When history goes backwards
The people who live our lives were on holiday. Some were making sand castles, picking up stones, diving while looking at fish, and others were putting on sun cream or participating in the fiction that the beach is a good place to read and that the next day they were going on a diet. The less fortunate of the fortunate were in a T-shirt under a fan calculating the electricity bill, looking out of the window at the half asleep city or preparing to go out to make a living. On 15 August, time was passing slowly and history was rushing by. In fact, life was ending for millions of women who aspired to a life like ours.
The news from Afghanistan, with the arrival of the Taliban in Kabul and the US troops retreating to the airport, was compared to the American defeat in Vietnam. The planes soaring overhead with Afghans fighting on the runways for a place to take them out of Taliban hell were reminiscent of the helicopters that in 1975 evacuated the American embassy in Saigon after the entry of the Vietnamese People's Army and the Vietcong. After twenty years of military intervention with a toll of 2,400 American soldiers dead and 20,000 wounded, the US was leading an embarrassing defeat, accelerated by the flight of the Afghan president without even notifying his defence minister and by the decomposition of the army, which gave up its arms. The fiction of the Afghan state that had been built up over twenty years was disappearing.
An unfulfilled agreement
Since the signing of the peace agreement in the Qatari capital, Doha, on 29 February 2020 between the US government and the Taliban, the Islamists had been preparing to renege on it. By 25 June a third of the Afghan districts were already in Taliban hands, and by 3 August more than half, while the US government was still "exploring whether the Taliban were serious about resolving the conflict", in the words of the secretary of state, Anthony Blinken. The agreement, reached outside the allied Afghan government, included a reasonable time for the withdrawal of international forces and their collaborators and the theoretical commitment to prevent the use of Afghan territory by any group or individual acting against the security of the US and its allies, specifically members of Al Qaeda or Daesh, the most fanatical of fanatics. The agreement has remained a dead letter and the accelerated evacuation of civilians, troops and weapons has been done in a hasty, dramatic manner and under the permanent threat of a new massacre like the one on Thursday, when a suicide bomber killed at least 170 people, including 13 US military personnel.
The chain of errors of the international coalition led and conditioned by US troops seems incomprehensible, and its haste, considering that in 1989, when the Soviet Union withdrew from the country, it spent three years preparing its Afghan allies to resist the mujahideen.
The withdrawal was announced, but no expert expected the military walkout of the Taliban, nor the fall of the political regime like a house of cards, nor the reversal of twenty years in one afternoon. Our normal people, the ones who look like you, reader - and who do not look normal at all for half the planet - were witnessing an event that will mark international politics for decades and condemn millions of women to disappear.
The Western military withdrawal from Afghanistan is not a minor issue. Afghanistan is today a turning point in the role of the US in the world -and also in the role of its NATO allies-, in the strategic ambitions of China and Russia and in the destabilising capacity of Islamist fundamentalism in many countries of the world where bad government, corruption and abuse reinforce Jihadist positions. As in Yemen, Somalia or Syria.
What does the future hold for women who for the last twenty years have been able to study, dress freely and go out on their own, go into politics, sing, dance, ride bicycles or fly kites?
The internal competition within the Islamist galaxy that today disputes Afghanistan makes us foresee days of violence and repression. In fact, one of the first decisions of the Taliban in Kabul was to break the leader of the Islamic State of South Asia out of prison and kill him. The competition is between rigorists who will in no way protect the rights of Afghan women. In fact, they were the first to disappear from the streets. The Taliban's words of moderation have little credibility. We only have to wait for the total withdrawal of troops and see what will happen through the prying eyes of foreign journalists to find out if Afghan women will once again be left voiceless.