Paddy Ashdown has called for British troops to be withdrawn from Afghanistan “quick, neat and soon”. It’s hard to argue with him about the catalogue of political and international failure to provide the sort of support that could have made a difference.
We should have understood that victories on the battlefield are meaningless if you can’t translate them into political progress and better lives for ordinary people. We should have placed more emphasis on political means than military ones, instead of looking to the soldiers to win the war for us. We should have understood the culture and history of Afghanistan instead of imposing an unaffordable Western-style centralised constitution on a country that has been decentralised and tribal for more than a thousand years. And at the end we should have grabbed the best opportunity for a negotiated peace three years ago instead of continuing our blind pursuit of the illusion of outright military victory.
I think what annoys me is that there’s all this talk of failure, yet not one single mention of the progress that’s been made since 2001 in the position of women and girls. There’s still a long way to go, but then girls were banned by law from getting an education. Now, as the BBC reported last month, over 3 million girls go to school.
I went to a fringe meeting at our Birmingham conference last year at which a former Afghan MP spoke. She said that women in Afghanistan were very apprehensive about the international forces leaving and the political pressure for women’s rights lessening.She talked about how the military prevent attacks on girls attending school. Some have acid thrown at them.
Human Rights Watch talk about the work still to be done. How there are 400 women in jail in Afghanistan for “moral crimes”. Crimes such as being raped, that would be.
I feel really cross that Paddy can’t see that 3 million girls being educated is a good thing. How can those girls and the women we’ve helped by getting rights enshrined in the constitution be so blithely dismissed? He’s not alone. You almost never hear the men who run the world talk about women’s rights. I say almost never, but a bit shout out to William Hague for emphasising how important it was for international recognition for the Syrian opposition to not have anything to do with rape or sexual violence. You would think these things should be taken as read, but they often aren’t.
I don’t know what the answer is. The UN needs to act urgently to protect the position of women and girls in Afghanistan when the NATO forces go. Letting them down and them losing the limited freedoms they’ve won in the last decade is not something I want to contemplate. So, why don’t the men who run this world get together, work out a strategy for the women of Afghanistan and chalk up what has been achieved as a good thing that needs to be held on to.