Five years since their overthrow at the hands of U.S. forces in the fall of 2001, the Taliban are reappearing with potent strength. Terror attacks in Afghanistan doubled this year, as the former tyrants of the beleagured country are striking with increasing frequency, engaging in suicide bombings, kidnappings, rocket launchings, mine plantings, ambushes, murder of moderate clerics, torching of schools and various other terrorist activities.
NATO’s attempt to safeguard the Afghan government and to bolster its efforts at democratization faces a perilous test. The situation is further endangered by the possibility of the Afghan government opening up talks with the Taliban – a development that could result in allowing terrorists into the government.
The notion of “peace talks” with the Taliban follows in the steps of a current nightmare phenomenon in which fragile states are making, or seeking, deals with the devil. The Musharraf government, for instance, recently reached a "peace" agreement with the Taliban insurgency that runs unchecked in Waziristan, the lawless mountainous western tribal region bordering Afghanistan. The “deal” basically involves Pakistan's complete and unconditional surrender of Waziristan to the Taliban and al Qaeda terrorists -- who now launch their terror attacks on coalition forces in Afghanistan from their safe haven completely unfestered. This agreement represents a disaster for the West in the terror war. As one intelligence source has noted, the gains of the past five years have been reversed in a few weeks with the surrender of Waziristan.
In Iraq, meanwhile, government leaders are entering "talks" with Iran and Syria in the hope that these terror-sponsoring nations will somehow help mitigate terror in Iraq and assist in stabilizing the country. This development, as in the case of Waziristan, represents nothing more than a surrender to Islamofascists and paves the road to a disaster for Western security.
Afghanistan simply cannot follow this pattern.
Israel’s painful lesson in the Oslo process reminds us how a people under siege can delude themselves into making “peace” with those whose life-goal is their extermination. An Afghan government that strives for democracy, therefore, cannot engage in delusions about making peace with forces whose primary objective is to destroy democracy itself.
It was the Taliban regime that hosted al Qaeda and gave the terror group a safe haven in which to plan and orchestrate the 9/11 crime against humanity. The overthrow of the Taliban by U.S. forces represents our first strike against the core of our pernicious enemy. To make deals with this entity that continues to house and abet Osama and his demons is utterly self-destructive.
It would do well to remember who exactly the Taliban are:
A Pashtun-dominated Islamic fanatic movement comprised of students who developed their hate in Pakistani refugee camps during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan in 1996. The new rulers followed the traditions of Mao and Pol Pot by making almost every facet of human life illegal. They banned television, film, books, photography, music (even at weddings) and sports. Public executions of homosexuals and of women accused of adultery and premarital sex became common place. The Taliban destroyed ancient cultural artefacts and forced Hindus to wear yellow patches on their clothing. All men were forced to grow beards or face brutal punishment.
Kabul University, which the Taliban closed down upon their victory in 1996 and re-opened in 1997, began its educational program without women teachers or female students. Girls were banned from going to school. Women were restricted from working anywhere -- except in the medical sector. They were not allowed to receive medical help from male doctors, and most of the female doctors left the country.
As everyone now knows, women were forced to wear the infamous body-bag for the living: the burqa – that dehumanizing garment that completely covers the body and face, with only mesh to see and breathe through. If a woman failed to wear the burqa, she would be beaten, imprisoned and tortured at best.
If seen in public, women had to be accompanied by a male relative. They were not allowed to mix with men and could not travel abroad unless they received permission from male relatives. They were barred from the streets for certain periods during the fasting month of Ramadan. They also had to be silent in public; their men did the talking for them. Women’s shoes that made noise, such as high heels, were also illegal. The religious police feared such shoes might tempt a pious man.
The Taliban's morality squad enforced these monstrous and sadistic rules by beating women in detention centres and, most often, in public places. Many times, the Taliban found it easier just to shoot women upon sight. One woman was gunned down on the street for walking without a male relative -- she was taking her sick child to the hospital. Another was shot dead because her ankles were showing while she and her husband were bicycle riding.
Since the liberation, much progress has been made. Women are now allowed to leave their home without a male relative. Girls can once again go to school and a quarter of Afghan parliamentarians are women – a reality enforced by law. Women also no longer have to wear the burqa, although many still do out of fear and submission to social pressures and dangers that are the legacy of the Taliban.
To be sure, many of the horrors of Islamic gender apartheid remain. Afghan women and girls are still victimized by domestic violence and imprisonment, denial of educational opportunity and forced marriage. Men can have female members of their family arrested if they do not obey their commands. And as in other Muslim countries, no law exists against rape, and those women who dare to report it are most often charged with adultery.
The problem here, of course, is that notwithstanding the fall of the Taliban and a new constitution that guarantees women's rights, traditions die hard, and fanatic vigilantism remains. Much of the society and its legal guardians submit to Islamic law.
Much hope remains, however, in a society that has implemented new democratic institutions and, unlike the Taliban, has had elections for a parliament and a president. Councils have been set up in all thirty-four provinces for self-administration. There has also been progress in the economy and health care. Five million children have gone back to school.
It is on this foundation that a more equitable and humane society for women can be built. And many efforts are in progress: individuals such as Hussn Banu Ghazanfar, Minister for Women's Affairs, are leading the effort to guarantee all women access to education, to illegalize violence against women, to end forced marriages and to create safe shelters for homeless or abused women. At this moment, Ghazanfar is working with international aid donors to provide vocational training for women.
The hope for Afghan women lies in the process of democratization and in the suffocation of Taliban ideology. The fragile democracy must be given time to grow and be given sufficient control of the country's legal system in order to make real progress. Allowing the wizards of gender apartheid an official re-entry into Afghan society and leadership would simply cancel out any possibility of liberalization.
NATO has no choice but to militarily defeat the Taliban, no matter how difficult or long the battle will prove to be. For Afghanistan to fall back under Taliban rule would be an unmitigated disaster. Not only would a fascist tyranny re-enslave the Afghan people, but, as NATO’s Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has noted, the country would become a "black hole for terrorism training."
Just like with a Western military defeat, any sort of “deal” with the Taliban will by necessity mean a re-entry of al Qaeda into Afghanistan. Thus, not only would a “deal” facilitate the re-Talibanization of Afghanistan, it would pose the threat of a Taliban takeover of the country -- a nightmare scenario that would mean the return of Osama’s terrorist training camps.
Despite the many difficult obstacles and dangers, there remains much room for optimism. Notwithstanding the apparent Taliban resurgence, NATO operations are dealing significant blows to the terrorist entity. General David Richards, the British officer commanding the 31,500-strong NATO force in Afghanistan, has recently emphasized that NATO is gaining ground and that, since the summer, there has been a significant reduction in the number of Taliban attacks. In his view, it is a winnable war.
This is a war, of course, that not only demands a military element, but a social and economic one as well. One of the key objectives must be to improve the lives of the Afghani people. Bringing economic development and ending government corruption are critical in winning the hearts and minds of Afghans and minimizing the chances of their turning to the Taliban in desperation.
The war against the Taliban is the core of the terror war. If the horror of 9/11 means anything, if the barbaric reality of the burqa matters, and if free peoples want a world where Osama has fewer killing fields on which to sow his trade, then this is a war that the West, and the fragile Afghan democracy, have no choice but to fight and win.