A face-saving ploy

Published: February 14, 2012
The writer is author of The Gun Tree: One Woman’s War (Oxford University Press, 2001) and lives in Bhurban

The writer is author of The Gun Tree: One Woman’s War (Oxford University Press, 2001) and lives in Bhurban

Khatoon is 32, a widow with three children under the age of 10. Her children are all girls and go to school in Kabul. In the absence of other support (her parents are dead and her siblings unable to help financially), Khatoon supports her children and herself by working in an office. Her life, tough as it is, was progressing smoothly until word of ‘peace’ talks between America and the Taliban in Qatar, became public knowledge.

Now, along with every other woman in Afghanistan and the majority of men too, Khatoon is petrified of the possibility of the Taliban returning to power.

The much-vaulted peace talks — the first round recently ended without any definite progress according to reports — have angered the Afghan population as a whole. No one, least of all women, relish the thought of a return to the abominable conditions they endured when the Taliban ruled the roost from 1996 to 2001. During those terrible years, women bore the brunt of the Taliban’s own interpretation of Islamic law and they were barred from receiving education and from working. A brutal religious police, wielding whips and batons, enforced an unbearable dress code under which women were shrouded in either blue or white burqas. Females were not allowed to use makeup or wear shoes with heels and even inside their own homes, they were subjected to unthinkable rules and regulations unless, they lived in enlightened households whose males were prepared to take risks in full knowledge that religious police, or other Taliban cadre, could force their way inside at any time of day or night. Public executions (in Kabul these took place in the infamous Gaddafi Stadium after the Friday prayers) were common and the brutalised populace were almost paralysed by fear — ‘almost’ because some Afghans did fight back in their own way.

“Underground schools for girls were organised in some areas” says Khatoon. “The venues had to be moved regularly to keep them safe, but it was extremely dangerous for us all. If I hadn’t taken lessons during those years, then I would not have been able to find work now. If the Taliban are allowed to come back in to any position of control then my employment will come to an end as will my daughters’ education. What will happen to us then?”

Khatoon is quite right to be frightened. Having survived Taliban rule once, she knows the potential hazards of fighting to survive in a world controlled by rapists, bullies and murderers — as do all other Afghan women of these times. “I completely fail to comprehend why America is having these talks with those they previously called ‘enemies’. America used the excuse of al Qaeda and the Taliban to invade Afghanistan and try to give us normality but now, 10 years on, they are going to walk away and leave us to it. I can understand that they have had enough of fighting, but to let the Taliban come back when they pull out is sheer lunacy. It means that perhaps, it would have been better for the US to have never come here at all, as in the end nothing will have changed other than that they allowed us to develop hope and are now dashing that self same hope on the rocks of their own face-saving ploy. They are throwing us back to the wolves and the world is letting them get away with it.”

Published in The Express Tribune, February 14th, 2012.


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Reader Comments (17)

  • faraz
    Feb 14, 2012 - 12:48AM

    Taliban have survived 10 years of operations, it shows that they have certain level of popularity in the masses. In rural pushtoon areas of Afghanistan, women are generally treated as second rate citizens; not much different from Taliban ruled Afghanistan of 90s. Its a bitter reality but Taliban represent pushtoons especially those living in rural areas


  • John B
    Feb 14, 2012 - 1:37AM

    “Face saving ploy” may be a mantra in PAK and if only that was the case Taliban would have got control long time ago.

    Why should it must be only US responsibility and not PAK or Afghanistan as well? After all was it not PAK that was harboring and providing safe haven for all the Afghan Taliban?

    The Women in Liberia stood up against the men and now they rule over them. Unless the society wants it, no one can help them.

    After all, did not the western women stand up for their rights when their men did not allow them to vote or own property?

    Pakistan’s treachery in the operation can also seen as facing saving ploy of Pakistan.


  • MarkH
    Feb 14, 2012 - 5:59AM

    They’re not going to return to power as a result of peace talks. That’s a negotiation that is completely positive for them and completely negative for the rest with very little that can be offered to make it look anything close to an even trade. There’s probably plenty to be concerned about but, that is not one of those things.


  • vasan
    Feb 14, 2012 - 6:35AM

    Splitting Afganistan is the only amicable solution. Let the Taliban cook themselves in the AfPak region. They deserve cave life and they like it. The world should boycott them, The way they treat their woman, they will become extinct in 2 generations.


  • hammad
    Feb 14, 2012 - 9:29AM

    Sure, women will be oppressed in Afghanistan under Taliban, but women are generally oppressed in Afghanistan anyway. Moreover, I don’t see Taliban having the same control and unchallenged writ in Afghanistan again, they had it once and blew it due to their terrorist friends. If Taliban come to power, they will have to accept civility and the Afghan constiution, girls’ education and peace as a condition. Pakistani establishment is trying hard to get this point across and I guess there is some success. With a pro-Pakistan/neutral government in Afghanistan, contrary to the extremely hostile one at the moment, Pakistan will be able to focus on domestic issues. Taliban influence in Afghan security will also check cross border TTP terrorism. One question remains: What will become of the foreigner Alqaeda? Death? Or kicked out to Somalia?


  • Dr Khan
    Feb 14, 2012 - 10:48AM

    that remains to be seen, although i do not see any permanent role of alQaeda once the Taliban return. The fact remains, after ten years, the Taliban are pretty strong, still have many strong holds, history would tell any ignoramus, such strongholds, under hostile opposition and under constant bombardment is not possible with out public support. Also, we have to remember, the Taliban was a relatively young government with no past experience of governance, the last ten years would have sobered them out, made them better strategically and looks like they have reformed themselves in the sphere of public relations as far as the Afghan populace is concerned. However, for a stable AfPak region, Pakistan must invest in helping the new government come to it’s feet and keeping a check on any human rights violations, given the long list of violations in Pak itself, it comes across as unlikely, but as a neighbor, Pakistan must play it’s role, and also redeem itself for it’s failed foreign policies during the Musharraf era.


  • Sachin Arora
    Feb 14, 2012 - 2:14PM

    @ Faraz
    Everyone knows that Taliban have survived 10 years of operations, not because of support from Afghan Population but because of active support from Pakistan ISI. The pursuit of strategic depth in Afghanistan by Pakistan is not going to stop.


  • Sachin Arora
    Feb 14, 2012 - 2:18PM

    @ Dr Khan

    ” we have to remember, the Taliban was a relatively young government with no past experience of governance, the last ten years would have sobered them out, made them better strategically and looks like they have reformed themselves in the sphere of public relations as far as the Afghan populace is concerned”

    Lets start by giving them the chance to run government in Pakistan.


  • x
    Feb 14, 2012 - 2:41PM

    What about the US role in CREATING, training and funding the taliban as a means to achieve their own ends i.e victory in the soviet war. People have such short memories, I think that is our biggest failing. Now this article portrays women as being fully satisfied with the american war on terror, even justifying it and pleading for a longer rule. Does it mention that the woman became a widow in this war as her husband was one of the many innocent civilians killed as ‘collateral damage’? or that her family is unable to support, with most dead in this war and the rest paupered by a failing economy, lack of jobs and political chaos.


  • Sher Zaman
    Feb 14, 2012 - 3:31PM

    John B is very right. If the society doesn’t want it, no one can help it. It is important that Afghans should take ownership of their country and their women, and stop treating them like animals. There is a dire need to bring the estranged segment of the society back into the mainstream and control the issue of IEDs as well.


  • RS
    Feb 14, 2012 - 4:14PM

    It’s depressing to see, from comments here, how much support Taliban has in Pakistan!


  • Zalmai
    Feb 14, 2012 - 4:27PM

    @ Zahrah Nasir

    Gaddafi Stadium in Kabul? Where do you get these facts? You are confusing Lahore with Kabul. Kabul has a stadium called Ghazi Stadium and Afghans do not idolize Arabs or name monuments after them. Recommend

  • Zalmai
    Feb 14, 2012 - 4:44PM

    Strategic death is what Pakistan is getting themselves into. Afghans will never accept overlords, especially from Pakistan. Even if the Taliban were to come into some sort of a power sharing agreement that in itself is no guarantee that they would take orders from Pakistan. Pakistan should know this by now. I guess Pakistan does not know the history of Afghanistan or else they would not pursue policies that did not work for Great Britain, U.S.S.R and now U.S.A

    Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
    Albert Einstein

    I guess Pakistan is going insane…lol.


  • hammad
    Feb 14, 2012 - 6:52PM

    If you got that impression from my comment, you are wrong. We, as Pakistanis have to be realistic. It is a fact that Taliban have support in Afghan Pashtuns, even Americans acknowledge it. Northern Alliance guys are nothing but criminals and warlords who are anti-Pakistan. ISAF could’ve developed the Afghan civil society in 10 years, but that didn’t happen. Afghanistan is a desperately poor country, so there will always be foreign interference, until they get united. Sure, we can think and act like humanists and say we shouldn’t play any role in a foreign country’s affairs, but that would be unwise, this is real world. Do you think Russia and Iran were not supporting NA all along while Pakistan supported Taliban in the 90s? Even today, Americans claim Iran is supporting Taliban. Now let’s look at what was going on before the Afghan war: Afghanistan was supporting groups in KPK. They had border disputes with Pakistan. They provided Alzulfiqar safe havens. Khad was very active in Karachi, blowing people up regularly. Now, when Americans leave, Pakistan needs to back one group or another, because that’s what pragmatism requires.Recommend

  • Zalmai
    Feb 14, 2012 - 7:06PM


    “Northern Alliance guys are nothing but criminals and warlords who are anti-Pakistan”.

    It is the other way around my friend. The Taliban are nothing but criminals and warlords and they are nobody’s fools either. If you take comfort in the fact that they are pro Pakistan you are naive and delusional. Afghanistan is an irredentist state and as soon as the Taliban come into power they will start sending agents into KP and Baluchistan. Wake up to the realities of irredentism and realize that it works both ways.


  • Roflcopter
    Feb 14, 2012 - 8:04PM

    US has been defeated and Taliban are returning. These articles won’t help.Recommend

  • RS
    Feb 15, 2012 - 9:36AM

    @ hammad

    Sincere thanks for clarifying your comment @ hammad. But if your arguments are based upon realistic arguments and not moral ones, I guess India can easily justify its insistence on keeping Kashmir (Don’t want another Islamic country up north and prompt other secessionist movements) and many more such things that US/World/India do to Pakistan and it complaints. But then, I am digressing here.

    Even if you think on realistic terms, supporting Taliban is like embracing snakes to control rats. They have done equal damage to Pakistan than to Afganistan..

    And to think of playing great games, at the cost of your own people? Just think about it, economy of US is 80 times, China 34 times, India 10 times, Russia 8 times and Iran 2 times larger than that of Pakistan.. Reminds me of punching above one’s weight to hurt oneself..!


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