Saturday, November 10, 2012

Drifting With Uncertain Fate

I recently met with a group of teenage Afghans and, having a captive audience, I asked them to share their thoughts about 2014 - the drawdown of combat troops and the new elections. Most were generally optimistic. But their optimism was colored with uncertainty. One young man said his female friends were buying burkas because they didn't know if they might need them soon. That sent a chill down my spine. A young woman - 17 years old - has high hopes for going to college and having a career. But she just doesn't know what will happen. I remember being uncertain about my future when I was 17. But my uncertainty came from an abundance of opportunities - I could do anything, it was just a matter of figuring out what I wanted.

These youths are old enough to remember what life was like 10 years ago, but still young enough to stubbornly cling to their dreams. They have spent the last 10 years going to school, talking on cell phones, and watching Bollywood movies. If the Taliban or the local warlord starts handing out guns and asks, "Who will fight and die for me?" the young adults I spoke to won't raise their hands. I hope this country has enough young people like the ones I met this week.

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Real War on Women

Earlier I posted a good news story about the Afghan Premier League and the optimism it offers me about Afghanistan and its people. There's another, less pleasant side to my job. I manage a number of grants that expose the heartache and violence that many Afghans face: Adolescent girls being forced to marry old men to settle family disputes, the unrelenting violence women face on a regular basis, and the journalists who risk the Taliban's wrath to tell their stories and change attitudes toward women.

Looking at Afghanistan through the objective lens of Mission goals and American interests, I know that improving the condition of women here was not the reason we invaded. As the money coming to Afghanistan drops to a "normalized" amount, our work in this area may decrease. But one could argue that elevating the status of women in society is an antidote to the extremist voices that infect the country.

But I'll be gone by the time these decisions really come into effect. I wonder how easy it will be for me to walk away. After all, my father didn't sell me off at age 10 and I don't have a husband or in-laws who beat me senseless for not giving birth to a son.