On Saturday, as conditions rapidly deteriorated in Afghanistan, President Joe Biden announced he was sending troops there to evacuate “U.S. personnel and other allied personnel, and an orderly and safe evacuation of Afghans who helped our troops during our mission and those at special risk from the Taliban advance.”
However, he announced he wasn’t going to do anything to stop the Taliban from running roughshod over the country and didn’t appear to back any attempt to stem the chaos from an ill-planned withdrawal.
“America went to Afghanistan 20 years ago to defeat the forces that attacked this country on September 11th. That mission resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden over a decade ago and the degradation of al Qaeda,” Biden said in a statement.
“One more year, or five more years, of U.S. military presence would not have made a difference if the Afghan military cannot or will not hold its own country,” Biden added.
In a news release on Saturday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi praised Biden’s statement for its “clarity of purpose” and the president himself on his “actions.” One paragraph later, she announced she was “deeply concerned about reports regarding the Taliban’s brutal treatment of all Afghans, especially women and girls.”
“The President is to be commended for the clarity of purpose of his statement on Afghanistan and the actions he has taken,” Pelosi said in the statement.
“The Taliban must know that the world is watching its actions. We are deeply concerned about reports regarding the Taliban’s brutal treatment of all Afghans, especially women and girls.”
Reports? As in, the ones from 25 years ago, when the theocratic insurgent group first took control of the country and “required women to wear the head-to-toe burqa,” as noted by the Council on Foreign Relations? Or are these reports of fresher provenance — like a return to forced marriages in Taliban-held areas, as The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday?
One should consider both rebarbative, but brutal mistreatment of women is part of the Taliban’s political branding, and has been for more than a generation.
It springs from the Taliban’s ultra-fundamentalist interpretation of Islam — which is why we had to invade in the first place, as President Biden alluded to. The Taliban were willing to countenance Osama bin Laden’s twisted vision of terroristic holy war, so much so that Afghanistan became a safe space for al Qaeda to launch attacks like 9/11.
When the Taliban were unwilling to give bin Laden up after the Twin Towers and Washington attacks, their compromise was to have him handed over to Pakistan and tried in an Islamic tribunal there (a bit of a low-ball counteroffer when you’re dealing with the most prolific terrorist mass-murderer in history). That was unacceptable to then-President George W. Bush and the American people, and United States invaded and removed — if not eliminated — the Taliban.
We’ve been there ever since and the Taliban have persisted as a force, both of which were problems that had to be dealt with. The goal was a managed withdrawal that prevented the Taliban from taking total control of the country.
As The Wall Street Journal noted, negotiations continue with the group in Doha, Qatar. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has said he would step down if there were some kind of power-sharing agreement — which, indeed, would have been a best-case scenario a few weeks ago.
It’s difficult to imagine why the Taliban would agree to that now. The Associated Press reported Sunday that the Taliban had taken Jalalabad, the last major city not under the group’s control, and had entered the outskirts of Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. Given that the Biden administration seems determined to stay the course, there’s virtually no impediment to the insurgents wresting full control of the country from the Ghani government. (UPDATE: About 10 a.m. Eastern Time on Sunday, the U.K. Independent reported that Ghani had fled Kabul.)
The Taliban said it wouldn’t take the city “by force” — but in just over a week, the AP noted Taliban fighters have effectively swept through most government-controlled parts of the country. Biden’s statement explicitly said that if “the Afghan military cannot or will not hold its own country,” this is the endgame.
Is this what President Biden is to be “commended” for, Speaker Pelosi?
Pelosi also appears to believe there’s some kind of enforcement mechanism to ensure the protection of Afghani women and girls outside of U.S. military presence: “The U.S., the international community and the Afghan government must do everything we can to protect women and girls from inhumane treatment by the Taliban,” her statement said.
Pelosi has served in the U.S. House since 1987, so I’m assuming she remembers that the United States and the international community sanctioned the Taliban vigorously enough that few countries outside of Iraq and North Korea were as isolated by the “international community.” It wasn’t until the Taliban were militarily dislodged that there was any kind of change in Afghan human rights — and that’s because the group was no longer in a position to commit mass atrocities, including the enslavement of women.
One assumes that when Pelosi says we “must do everything we can” to prevent “inhumane treatment” from happening, that doesn’t include the same thing that stopped the Taliban from committing atrocities against women and girls in the first place — military intervention — given her praise for the course Biden’s charted.
The remainder of the statement reads as if it were written by someone who either a) knew nothing about the situation on the ground in Afghanistan at that moment, about the Taliban, or the group’s horrendous treatment of women, or b) assumed the reader didn’t.
“Any political settlement that the Afghans pursue to avert bloodshed must include having women at the table. The fate of women and girls in Afghanistan is critical to the future of Afghanistan,” Pelosi said.
“As we strive to assist women, we must recognize that their voices are important, and all must listen to them for solutions, respectful of their culture. There is bipartisan support to assist the women and girls of Afghanistan. One of the successes of U.S.- NATO cooperation in Afghanistan was the progress made by women and girls. We must all continue to work together to ensure that is not eroded.”
When Pelosi wrote this statement, the AP reported the Taliban was seven miles outside of Kabul. A day later, that number stood at zero miles outside of Kabul. The negotiations in Doha are quickly becoming moot, given there’s no force ready or willing to stop or manage the Taliban’s military advances. Thus, there’ll soon be no table at which a political settlement will be reached on the international level.
Domestically, there may be a table to decide how power ends up being shared. The Taliban will decide who sits at it, and one guesses there won’t be many women. Nancy Pelosi won’t change that.
And yes, “One of the successes of U.S.- NATO cooperation in Afghanistan was the progress made by women and girls.” The Taliban haven’t acquired any particular fondness for “the successes made by U.S.- NATO cooperation in Afghanistan” over the past 20 years, and we’ll all be lucky if that progress is merely “eroded.”
We’ve already passed the Rubicon of a managed withdrawal that stood some chance of keeping the Taliban in check or ensuring there was some kind of power-sharing agreement.
The Biden administration doesn’t want to attempt any course correction. The international community isn’t keen on intervention, either.
Thus, we have a fairly good idea what’s going to happen to women and girls under Afghanistan’s next government. We also have no effective mechanism to stop it, at least none we’re willing to use.
The two parts of Nancy Pelosi’s Saturday statement are inherently contradictory. The House speaker cannot, in one paragraph, commend the course the president is taking, and then in the next talk about the grave concern she has for the country’s women and girls, demanding they be allowed a say in the process and that the progress made over the past 20 years be preserved.
Joe Biden has given Afghanistan over to the wolves. Pelosi praised him for it — and then said those wolves had better not go hunting for prey. Also, the wolves should let the prey have a seat at the table to determine a fair political settlement for the local food chain.
Good luck with that.
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