We seldom see much about world affairs in the news anymore unless it is to compare COVID-19 cases and strategies. A crisis like the pandemic shrinks our horizons to local threats. The civil unrest that continues this summer in American cities and President Donald Trump’s response to it in an election year also keeps our focus closer to home, but the world does not stop turning. China’s communist dictatorship does not cease to treat 12 million Uighurs with murderous contempt. And the U.S., like it or not, is still involved in the world.
In the latter half of the 1960s, the nation experienced sustained unrest surrounding racism among other issues, that also featured leftist agitators, whose numbers and import were exaggerated then as they are today – but what brought the biggest coalition to the streets was the U.S. in the world. In 1965, the late civil rights leader John Lewis was asking why the U.S. could send troops to Vietnam but could not send them to Alabama to secure the Black right to vote. In 1968, when Ivy League student antiwar protesters got the world’s attention by occupying buildings at Columbia University, the militarily significant U.S. involvement in Vietnam was about five years old.
Today, the U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan is nearing 20 years old – America’s longest running war. Everyone agrees it should not continue much longer and no one knows how to end it without creating a vacuum that will be filled by the Taliban, an Islamic-fundamentalist movement with ties to neighboring Pakistan’s intelligence service.
One of the Taliban’s hallmarks is the strict control and oppression of women, particularly young women. We happened to see a story the other day in The Guardian that is a perfect illustration of this and its consequences for Afghanis, although you will have to decide for yourself if it squares with why U.S. forces are still there, barely propping up the non-Taliban government of President Ashraf Ghani.
The story was principally reported by Akhtar Mohammad Makoii, a freelance journalist based in Afghanistan, from Herat, the country’s third-largest city. In the early morning hours of July 17, dozens of Taliban fighters came to the village of Geriveh, in Afghanistan’s central Ghor province, and singled out a government supporter who in the past had stood up to Taliban tax collectors. These tax collectors plunder villages such as Geriveh, said a spokesman for the governor of Ghor. Lately, despite signing a peace deal with the U.S. in February, the Taliban have been stepping up such activity.
The man’s wife came to their door and said the fighters could not come in. They shot her dead. Then they entered the house and shot and killed her husband.
Their 16-year-old daughter, Qamar Gul, who witnessed this, picked up the semi-automatic rifle her father kept in the house and shot and killed three of the Taliban fighters. The others retreated. Gul kept up a one-hour battle with the Taliban, alongside her 12-year-old brother, Habibullah, until the insurgents left Geriveh.
By their actions, Qamar and Habibullah were saying, “‘This was our right, because we did not need to live without our parents,’” the government spokesman said, adding they do not have many other relatives.
Perhaps we should at least try to remember, despite all the other things that seem more local, pressing and even solvable, that whether the U.S. is there or not, Afghanistan, too, is still not solved, and may not be for Qamar and Habibullah for some time to come. We at least can wish them solace and luck. Courage they already have.