When the US started bombing Taliban positions in 2001, there was a euphoric relief shown by the majority of people whose lives were hell under the Taliban despotic rule. More than most, the religious minorities of Afghanistan, such as the Hazaras, Hindus and Jews — and of course women of all ethnic groups — were relieved that finally their nightmares were over.
People were dejected because, under the guise of Islam, they were being brutalized by agents of a foreign power. Cutting off of limbs and executions of women and men were public spectacles, as was stoning women to death for adultery. People were forced to watch, and in some cases participate, in these brutalities.
They behaved according to the dictates of their sect of religion, which is not favorable to women education, employment or empowerment. During the Taliban reign from 1996 to 2001, women were practically under house arrest. They could only venture out when accompanied by a male relative and only when they were attired in a way that would not draw men’s attention.
They are against Hazaras because they are mostly Shi’ites that the Taliban consider to be non-believers. There is the ethnic dimension, as well, as they have been at odds with each other throughout Afghanistan’s turbulent history. The Hazaras are confined to a huge open-air prison in central Afghanistan called Hazarajat. When they venture out, under any pretext, they are generally picked out of buses and vehicles and killed on the roadside. Under the Taliban, the Hazaras suffered one of the worst massacres since their genocide in the late 1890s. Close to 20,000 people were summarily killed by the Taliban in the city of Mazar-e-Sharif, execution style in cold blood. They were told by the then-governor of the Taliban: you become Muslims, get out of the country, or die. And die they did in brutal, vicious and unimaginable ways. That governor called Manan Niazi is still living, and is a Taliban leader.
Both groups of women and Hazaras thrived after the Taliban. The women entered active life outside home becoming ministers, ambassadors, professors, business women, teachers, governors, etc.
The Hazaras mostly considered the US forces as their liberators. They contributed significantly in the progress and reconstruction of the country, taking part in the political as well as educational life, and providing some of the best educated elites private schools and universities.
All this will be lost since both groups will be severely curtailed and persecuted if the Taliban return, as they have not changed since their downfall in 2001. Their only contribution has been death and destruction. Hardly a day goes by without a target being blown up or people being killed in cold blood. Women are still treated worse than animals. In the territories under their control, the Taliban openly flog women for talking on the mobile phone, for wearing pants, or talking to strangers.
Today, the U.S. is engaged with the Taliban through its envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad. Khalilzad is a Pashtun, as are the overwhelming majority of the Taliban. He is a long-time associate of the Taliban, dating back to the days of the UNACOL negotiations in 1996.
So far, the only U.S. negotiating demand revealed publicly is an agreement from the Taliban not to allow Afghanistan to be used by foreign terrorists. What about the Taliban themselves? They have all the hallmarks of a vicious terrorist group. Since their downfall in 2001, they have been responsible for some of the worst acts of terror Afghanistan has ever seen. They are closely associated with al-Qaida, whose leader has pledged allegiance to the Taliban leader, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and multiple Pakistani terror groups involved in terror attacks against foreign forces and interests in Afghanistan. They also carry out joint operations against military and civilian people in Afghanistan. The foreign fighters and their families live amongst the Taliban. Can anyone with his right mind think that the Taliban will extricate themselves from these terror groups?
The Taliban are negotiating from a position of strength and now that they clearly see war fatigue on the part of the United States, they will agree to U.S. demands on paper, knowing full well that no matter what they do in the future, the U.S. will not return in force. They will rely on Pakistan to be their sponsor, as it has been for more than two decades since their creation there. In fact one wonders why the U.S. does not negotiate directly with Pakistan as the latter hosts, directs, sponsors and controls the Taliban.
U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan will be worse than the Vietnam fiasco and will leave deep scars in the psyche of U.S., their allied fighters and Afghans who endured so much. All the lives and trillions of dollars of U.S. taxpayers’ money will have been sacrificed for nothing. This will be a blatant breach of the trust that the Afghans have placed in America.
Afghans fought the Soviets with over a million losses of lives with the understanding that it was not just their war. They were abandoned after the Soviet withdrawal. They thought that this time it would be different. To their great sorrow, they are learning this is not so. They hoped that the United States would honor the security agreement that it had signed with them. They hoped that repeated reassurances given to them by Americans would be honored. Instead, they watch with amazement that the United States is busy finding the fastest way out of Afghanistan, while leaving the Afghans to the wolves, only this time even more vicious ones.
Is this the legacy the U.S. is going to leave in 2020 after 20 years of involvement?
Akram Gizabi is chairman of the World Hazara Council.
Editor’s note: This is an Op-Ed and as such, the opinions expressed are those of the author. If you would like to respond, or have an editorial of your own you would like to submit, please contact Military Times managing editor Howard Altman, firstname.lastname@example.org.