After eight days, our presumptions were turned upside down, splitting us into camps with conflicting opinions. Some still wanted an exit strategy, but one woman who’s spent 40 years in non-violent peace work reversed her lifelong stand, believing the military should stay and more troops might be helpful. “It shocks me to admit this,” she said.[...]I still don't know what to think about Afghanistan. But I'm resolute in my dismissal of the argument that helping women in Kabul means we have to help kids in Rwanda. Making humanitarian work a reason to intervene is different than having it loom over us as a reason to stay. Once you go in, the rules change. We're in. And that means leaving is on our conscience.
She tells us about a Pashtun woman in the south who was referred to her by the U.S. Special Forces. The woman fell sick and tried to walk to the hospital but had to be chaperoned by a male relative, so she took her 8-year-old son. She was wearing the Afghan burqa -- a light blue garment that covers the woman completely except for a mesh grid over the eyes. “She stumbled and when she put out her arms to break her fall, she accidentally touched a man. Her son ran home and told his father that she’d had `relations with a strange man.’”
The UN director has to stop to compose herself. “Her husband called his neighbors to hold his wife down while he chopped off the tips of all her fingers. Then he told his son to punch her in the eyes. When we found her, she was unable to see.” The director shakes her head. “If your neighbors witness something like that, they’ll think twice about going to a hospital.”
We’re subdued as we ride away from the UN office. We’re hearing numerous stories like this, which makes us probe and question our assumptions. Ann Wright, 63, a former army colonel and State Department officer who has kind blue eyes and speaks with a Southern lilt, says, “I have changed a little bit. Before this trip I was leaning toward: let’s get the hell out! Accept the inevitable! Now I feel we have a responsibility -- to be part of a security strategy and help provide education and jobs. That’s a far better way to deal with terrorism.”