Considering recent events in Afghanistan, including the confirmation of Mullah Omar's death and the gains made by ISIS, all of these questions are important for U.S. foreign policy in Afghanistan going forward, and every presidential candidate should be able to answer them competently. I was pleasantly surprised by the inclusion of question #3: Do you think it is important for the US to help Afghan women protect the gains they have made over the past 14 years and prevent a return to Taliban-style oppression?
As the article points out, American discussions about Afghan policy generally focus on the security aspects of the situation rather than the humanitarian concerns. I think it's incredibly important - especially in a country like Afghanistan - to keep human rights considerations at the fore. The Taliban had established a brutal and repressive regime that particularly targeted Afghan women and girls—banning them from schools, requiring them to stay at home or to go outside the home only fully covered and accompanied by male relatives, and applying punishments ranging from throwing acid on girls’ faces to stoning women to death. Millions of Afghan girls are now in school thanks to the efforts of the US, its NATO and international partners, the international community, and the Afghan government. Women can walk about freely in many (but by no means all) parts of Afghanistan, engage in commerce, and live without fear of horrific punishments. Do you think that defending human rights and the rights of women is an appropriate objective of American foreign policy in Afghanistan?
I hope the next President of the United States answers this question affirmatively and with conviction.
Let's hope. The following is an excerpt from an interesting Foreign Affairs article on possible peace talks in Afghanistan. Particularly important are the five concrete steps the U.S. can take to keep the negotiations moving forward.
Peace begins on the battlefield: if the Taliban capture more ground, particularly provincial capitals, the Quetta Shura will see little reason to bargain, believing that an Afghan government defeat is imminent. The summer fighting season will be particularly critical to Taliban decision-making, as the leadership will take note of successes and failures on the battlefield to decide whether war will be more profitable than peace. A strong performance by the Afghan army could therefore deal a serious blow to the Taliban’s confidence, pushing the peace process forward.
William Dalrymple on Robert Byron (and some suggested reads on Afghanistan):
Byron was a brave traveller, an art historian of erudition, and a connoisseur of civilisations. Above all, he was a writer of prose whose chiselled beauty has cast its spell on English travel writing ever since. Byron had a remarkable ability to evoke place, to bring to life a whole world in a single unexpected image, to pull a perfect sentence out of the air with the ease of a child netting a butterfly.
High praise from Dalrymple who is also a magnificent writer. In case you missed it, I wrote a review of his book From the Holy Mountain here.