It’s Time We Humanize Afghans and Afghanistan
By: Prema Rahman, MPAC Policy Analyst
“I just read the meeting minutes of the Taliban’s latest meeting, and I can’t tell you how professional their meeting minutes were and how focused their agenda was on banking, liquidity, on economy — this is a much more sophisticated Taliban than 20 years ago.”
Maryam Qudrad, the Director of the Writer and Communication Resource Center at California State University, Long Beach and former Adviser to the Ministry of Higher Education of Afghanistan, shared this in our August 24th MPAC Forum “Repercussions of Taliban Takeover of Afghanistan: What the U.S. Should Do”. We held this important and timely discussion with key figures, including Haris Tarin, Senior Policy Advisor at DHS office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL), and Farhat Popal, Immigrant Affairs Manager for the City of San Diego and former Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), in the struggle to protect Afghan lives. The resounding message amongst this all-Afghan panel was to humanize Afghans and Afghanistan and deliver them the urgent assistance and support they need to survive.
Qudrat’s warning is a chilling wake-up call to the reality of Afghanistan today: the Taliban that has taken control of the nation is no longer the ragtag, barbaric militant group that terrorized Afghans throughout the ’90s. The Taliban is now a fully-functioning political force set to govern Afghanistan. To put the gravity of this situation into perspective, this is a terrorist organization notorious for its gross human rights violations, gender-based violence, and draconian code of conduct that will govern over 38 million Afghans. Those are 38 million people to whom the United States had promised democracy, education, progress, and security two decades ago, when it launched the Afghanistan War in retaliation to the 9/11 attacks. Today, their lives and homes are on the brink of destruction and darkness because of our failure to deliver on those promises. It is imperative upon us to right those wrongs.
We must not repeat our mistakes from two decades ago. While the U.S. Government claims to have waged war in Afghanistan for nation-building purposes and to promote education, human rights, and gender equality, in truth, America neglected to help build good governance and a liberal, representative democracy for the Afghan people. Our intent and approach was flawed from the very beginning. As Haris Tarin cautioned, “It wasn’t the voices of Afghans that were being listened to in the halls of Washington, in the halls of Congress, in the White House.” We did not heed Afghan voices then, we did not heed our Afghan allies throughout the war, when they raised red flags about the corruption and lack of representation in the American-backed government, and we are certainly not heeding Afghan cries for help now.
“These are the people who fought with us, who stood with us,” Tarin shared. “They bought the idea that we sold to them. We sold them the idea of women’s rights, of education, of fighting terror. They stood with us in our moment of need, and now we have to stand with them in their moment of need.”
So what can we do now? Farhat Popal offered several recommendations:
- We need to push the U.S. Government to help get Afghans who are trying to flee from the impending violent Taliban regime.
- We need to pressure the State Department to expedite visa processing.
- We need to organize and deliver humanitarian assistance to displaced populations. “There is still a small window of opportunity to potentially negotiate with the Taliban to allow for humanitarian corridors and supply chains to stay open.”
- We need to support resettlement here in the U.S. and make sure local communities, governments, and organizations are equipped to help and support them. “We need to continue helping to create and foster a welcoming and inclusive environment for Afghans and communities. What we can do extends to our personal and community interactions.”
On a fundamental level, we need to shift our narrative on Afghanistan. American media treats Afghans as victims and statistics, without much regard for the human stories of suffering, hope, and empowerment. In doing so, this kind of news coverage perpetuates a narrow, limited understanding of the Afghan people and paints a picture of them as powerless victims. Afghans have a rich cultural history and have been key contributors to civilization as we know it today. They have a love for education, for knowledge, and for self-determination. Their history, their culture, their livelihoods, and their motherland — all of this is at stake today. We must be careful not to underestimate the Taliban or mistake them for being more “moderate” than they were 20 years ago. In fact, they have grown more emboldened and organized in their fervor to drive out Western invaders. We cannot leave millions of Afghans high and dry, at the mercy of the Taliban, to pay for our mistakes. We need to do better.
Watch the full forum here.