In his recent article in the Guardian newspaper, James Stavridis listed the ways in which Afghan society has changed for the better in recent years.1. There are now 8 million children in 15,000 schools across Afghanistan up from 1 million when the Taliban were in control.
2. Of those 8 million, 37% are girls
3. Of the 175,000 teachers, 30% are women
4. There are now over 18 million mobile phones owned by Afghans (up from basically zero under the Taliban)
5. The economy is growing by 5% annually and has done for the last 5 years.
6. At the recent Tokyo Conference over 80 nations made commitments to finance the Afghan National Security Force ( the ANSF) beyond 2014.
Contrast this with the picture painted of the country in the same newspaper four years ago. In an article by Clancy Chassay, the situation of Afghan women and young girls in 2008 was described in disturbing but telling detail:
Afghan women who defy traditional gender roles and speak out against the oppression of women are routinely subject to threats, intimidation and assassination. An increasingly powerful Taliban regularly attacks projects, schools and businesses run by women. [...] The Taliban's regional commands have varying attitudes toward women, but all those fighting under the Taliban banner are committed to enforcing their interpretation of sharia law, which forbids women from working or leaving the house without a male escort.[...] The Islamist group is just one of the many threats facing Afghanistan's few outspoken female MPs. "Our parliament is a collection of lords," said Barakzai. "Warlords, drug lords, crime lords." In parliament, she says, she is often greeted with screams of "kill her" when she stands up to speak, and she has had no shortage of personal threats from fellow MPs. They visit her privately to tell her she will be killed if she continues to speak out on such issues as the right of a woman to have a personal passport (separate from the standard "family passport") or against compulsory virginity tests for young women, and the right of a man to have custody of a child at two years old.Thus when my Muslim convert friend tries to suggest, as does the increasingly bizarre Yvonne Ridley, that the Taliban are heroic freedom fighters with their people's best interests at heart, and the West is determined to rape and loot the Islamic Afghanistan without a thought for the inhabitants, I try...very quietly...to put the other side of the argument.