Official narratives coming from the White House and media are stating that American president Joe Biden is fully withdrawing troops from Afghanistan and ending the 20 year war on the country. Many neoconservative pundits are condemning this decision and essentially arguing for permanent occupation. However, another group not associated with neoconservative ideology have also been advancing an argument for the essentially permanent occupation of Afghanistan: feminists. This article will offer a critical assessment of the feminist case for the occupation of Afghanistan.
What is the Feminist Case for Occupation?
Many feminists are making the case that Afghanistan needs to continue to be occupied by Western military forces in order ‘to protect women and girls from the Taliban’. While this commentary is common among war hawks, some individuals who are critical of the mainstream (at least in some respects) are also making this argument.
One example is Marianne Williamson, a critic of some elements of the establishment who nevertheless ran in the Democratic Party Primary in 2019-2020. She posted the following on Twitter, referring to the situation in Afghanistan.
Tolerance of systemic violence against women can’t be justified in the name of anti-imperialism, helping other human beings isn’t “a savior complex,” and leaving the most powerless & desperate people to fend for themselves in the hour of their agony isn’t political sophistication
This kind of sentiment is common among feminist and gender critical accounts, many of whom are anonymous. I am going to discuss three key problems with this argument: historical ignorance, whitewashing war crimes, and reinforcing misleading official narratives.
Problem #1: Historical Ignorance
The first problem with this argument is that it ignores historical context, and particularly the role the West has played in undermining women’s rights in Afghanistan.
On the 27th April 1978, there was a political change of power in Afghanistan, known as the Saur Revolution. This brought left wing groups to power, and they sought sweeping changes to the way Afghan society functioned. One of the ways in which they did this was to get rid of misogynistic laws and to create a more equal legal basis for women.
However, the West opposed the Saur Revolution, because it was a leftist government that would prevent future imperialist exploitation of the country. They sought to destroy this government. They also wanted to bait the Soviet Union into military intervention there and thus create the ‘Soviet Vietnam’ – which would squander Soviet resources and bog them down in an unwinnable conflict.
The US decided to do this by funding reactionary Islamist fighters called the Mujahideen. This CIA operation was known as ‘Operation Cyclone’. The Mujahideen has the same ideology as the Taliban – reactionary, misogynistic, homophobic, and demanding compliance to Islamic law. Not only do they have the same ideology, but some of the same individuals:
Notably, the Taliban’s own top negotiator of this new [Trump] “peace” deal, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai, was among those trained and armed as part of the Mujahideen force created during Operation Cyclone.
The fact that Western countries were more than willing to support Islamic fundamentalism when it suited them geopolitically demonstrates that the idea of promoting women’s rights is a Western fraud.
Problem #2: Whitewashing Western War Crimes
The feminist case for occupation of Afghanistan also has has an (implicit) tenet that Western intervention is basically benign. This ignores the reality of war crimes committed in Afghanistan. This narrative essentially erases the war crimes from existence.
We know about the multitude of offenses committed by Western troops and companies in Afghanistan due to the Afghan war logs and US diplomatic cables, material leaked by whistleblower Chelsea Manning to Wikileaks journalist Julian Assange.
This information showed the reality of the war, and its unwelcome disclosure led to the imprisonment and torture of Manning and Assange.
Let’s look at some examples. One crime that was discovered thanks to the disclosure of these documents involved the Dyncorp corporation. The business had helped arrange ‘dancing boys’ for Afghan warlords – meaning underage boys to be raped by these warlords as part of Afghan traditional practices.
The Afghan puppet government was concerned about the exposure of this fact, as the cable refers to the ‘Kunduz Dyncorp problem’.
On the Kunduz Regional Training Center (RTC) DynCorp event of April 11 (reftel), Atmar reiterated his insistence that the U.S. try to quash any news article on the incident or circulation of a video connected with it. He continued to predict that publicity would “endanger lives.” He disclosed that he has arrested two Afghan police and nine other Afghans as part of an MoI investigation into Afghans who facilitated this crime of “purchasing a service from a child.”
This is far from the only crime perpetrated in Afghanistan. Here is one example that involved the Polish contingent:
The day centered around consequence management plans and actions regarding the PBG [Polish Battle Group] mortar incident in Waza Kwah (Naghar Khel village) yesterday evening which killed 6 LN [Local Nationals] and wounded 3 LN. A detailed report is in the Political section.
The detailed report goes on to clarify that 4 of the people killed were children. When addressed, the village said:
The crowd was flabbergasted at how the CF [Coalition Forces] could fire on a village with women, children and old men without cause (i.e. no fire coming from the village) using mortars in an attempt to hit Taliban insurgents instead of coming up to the village and questioning the owners on the presence of insurgents.
This is just one example of civilians being killed during this conflict.
Problem #3: Failing to Question the Official Narrative
Uncritically believing what the mainstream media reports is a terrible idea, given that they twist the truth on any and every topic.
The first point that can be raised regarding official narratives is that the argument that ‘we need to remain in Afghanistan to protect the women and girls’ is itself an official narrative. A CIA document, leaked to Wikileaks, about shoring up support for war in France and Germany states that:
Afghan women could serve as ideal messengers in humanizing the ISAF role in combating the Taliban because of women’s ability to speak personally and credibly about their experiences under the Taliban, their aspirations for the future, and their fears of a Taliban victory. Outreach initiatives that create media opportunities for Afghan women to share their stories with French, German, and other European women could help to overcome pervasive skepticism among women in Western Europe toward the ISAF mission.
Furthermore, the way that the media presents the Afghanistan withdrawal itself is highly misleading. In an article for OffGuardian, Kit Knightly points out the continuing presence of mercenary forces in Afghanistan, and the fact that air strikes will continue. Knightly concludes:
“Private security firms” will carry out “targeted anti-terrorist operations”, or “precision strikes” will take out “known international criminals”…but no one will use the word “war”.
The US troops might be leaving the borders of Afghanistan, but the Imperial influence will remain, the corporate exploitation will continue, the fire will still fall from the sky, and there will be no peace.
The war in Afghanistan is a conflict that has always been about geopolitical and economic motivations, for example, the profits to be made from rare earth metals and opium. The framing of human rights is merely a shield for these fundamental interests. To argue that we need to remain in Afghanistan ‘to protect women and girls’ ignores those killed in Western war crimes and how the West sought to undermine women’s rights in Afghanistan, as well as uncritically affirming misleading narratives about reality on the ground.