The South Asia Channel

President Obama's Untimely Timeline for Afghanistan

President Barack Obama announced in May that around 10,000 U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan after 2014 to primarily assist and advise the Afghan National Security Forces. For the Afghan people, especially Afghan women, this was the good news. But then Obama announced the bad news: a timeline that would withdraw all troops from the country by the end of 2016, and seriously jeopardize the loss of our shared gains and democratic aspirations. More ominously, the announcement means new momentum for the Taliban and their al Qaeda allies as they patiently wait for another two years.

My people and the women of my country have come a long way since 2001. As President Obama rightly noted during his surprise visit to Afghanistan on May 26, the Afghan people have made incredible gains in the last 13 years -- thanks to the sacrifices of the international community, especially the American people who have invested much in our progress. For example, as an Afghan woman, I could not even imagine being able to run for office, serving my people as a member of parliament before 2001. I could not imagine I would be able to enroll my daughters in school and see them prepare for college. I could not imagine that, 13 years after the tragedy of 9/11, I'd be, able to appear before a thriving Afghan media and talk about my work and my people's sufferings and advocate for solutions to the multitude of problems facing Afghan women.

Yet, despite all of our shared achievements, Obama's announcement of a timeline for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan has put my people -- especially the women of my country -- on edge once again. We know how fragile the situation is in Afghanistan. We know what we have gained. We want to preserve all that we have achieved since 2001.

To us, the Afghan people, the limited military presence of the United States and the international community is not necessarily seen as a force that is leading battles against the Taliban and other violent extremists. Rather, it provides us with much needed assurance that we will never be abandoned into the dark hands of extremists and their al Qaeda allies, who continue to believe that Afghan women have no place in our society as equal participants in the development of our country.

A limited international military presence in Afghanistan with no immediate timeline, on the other hand, means that our own national security forces, who are now leading the fight on our behalf, can continue to receive the support, training, and equipment they need to defend us, and also to protect the democratic environment that has evolved since 2001.

In addition, for me and millions of other Afghan women, it means that we'll be able to continue to fight for our rights within this democratic environment and to protect and build on what we have already achieved.

But facing a timeline of two years means our security forces will not yet be fully prepared, our democratic aspirations will remain unfulfilled; for the Taliban and their Al-Qaeda allies, it means simply surviving for two more years to until they can kill and terrorize us and the rest of the world.

Setting a timeline also means that the Taliban and their extremist allies will not see any incentive to change their views on our rights as women; seek any political settlement, if they're still of the belief that they can win; and for many unsavory and corrupt officials and human rights abusers in my own government, it means they can continue to operate with impunity.

Worst of all, a new generation of Afghans under 25 (accounting for 60 percent of the population), who have gradually been pushing for reforms in the government will not be able to plan long term if the perception holds that our country will soon be abandoned to its fate by the United States and the international community.

For us, the fear of abandonment comes because of the horrors of the past, when armed factions and the Taliban ravaged our country and allowed our homeland to become a safe haven for international terrorists from around the world.

Nobody in Afghanistan wants to return to those days. And that's why I, along with millions of my countrymen and women, trust and maintain high confidence in our security forces. That's why more than seven million of us risked our lives and braved harsh terrain to cast our ballots on April 5. And that's why we've taken the lead fighting for our rights, against corruption and democratic principles, as well as against corruption and the terrorists and extremists who continue to inflict violence on us.

It's not an easy struggle and it won't be ending in another two years. What I and millions of my sisters and countrymen hope is that we are able to preserve our achievements, ensure the democratic environment, and guarantee that we never see return of the Taliban and their al Qaeda and extremist allies again.

After all, it was these dark forces that abused us, imprisoned us, killed us, and turned our beautiful country into an international terrorist hub. It was these same forces whose violent and dark vision led to the deaths of thousands of Americans on September 11, 2001. These forces, though diminished and isolated since then, still exist and lurk in the far corners of my country. Now with a timeline in place, they'll just need to hold on for another two years.

Fawzia Koofi is a female parliamentarian in Afghanistan and the author of The Favored Daughter: One Woman's Fight to Lead Afghanistan Into the Future.

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