President Donald Trump quipped last month that he could end the Afghan war in a matter of days, but he didn't want to wipe out 10 million people. Far more - 14 million - women's lives are at risk of being effectively erased if Trump proceeds with peace talks that would put the Taliban back in power.
Trump's negotiators are pushing hard to conclude a peace deal with the Taliban that risks undermining the U.S.-friendly elected government and backsliding on hard-fought democratic reforms put in place after the 2001 U.S. invasion that ousted the Taliban from power. Afghanistan's current democratic framework is far from perfect, but one of its crowning achievements has been the steady empowerment of women.
Never before in the country's history have so many women voted, run for office and been elected to positions of power. In national elections last October, a record 33% of Afghan women turned out to vote, braving death threats and Taliban attacks that killed 10 candidates.
More than 400 women campaigned for election to the 249 seats in Parliament. Today, four women are ministers in President Ashraf Ghani's cabinet. A quarter of Parliament seats are held by women. They also serve as judges, ambassadors and mayors.
Anyone who knew Afghanistan during Taliban rule would marvel at how far the country has come. The Taliban had banned women from working. Girls couldn't attend school. A woman could not walk alone on the street. Women could be beaten in public for showing so much as a wrist or ankle. They could not travel without permission. They were effectively owned by their husband or nearest senior male relative. If the husband died, ownership passed to the woman's in-laws, who could do pretty much what they wanted with her.
The New York Times recently profiled Zainab Fayez, 29, a brave Afghan prosecutor who has endured terrifying threats to defend Afghan women. She sent 21 men to jail for beating and abusing their wives or fiancees. Under Taliban rule, she would never have been allowed to study law; arguing a case in a courtroom would have been laughable.
But reminders of the ongoing Taliban threat are everywhere, which is why she shudders at the thought of them returning to power. "From now on, you are our target," said a letter she found on her car windshield, "and we will treat you like other Western slaves." It bore the Taliban signature, and wrapped inside the message was a bullet.
There are thousands of such stories underscoring why the Trump administration must not rush a deal with Taliban merely to extricate the United States from America's longest-running war. Too many American and Afghan lives have been sacrificed to allow a hasty restoration of the Taliban's terrorist rule.
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