On Friday, President Obama announced that all American troops would leave Iraq by year's end. Newspapers and broadcasts--to say nothing of Facebook and Twitter--hummed with the news.
But just two weeks ago, Obama eschewed public fanfare as he marked the 10-year anniversary of U.S. military presence in Afghanistan with no more than a somber written statement. It's no wonder. More than 6,000 American military have died in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq--1,800 of them in Afghanistan. More than $1 trillion dollars have been spent. And according to a recent report from the Pew Research Center, one-third of Americans who have served militarily in Iraq and Afghanistan say neither conflict has been worth the cost.
An Iraq withdrawal--and the peace and security it seems to signal--is easier to crow about than America's longest war.
But Afghanistan should give us something to crow about, too. That's because it's a place where the secret to a sustainable, effective peace can be found right before our eyes. It's in half the population: Afghan women.
Afghan human rights activist and 2009 winner of the International Woman of Courage Award for Afghanistan, Wazhma Frogh, calls the women of her country an "untapped and unexplored power." As much as the recent assassination of the High Peace Council Chair Berhanuddin Rabbani has caused many to despair, Frogh still sees a way forward.
Because she envisions an Afghan peace process that shuns political deal-making and backroom power grabs, she looks to women. (They've been excluded from politics for so long, they haven't had a chance to be corrupted.) Because she champions localized, grassroots participation and dialogue, she looks to women. (On the frontlines of civic life, tending sickbeds and delivering babies, women have alliances and access that men don't.) Because she demands that the peace process represent the interests of the powerless and disenfranchised, she looks to women. (Enough said.)
Frogh is not alone in her optimism for the role women can play in revolutionizing the Afghan peace process. Congresswoman Barbara Lee--who, it must be pointed out, cast the lone vote against authorizing the war in Afghanistan--now urges security solutions that would emphasize women's role, calling for actions that "do not depend on the military, and are Afghan-led, with local buy-in and community empowerment." Speaking of Afghanistan, NATO Admiral Giampaolo Di Paola, Chairman of the Military Committee, argues that "Even in a social environment dominated by men, [women] can influence their husbands, their children, their brothers. If we could reach them, their influence...would permit us to better understand how stabilization and progress could be provided."
Tonight, we'll hear it again from Afghan women themselves. In Peace Unveiled, the third installment of the PBS series Women, War & Peace, which airs nationally this evening, three Afghan women--including a midwife, a parliamentarian, and an activist--risk their lives to make sure women aren't excluded from peace talks. Mothers and wives all, the three lay down their fears of assassination and intimidation to provide a voice for the thousands of Afghan women whose lives and rights hang in the balance of the Afghan government's negotiations with the Taliban. They take us behind Kabul's closed doors, and we see through their story the ways in which the case for women's civic and political involvement is made not only to Afghan leaders, but to the U.S. as well: to Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, to Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues Melanne Verveer, to General David Petraeus, and to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
In part, Peace Unveiled showcases the distance Afghan women have yet to go for full political participation. It also reveals the potent role the United States could play in ensuring that women have a permanent place at the peace table. Most important, however, it echoes Wazhma Frogh's brave endorsement of women as Afghanistan's secret weapon: a powerful lever for peace, security, and development in the region, if only we'd use it.