If there’s a point of agreement between President Donald Trump and those on the left who favor a reduced U.S. military presence in the world, it’s that the war in Afghanistan should have ended long ago. Trump campaigned against U.S. military involvements in Iraq and Afghanistan four years ago and tweeted the same years earlier. In his 2019 State of the Union address, Trump noted that “great nations do not fight endless wars.”
No one has wanted peace more, sacrificed more or risked more to bring security to Afghanistan than Afghan women since the end of Taliban rule in 2001.
Now, as Trump’s national security adviser pledges that U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan will fall to 2,500 by early next year and while talks about talks proceed between the Afghan government and the Taliban to determine the terms of a possible agreement on power-sharing once the United States leaves, that rare American bipartisan agreement might spell disaster for the best allies the U.S. has had in security in Afghanistan until now. And those allies — Afghan women — wonder whether their rights to work and education will be able to survive the withdrawal of U.S. forces without a Taliban cease-fire and commitment to respect the gains women have made since 2001.
No one has wanted peace more, sacrificed more or risked more to bring security to Afghanistan than Afghan women since the end of Taliban rule in 2001. They have risked their own safety to fight for human rights, to work in local charities teaching agriculture and entrepreneurship and to serve in their government. They have broken norms, battled extremism in their own homes, fought for schools, served as journalists and dared to challenge traditions. All the while they have been peaceful and have argued for an end to the war between Taliban and Afghan forces.
Yet this most important voice is the one most often left out of the discussion as a peace deal is mapped out. That means that whatever is resolved between the U.S. and the Taliban, and then the Afghan government and the Taliban — the latter are now talking in Doha, Qatar, about rules that will govern talks about the shape of a future peace agreement — it is far from certain that the gains and autonomy of Afghan women can be maintained.
Before the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan soon after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the treatment of women —stonings, beatings, the closing of all schools for girls, the banning of women from their own streets without chaperones — horrified much of the Western world and was a rallying cry for the need for change in Afghanistan, not just the removal of the Taliban for giving sanctuary to Al Qaeda.
Soon after the U.S.-led coalition arrived, the situation of women improved markedly as they reshaped their own communities for themselves. “Because of our recent military gains in much of Afghanistan, women are no longer imprisoned in their homes. They can listen to