On August 29, we discussed Biden’s Saigon Moment where we highlighted the policy errors that culminated in America’s humiliating exit from Afghanistan.
In that piece, we concluded:
“It is in our nation’s strategic interest to keep a small number of troops - coupled with air support - in Afghanistan. Our complete withdrawal will quickly result in a vacuum of stability. Extremists will fill the void. We sincerely hope we are wrong.”
Three months later:
• The Taliban is ruling with an iron fist.
• Women’s rights have been gutted.
• Forced marriages are increasingly commonplace.
• The economy has collapsed.
• Afghanistan’s foreign reserves (~$9b) are frozen.
• There are severe shortages of basic goods, medicine, and foodstuffs.
• People are starving to death.
• Daughters are sold to settle debts.
• The government cannot pay its bills.
• Civil servants have not been remunerated in months.
• Power outages are routine.
One success story of the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan was the steady progress made regarding women’s rights.
Before the U.S. invaded, women were treated like they were subhuman. Females could not leave the home without the accompaniment of a man, had to be covered from head to toe, and were forbidden to work, study in university, or even go to primary school. Often, they were forced to marry Taliban fighters when they were still children.
Over the course of ~two decades, many Afghan women gained status and autonomy. They became educated, financially independent, enjoyed vibrant social lives, married by choice, went to university, and established careers. Yet, in a matter of a few months, these hard-fought rights have vanished.
Analogous to when the Taliban ruled the country from 1996-2001, women are now rarely seen in public without a male escort. They have primarily been relegated to the home. Most females have left university, and many are no longer going to work. In addition, forced marriages to Taliban fighters, rape and kidnappings have become commonplace.
Daughters & Debt
In Afghanistan, our decision to freeze its dollar reserves to prevent the Taliban from accessing the cash has asphyxiated the country's economy. The currency has devalued and inflation has surged. ATMs are empty. Civil servants have not been paid in months, private-sector jobs have disappeared and with that, money to purchase food staples. A large swath of the population has suddenly found themselves impoverished. Indeed, the country is facing a humanitarian disaster of epic proportions.
According to The Economist, “Some 23m Afghans, in a country of 38m, face acute hunger. Of those, 8.7m are in a state of emergency…More than 3m children are malnourished. Locals report cases of entire families starving to death in their homes. Hospital wards are taking in emaciated children, including 11-year-olds who weigh just 13kg…”
Afghans in dire straits are selling all their possessions to buy food. Fathers have resorted to selling their young daughters to settle debts and /or afford food to feed other family members. CNN recently highlighted a few family’s predicaments. One was that of a young girl, Parwana Malik.
Parwana is a 9-year-old girl who was sold to a 55-year-old man for the equivalent of $2,200. When the buyer, named Qorban, showed up to pick up his property (Malik), he said, "(Parwana) was cheap, and her father was very poor and he needs money. She will be working in my home. I won't beat her.”
Regrettably, Parwana’s predicament is not atypical. It is a microcosm of what’s transpiring all over Afghanistan. Said Heather Barr of Human Rights Watch, "It's absolutely cataclysmic…we don't have months or weeks to stem this emergency ... we are in the emergency already."
This is the second time we have abandoned Afghanistan this year. The first time was broadcast all over the world; Americans and our allies were aghast at the video footage emanating from Kabul airport and surrounding areas.
In an age of social media and Twitter, people have short memories and news organizations often prioritize original stories to drive ratings.
Politicians on both sides of the aisle have remained largely mum about the horrific predicament in which we left ordinary Afghans. And too many self-purported human and women’s rights activists have been eerily silent about the draconian measures the Taliban have reimposed on women.
Lesser of Two Evils
America’s foreign policy snafu in completely pulling out of Afghanistan thus allowing the Taliban to regain control has left us with a suboptimal choice:
If we unfreeze the $9 billion dollars of reserves and allow aid to flow into the country unabated, Afghanistan’s economy will be resuscitated. Cash can be used to buy food, medicine, and clothing for its desperate citizens. However, the Taliban – a terrorist organization that subjugates the rights of women, gays, and anybody else who doesn’t adhere to their perverse ideology – will certainly siphon those funds to achieve their own twisted objectives. If we continue to disallow the Taliban from accessing those funds, they will struggle to retain power, but the humanitarian crisis will worsen, and more innocent civilians will starve to death.
We must hold our noses and open the spigots.