The situation in Afghanistan is complex – we must always be aware of that

I have qualms about the way the (still uncertain) plight of women and girls after the accelerated exit of US forces is being used as an emotive pitch to cast aspersions on the withdrawal, writes Mary Dejevsky

<p>Focusing on the plight of Afghan women risks obscuring other iniquities</p>

Focusing on the plight of Afghan women risks obscuring other iniquities

As the Taliban swept back to power in Afghanistan, one theme stood out in the western response. What will become of the women and girls, all their achievements, all the dreams they were encouraged to dream? Except that it has rarely been posed as a question. More often it has come in overlapping chains of angry, sometimes tearful, assertions.

Girls’ aspirations had been shattered. They had been betrayed by the west, by the US, by Joe Biden. It was back to medieval confinement. Armed fighters would go door to door, snatching 12-year-olds and/or widows to be raped and/or married under duress. Women who worked would be dismissed and forced to stay at home. Women MPs, lawyers, doctors, teachers, judges – they would all be summarily dispensed with, schools for girls would be shut. Campaigners would be silenced in whatever brutal way could be found. All the progress made over the past 20 years would be lost. If anyone merited an early place on an evacuation plane, the message went, women and girls should be first.

At a briefing by the Nato secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg – a female questioner – wept as she asked how the alliance intended to support Afghan women. In the UK, a petition has been launched, demanding that the UK “step into the breach” to save Afghan women. “This is a real-life Handmaid’s Tale that the west has co-authored,” says the subtitle; “We are about to see a whole generation of Afghan women forced into modern slavery.”  

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