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Opinion: As U.S. Seeks To Withdraw Troops, What About Afghanistan's Women?

A boy holds the burqa of his mother as they walk down a street in the old city of Kabul on November 1, 2009.
Nicolas Asfouri
AFP/Getty Images
A boy holds the burqa of his mother as they walk down a street in the old city of Kabul on November 1, 2009.

I bought a burqa in a market when I covered the war in Afghanistan in 2002. I showed it to my wife when I got home, and pulled the blue garment over my head to look through the single thin eye slit that allowed an Afghan woman's only view of the world.

That's when I truly understood why the Taliban had forced all women in Afghanistan to wear the burqa. It disguised, depersonalized, and confined them.

This week it was reported that the U.S. and the Taliban have agreed in principle to a plan that could end the war and bring home U.S. troops.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special representative, told the New York Times the Taliban has agreed not to permit Afghanistan from becoming a home for international terrorists. Khalilzad did not mention any negotiations regarding the rights of women. But I doubt any Afghan woman forgets the terror the Taliban created for women when they ruled the country.

Under the Taliban, women couldn't leave their homes without a male relative. Women couldn't go to school or work. They couldn't speak in public. They couldn't be treated by a doctor. They could be beaten for reading a book.

If so much as an inch of a woman's flesh was exposed — like a flash of ankle beneath the burqa when they walked — they could be beaten. Many women were beaten, and raped, and stoned to death.

An unknown number of women took their lives. Several women told us how they had tried. They simply couldn't see an end to the misery of living under the cruel iron rule of the Taliban.

I remember going to the first soccer game in the Kabul stadium after the Taliban collapsed. Every few minutes during the game, we'd hear a cheer from different parts of the crowd each time a woman stood up and threw off her burqa — to show her face, and show she had survived and triumphed.

Americans have grown pessimistic about the war in Afghanistan. More than 2400 Americans have died there over the past 17 years. More than 45,000 Afghan security personnel have been killed just since 2014.

The constitution Afghanistan adopted in 2004 enshrines the rights of women, and today, 27 percent of the members of the Afghan parliament are women. But as many as two-thirds of school age women in Afghanistan may not be in school, because they live in areas where the Taliban is powerful.

Will the U.S. work for an agreement that will not only let U.S. troops declare victory over terrorism and go home, but also help Afghan women live free from the terror of oppression?

Copyright 2024 NPR

Scott Simon
Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.