The Cost of U.S. Withdrawal From Afghanistan: “Get Ready. The Taliban Are Coming.”

The Cost of U.S. Withdrawal From Afghanistan
“The U.S. withdrawal threatens to lead to the collapse of Afghanistan and the return of the dark times of the Taliban,” writes Taj. “The gender apartheid and massacre of the Hazara ethnic minority will likely be repeated.” (ABC Open Riverland / Flickr)

I am painfully following the steady drip of news regarding the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks. The news seems to run in a loop in the back my mind—along with the images of the five massacre sites I recorded firsthand, from my work visiting and interviewing the survivors of Taliban massacres.

Since the announcement of the withdrawal, my social media timelines are full of Afghan people expressing fear and disappointment. The common message is: Get ready. The Taliban are coming.

My dual identity as a Hazara and a women’s right activist positions me to see the U.S. withdrawal from a particular lens and perspective. From firsthand experience, I know the U.S. withdrawal threatens to lead to the collapse of Afghanistan and the return of the dark times of the Taliban, perhaps even more chaotic than before. The full withdrawal of U.S. troops will no doubt empower extremists and bring instability to the entire region. The gender apartheid and massacre of the Hazara ethnic minority will likely be repeated.

Full withdrawal has a negative impact to all Afghan people, but the severe and brutal impact will likely be felt by women and minorities, particularly among the Hazara ethnic minority group. The Taliban has not stopped targeting this community, even during the presence of international security forces. Withdrawal leaves the Hazaras, who constitute 20 percent of Afghanistan’s 30 million inhabitants, without any protection.

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Hazaras—particularly Hazara women—have benefited greatly during the post-Taliban era, despite systematic discrimination, targeted attacks and killing. A growing number of women from this ethnic group have obtained an education and gotten involved in civic engagement. Hazara women have broken many traditional taboos and set records, such as the first head of the Ministry of Women and the first female head of the Human Rights Commission; the first female governor of a province; the first female mayor; the first female film director; the first woman to win Afghan “Idol” and many more—all opportunities previously deemed “men’s jobs” and denied to women during Taliban rule.

These women had the confidence and vision to break traditional taboos and seek leadership thanks in large part to the presence of the international community, civic engagement and education. They are actively writing a new history for Afghanistan. Moreover, the two biggest social movements and social reform are reflective of groundbreaking progress of the Hazara ethnic group and heroic work of Hazara women in Afghanistan. All these achievements have provided me with hope for the future of Afghanistan.

But the current peace deal with the Taliban and withdrawal of U.S. troops threatens the loss of progress made during the past 20 years. Among my community, I sense immense fear and a loss of hope. Withdrawal will only contribute to further instability and a victory for all extremists to take Afghanistan back into a dark past of Taliban regime and civil war.

The decision of the Biden administration to fully withdraw from Afghanistan is heavily costly to women and minorities in Afghanistan. The withdrawal once again leaves Afghanistan as the most dangerous place on earth. I urge President Biden to work towards a responsible withdrawal and prevent more atrocities in Afghanistan.

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Zareen Taj is a women’s rights and human rights activist. She is a Feminist Majority scholar. She has a dual bachelor’s degree in women's studies and political science and a master's degree in women studies. She is currently a LLC Ph.D. student at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County.