- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 10, 2009

As President Obama considers the way forward in Afghanistan, factions within his party are increasingly torn between their strong wish to bring U.S. troops home and their equally passionate desire to protect Afghans — particularly Afghan women — from a return of the dark rule of the Taliban.

Signs indicate that after a lengthy review process, the president is leaning toward sending more troops and is simply considering the exact number. But he has come under heavy pressure from his Democratic liberal base to pull back and even to shut down the U.S. military effort completely.

It is this disconnect — the relegation of women’s rights to secondary status by the political constituency that is the standard-bearer for feminism — that alarms human rights advocates, said Karl Inderfurth, who was an assistant secretary of state for the region under President Clinton.

“If the darkness descends again on Afghanistan, meaning a Taliban takeover, that will mean that women will pay the greatest price. They will be returned to that almost subhuman species that they were under Taliban rule,” Mr. Inderfurth said.

“They know that if the clock turns back again, they’re going to pay the greatest price.”

Ellie Smeal, executive director of the Feminist Majority Foundation, said the future of Afghan women “has just dropped out of all public discourse.”

“What happens with females over and over again is we’re forgotten,” she said.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat who has broken with the liberal anti-war movement to support a troop increase up from the 68,000 U.S. forces already in Afghanistan, said the fate of Afghan women must not be overlooked during Mr. Obama’s review.

“Women, as the Chinese said, make up half the sky, and it’s very important that women’s rights be considered and be part of this,” said Mrs. Feinstein, who added that she thinks Mr. Obama is weighing the issue.

The president said so himself during an interview with NBC last month.

“My own background is somebody who was taught by my mom that the single-greatest measure of how well a society does is how it treats its women. And so, we are going to redouble our efforts on that front,” Mr. Obama said. But he offered no specifics.

All the expressions of hope do not change the reality of what is likely to descend upon Afghanistan’s female population if large portions of the country fall back under Taliban control.

The administration’s special representative to the region, Richard C. Holbrooke, hinted recently that in the end, the Taliban’s attitudes toward women will be a secondary concern to U.S. strategic and military concerns.

Mr. Holbrooke, in an interview with PBS’ “Frontline,” identified the Taliban’s ties to al Qaeda and its treatment of women as the two major problems with the loose network of tribal warlords and militias.

Yet he indicated that only the terrorism link would be an obstacle to reconciliation between the NATO coalition forces and the Taliban.

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