Leading article: Growing evidence of a final catastrophic betrayal

To sacrifice Afghan women's rights to an arbitrary timetable would be an egregious failure

Share

Ten years on from the launch of military operations in Afghanistan, questions about what has been achieved yield far from encouraging answers. And with international attention now focused on withdrawing all troops by 2014, what little progress there has been is looking increasingly vulnerable.

Against the narrowest of criteria, Operation Enduring Freedom was not a complete failure. The original aims were to hunt down Osama bin Laden and to dismantle the al-Qa'ida networks flourishing under the aegis of the Taliban. Both have been achieved, if not quite in the way that was anticipated. If only that had been the end of the matter. Instead a confused international agenda allowed the initial, limited operation to morph into large-scale security operations, and piecemeal state-building efforts hampered by continuing lawlessness.

It would be a mistake to overlook the real advances that have been made. Democratic elections, a written constitution and a degree of social freedom have replaced the violent extremism of Taliban repression, at least in parts of the country. But the transformation of Afghanistan into a stable democracy has still barely begun.

Escalating violence is only the most obvious sign that the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force has not lived up to its billing. Far from improving, the situation is getting worse: the number of security incidents has leapt by 39 per cent leap so far this year, according to the UN. There is also a drum-beat of high-profile political assassinations, including the shooting of President Hamid Karzai's brother and last month's killing of Burhanuddin Rabbani, a former Afghan President and the head of the panel trying to open talks with the Taliban.

Efforts to bring the once-despised Taliban to the negotiating table are not restricted to the Afghan government. The international community, led by the US, is doing the same. It is a painful – and apparently coincidental – irony that talks on the 2014 security handover are to be held in Bonn in December. At the first Bonn conference, exactly 10 years earlier, Afghan tribal leaders thrashed out a new political settlement, preparing the ground for democratic institutions and the adoption of a constitution. Then, the Taliban were excluded. Now, they are seen as central to any meaningful peace settlement. There can be no clearer admission that the pledge to rid Afghanistan of its repressive regime has proved impossible to deliver. More worrying still is the growing evidence that offers to scale back women's rights may be used as bait to persuade the Taliban to negotiate a peace deal.

The issue of women's rights – or the lack of them – was one of the most-quoted justifications for international involvement in Afghanistan. It was also one of the most convincing. Outside Kabul, change is painfully slow: child marriage, honour killings and self-immolation are still all too common in rural areas, as is distressingly clear from the accounts in this newspaper today. In some respects, the lot of women is, nonetheless, not as bad as it was. Nearly three million girls are now in school compared with a few thousand under the Taliban. Crucially, there is the aspiration of full equal rights, explicitly enshrined in the constitution. To bargain away such rights, and sacrifice Afghanistan's women to an arbitrary international timetable for withdrawal, would be as egregious a failure as any of the whole messy conflict.

The outlook is not wholly bleak. Although mineral wealth too often funds endemic corruption, Afghanistan's vast natural resources could still be a source of funding and stability. But the international community must help realise the potential. Western military stamina may be exhausted, but we owe it to the Afghan people – particularly the women – not to abandon them.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Mosul falls: Talk of Iraq retaking the town, held by IS since June, is unconvincing  

Isis on the run? The US portrayal is very far from the truth

Patrick Cockburn
Ed Miliband:  

Ed Miliband: I pledge to make Britain a more just and equal country

Ed Miliband
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk