In Afghanistan, ending the war has a moral cost. So does not ending it.

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September 11th broke my pacifism.

Possibly I wasn’t that great a pacifist to begin with, if it was so easily shed in the face of adversity. I wasn’t suddenly some gung-ho real American — I didn’t buy the lines about Al Qaeda hating us for our freedoms. But I did see that some 3,000 Americans had been brutally murdered, and I was fine with the idea that in this fallen world, a violent sort of justice was going to be exacted for that crime.

Once Al Qaeda had been chased away and the Taliban defeated, I was fine with the idea of staying in Afghanistan. It seemed like the right thing to do — to help rebuild a country, and to protect the rights of women and girls there.

It’s been a long time, though, since I thought the US presence in Afghanistan was productive. So, on one hand, I welcome this bit of news:

U.S. and Taliban officials have inched closer to an agreement that could meet a key Taliban demand for U.S. troop withdrawals, prompting Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to call on the insurgents Monday to “begin serious talks” with his government and reach a “speedy peace.”

U.S. talks with the Taliban are aimed at ending more than 17 years of American involvement in Afghanistan’s four decades of almost continuous warfare.


Horror stories at the hands of enforcers from the Taliban’s Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice are a staple for any educated Afghan woman over age 25 or so. Now those women have a new horror story: the possibility that American troops will leave Afghanistan as part of a peace deal with the Taliban.

Among many women, though, the hopes raised by a possible end to the fighting are mixed with an undeniable feeling of dread.

“We don’t want a peace that will make the situation worse for women’s rights compared to now,” Robina Hamdard, head of the legal department for the Afghan Women’s Network, said.

There’s no simple solution to all this. America leaving Afghanistan means the Taliban will assert some new level of power in that country. That, in turn, will have consequences for women.

The war is bad. Not being at war is also bad. Ugh.

My pacifism is firmer than it was in the days after 9-11. But it’s complicated. There are moral costs to choices made and unmade. It’s time for the US war in Afghanistan to end. But I don’t want the women and girls of Afghanistan to pay a price for US withdrawal. But if the US doesn’t withdraw now, it will someday, and the problem will probably be the same.

Every option seems to leave blood on our hands.

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