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Never the mission

August 14, 2021

There are two groups of people who never win in Afghanistan. One group is the invaders (See: Britain, 19th century; USSR, 20th century; and US – and allies – 21st century). The other group is the women of Afghanistan.

I have heard, although I don’t know if it’s true, that in 1996, at the urging of oil companies that wanted to build a pipeline through Afghanistan and didn’t care who the hell was in charge of the country, Bill Clinton came very close to recognising the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan. That was until one of his advisors pointed out that he was up for re-election that year. Given the horror stories quickly emerging from Afghanistan about the Taliban’s appalling treatment of women and given how much Clinton needed the female vote in the US, maybe not the right time to legitimise a bunch of seventh century psychopaths? No recognition was given, much to the disappointment of the oil industry. As I said, I don’t know if this is true, but it sounds likely, doesn’t it? 

Just as well, really, as it made it so much easier five years later for Clinton’s successor to justify the invasion of a renegade nation. 

It was galling a couple of weeks ago to see George W. Bush on the news criticising Biden’s withdrawal of troops and saying, “It’s unbelievable how that society changed from the brutality of the Taliban, and all of a sudden – sadly – I’m afraid Afghan women and girls are going to suffer unspeakable harm.” 

Well, of course they are, but the mission of the US-led invasion was never to liberate the women of Afghanistan from Taliban captivity. The mission was to eliminate Al Qaeda’s (welcomed by the Taliban) presence in the country and, with a bit of luck, find and kill Osama bin Laden. Liberating the women of the country was simply a bonus for the women.

An entire generation of girls has grown up able to go to school, freed of the burqa. Have they – and their mothers – always known they were living on borrowed time? Or have they been hoping against hope that, in the absence of US troops, the corrupt and incompetent Afghan government and its underpaid army would prevail?

As anyone with half a brain has always known, the Taliban were playing the long game. They hid out with no difficulty in Pakistan and bided their time, knowing the foreigners would eventually leave. The previous US administration’s peace talks in Doha? Oh, please. Pull the other one. The Taliban have never had any interest in power sharing. They’re only interested in power and subjugation. Mostly the subjugation of women, but they’re also happy to kill any male who isn’t fully subscribed to their appallingly backwards interpretation of the Muslim faith.

Throughout much of that poor, blighted country the women are already back in burqas. The needs of fighters must be met, so, like their ISIS brethren, it’s open season on any unmarried woman or girl to be kidnapped and forced into marriage. (If a married woman takes some bastard’s fancy, easy enough to deem her husband insufficiently devout and dispatch him to meet his maker.)

There was a story in The Guardian this week. I’m not going to simply provide the link. I’m going to copy and paste it.

‘Please pray for me’: female reporter being hunted by the Taliban tells her story

Two days ago I had to flee my home and life in the north of Afghanistan after the Taliban took my city. I am still on the run and there is no safe place for me to go.

Last week I was a news journalist. Today I can’t write under my own name or say where I am from or where I am. My whole life has been obliterated in just a few days.

I am so scared and I don’t know what will happen to me. Will I ever go home? Will I see my parents again? Where will I go? The highway is blocked in both directions. How will I survive?

My decision to leave my home and life was not planned. It happened very suddenly. In the past days my whole province has fallen to the Taliban. The only places that the government still controls are the airport and a few police district offices. I’m not safe because I’m a 22-year-old woman and I know that the Taliban are forcing families to give their daughters as wives for their fighters. I’m also not safe because I’m a news journalist and I know the Taliban will come looking for me and all of my colleagues.

I’m a 22-year-old woman and I know that the Taliban are forcing families to give their daughters as wives for their fighters

The Taliban are already seeking out people they want to target. At the weekend my manager called me and asked me not to answer any unknown number. He said that we, especially the women, should hide, and escape the city if we could.

As I was packing I could hear bullets and rockets. Planes and helicopters were flying low over our heads. There was fighting on the streets right outside the house. My uncle offered to help get me to a safe place, so I grabbed my phone and a chadari (the full Afghan burqa) and left. My parents would not leave even though our house was now on the frontline of the battle for the city. As the rocket fire intensified they pleaded for me to leave because they knew the routes out of the city would soon be shut. So I left them behind and fled with my uncle. I haven’t spoken to them since as the phones are not working in the city any more.

Outside the house it was chaos. I was one of the last young women left in my neighbourhood to try to flee. I could see Taliban fighters right outside our house, on the street. They were everywhere. Thank God, I had my chadari, but even then I was afraid they would stop me or would recognise me. I was trembling as I was walking, but trying not to look scared.

Just after we’d left a rocket landed right next to us. I remember screaming and crying, women and children around me were running in every direction. It felt like we were all stuck in a boat and there was a big storm around us.

We managed to get to my uncle’s car and started driving towards his house, which is 30 minutes outside the city. On the way we were stopped at a Taliban checkpoint. It was the most terrifying moment of my life. I was inside my chadari and they ignored me but interrogated my uncle, asking him where we were going. He said we had been visiting a health centre in the city and were on our way home. Even as they were questioning him, rockets were being fired and landing close to the checkpoint. Finally, they let us go.

On the way we were stopped at a Taliban checkpoint. It was the most terrifying moment of my life

Even when we got to my uncle’s village, it wasn’t safe. His village is under Taliban control and many families are Taliban sympathisers. A few hours after we arrived, we were told some of the neighbours had discovered he was hiding me there and that we had to leave – they said the Taliban knew I’d been taken out the city and if they came to the village and found me there, they’d kill everyone.

We found somewhere else for me to hide, a home of a distant relative. We had to walk for hours, with me still in my chadari, staying away from all the main roads where the Taliban might be. This is where I am now. A rural area where there is nothing. There is no running water or electricity. There is barely any phone signal and I am cut off from the world.

Most of the women and girls I know have also fled the city and are trying to find somewhere safe. I cannot stop thinking and worrying about my friends, my neighbours, my classmates, all the women in Afghanistan.

All my female colleagues in the media are terrified. Most have managed to flee the city and are trying to find a way out of the province, but we are completely surrounded. All of us have spoken out against the Taliban and angered them through our journalism.

Right now, everything is tense. All I can do is keep running and hope that a route out of the province opens up soon. Please pray for me.

Editing and translation by Ruchi Kumar

This is just one of many harrowing stories run by The Guardian in partnership with Women Report Afghanistan – as they say “for as long as we can”. 

Every story they write breaks your heart, fills you with rage and makes you want to punch someone in the face – or slice off their prick and shove it in their mouths. (The organisation is currently trying to raise money to keep going.)

It is all too likely that Kabul will fall within a month, making a farce of the entire invasion and occupation. Translators and other Afghans who assisted the military of allied countries will not be evacuated by the US, Canada, the UK and others in time. They will be hunted down and slaughtered. It’s already happening in other parts of the country. The women and girls of the country will be cast back to the stone age where any infraction of the Taliban’s code of conduct could result in them being stoned to death. 

Could this giant leap backwards for the women (and almost everyone else in Afghanistan) have been averted? Yes, in myriad ways. But saving women and girls was never the mission.

From → Columns

  1. Donna permalink

    Still crying from when I read this article in the Guardian earlier this week.

  2. nebulaflash permalink

    Thank you Anne for writing this article.

  3. HenDoz permalink

    The fact that a bunch of psychopaths rule is only ONE part of the equation. The true but “culturally and politically forbidden” reality is more encompassing. Read “The 2 Married Pink Elephants In The Historical Room –The  Holocaustal Covid-19 Coronavirus Madness: A Sociological Perspective  & Historical Assessment Of The Covid “Phenomenon”” by Rolf Hefti at

    Without a proper understanding, and full acknowledgment, of the true problem and reality, no real constructive change is possible.

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