Where is the American and Afghan Leadership for Those Who Really Need it?

With the news of General Stanley McChrystal leaving the lead post in Afghanistan, we can assume that American leaders will continue to work with Afghan leaders to fight against the Taliban and extremists who terrorize the Afghan people. Without diminishing the importance of the actions surrounding his dismissal, any inappropriate comments made to a music magazine pale in comparison to the inappropriate behaviors he allowed district commanders to exert over girls and women in Afghanistan, however. It seems like similar extremists have been allowed to control Afghan districts. Is the protection of girls and women not included in progressing and securing Afghanistan?

I am referring to the Child Brides Escape Marriage, but Not Lashes article published on May 30th, which detailed the discovery of two young girls who fled forced and abusive marriages to much older men. The girls were caught, sent back to the men, and publicly and unmercilessly flogged for daring to run away. Of course, this was under the watchful eye of the “self-appointed commander and morals enforcer in his district,” a man who seems to lack any of the morals that he wishes to enforce. According to the report, “the mullah . . . administers the punishment with a leather strap, which he appears to wield with as much force as possible . . . and strikes the girls so hard that at one point he appears to have hurt his wrist and hands the strap to another man.” Is this the leadership that we want to leave in Afghanistan? Is this the culture for which our soldiers are dying every day to protect? Would we be more outraged if this happened to a boy or man? How about an American? Why are the basic human rights of Afghan women and girls brushed aside in a fight for the very life of a country?

Regardless of whether anyone condones the wars in either Iraq or Afghanistan, the fact is that we now have an opportunity to have an impact on the very people who need our help the most, the most vulnerable of the country’s population: girls and women. And although their rights are undoubtedly less restrictive than what they were under the Taliban, the May 30th article clearly shows that girls and women are still treated with the misogynistic disdain that comes with extremist fundamentalism.

I am confident that the strides that are being made in education and self-sustainment will alleviate this problem eventually, and I am hopeful that General David Petraeus will pay closer attention to how district commanders treat their girls and women. I am also keenly aware that right now we have a moral obligation to discourage these fierce and violent acts against girls and women and to impose strict sanctions on district leaders who not only allow these acts to occur, but actually encourage and supervise them. If our goal is to transfer leadership and responsibility back to Afghan forces, shouldn’t we ensure that those forces aren’t as brutal as the forces we’re fighting?

We send a strong message to the world when we silently excuse violent acts against girls and women in a country for which we are fighting. It is bad enough that we passively ignore the abhorrent treatment of girls and women in countries that are supposed to be our allies, such as Saudi Arabia, but to remain passive in a fight in which we are actively involved is simply appalling.

In his statement of resignation, General McChrystal noted that he was committed to the Afghan people. Time will tell if he and other leaders include girls and women among the people to whom they are committed.

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