I returned to Afghanistan and hoped that with the United Nations, NATO and especially the great country of democracy (the USA) alongside the Afghan oppressed people, my country would not be used any longer as a strong front and main center of Muslim terrorists.

The main problem of Afghanistan was and is illiteracy, and because of illiteracy and ignorance, Afghans are vulnerable to the hope of going to heaven [promoted] by Muslim extremists. So to rescue my people from extremism, and in hope of making a bright future by ending illiteracy, I decided to work in that field — by making literacy schools in remote areas where the government cannot work. With the help of my friends, especially Gary Becks [president and founder of the Rescue Task Force], I can teach the skills of reading and writing to thousands of illiterate women in central Afghanistan.

All the progress of the world comes by educated people. All the progress in technical, social, economical, health and agricultural fields has been brought by educated people. As an old man told in one of my literacy schools, there is a difference between the blind and those who have eyes: Illiterates are as the blind who cannot see the right ways… the path from the well. I can say all the disasters and dark condition in Afghanistan are because of illiteracy. Illiterates, because of their ignorance, are the best hunting of extremists to use them for suicide bomb explosions.

Unfortunately… my hopes have never been realized [for the rest of the nation]. Still there is not peace, especially in south and southeast parts of Afghanistan where mostly Pashtun tribal [people] are living. After about seven years of NATO forces in Afghanistan, the oppressed people are still slaughtered as sheep by wild Taliban. The Taliban are still pulling out the eyes and cutting the noses and ears of Afghan teachers and students whose only sin is getting an education — as a few days ago the Taliban poured nitrate on the faces of the girl students and teachers.

I can surely say that by [teaching the] illiterates in Afghanistan who are used as donkeys and cows by the Taliban, Muslim extremists will find no more cows and donkeys to use for their aims.… Educated parents will present educated and polite children to society. By literate and educated families, we will have literate and educated villages, and by literate and educated villages, we will have literate districts and by educated districts, we will have literate and educated provinces and country and finally, by educated countries, we will have a peaceful, educated world. So literacy is the foundation of peace and a bright future.

(To read this series from the beginning, please go here. To read the next part in the series with more from Ibrahim's e-mail, please go here.)

Editor's Note: This piece is cross-posted from Kit-Bacon Gressitt's personal blog, Excuse Me, I'm Writing.)

(The photo shows women in a reading program conducted by the Rescue Task Force. The photo is © copyright Kurt Swann and is used with permission.)

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