Why Afghanistan Matters
by Sophia Rose Shafi
As a parent of a child who is half-Afghan, I am reminded daily of how lucky she is to have shelter, good health, and ample food and clothing. Most Afghan children are not so lucky. 14% of children die before reaching their first birthday. One in five children die before they reach the age of five years old. Afghanistan also has the third highest infant mortality rate in the world, after Angola and Sierra Leone.
Life is also dismal for adults. Only 22% of Afghans have access to safe water. Life expectancy is 44 years old (44.04 for men, 44.21 for women). The maternal death rate hovers at around 50%. And 87% of females are victims of domestic violence.
History has not been kind to Afghans, especially over the past thirty years of unending war. Most know the story well – Soviet invasion, Soviet-Afghan war, civil war, Taliban-Northern Alliance war, U.S. invasion, U.S.-Taliban war.
However, columnists, activists, and politicians leave important details out. The promises made to Afghans that we would stay and rebuild their country when the Soviets left, all of which were broken. The cold shoulder when Afghans warned the United States that something shifty was afoot in the months before September 11th, warnings that were ignored.
It seems unlikely that a better life for Afghans will be the result of a military surge or from abandoning the Afghans as we did in 1989. While I admire the anti-war position, I wonder what would happen should we leave. Would the meddling states stop supporting the warlords and instantaneously decide that Afghanistan should be left alone? Would the Taliban stop receiving support from some of our “allies”? Would Afghans suddenly forget the past thirty years of ethnic and religious massacres that has fractured their society?
The escalation has its own set of grim possibilities of course. More destruction and suffering for a people who have had their share. Over 1 million dead. 1.5 million widows. 1.6 million orphans.
For what it is worth, here is my idea. My naive hope is that the President reads this.
How about a humanitarian surge? Given the fact that we will be in Afghanistan a while, let’s start with the following for every Afghan man, woman, and child: a below-zero grade sleeping bag and tent, a camper stove with fuel rations, food rations, and a medical kit. Can we do this one small thing for Afghans, to keep them from starving and freezing to death over the winter? It doesn’t erase the mistakes of the past, or absolve the tragedy of the present, but it is something.
Ms. Shafi is a doctoral candidate in Religion. Her dissertation is a genealogical study of images of Muslim male monsters in Western discourse.