This piece was published by MADRE, an international women’s human rights organization, on December 1, 2009. It is available on their web site as well.
Tonight, President Obama will tell us that he must expand the war on Afghanistan in order to end it. He will say that another troop surge is necessary to prevent al-Qaeda from using Afghanistan as a base. What he won't say is that al-Qaeda is no longer in Afghanistan. He probably won't point out that international forces already outnumber the Taliban twelve to one. And he's not likely to remind us that throughout history, from the American Revolution to the Vietnam War, home-grown insurgencies like the Taliban's ultimately ended when foreign troops withdrew.
More than 80 percent of Afghans don't want more US troops in their country. One reason is that the US presence is strengthening the Taliban, which most Afghans oppose. As the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has found, "The mere presence of foreign soldiers fighting a war in Afghanistan is probably the single most important factor in the resurgence of the Taliban."
Afghanistan's crisis is in part the result of 30 years of US intervention in the region, including the covert CIA campaign that created the Taliban (and al-Qaeda). Having unleashed this violence, the US has a legal and ethical obligation to the people of Afghanistan. That obligation will not be met by putting more boots on the ground. Instead, we need policies that address the grinding poverty, mass violence against women, predatory government and ongoing warfare that plague Afghanistan.
Here are six things the Obama Administration must do to further the prospects for peace in Afghanistan:
1. Protect civilians from attacks
* This will be the third US troop surge in Afghanistan; the first two killed record numbers of civilians.
* In 2007, US/NATO troops were expanded by 45 percent and more civilians were killed than in the previous four years combined. In the first 10 months of Obama's 2009 surge, more than 2000 civilians were killed-at a faster rate than any time since the war began.
* The Taliban is known to attack villages where US soldiers have been. More US troops will make more civilians vulnerable to reprisal attacks.
* President Obama's expansion of the war into Pakistan has further endangered civilian lives. He has authorized as many drone strikes in less than ten months as George Bush did in his last three years in office.
The US should stop constructing military bases and waging air strikes in or near civilian areas. President Obama must put a stop to drone attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
2. Uphold Afghan women's rights
* George Bush's lie-that the US is in Afghanistan to defend women's rights-is now driving the idea that more US forces are needed to protect Afghan women from the Taliban.
* The problem with this argument is that the US has never prioritized women's rights-or anyone's rights-in Afghanistan.
* From 2001 to the present, the US has allied itself with warlords and fanatical fundamentalists whose track record on women's rights is virtually the same as the Taliban's. In the creation of Afghanistan's Parliament, constitution and judiciary, the US has consistently traded women's rights for allegiance from warlords and reactionary clerics.
* The choice in Afghanistan is not between "winning the war" or "abandoning Afghan women." Upholding women's rights in Afghanistan is not some idealistic mission: the US is legally obligated to protect internationally recognized human rights, including women's rights, in every policy, foreign and domestic. Military force is about the least suited instrument for securing human rights in any context.
* Rampant abuses of Afghan women's rights cannot be eliminated by force. Ultimately, an end to the armed conflict is a precondition for Afghan women to create an environment in which they themselves can successfully assert their rights.
The US should declare women's rights-and all human rights-non-negotiable and end the US pattern of trading Afghan women's rights for cooperation from warlords and armed groups.
US economic and political support to Afghanistan should be tied to human rights improvements, including women's rights to healthcare, education, employment, political participation and freedom from violence.
3. Prioritize development and meet humanitarian needs
* Proponents of a troop surge argue that development cannot be pursued without security; but the inverse is equally true. In a country with the world's highest infant mortality rate, there can be no security without development.
* The US is undermining development by militarizing humanitarian aid. The army's "Provincial Reconstruction Teams" blur the line between combat operations and aid delivery. They use humanitarian aid as a bargaining chip to extort information from civilians. The practice turns urgently-needed aid into a weapon of war and endangers recipients by associating them with the US military.
The US should demilitarize aid operations and fund community-based, Afghan-led reconstruction efforts to enable access to food, clean water, health care and primary education. Aid should be channelled through Afghan organizations to ensure that funds reach those most in need instead of reverting back to private US-based contractors.
4. Address the underlying reasons for the resurgence of the Taliban
* Grinding poverty and a 40 percent unemployment rate are root causes of the insurgency. Most Taliban recruits join because they are paid a daily wage.
* The Taliban is also strengthened by popular outrage and fear of US attacks, the illegitimacy of the Karzai government and the support of Pakistan.
* These problems will not be solved with more troops. They are social and political problems that must be addressed with development and diplomacy.
The US should allocate funding for job training and creation programs for Afghans. Currently, only 10 percent of US funding in Afghanistan is earmarked for development; the rest is for military purposes. Allocating more funds to combating poverty in Afghanistan will weaken the Taliban without endangering civilians and help build long-term security.
5. Support Afghan civil society
* Civil society, including the Afghan women's movement, is the country's most moderating force and a vital resource for rebuilding Afghanistan, advancing human rights and fostering peace in the region.
* The political spaces where civil society can flourish-including a free press, progressive civic institutions, non-governmental organizations, and schools and universities-are debilitated by an atmosphere of war and militarism.
The US should hold consultations with Afghan civil society, particularly women's organizations, to determine policies that can support civil society as a critical counter-force to warlords, armed groups and corrupt officials.
6. Advance diplomacy and peace building
* Ultimately, this war, like other armed conflicts, will end through negotiations. Yet, compared to the resources poured into the fighting, the US has barely begun to lay the groundwork for peace talks.
* Negotiations need to include local processes of reconciliation and peace building and address key grievances of the Taliban without legitimizing their cause.
* A regional process should include Afghanistan's neighbors and address disputes between India and Pakistan, which are fuelling violence in Afghanistan.
The US should support and facilitate diplomacy and peace building while recognizing that ultimately, decisions about what happens in Afghanistan must be made in Afghanistan and not in Washington.
MADRE is an international women's human rights organization that works in partnership with community-based women's organizations worldwide to address issues of health and reproductive rights, economic development, education, and other human rights. MADRE provides resources, training, and support to enable our sister organizations to meet concrete needs in their communities while working to shift the balance of power to promote long-term development and social justice. Since we began in 1983, MADRE has delivered nearly $25 million worth of support to community-based women's organizations in Latin America, the Caribbean, the Middle East, Africa, Asia, the Balkans, and the United States. For more information about MADRE, visit our website at www.madre.org.