August 26th, 2013The kidnapping of Fariba Ahmadi Kakar adds to the growing number of attacks against prominent women in Afghanistan and reinforces the idea that Afghanistan and the rights of its women will go down the tubes once US and NATO troops leave. First let me express my sympathy to this courageous member of Afghanistan’s lower house of Parliament and her family. The increasing frequency of these attacks is frightening and is indeed setting back gains that women have made. However, there are some misconceptions that many media sources are reinforcing. Numerous articles accuse the Taliban of this crime. Although the BBC reports “police said Fariba Ahmadi Kakar was abducted by armed men” the picture caption said her captors were Taliban. The Tribune said “Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said he did not know who staged the attack” as the article continued on to blame the Taliban. It is tempting to accuse the Taliban of this crime. Maybe they did it, but usually they are quick to claim responsibility for their cruel, heartless violence. The truth is that there are a variety of other possible actors, including warlords, who, in addition to general criminality, also terrorize in order to stifle women's participation in society. These guys, Hekmatyr and Dostom among them, are already preparing to fight the Taliban should they try to re-take Afghanistan. Given a choice, rule by Taliban may be preferable to rule by warlords because the Taliban have a code of ethics, no matter how perverse it may be. In the past, warlords fighting among themselves created chaos and lawlessness throughout the country. Their attacks were random; they only cared about increasing their power and wealth and their attitudes towards women resembled the Taliban's. Another possible perpetrator of this kidnapping could be common criminals, or people personally angry at Fariba for things she has said or done. For example, the husband of Najia, one of the women in Gathering Strength, was kidnapped by criminals to get back at her for working to bring transparency to the Ministry of Finance. They had texted her with warnings but she hadn't taken them seriously. They set her beaten husband free once she raised the money for his ransom. It is erroneous to think that the erosion of hard-won women’s rights as international forces prepare to leave is a one-way street. Ever since 2002, the strides women have made have seen mixed progress. Attacks on women, especially prominent women, have occurred during the whole period, in spite of the full contingent of Allied troops. Still, brave women have continued to rise to the challenge. Even if the troops were not leaving, there would still be no guarantee that foreign forces would be able to "keep the wolves at bay". In reality, the international troops are in part fighting the proxies of Pakistan as well as other extremists supported by elements in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. Iran also has its fingers in the pie. Should those countries and non-state actors step up their insurgency support, the West would become less and less effective in maintaining any space for Afghan women to pursue their rights, whether troops are withdrawn or not. It's important to look at Afghanistan with a long-term view. What can effectively undermine the anti-women sentiments that are found especially in the rural areas? One is human rights education, usually part and parcel of education and literacy courses. Great strides have been made to educate urban young people, but much more work needs to be done in the rural areas, a seat of misogynistic traditions. We can support organizations that are leading the way, especially those effectively run by Afghans, such as The Afghan Institute of Learning among others. It's not too late and it will make a huge difference to future generations to enable more courageous women to step into leadership roles in their society.