The American public has a tendency to forget things. We forget the terrible thing that politicians did last week and what our heroes did the week before. We move from topic to topic, losing interest and finding other things to pay attention to. The news moves forward, and we move on with it. Take the war in Afghanistan, for example. Afghanistan continues to rapidly slip from the American consciousness, day after day. Americans have forgotten Afghans, but Afghans will remember America.
The American government and the general public have both failed Afghans. At the start of the war in Afghanistan in 2001, Gallup reported that 88% of the post-9/11 American public supported the war effort. At the time of the disastrous American pull-out of Afghanistan in 2021, The Atlantic reported that 70% supported leaving the war-torn country behind.
In 2023, Afghanistan is ruled by the Taliban. This is a direct result of America leaving. After offering empty promises to American diplomats proposing social changes and more rights for women, none of those propositions have come to pass. Instead, the country has experienced some of the most severe reversals in human rights and quality of life standards in modern history.
Women have borne the brunt of the Taliban’s crusade against equality and social modernity. The legal system has been stripped down to Taliban courts which heavily side with men, allow domestic violence and have even encouraged it. The United Nations found in 2021 that human rights abuses against women have increased significantly since the Taliban takeover.
According to the same report, only 10% of women could cover their basic health needs. Additionally, there was an 84% decrease in women journalists, a 28% decrease in women’s employment and 77% of funding was cut for women’s organizations. Afghanistan is ranked last at No. 156 out of the 156 countries ranked on the Global Gender Gap Index.
Before 2021, women were in schools, at universities, hanging out with friends and eating at restaurants. Now, much of that progress has been reversed. Women are forced to cover up their faces and bodies in public, and according to the BBC, are no longer allowed to attend university. Things weren’t perfect before the Taliban reclaimed power, but they were leagues better. As conditions worsen, people risk their lives to speak out against these sharia law practices.
Afghans have also suffered horrendous bouts of malnutrition and starvation due to poor Taliban management, a horrible economy, climate issues and other factors. Pregnant women across Afghanistan are increasingly malnourished, and their bodies, unable to carry their babies to full term, give birth prematurely. Meager diets then leave new mothers unable to breastfeed. According to the World Bank, 43 of every 1000 babies die at birth in Afghanistan.
The United Nations Development Programme also projected that Afghanistan could face universal poverty, with 97% of Afghans living below the World Bank-designated international poverty line of $1.90 a day.
Skilled labor workers also fled the country after the American pull-out, leaving the nations with a mass shortage of doctors. The New Yorker found that only 17% of the country’s more than 2,300 health clinics were functional after the U.S. left in 2021. The Taliban continues to struggle with social programs and have left doctors unpaid.
Rather than focus on the health and safety of their people, the Taliban have opted to use their newfound power to assert religious and social dominance over them instead. As the world sits back and watches, the people of Afghanistan suffer. The U.S. and other nations need to find a way to help the people without helping the Taliban, a tough line to walk.
The U.S. and many other countries understandably cut off aid and increased sanctions on Afghanistan following the Taliban’s return to power, but this has created a difficult situation. If the U.S. had not left Afghanistan, the Taliban would not be in power. Now that they are, the U.S. has stopped sending aid. This means the Afghan people are getting burned twice.
To circumvent the Taliban, the Center for American Progress suggests that the U.S. focus on two key areas: guardrails and funding. Although some leakage is inevitable, the U.S. should insist on strong safeguards to prevent international aid from falling into Taliban control or propping up Taliban rule.
Secondly, they suggest that the U.S. should not directly give aid to the Taliban to distribute. The United Nations will act as a mediating party, where there will indeed need to be some basic engagement between the U.N. and the Taliban. Closely engaging with the surrounding nations such as Pakistan will also be key to getting the Afghan people the help that they need. Networks should also be created to help people flee the country if they choose to do so.
Americans may pretend that we can wipe our hands free of Afghanistan, that it isn’t our problem anymore. Hearing the stories of famine and pain, how can we? How can we let these people suffer when our country had a direct hand in their suffering? We made Afghanistan our national project and we abandoned it. It is time we return to it and help the people we left behind.