This week John Kerry got an earful from Afghan businesswomen when he was visiting Kabul.
The women were suspicious of official U.S. pledges to continue supporting Afghan democracy and rights for women. They told Secretary of State Kerry they were worried their leaders – or the US leaders - might negotiate a peace accord with the Taliban that would sell out their hard won rights for political gains.
I heard the same concerns voiced a week ago at the Brussels Forum by one of Afghanistan’s most courageous woman leaders, Sima Samar, a medical doctor, educator and human rights canpaigner. “The job in Afghanistan is not finished,” she told me, so the United States should not repeat the mistakes of the 1990s” when America turned its back on her country after the Soviet exit. In the ensuing chaos, the Taliban and al Qaeda took root.
What should the United States do to help Afghan women, as it draws down its troops by 2014? “Focus on empowerment of women, particularly higher education and support for civil society,” she answered.
She, like most Afghans, expressed strong mistrust of neighboring Pakistan, which gives Taliban leaders safe haven, and is pushing Washington and Kabul to strike a deal with these Afghan fundamentalists. She believes the people of Afghanistan, having experienced the harsh rule of the Taliban, won’t willingly follow them. If the Taliban chose to run in elections, she thinks they wouldn’t be very successful.
But many Afghan women with whom I speak fear the United States, with Pakistani help, will make a deal with the Taliban in which women’s rights are sacrificed - in order to facilitate the U.S. troop exit. Those who have the possibility of leaving the country are poised, trying to decide whether to stay or go.