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Reaching Out – Harnessing Women Power

December 7, 2009

Afghanistan has been in a constant state of strife since the eighties. Never was there a lull in all these decades. Nor has there been a perceptible change in the situation ever since. The country is divided along ethnic lines and each clan is a state by itself. The Taliban rule was perhaps the most debilitating of all in the recent history of this nation. The condition of women took a hit during the abominable rule of the Taliban. Afghan women were educated not too long ago and there were doctors and lawyers and political leaders among women. Taliban stopped it all. Women suffered the most during the reign of the Taliban.

Women are naturally the center of any household. The household revolves around them. They know how to assert themselves and the most chauvinistic of men tend to listen to their women folk. Women also have an innate sense of rationale that transcends shibboleths and crass stupidity in the name of ‘tradition’. They have a mind of their own and their logic generally is rooted in more practicality than the run of the mill. I am not suggesting that women are ‘better’ than men or that they are more sensible – it just so happens that women look at life differently than men and can think beyond rhetoric.

The West needs to ask one fundamental question – who are they fighting? The answer is simple – the Taliban and their al-Qaeda allies. That includes a host of radical Islamist outfits that have become an extension of the Taliban. It so happens that the Taliban have been particularly bad to the women of Afghanistan. The women of Afghanistan would hate to see the Taliban back. As a matter of fact even the average Afghan does not like the Taliban much. They tend to tolerate them as they pose as men of faith besides they realize that they cannot wish them away. If at all the West wants to win this war they must make it clear to the average Afghan that they have nothing against them and that they are here because the Taliban and the al-Qaeda have wrecked havoc not only in Afghanistan but around the world killing thousands of people over the years. This is the truth and this must be conveyed. The message must go to the average Afghan that the people of the West are their friends and they are here to get rid of the radical Taliban and their al-Qaeda friends. The Afghans must be made to understand that the western forces are here only till such time that the Taliban are marginalized and then they shall leave. The Afghans must also be told in no uncertain terms that the western forces will do all it takes to finish the Taliban and that they need not fear the Taliban as they are history. In addition, it must also be made clear that western forces shall not hesitate to return if the Taliban are back anytime in future. This kind of commitment will reassure the average Afghan and only then will they stop supporting the Taliban. Most Afghans do not like the Taliban but they support them because they feel they have no choice – that the Taliban will be back sometime in future and therefore they will be targeted if they refuse to do their bidding.

The women of Afghanistan are the most powerful opponents of the Taliban. They have faced the most horrible atrocities at the hands of the Taliban. The west needs to reach out to the women of Afghanistan. The power of the women of any society cannot be underestimated and they have energy of their own. Even the most oppressed of women can do what most men cannot. Thankfully, the west realizes the power of women and has women Marines in their ranks. These women Marines can play a very decisive role in the war on terror. They must be encouraged to reach out to the women of Afghanistan and befriend them. While the men can talk outside the house the women Marines can even go into the Afghan households and try and befriend the women and children. It will be an education for them and will give a human face to the war on terror. This should be done not only in the major cities but more importantly in the towns and hamlets that abound where the allied forces are spreading in their surge across Afghanistan. The Marines, both men and women need to be very careful not to throw goodies at their Afghan hosts. While not eating off them, they must offer gifts almost reluctantly, as one friend gives to another. They need to be careful not to hurt the sensibilities of the proud Afghans. A small gesture like covering their head while going to an Afghan household may make them more acceptable. It should not be a relationship of ‘master-servant’ but a friendship between equals. That is the only language the Afghans understand. They are a very proud people and if they feel that they are being talked down or made to feel small they can be very vicious. In the process the Marines will win friends and will be able to reach out to a people who are desperately looking for peace and prosperity. If the women get down to talking the west will be surprised what all information they can get. This might even, if they manage to win the trust of the women there, lead to intelligence that may help the west track down a lot of dangerous insurgents. But gathering intelligence should not be the reason for this reaching out to the Afghan women. The focus should be to reach out and give a human face to this most difficult operation.

I am sure the west has thought about this and must be trying this out too. However, if the women are reached out to in a more honest, friendly way, this whole operation could get much easier. It will be up to the women Marines to go out and try and befriend the Afghan women. It will be an enriching experience and one that may lead to a genuine empathy between the two people, the two cultures. It will be amazingly easy then to get the men folk around too and then perhaps many from the Taliban may want to change sides and may then see reason. This will be the Gandhian dimension to the whole operation. I know there is wretched poverty, and there is absolute lack of hygiene at times, but even so, they are human beings and they have their needs and their dreams. They need to be reached out to as fellow human beings. What a mortar and a missile cannot do, a few friendly words can. Besides, the west genuinely does not bode ill-will against the Afghan people. Such efforts will get this across in an effective way. Afghans are very simple people of the mountains and they need to be dealt with care and affection. A step in the right direction will be to send more women Marines to Afghanistan – to give a human face to the war on terror. This whole operation might just become that much simpler.

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