|June 6, 2012: Afghan villagers with the bodies of children reportedly killed in a NATO air strike. (Photo: Sabawoon Amarkhil/AFP) BBC news|
For U.S. citizens, Afghanistan flip flops between being the forgotten war -- during the invasion and occupation of Iraq, for instance -- to being the "smart" war with lots of rah rah around surges, signature strikes with drones, and faux "progress" for security. And for women. Lots and lots of progress for women and girls, if you believe NATO and the U.S. State Department's official pronouncements on the matter.
I spent many hours last week with people who feel, as I do, that U.S. presence in Afghanistan is a festering sore at the heart of that post-9/11 disease, the war on terror. We were looking into what evidence there is for progress, or the lack thereof, for women's rights, health and prosperity.
(It is hard to use the word prosperity right now because the vast majority of Afghans are extremely poor. The children collect scraps of plastic to burn for cooking. The average life expectancy is 48 years for all, 51 years for women. We are not talking here of the wealthy elites with millions in offshore bank accounts, or even holding citizenship in other countries, who are in Parliament and other branches of the national government. Whose daughters fly to Dubai to get their wedding make-up professionally done.)
On a June 27 conference call, we heard from some speakers who had been to Afghanistan multiple times in the past decade. Fahima Vorgetts of the Afghan Women's Fund shared her observations:
- Violence against women has escalated in the last two years.
- Women are attacked from 3 sides: by NATO, by insurgents, and by their own government which has many warlords in positions of authority, some with private militias.
- There are now laws protecting women’s rights, but they are not implemented or respected.
- There will likely be no meaningful withdrawal in 2014, because right now the U.S. military is buying large parcels of land and expanding construction of huge bases in various parts of the country e.g. a dining hall that will seat thousands. There are now 400 bases (my note: HOLY CRAP! JUST IN AFGHANISTAN?) but many of those will be turned over to the Afghan military.
Lots of contractors with big fat contracts paid by the American taxpayer will try to continue extracting wealth and keeping transport corridors open, no doubt. Worked splendidly in Iraq didn't it? Now the U.S. has Iran surrounded, and gives the appearance of beginning to circle in for the kill. Prize? Control of the Persian Gulf.
Fahima's observations seemed to accord with the findings in “Progress for Afghan Women” a WAND webinar by David Cortright on June 27 in the area of rights for women:
- De jure important legal & political rights are now guaranteed to women in Afghanistan, including 25% representation in Parliament.
- Except: Taliban has regained control in some areas, and women's rights have suffered.
- Also, the national govt is full of misogynist warlords.
This reminds me of reading descriptions of the Afghan police taking bribes, practicing extortion, and routinely brutalizing prisoners. Lt. Col. Daniel Davis made a year long-study traveling in Afghanistan, interviewing and observing at multiple locations, hoping to conclude that the army and police were doing a credible job of security. Although it was his job to do so, he was unable to find evidence for this. Quite the contrary.
This makes me think, Is it any wonder women in Afghanistan are in jail for adultery after being raped?
Rules of law is on paper only, was the consensus of all three sources.
Mariam Raqib, of Afghanistan Samsortya spoke on the conference call primarily of environmental degradation:
- Sever negative impacts of landmines, IEDs, unexploded bombs from NATO, and the effects of aerial bombing that penetrated deep into the ground.
and birth defects are reported on the rise by women in eastern
Afghanistan, possibly due to the type of weapons being used there.
Crop dusting the poppies also poisons people.
- Poor record keeping and health research amid the ongoing disruption of civil society makes health issues hard to quantify or study systematically.
- Children gather scraps of plastic from enormous trash heaps that are everywhere, and women burn plastic to cook food for their families -- a highly toxic health hazard.
- Samsortya establishes tree nurseries to support reforestation due to dramatic loss of forests and orchards over 30+ years of war, and the resulting dust and lack of cooking fuel.
Yup, big progress for the environment after ten years "stewardship" by NATO, the biggest polluter on the planet.
There was some evidence for progress presented in Cortright's webinar. He said that education has been a huge priority of the Afghanistan government and of international donors.
- 900,000 students enrolled in primary and secondary schools in 2002, all male
- 8.4 million enrolled in 2012, 39 percent female
- Possible because of $$ from World Bank, UN, donor states, and USAID.
I question the statistics for 2002, because to say that zero girls were being educated in school in 2002 is implausible. Schools during the Taliban era were held in households secretly so they could appear to be doing something else if militants arrived. People never stop trying to educate their children. Again, nearly impossible to quantify, because of the continuous disruptions of war.
There were no sources on the slides, but David mentioned a recent major national health survey conducted with rigorous scientific methodology, which seemed to him to be the most reliable current source. He noted that most statistics on public health in Afghanistan are irregular, coming from various sources.
- There are now 22,000 trained healthcare workers, including 3,275+ trained midwives. Skilled birth attendance now is at 34 percent, up from 14 percent
- Child mortality has been cut by half, and there are 1 in 50 maternity deaths, a decrease.
In economics, a so-called National Solidarity Program offers microfunding to local Community Development Councils, has 35% female participation.
(Smell the whiff of World Bank there? If you can't get on the gravy train of taking protection money for not attacking NATO supply convoys, maybe you can get credit to start a bakery.)
David's outlook on security were as dismal as the other experts: Leaders say it is improving, but the facts are to the contrary. He estimated insurgents number around 20,000. He noted that Gen. Petraeus stated in 2010: We're facing an industrial strength insurgency – there is no win here on a military basis.
Cortright's own conclusions: The longer we pursue this war the more it seems to strengthen the insurgency. As long as foreign forces are in Afghanistan, this provides a boost to the insurgents. Women told us: it's the presence of foreign forces that is one of the driving forces in the insurgency.
And if that weren't enough to keep the longest war in U.S. history going, I bet we could pledge to hang in there in an "advisory" capacity until Afghan women finally get their rights. Which at this rate could take another 1,000 years.
Besides, if women got their rights, and sat down at the tables where peace treaties and post-hostilities are hammered out, the chances of war continuing would decline drastically. That's why the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1325, based on studies of conflicts around the world, in which it called for full participation by women in peace talks and negotiations.
Like the rights of Afghan women, UNSC Res. 1325 remains, at this point in time, empty words on paper.