Opinion, Berkeley Blogs

The agony of Afghanistan

By Malcolm Potts

I first visited Kabul in January 1968. The intense cold is something that I remember well. My most recent visit was to Herat, a provincial capital that the Taliban captured a few days ago. I worry that my friends may be killed because of their American links.

Women protesting in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan in 1968 was poor but not hopeless. The King, Mohammed Zahir Shah, had been on the throne for decades. He was a Russian puppet and Afghanistan had a common border with the former Soviet Union.

The Russians pushed liberal policies in land reform and girl’s education that liberal groups in the U.S. today would applaud. However, the patriarchal Afghan society rebelled. In 1979 ,the Soviets invaded Afghanistan to quash this conservative response.

Winston Churchill said, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” A well-informed U.S. State Department might have had the wisdom to step aside and watch events unfold. Tragically, President Carter’s administration condemned the Soviet invasion: They were Communists so they must be bad.

The CIA tried to undercut the Soviets by supporting rebel groups, including one called the Taliban (in English Taliban = Students). In doing so they created the environment that permitted the Wahhabi Islamist terrorist group Al-Qaeda to plan and implement the 9/11 attacks on New York.

There are brutal conflicts in Syria, Ethiopia and many other parts of the world, but there is something uniquely evil about the Taliban. Women can be flogged in public for not wearing an all-enveloping burka. A thief can have his hand amputated.

But most horrible of all, is this: the Taliban made it illegal for a physician to care for a woman giving birth to a child. Responsible doctors did their best to help. One obstetrician that I know of was caught assisting a woman having a difficult delivery. She was gang raped as a punishment.

The Biden Administration naïvely expects the Taliban, and what is left of the Afghan government, to arrive at some kind of harmonious agreement. A group that can turn the joy and beauty of a birth into a crime will never change, or honor any agreement.

As the U.S. pulls out its forces, the Taliban is taking over more and more of the country. Afghan women are going to suffer more and more injustices and agonizing exploitation.