Tag Archives: NATO

5 things about the Taliban’s 2018 spring offensive

The Taliban’s long-anticipated spring offensive announcement just came off the presses in five languages – Pashto, Dari, Arabic, Urdu and English. The announcement is as notable for things it does not mention as for things it does. Here are the five things about the Al Khandaq Operation that jump out:

  1. It is silent on President Ghani’s peace offer: The Taliban’s long-awaited response to President Ghani’s peace offer, made last month, is still not out. The statement does not directly address the peace offer but implicit in the launch of this year’s hostilities is the decision to forge ahead with the fight. Not only did the statement fail to respond to the Afghan government’s peace offer, it also dismisses any American overtures: “The Americans have no serious or sincere intentions of bringing the war to an end.” That line is significant because the US supported President Ghani’s peace offer.
  2. It won’t say explicitly if they want to disrupt the parliamentary elections: The biggest political event of the Afghan calendar this year is going to be the parliamentary and district council elections. The timeline was announced earlier this week — the same day when a bomb at a voter registration center killed and injured about 150 — but the Taliban leave it untouched. In years past, they have targeted election workers, candidates, campaigners and voters. This year, too, they have targeted election-related activity. But disrupting the elections is not an explicit part of their offensive priorities this year. Nobody should hold their breath on this, though.
  3. There’s literally no mention of the Afghan forces. It’s as if they never fired a shot at men in Afghan military uniforms, never blew up a base or never called anyone a hireling solder (they did). There’s mention of the “internal backers” of US troops, but no mention of Afghan forces — not even in the traditionally derisive Taliban language. This is significant because the Taliban are trying to cast this war as between them — the true defenders of Afghanistan and Afghan values — and foreign forces.
  4. Civilians continue to be targets: The Taliban make a big deal out of their noble intentions to protect civilian life and property, but their deliberate and indiscriminate attacks has ensured that civilian casualties have increased every year since the UN started compiling statistics in 2009. This year’s statement ends with instructions to their fighters to take “all precautionary measures should be taken while attacking a target.” But they continue to kill the vast majority of civilians killed in Afghanistan, according to the UN. Unfortunately, this year’s battle plan continues to conflate legitimate military objectives with civilian ones:

    “[The operation’s] primary target will be the American invaders and their intelligence agents. Their internal supporters will be dealt with as a secondary target.”

    The “internal supporters” is a catch-all phrase that could include the Afghan security forces, civil servants, teachers, aid workers, humanitarian workers and regular people who happen to be where the Taliban decide to set off a bomb.

  5. Their response to Trump’s South Asia strategy: continued defiance: The Taliban were pretty blunt about how they feel about Trump’s South Asia strategy when it was announced last August. Now they use their spring offensive as peg to rail against it again:

…the newly adopted war strategy of Trump has been ruthlessly implemented in the villages and rural areas against our oppressed Afghan people for the past nine months. Thousands of additional foreign forces are being deployed inside Afghanistan and they are supplied with new devastating weapons and vast military authorities.

If anyone was under the illusion that the precipitous drawdown of American troops from Afghanistan would take the wind out of the sails of Taliban casus belli, they are proven wrong. For one, Trump has amped up the tempo of air campaigns even as the number of US troops remains modest. Secondly, the Taliban are clinging to their anti-foreigner rhetoric, so their self-righteous continues with on end in sight.

Are we learning the right lesson from the Kandahar killings?

It’s barely two days after the Kandahar massacres and, although the full facts are not yet clear, there are various calls from a number of quarters about what the unfortunate incident actually means.

Some are approaching it from an instinct of fear and worry about the potential “backlash” from the “Afghan anger.” As I have described this elsewhere, this is exactly the wrong approach because it ignores the pain and grief felt by many Afghans after this horrendous incident, casting them as potential aggressors instead of the victims that they are.

But then there is the other camp, including Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich, who are calling for a quick, complete withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan. They argue that incidents like this create a clear imperative for the US to get out because it “can’t fix” Afghanistan. Gingrich and company do not realize is that these events demonstrate, even more urgently, the need to take immediate and appropriate measures to prevent similar incidents in the future — in Afghanistan and beyond. That there have been so many of them in Iraq, Gitmo and Afghanistan means the systemic loose ends must be tied to minimize the likelihood of similar incidents from happening.

Proponents of this view also fail to understand that the United States is already withdrawing fairly precipitously. President Obama has hastened the already-short 2014 timeframe to include an acceleration of drawdown by mid-2013. Then there’s the logistical challenge: you can’t plop 80,000 troops and millions of tons of weapons and equipment back into the US — the process requires negotiation of withdrawal routes, fees and other arrangements with difficult partners such as Pakistan, Russia and its Central Asian neighborhood.

From the Afghan perspective, a precipitous withdrawal could be disastrous. I was asked on the BBC today (video forthcoming) what achievements ISAF has had in Afghanistan and I listed, in the little time I had, the assertive women’s movement, increased rights for minorities, education for girls. The interview was short and ended before I could add the caveat about ISAF’s failures, but the point about those achievements stands. The withdrawal is already threatening those gains which, without an appropriate settlement with the Taliban or other safety measures, would be significantly reversed.

So, in short, the lessons from the Kandahar massacre are numerous but we need to identify them accurately. More on this subject later.

Update (March 13): My post on UN Dispatch dealing with this subject in greater depth.

Two important things the world is ignoring about the Kandahar massacre

Immediately after the incident in Kandahar involving a US soldier that killed 16 unarmed Afghan civilians, we heard concerns about “Afghan anger” and “backlash.” This approach, emanating from an instinct fear, is precisely the wrong one because it ignores two things:

  • The grief and pain experienced by the Afghans who have lost, among others, 9 children, and;
  • The tremendous restraint exhibited by Afghans in the face of repeated incidents of civilian deaths, including the infamous Kill Team and other occasions of aerial strikes targeting the wrong people.

The fear-of-backlash approach dehumanizes the people who have been affected by this incident and paints them not as victims but as potential aggressors. This approach, coming from the ISAF troops sent in to protect the civilians, is regrettable at the least and prevents effective interaction with the population. Further, it ignores all historical precedent of how civilians have reacted to such incidents, which is with much restraint.

I am going to write more about this for the UN Dispatch, but for a more expanded version of the above, listen to my interview from earlier today on The Kojo Show.

Update (March 13): My post on UN Dispatch dealing with this subject in greater depth.

How best to ensure defeat in Afghanistan

U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta recently made comments suggesting that U.S. combat role would end in Afghanistan by mid-2013. This came as a shocker to many. The U.S. had insisted – in fact, cajoled other NATO members – to contribute troops and resources to the Afghanistan war. Other U.S. officials tried to do damage control, but Panetta set the tone for the May Chicago conference, where  the final timetable of withdrawal will be decided.

These comments came just before the NATO defense ministerial meeting in Brussels, where discussions were supposed to be held on the future size of the Afghan national security forces (ANSF). NATO member countries are going through a tight financial squeeze, so the apatite for sustaining a a 350,000-strong security forces for Afghanistan – the current projection for Oct. 2012 – was not strong. France said it would be happy with a 230,000-strong force, while the U.S. preferred 227,000.

Either way, the cost factor was the most important in those calculations. It was less about how many troops would be necessary to defend Afghanistan against the insurgency, and more about how much money NATO can afford to give to sustain the Afghan forces. The discussion had shifted from a security policy perspective to a predominantly financial austerity perspective. To be sure, policymaking is always a balancing act between scarce resources and optimal policy outcomes, and mostly the outcomes are as important in final analysis as the money. But in this discussion, it was the other way around.

So, as the U.S. is cutting down its troops and further accelerating the drawdown, it is also pushing for a smaller ANSF. At the same time, American diplomats are trying hard to make the ongoing negotiation efforts with the Taliban work. If there is anything that screams “we’re negotiating from a position of weakness,” it would be this. ISAF is leaving Afghanistan and leaving behind a small and less capable force to fight the insurgency. Before they leave, they are attempting to dissuade the Taliban from violence and integrate them into the government — not as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan but as a smaller group that shares a fraction of power. That is impossible to do as long as the the Taliban remain more powerful vis-a-vis the ANSF.

This is a lose-lose proposition on many levels. First, U.S. negotiators will find it harder to argue for things that are not on the top of their national security agenda — important things like women’s rights, girl’s education, minority protection, human rights, etc. Second, the U.S. or its partner countries have not announced or debated any special increase in civilian aid as they have contemplated withdrawal and cutting ANSF funding. A funding shortfall in the face of a growing insurgent threat and a hostile neighborhood will inevitably force Afghanistan to prioritize defense over development. Third, the U.S. and its allies seem to be largely ignoring the concerns of the political opposition, which is growing increasingly paranoid as they see Afghanistan’s future direction being negotiated almost exclusively between the Taliban and the U.S. This does not bode well for any future negotiated settlement where the opposition’s demands are not factored in.

Amid fiscal belt tightening, growing war-weariness and election-year politics, the international community is pursuing the exact policy it should not. It is inevitable that Afghanistan’s security forces will have to be downsized, but that should only happen when the current heightened state of security threats has been addressed. It is also inevitable that the international community will stop funding Afghanistan’s forces, look for a solution other than protracted war and withdraw their own forces. But the current strategy – if it can be called that – doesn’t not constitute an optimal combination of these realities.

If anything, it seems like the best strategy for failure in Afghanistan.

2012: Things to keep an eye on in Afghanistan

This incomprehensive list is a repository of my initial thoughts and will evolve over the next few days. As this year wraps up, I thought I’d make a note of some of the important news items to look out for in 2012. Two of the first items are part of a larger listicle (list article) on the UN Dispatch.

  • Security transition/international troop withdrawal

More than a dozen members of the 49-country international coalition in Afghanistan are preparing to bring many or all of their soldiers home next year. The foreign military footprint is expected to shrink by around 40,000 troops by the end of 2012. The United States will pull approximately 29,000 troops, reducing the number of American troops in Afghanistan from 97,000 to around 68,000. Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Poland, Denmark, New Zealand, Slovenia, Hungary, Finland and Italy will collectively withdraw thousands more.

Will the Afghan security forces be prepared to take over when they leave? The signs aren’t encouraging. Attrition, lack of discipline, disrespect for civilian lives and propertyinsurgent infiltration, ethnic and political fractures, corruption, and unsustainable recruitment continue to plague Afghanistan’s police and army.

Also worrisome is the fact that anti-Taliban militias nominally under government control will continue expanding in 2012 with the support of international forces. These groups have gained notoriety among ordinary Afghan civilians and civil society for their fluid loyalties, links to organized crime and involvement in human rights abuses.

The government in Kabul needs competent police and soldiers to survive the departure of foreign forces. If the international community, and especially the United States, fails to seriously address the Afghan security forces’ shortcomings in 2012, doing so in 2013 will be too late.

Una Moore

  • Food insecurity and hunger

Close to three million Afghans are facing starvation as a harsh winter descends upon the country. A drought affecting 14 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces has rendered many families that engage in subsistence farming incapable of feeding themselves. The affected provinces are mostly in the north and northeast, where the loss of 80% of the staple wheat crop has left many with little to eat – some families are already reportedly limiting their diets to one meal a day. Winters can last up to six months and supply routes become impassable much of that time due to the mountainous terrain and snowfall of up to 13 feet. The international community has so far only pledged about one-third of the $142 million requested by the U.N. That is likely to impede efforts to stockpile food in affected areas before they become inaccessible. Children and pregnant women face chronic malnutrition in some of the poverty-hit areas regardless of drought.

An estimated 80% of Afghanistan’s population is involved in farming and herding. Droughts are not uncommon in Afghanistan, but their effects on crops and livestock are especially severe because irrigation remains poorly developed and water preservation is largely nonexistent. In addition to these structural challenges, the mountainous terrain and the harsh winter, a limited road network makes it difficult to reach many remote villages.

Although this drought does not affect areas with the strongest insurgency presence, serious concern still remains for the millions of people who will be cold and hungry for six months.

  • Negotiations and reconciliation

President Karzai has agreed at last to accept an office for the Taliban in Qatar, provided Afghanistan plays a lead role in the negotiations. The US has been conducting secret preliminary talks with the Taliban as it looks for an “honorable” exit from Afghanistan. But there are a number of other variables that make negotiations a tough task, not the least of which is the Taliban’s strong public refusal, thus far, of any talks. Other variables are Pakistan, India, Iran, Saudi Arabia and even China, whose stakes in Afghanistan are growing in tandem with their investment in the natural resource extraction sector.  Domestic Afghan opposition to reconciliation and the question of justice — what to do with the Taliban leaders who have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity — are some of the other important dimensions to the reconciliation process. Then there is the all-important question of what to do if the reconciliation process fails, or if any potential peace deal resulting from this process falls apart, after the world has moved on from Afghanistan.

  • Afghan security forces and irregular militias

The Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) have been rapidly growing in numbers, although desertion, the quality of recruits and infiltration by the Taliban remain as serious challenges. But ANSF is taking over the security of more areas in Afghanistan. A parliamentary committee recently evaluated their performance in the “phase 1” of the transition as unsatisfactory. The transition is a good early indicator of the quality and development of the ANSF as a fighting force, although they are expected to remain dependent on ISAF for air support, medevacs, intelligence/communication, operational help — and operating budget. On the other hand, the Afghans and Americans are arming ALP and a slew of other militia groups that have little formal accountability. The Afghan-initiated disbandment of CIP is also an important factor to watch.

  • The political process

The international community is preparing to leave Afghanistan but the Afghan political elite are reaching out to each other — instead of their guns — as political battle lines are drawn and the stakes increase. The formation of three major political parties in the past three months is a strong indicator that the Afghan elite are not giving up — yet — on democracy and politicking as a means to carve out a future for themselves in Afghanistan. They still believe that by being part of the system, they can gain more than they are expected to give — which is relinquishing violence and factional and inter-ethnic war. It’d be interesting to see how long they can hold their collective breath before they reach out for their guns, now that the US is withdrawing, the Taliban are increasingly assertive and Karzai is preparing his moves for his political future.

To be continued…

Those who don’t learn from history

Rachel Reid has a must-read article about the Afghan Local Police (ALP), a program under which NATO (read the US)  trains and then arms local groups as a way to shield communities against the creeping menace of the Taliban. As you can imagine, creating a new armed group with little supervision or accountability is a recipe for disaster. That’s what Rachel’s report for Human Rights Watch pointed out. Now, even NATO is beginning to officially admit that.

But there’s more than just the ALP that is cause for real concern. Writes Rachel:

Human rights abuses are almost inevitable when injecting lightly trained forces into fractured communities that tend to lie at the edge of government control, where impunity is rampant. Significant efforts have been made to safeguard against the risk of creating lawless militias, but what compounds this risk is that it’s not just the ALP that the U.S. and Afghan governments are backing. There’s also the Afghan Public Protection Force (APPF), the Critical Infrastructure Program (CIP), the Interim Security Infrastructure (ISCI), Community Based Security Solutions (CBSS), and the Afghan Public Protection Program (AP3). And these are just the groups with acronyms. Beyond them are a myriad of informal militias supported by Afghan intelligence forces, provincial officials, warlords, and unregistered private security forces, as well as the reintegrated former insurgents who are allowed to keep their arms.

Read the whole article here. In a country where the state does not have a monopoly of force, distributing arms among such an astonishingly broad spectrum of groups that have competing interests and little to no loyalty to the state is a patently bad idea. It’s a simple calculation: when you give guns to groups that don’t love each other and you, as the arbitrer, aren’t strong enough to keep them in line, you can’t expect peace and brotherly love to reign over the country.

As the report shows, the ALPs have shown a modicum of success in keeping the Taliban out, but their success is not motivated by a sense of duty to the country or the communities they are supposedly protecting. Rather, their motivation is their own interests, which they jealously guard by extortion, human rights abuses, fear tactics and violating the law, almost always with complete impunity. As a result, Afghanistan gets a whole host of new abusive militant groups in exchange for one. And a lot of money is being spent on this bad bargain.

This policy is an experiment in irony. Right after the fall of the Taliban, the international community, under the leadership of the Japanese, spent many millions of dollars disarming and reintegrating armed groups that existed in the nooks and crannies of Afghanistan. The only two big groups that weren’t disarmed — the Taliban and Hizb-e-Islami — are now the biggest challenge to Afghanistan’s future. Under this new policy, millions of dollars are being spent to once again to create armed militias, rolling back the gains made with Japanese and international help. Worse yet, there is no strategy to demobilize these new groups once their utility value runs out.

Afghanistan should know better than anyone that the last time armed entities were formed (to chase the USSR out of the country) we got the civil war. It took Afghanistan 20 years of unspeakable horrors and billions of dollars in international aid to get here. If Afghanistan botches it this time, the world won’t give it a second chance — and we’re not strong enough to do it on our own.

So we seem more or less destined to repeat our bloody history.

Karza ditches the Taliban, wants to talk to Pakistan – initial thoughts

In an incredible moment of lucidity, Karzai seems to have finally realized two things that much of the rest of the world — and his Afghan opposition — has been telling him for a pretty long time. In a meeting with a group of religious leaders, Karzai said the following:

Where is [Mullah Omar]? We cannot find the Taliban Council. Where is it? A messenger comes disguised as a Taliban Council member and kills, and they neither confirm nor reject it.

And this:

Who is the other side in the peace process? I do not have any other answer but to say Pakistan is the other side in the peace talks with us.

Karzai

Photo source: BBC Persian website.

His favorite expression for the Taliban had always been “angry brothers,” with whom he had insisted that Afghanistan should reconcile. He had held his ground in the face of stiffest criticism from his political opposition and the barrage of assassination of high-level government officials, senior security officials, his own brother and, most recently, his chief peace negotiator. That he has now turned against his “angry brothers” is a huge change from him.

This step from Karzai will radically alter the equation for everyone — Pakistan, the Taliban, the Afghan opposition, the United States, Iran, KSA, India and the Afghan people. But what does it exactly mean for the various actors involved in the picture? As of this writing, there hasn’t been any official reaction from any of these parties; that said, here’s a preliminary attempt at making sense of it all.

The “Northern Alliance”:

Karzai’s political opposition, which had doggedly opposed any talks with the Taliban, has scored a huge victory by having one of their longstanding demands recognized. But not only that, Karzai’s recognition of Pakistan as the real party to any settlement has affirmed their perennial suspicion toward Pakistan and its security institutions. So their victory is both political and moral.

Bolstered, they will likely amp up their opposition toward Pakistan, which they have always seen as interfering in Afghanistan’s internal matters and always backing anyone but them.

Taliban:

The Taliban have been behaving like the spoiled child that gets the candy but still maintains the nagging, unreasonable behavior. The UN Security Council removed about a dozen Taliban members from its blacklist, and Karzai had maintained an open embrace with a bag of goodies at the end of one arm in exchange for the Taliban dropping their weapons. This despite the carnage they wreaked in the country in the last few years. So the Taliban have been scoring international points and making domestic inroads by assassinating key leaders and expanding their presence across Afghanistan.

But by refusing to treat them as a legitimate party to negotiations, Karzai has ostensibly withdrawn the golden handshake. The terms of the previous offer are no longer valid — Taliban leaders won’t get (what amounts to) amnesty in exchange for peace and they likely won’t get to participate in the political process. (Those were huge concessions that Karzai had made even before getting to the negotiating table!)

The Taliban will now have to do their bidding through Pakistan, with whom they have always had a love-hate relationship — they have continued to receive needed help and support, but have always resented Pakistan.

The Afghan people:

The biggest losers of the whole reintegration/peace/reconciliation/negotiation saga, the Afghan people, will be watching President Karzai intently for his next moves. The previous peace process was not inclusive – Karzai had convened a rubber-stamp loya jirga to give himself the green light on negotiations. Three-day jirgas are hardly any substitute to serious, inclusive national debates about such issues of immense importance. In true democracies, hand-picked jirgas can’t make effective foreign policy or decide matters relating to serious national crimes and injustices.

Karzai had not consulted the broader Afghan public about reconciliation and, perhaps purposefully, not set out any clear and definite parameters for reconciliation, expected outcomes and the extent of concessions.

Pakistan et. al.:

Karzai handed Pakistan a victory by accepting unconditionally and decisively their longstanding demand that they be recognized as the principal party to any future settlement in Afghanistan. It is unclear who Karzai will get to negotiate with in Pakistan — the ISI-military side or the civilian government. And it is unclear how sincerely, if at all, Pakistan will engage in any talks. However, although the Afghan recognition of their role is important, the Pakistanis really covet the same acceptance from the United States.

And they will view Karzai’s concession as an important step to that end. Regardless, Pakistanis area already feeling better in their strategic calculus vis-a-vis India, which will be watching everything warily.

Iran, which had just started to cultivate ties with the Taliban, will also need to reassess its policy. They have historically been close to the Hazara/Shia and the Tajik camps and will likely continue to press their side. KSA — whose diplomats left Kabul last week and whose proxy now has the rug snatched from under its feet — has lost much of its status as the arbiter that could bring the Taliban to the table and broker a deal.

Moving ahead…

Naturally, talks with Pakistan are radically different from negotiations with the Taliban. If Pakistan chooses to oblige and negotiate a settlement, they will have obligations under international law. Whether Pakistan will choose to honor any final settlement and what the world can do to enforce those obligations in case of noncompliance is a different matter.

Because of the different nature of this ‘peace process,’ the Afghans will need to do new soul-searching. A broad national consultation will need to take place to determine what the nation is ready to give in exchange for peace, and what they hope to realistically gain from negotiations. Perhaps a little less urgently, the Afghans will need to decide whether they will continue to fight the insurgency indefinitely and how to handle justice issues related to Taliban’s crimes during and before the insurgency.

And Karzai’s success won’t just be determined by the domestic support of his policies. He will also need to have serious international backing. But that’s not guaranteed, given that he just left the United States high and dry by abandoning the trilateral peace process.

Twitter wars: NATO and Taliban clash through tweets

We know that politicians and journalists have tweeted their way to their own demise, and we know that others also have gotten themselves in real trouble on Twitter.

But apparently, ISAF and the Taliban are also taking their war to the cutting edge — by fighting in cyberspace, on social media.  (Before I get into the details, a few credits: Kudos to @Transitionland for spotting the encounter. And admittedly, the best home for something like this is BoomTweet, but I just can’t resist posting it here.)

It all began with ISAF tweeting the following about the horrific Kabul attacks that lasted more than 20 hours:

Re: Taliban spox on #Kabul attack: the outcome is inevitable. Question is how much longer will terrorist put innocent Afghans in harm’s way?Wed Sep 14 04:18:29 via HootSuite


To which @ABalkhi, thought to be a Taliban spokesperson, slapped back a response within minutes:

@ISAFmedia i dnt knw.u hve bn pttng thm n ‘harm’s way’ fr da pst 10 yrs.Razd whole vllgs n mrkts.n stil hv da nrve to tlk bout ‘harm’s way’Wed Sep 14 05:06:21 via web


To which @ISAFmedia retorted by citing UN statistics about civilian casualties to prove that the Taliban are, indeed, the bad guys:

Really, @abalkhi? UNAMA reported 80% of civilians causalities are caused by insurgent (your) activities http://t.co/3LiZWa5Wed Sep 14 05:15:56 via HootSuite

 

The sarcasm of the question isn’t lost on @ABalkhi, who replies with his own interrogative — and it’s not supposed to be a trick question:

@ISAFmedia UNAMA is an entity of whom? mine or yours?Wed Sep 14 05:22:00 via web

 

Update (11:38 a.m. EST): But later, @ISAFmedia came back taunting @alemarahweb — thought to be another one of the several Taliban Twitter accounts — by posting a video of Gen. John Allen visiting his soldiers after the attack.

 

This parallels — and dare I say, surpasses — the drama of the Tea Party Republican debates that occupy my TV screen nowadays. But beyond the entertainment value, the added advantage is that no-one has to lose their life in this battle. It’s like two elephants fighting and the grass remaining unharmed.

PS: Unlike previous encounters, these two elephants are fairly evenly matched.

The Bravest Woman of Afghanistan?

I have always wanted to write something about the rising stardom of Malalai Joya, dubbed “the bravest woman of Afghanistan,” in the anti-war circles of the West. It seems like I will have to rely on this insightful post by Noorjahan Akbar for now.

Some points to ponder:

The point I want to make is that, unlike Ms. Joya, the majority of Afghan women fear the exit of foreign troops from Afghanistan for valid reasons. The Taliban regime was not only harsh and inhumane towards women, but also men, and also religious monitories or anyone who dared to question their authority. They enforced humiliating and inhumane punishments and took many lives and livelihoods in Afghanistan. Not only the educated elite, as it is sometimes imagined in West, but ordinary Afghans across the country suffered in their hands.  I am not claiming Ms. Joya supports Taliban, but her emphasis on troops’ exit makes it seem like she has little care for the consequences of an abrupt exit for millions of Afghans who still have faith in international community’s commitment to Afghanistan.

Is Ms. Joya a good representative of all Afghan women?

Afghan women, especially the 43% of Afghan girls in schools, the women who make 30% of university students, the women who make 29% of the teachers, the women who represent 28% of the National Assembly, the women who produce 7.5% of contractual services for the Afghan government, and the hundreds of women in shelters and those who work at civil services organizations, are well aware of the horrific impacts of the withdrawal of [foreign] troops from Afghanistan and would not support Joya’s stand on this subject. Hence, Malalai Joya is not the representative of Afghan women in the world.

Does Ms. Joya have an alternative?

Given the weakness of the central government and the Afghan National Army, it is clear that power will lend itself to either the Taliban or the warlords or a coalition of both after the foreign troops exit the country. Ms. Joya has no clear idea of how she and others who advocate for disengagement of foreign troops in Afghanistan will be able to provide any security to the people of Afghanistan or guarantee any rights to Afghan women if the troops should exit.

The bravest woman of Afghanistan?

The bravest women of Afghanistan are the 23 women who recently graduated as officers for the army, the 150 women who work 10 hours a day on a saffron field in Herat, the hundreds of women who sing songs of protest everyday in their houses to remind their daughters of how much courage it takes to live as a woman in Afghanistan and the tens of women who are sexually, verbally and physically abused everyday in prisons. The bravest woman of Afghanistan is Sakeena Yaqubi who has built a school and a learning institute, or Pashtun Begum, who was a beggar and now provides small business opportunities for other widows. A woman who has lent her voice to politicians might be brave but is neither my representative nor the bravest woman of Afghanistan.

Read the article in its entirety on Noorjahan Akbar’s blog.