Op-ed: We can’t allow 20 years of growth in civil society in Afghanistan go to waste
Kayhan Kalhor writes the following for The Dallas Morning News Opinion section on human rights and human freedom. Find the full series here.
Through creative artistic and intellectual work, we can preserve the fruits of the first two decades of this century in Afghanistan.
By Kayhan Kalhor and Ahmad Sadri
The dimensions of the calamity in Afghanistan beggar belief. Pundits will continue to argue over the advisability of the 2001 invasion and the ways it could have been better managed or brought to a less disastrous issue. What is indisputable is the setback that the civil society and women’s rights have suffered in Afghanistan.
Two decades of relative openness have come to a bitter end. It is still unclear whether a new Taliban control the country or just the old one with better PR. We don’t know if (or when) they might ban education, employment or the mere appearance of women in public without male chaperones. So far, the Taliban claim measures such as firing women and shuttering institutions are temporary. Prudence requires that we prepare for the worst.
The greatest catastrophe in the current situation is paralyzing despair, both inside Afghanistan and in the international community. Twenty years of procedural democracy has come to naught. What can any other country do after $2 trillion and massive military aid by the U.S. produced a regime that was rife with graft and corruption and which, unsurprisingly, folded within a week in the face of a ragtag army riding motorcycles and wearing flip-flops? Should the global community give up and, like the previous and current U.S. presidents, wash their hands of this debacle?
The people of Afghanistan were mostly poor and ethnically divided before the military interventions from outside by the Soviet Union, the United States, Pakistan, and, to a lesser extent, Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf states. But there was no civil war in Afghanistan before these meddlers came in.
Countries that have intervened are not prepared to shoulder any responsibility for what they have wrought in that poor, but culturally rich, country. And that is just as well. Foreign states have lost credibility with the people of Afghanistan. Their money is tainted, and their help is viewed with well-earned scorn.
And that is where we come in. Who is this “we?” Private global citizens, regardless of what our passports say. Artists, intellectuals, citizens of the global cosmopolis can rise and let our brothers and sisters in Afghanistan know that, puny as our efforts may be, we have not given up on them.
We must create a global fund to help Afghanistan’s civil society so it may continue to exist, at least in the virtual space. This fund cannot accept a penny from governments. Its sources must remain transparent, and its overhead minuscule.
We can start by offering scholarships and fellowships to young women and men of Afghanistan to study abroad at universities or artistic and humanitarian organizations. We can help bolster and defend the virtual space where undistorted communication can replace fanaticism and propaganda.
And if the Taliban shut the doors of educational institutions to women, we must be prepared to open the gates of a virtual university.
The Taliban have already banned music. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 27, includes the right to freely participate in the cultural life of the community. Sadly, now music will no longer be a part of that. Let’s also consider musical instruction as well.
The human spirit can transcend the incommensurability of cultures, political disagreements and geopolitical divisions. We can harmonize differences to generate beauty, peace and coexistence. Through creative artistic and intellectual work, we can preserve the fruits of the first two decades of this century in Afghanistan.
Above all, we must fight despondency among the generation that thrived in the civil society in that country. All is not lost.