By Sanam Naraghi Anderlini, MBE, Founder and CEO, International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN)
To prevent the forever war turning into war forever, instead of an arms race and trillion-dollar defense spending, now more than ever we need to stand for and practice the principles of universal human rights, justice, and pluralism.
Last August, the U.S. ended its 20-year occupation of Afghanistan with a massive military withdrawal. From the outset, the White House promoted a rosy narrative as President Biden claimed it was the ‘greatest airlift in history, an Englishman, with Boris Johnson’s approval, evacuated 200 Afghan cats and dogs. Meanwhile countless Afghan men and especially women—who had risked their lives to be police and army officers, judges, translators, reporters, peacebuilders, and human rights advocates, were left behind.
With the withdrawal the administration hoped to end the ‘forever war’, assuming that putting the episode in America’s rear-view mirror, ‘what happened in Afghanistan, would stay in Afghanistan.’
But assumptions are not fact. For years prior to the withdrawal, Afghan women and those of us working internationally had warned against the Taliban’s intent and its implications. While Washington’s think-tanks framed the debate in simplistic binary terms of being for or against continued U.S. military presence, as women peacebuilders and rights advocates, we believed military withdrawal had to be conducted as part of an overarching political vision and a diplomatic strategy. We repeatedly called for negotiations to address women’s rights and civilian protection and to include Afghan civil society, especially its women and youth, so they could address the Taliban directly. The U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad repeatedly stonewalled the call.