Skip to main content

If we betray Afghan women, the Taliban win

By Daisy Khan, Special to CNN
December 3, 2012 -- Updated 2314 GMT (0714 HKT)
Afghan schoolgirls study in an open air school in Jalalabad. Violence against women is a major problem in Afghanistan.
Afghan schoolgirls study in an open air school in Jalalabad. Violence against women is a major problem in Afghanistan.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Daisy Khan: A key measure of U.S. success in Afghanistan will be extent of women's rights
  • Khan: If girls can't go to school, women can't reach goals, nothing will have changed
  • Women must be in talks to fight forcefully for rights, she says, especially for schooling
  • Khan: Women must vote, go to school, and imams must promote women's rights

Editor's note: Daisy Khan, executive director of the American Society for Muslim Advancement, launched Women's Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality and Muslim Leaders of Tomorrow, global movements to empower Muslim youth and women. She is a columnist for the Washington Post's "On Faith."

(CNN) -- Three prominent Afghan women will make it clear to a crowd of legislators on Capitol Hill Tuesday that a crucial measure of success in Afghanistan will be what women and girls can accomplish after U.S. troops leave.

If a woman is free to vote and determine her own future and a girl is free to get an education, then more than 12 years of American engagement have not been in vain.

A strong Afghan woman is a defeat for the Taliban. A determined Afghan woman who can vote will wrestle the country away from tribalism and promote democracy. An assertive Afghan woman will bring back the Afghanistan that once preached moderation and tolerance of all religions, a country where women were on par with men assisting in resolving political and ethical conflicts.

Sajia Behgam Amin, from left, Massouda Jalal and Suraya Paksad
Sajia Behgam Amin, from left, Massouda Jalal and Suraya Paksad

But if girls are denied an education or forced into child marriages; if talented women cannot pursue their goals, then nothing will have changed for all of cost in blood and treasure the United States has spent.

The women -- Suraya Paksad, founder of the Voices of Women Organization; Massouda Jalal, former Afghan minister of women's affairs and presidential candidate; and Sajia Behgam Amin, a gender and policy adviser who ran an underground school for girls in the Taliban era -- are warning legislators that the next two years before U.S. forces withdraw are crucial in developing methods to empower Afghan women and to create resilient communities.

No time can be lost.

Already the Taliban is regrouping and is poised to fill any power vacuum created by a weak government in Kabul. Warlords are forming coalitions to push back on the Taliban. Afghanistan could be heading toward civil war. Who will bear the brunt? Women, whose rights can easily be traded off if they are not at the table when decisions are made.

In a negotiation without women, if one side says it doesn't want schools for girls because Islam does not permit it, the other side may say sure, no problem. But if women are at the negotiating table, they can make the argument forcefully that Islam does not ban education for girls and that, in fact, Islam supports it.

Daisy Khan
Daisy Khan

Karzai already has showed he cannot be trusted to support the rights of women by signing a clerical council's "code of conduct" for women, which, among other strictures, supports women's segregation, bans women's travel without a male guardian and gives husbands rights to beat their wives in certain circumstances.

Seeing this looming threat to American war aims, last week Sens. Bob Casey, D-Pennsylvania, and Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, introduced the Afghan Women and Girls Security Promotion Act. It requires the Defense Department to produce a strategy to promote women's security during the transfer of power to Afghan forces.

Casey said that is the only way to achieve our overall goal of a secure and stable Afghanistan.

Taliban claim attack in Afghanistan
Pentagon lawyer: Al Qaeda fight rages on
Afghans hopeful for the future

In consultation with Afghan women, we believe four things must be done before the United States loses its bargaining position in Afghanistan after our troops withdraw.

Create a coalition of women leaders: A coalition of prominent Afghan women ought to be created with the mandate of providing counsel every time an issue of women's and girls' rights is on the negotiating table.

Make sure women can vote: The United States must make sure that Afghan elections are not corrupt and that women actually get to vote. Women will vote against the Taliban if they are free to go to the polls. But we must have election monitors to be sure their votes are not stolen.

Imams must become advocates for women: As a deeply religious society, Afghanistan must solve its problems within a framework of Muslim beliefs. The people devoutly follow their imams and mullahs. Our experience shows that through an imam training program, they can become advocates for girls' and women's rights. Expanding our support for these training programs will pay big dividends.

Direct aid to support communities: Billions of dollars in U.S. aid will be squandered if Afghan women do not believe they are integral to the political and economic process. We have two years to redirect part of this aid to fortify communities so that Afghan women, imams and community leaders can resist the Taliban on their own terms.

If Afghan women suffer again, it will be as if we went to war for no reason. We must remember that we had three objectives for launching the Afghan war -- capturing Osama bin Laden, defeating al Qaeda and the Taliban and protecting Afghan women and their rights.

If we walk away and allow Afghan women to be subjugated, we will have made the same mistake we made after we helped the Mujahedeen push the Soviets out of Afghanistan. We left the country in a power vacuum, which was filled by a radical fringe known as the Taliban.

We know how badly that turned out.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions in this commentary are solely those of Daisy Khan.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1235 GMT (2035 HKT)
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1227 GMT (2027 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1157 GMT (1957 HKT)
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1417 GMT (2217 HKT)
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
July 19, 2014 -- Updated 0150 GMT (0950 HKT)
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1507 GMT (2307 HKT)
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
July 20, 2014 -- Updated 1755 GMT (0155 HKT)
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1953 GMT (0353 HKT)
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1933 GMT (0333 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1011 GMT (1811 HKT)
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1206 GMT (2006 HKT)
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1214 GMT (2014 HKT)
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 2016 GMT (0416 HKT)
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1601 GMT (0001 HKT)
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1729 GMT (0129 HKT)
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1804 GMT (0204 HKT)
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1518 GMT (2318 HKT)
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 0124 GMT (0924 HKT)
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT