Please Don’t Forget About Afghanistan

As far as most people in the United States are concerned, the story of Afghanistan began with the U.S. invasion in 2001 and ended when the last American plane left in 2021. Some attention remained focused on covering the Taliban’s return to power, as well as the refugee crisis that coincided with the U.S. evacuation. Tales of the frantic escape of more than 76,000 Afghan refugees filled the airwaves for months. But inevitably and eventually, the news cycle turned toward fresher, flashier foreign policy concerns like the perceived threat of China and, of course, to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Afghanistan lies in the rear-view mirror now as media interests have shifted, likely for quite some time.

 

Yet, Afghanistan is still there. The Afghans are still there, too, and still suffering from threats foreign and domestic. Dispatches from within have confirmed that life under the Taliban is as brutal as we had feared, particularly for women and ethnic minorities. Despite pledging not to bar access to education for women, as it had during its previous tenure in government, the Taliban has already reinstituted gender segregation in universities. Girls’ high schools, which had been shuttered since the takeover in August 2021, were meant to finally reopen late in March—only for the Taliban to reverse the order at the last minute

 

Even if the Taliban’s war with the United States has ended, the violence is far from over. Schools, mosques, and neighborhoods serving Afghanistan’s minority Shiite population have become a favorite target of the Islamic State affiliate active within the country, whose terror the Taliban has failed to prevent. Attacks have escalated. In mid-April, a bombing at a mosque and religious school killed more than 30 people. Foreign actors pummel Afghanistan from the skies. An aerial bombardment campaign recently launched by Pakistan, ostensibly targeting militants sheltered in the eastern provinces,  left at least 47 dead—many of them women and children. Afghanistan’s suffering is far from over. In fact, it’s entered perhaps an even more hopeless phase. And just because we in the West have averted our gaze, it is no less real.

 

Most of us may be forgetting, but our government surely isn’t. Rather than trying to mitigate the myriad harms taking place—and recognize its complicity leading to them—the United States has chosen to exacerbate them. In the months following the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban, the Biden administration first froze and then seized $7 billion worth of assets from the country’s central bank. Mark Weisbrot, Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, has warned that “more people will die from the economic impact of sanctions over the next year than the number who died in 20 years of war.”

 

Even as Afghanistan descends into famine—with many of its people already starving—President Joe Biden has declared that half the money will be held in trust for humanitarian assistance for Afghans while the other half will go to families of victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks. This move comes as a searing insult to Afghans. As Afghan activist Selay Ghaffar so eloquently wrote in March, “The direct beneficiaries of Biden’s theft, the victims of 9/11, deserve support for what they suffered. But why must my family, my neighbours, my people, over 400,000 of whom were killed in the US-led war, pay the price?”

 

Though the White House is holding firm in its commitment to inhumanity, Afghan organizers and their allies press on, continuing to demand the return of the stolen assets. Afghan diaspora groups have been leading this charge, flanked by organizations like the Center for Economic and Policy Research which recently released an open letter calling on the government to reverse its actions. Among the signatories is our own DSA International Committee, as well as 9/11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows. Other key signatories include the American Muslim Bar Association, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and the governing bodies of several mainline Christian denominations.

 

The Global War on Terror and its consequences have destroyed Afghanistan. After 20 years of fruitless occupation, the least our country can do now is give back the money it stole on its way out. This might beat back the tide of starvation overtaking the country, at least for some time. It is up to us as socialist organizers in the United States to contribute whatever time, energy, and resources we can muster to force our government to reverse its barbaric act. Below is a list of tasks we can all complete today:

 

 

One of the fundamental truths in life is that we, as human beings, have an obligation to those we have made to suffer. That is, an obligation to change ourselves in such a way that we will never inflict the same suffering again. The powers that be want you to forget this truth. It is in their interests that you forget. In many ways, they have already succeeded—but we mustn’t let them gain any more ground. Don’t abide by rules that servants of capital and empire have set for you. Please, don’t forget about the Afghans.