Can We End The War In Afghanistan, Negotiate A Peace With The Taliban, And Protect Human Rights For Women?
Polls show that the majority of Americans want the U.S. out of Afghanistan. Ten years after 9/11 the war there goes on. What has the cost been? What will the cost be if the U.S. withdrawals?
Restrepo, which won best documentary at Sundance in 2010, is now available for download on iTunes or purchase elsewhere. The film offers an extraordinary and sometimes painful glimpse into the everyday lives of soldiers and cilivians in Afghanistan during 2007-08 (before President Obama took office and redirected resources from Iraq to the Afghanistan theatre).
RESTREPO is a feature-length documentary that chronicles the deployment of a platoon of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan's Korengal Valley. The movie focuses on a remote 15-man outpost, “Restrepo,” named after a platoon medic who was killed in action. It was considered one of the most dangerous postings in the U.S. military. This is an entirely experiential film: the cameras never leave the valley; there are no interviews with generals or diplomats. The only goal is to make viewers feel as if they have just been through a 94-minute deployment. This is war, full stop.
It would be hard to recommend this too highly. Nothing like it has shown the human side of American forces trying to fight a war that seems at times highly incomprehensible. The film does not try to hide the ugle side of war. Watch and be prepared to see U.S. forces harm children. The truth is that kids die in war. We shouldn't run from that truth.
It is particularly tragic that Tim Hetherington, one of the film's co-creators, was killed recently covering the conflict in Libya.
A more recent look at the conflict in Afghanistan comes from PBS's Frontline. This is the opening chapter of their program Kill / Capture:
What seems clear is that as U.S. forces step up their efforts to root out Taliban forces the population becomes more and more anti-American.
As the BBC and others have reported, all of this has led the negotiations with the Taliban:
Now that President Obama has made it clear he wants to draw down the US troop surge in Afghanistan, there is growing emphasis on political and diplomatic efforts to try to bring an end to the war.
In his speech setting out plans to bring home 33,000 US troops over the next year, the president emphasised: "We do know that peace cannot come to a land that has known so much war, without a political settlement."
That means a "political settlement" with the Taliban.
One senior official said that phrase would have been "unthinkable" a year ago.
Just hours after President Obama spoke, Hillary Clinton spoke in a US Senate hearing of a "diplomatic surge to support Afghan-led efforts to reach a political solution to chart a more secure future."
Can the Taliban be trusted? Hardly. They are war criminals with a dismal human rights record. Yet such types have been brought back into coalition governments before after long periods of war and without a negotiated conclusion to this conflict it will go on and on.
But what would peace look like?
Dr. Ida Lichter, a writer who advocates for women, recently blogged on The Huffington Post that:
Women's rights would suffer a severe setback if the Taliban were given a share of power, possibly in the south of the country. Abandoning women to the Taliban would also spur imitation by extremists outside Afghanistan, including Britain, where the "London Taliban" has reportedly threatened to kill unveiled Muslim women. A Western failure in Afghanistan could stimulate more attacks from radicals, emboldened by their conviction that religious fervour was instrumental in defeating a second superpower.
Some women activists have sounded more conciliatory in recent times, attempting to thwart the punishment they anticipate when foreign troops leave. Most fear that a hasty drawdown of foreign troops could bring more chaos and violence, civil war, and even the return of jihadist training camps. The death of Osama bin Laden has also caused alarm, as the US could claim their mission to destroy al-Qaeda in Afghanistan was complete.
In order to achieve a respectable exit, Afghan and Western negotiators might find it expedient to accept promises by the Taliban and go along with the view that gender culture in the country is too tribal to be changed and should be respected even if it is harsh on women.
Afghanistan will remain a backward, failed state if half the population is prevented from contributing to the social, economic and political fabric of society. In their opposition to misogyny, a pillar of radical Islam, women also provide a challenge to extremism.
What can be done to safeguard women's rights? Taliban guarantees to promote rights for women and girls should be considered worthless, due to lack of coalition leverage.
Women should be included in all talks with the Taliban and gender issues incorporated in documents for discussion.
US aid could be contingent on protecting the human rights of Afghan women, and the pace of withdrawal made dependent on the extent to which the Taliban keep to their word.
Women and children are the main casualties in the war zone, and security will not improve unless the Pakistani government is prepared to stop the Afghan Taliban, Haqqani network and Hezb-e Islami from manufacturing improvised explosive devices on their soil.
Another requirement is a comprehensive settlement of reconciliation and de-radicalisation that goes beyond the Taliban to include other paramilitaries and power brokers. Rather than defend the Taliban, it would be more productive, and consistent with the democratic values of the Arab Spring, to support the victims of violence, the women's movement and other reformers in Afghanistan, so that human rights and civil society can seed and grow.
Is the U.S. willing to fight for the rights of women? If so, how can that best be achieved through a diplomatic process that finally brings this war to an end?