Why the U.S. should not pull out of Afghanistan

A female parliamentarian says the Taliban would return to power and undo the gains in women's rights.

Topics: Afghanistan,

Why the U.S. should not pull out of AfghanistanAfghan Parliament Member Fawzia Koofi (Credit: AP)

President Obama’s recent announcement that he  plans to withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan by 2014 will not only prove disastrous for Afghanistan, a country which I fear will slide back in the abyss of either Taliban rule or civil war. It will also be disastrous for the United States; without international support Afghanistan may once again become the playgound for international terrorism.

One of the most common misperceptions about my nation is that democracy was forced on an unwilling population by the West after the defeat of the Taliban in 2001. The fact is Afghanistan has a long history of democratic traditions. At local level we have a system of Arbabs.  An Arbab is usually a village elder who acts as representative to the others.  He makes low level decisions on behalf of people and he represents his village at the Jirga, a local council where elders from neighboring villages meet and discuss problems or solve disputes.  Anyone can bring a problem or dispute to a Jirga  – the Jirga council will listen to both sides of the debate and make a judgment. Their decision is final.

At national level we have Loya Jirga – grand council. This system brings together regional leaders from all over the country. Our country is richly in culture (over 40 different languages are spoken with around 200 dialects).   Immediately after the fall of the Taliban we had a constitutional Loya Jirga which included representatives from all the different ethnic groups and where the new democratic constitution of Afghanistan was agreed and voted upon. Most recently there has been a national Peace Jirga which included village elders together with politicians from all over Afghanistan who came together to discuss the ways forward as insurgency and insecurity grows.

Today many Afghans have lost or are losing faith in their government. But that’s got nothing to do with not wanting democracy. It has everything to do with how little has changed for ordinary people despite the billions of dollars of international aid money that has been spent in Afghanistan in recent years.

Most people still do not have access to clean water or electricity, even in Kabul, the capital city. In part this is due to government corruption. Afghanistan is now ranked one of the most corrupt countries in the world. But it is also a failure of  the international contracting firms that built the roads, many of which were too small to allow farmers to pass trucks to get produce to market. Some used such poor quality  asphalt that the roads need rebuilding already. Even in central Kabul the main road which runs between the airport and a central district called Wazir Akbar Khan is so badly pot-holed that visitors think it is due to war damage. The asphalt of the road, built a few years ago, has already worn away.

Many hospitals were so also so badly built they failed to include basics like plumbing and are not fit for patients. Yet these firms still took their profit. On a recent visit to Badakshan I visited one such institution. The walls were cracked, the door frames did not fit the doors and the piping didn’t work. Every time a tap was turned on water flooded. These things happen because foreign aid workers can no longer visit many places due to insecurity, so they must rely on corrupt local officials to tell them a project such as a school or hospital has been completed properly. The local official – who may have stolen half the funds for himself – reports back that it has been, no one makes a further check, a report is filed and the contracting firm is paid. It is a corruption that starts at village level and ends at international level. And because of this poor people do not get the help that was promised to them. They see a half built hospital and wonder how this could happen?

If Afghan people are cynical today, these are just some of the reasons why.  But they still risk their lives to vote in elections. I represent Badakshan, one of the poorest and most remote provinces of Afghanistan, where many people are illiterate. Yet they still love to talk about politics, especially about so-called peace talks with the Taliban.

Last year the Taliban pulled out of previous talks with President Hamid Karazi but, more recently, the Taliban have opened a political office in the gulf state of Qatar, a key US ally. The current strategic thinking of NATO is that the only way to achieve lasting peace in Afghanistan (and allow a smooth foreign military pull-out) is to bring the Taliban into talks and allow them to participate in government. I feel strongly this is not the right approach.

I do not believe the Taliban will share power or will participate in democracy. The Taliban have tried to assassinate me and other female MPs, liberal MPs, and any opponents of their ideology  Only a few weeks ago Taliban gunmen attacked my car. I was inside for 30 minutes not knowing if I would live or die. Three Afghan policemen were killed in the battle. Can I really be expected to believe a Taliban  representative would take a seat in parliament alongside me?

According to one United Nations estimate, nearly 90 percent of Afghan women suffer from some sort of domestic abuse – some analysts believe that number may be even higher –  making Afghanistan one of the most dangerous places to be a woman. Nonetheless, small but important gains have made in women’s rights in the past ten years.

Today around  2.7 million girls are now in school, compared to just a few thousand during the time of the Taliban. In the new Afghan parliament, 27 per cent of MPs are female – far higher than the world average. Thousands of women now go out to work in offices, a few drive cars (although this is not common) and glamorous women wearing lipstick with shiny bouffant hair visible underneath their headscarves are once again seen on TV as news anchors and journalists (all female voices and faces were banned during Taliban time).  These women are role models to many young women in Afghanistan.

And of course women now have access to healthcare, in places where it is available. In the time of Taliban women were banned from visiting male doctors and female doctors were banned from practicing, effectively denying 50 per cent of the population any medical care whatsoever. In my view that was as good as attempted murder of a gender. Those who claimed to men of God had no respect for one of God’s greatest creations – women. By allowing the Taliban back as a legitimate force in government we would undo all of those gains and it would be a betrayal of Afghan women.

The problems of my nation are vast, but they are not insurmountable. In my view we need to continue to support the fragile democratic gains and structures of recent years, not give up on them. We need continued Western support. In time we will be ready to go it alone—but not yet. Plunging us back into the darkness of Taliban rule is not the answer.

Fawzia Koofi is Afghanistan's first female Parliament speaker and the author of the recently-released "The Favored Daughter: One Woman's Fight to Lead Afghanistan into the Future" (Palgrave Macmillan, January 2012). She is a candidate for the president in the 2014 elections. The mother of two girls, she lives in Kabul.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>