06/30/2013 16:39 EDT | Updated 08/30/2013 01:12 EDT

Afghanistan's Real Tragedy

Perhaps the greatest tragedy of all is how little much of the world knows about the tremendous progress made in Afghanistan over the past decade, and just how much is at stake. This is not yet another chapter in an unending story of a country perpetually on the brink of self-implosion.

The Obama Administration said it over and over to the women of Afghanistan: We will not abandon you. We will stand with you.

The Government of Afghanistan and its international allies - foremost of which is the United States - repeated time and time again that the Constitution of Afghanistan was off limits in any negotiations with the Taliban.

And "the Constitution" is often code for Article 22, the provision of the 2004 Constitution that specifies no discrimination on the basis of gender. The 29 words of that article were perhaps the most hard-won of a tumultuous, but ultimately democratic, Constitution-making process. Article 22 represented a weighty victory, won in the twilight of the bitter legacy of the Taliban's gender apartheid policies, by the tireless advocacy and behind-the-scenes perseverance of pioneering women politicians and a women's movement then in the midst of being re-born.

And it is those very women - braver fighters than the likes of which the Taliban will ever know - who are on the cusp of one of the greatest betrayals the world has ever known.

That depraved ragtag militia, the same Taliban who slaughtered thousands of Shias in an unacknowledged genocide in Balkh and the Central Highlands, who hang children accused of spying, who trick boys into blowing themselves up, who stone women to death, who locked girls out of their classrooms, who maim and murder in the name of reinstating their own uniquely despotic caliphate. Yes, it's these same Taliban who were invited to stake their ground in Qatar, endowed with an extravagant office they didn't pay for and a legitimacy they never earned. They plunked down their flag, and declared themselves anew, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, in effect, the real Afghan Government.

It led to a diplomatic uproar, a rebuff by the actual Afghan Government, and even some bristling among those watching from the comfort and safety of the West. It seemed a lot of license granted to a group that espouses what is perhaps today the world's most uncompromisingly violent, fascist ideology. But for the people of Afghanistan, who endured the brutish hell of life under a Taliban government, it was a bewildering insult in the extreme.

Across the political spectrum, Afghan politicians seem united in their acrimony from President Karzai, to the parliament, to the senate, to former Afghan Ambassador to Canada, Omar Samad, who points out that "Afghans in general are skeptical about talks with a brutal and oppressive extremist group". But they seem to be the last people of all consulted, in the scurry to talk to the Taliban.

Indeed, as Monday dawned in Kabul, over 1500 people made their way into the streets to protest the opening of the Taliban's Qatar office under the banner of the country's Green Movement. Youth organizations issued statements expressing their indignation, such as Afghanistan 1400, a broad-based political movement of young progressives, who stated, "The recognition of the need to pursue an end to Taliban terror should not be perceived as any openness of the people of Afghanistan, in particular our new generation, to backtracking on the hard-won achievements of the past decade." They emphasized that the democratic state is "THE ONLY means to lasting peace and stability in the country and the region."

Women's organizations launched petitions and issued statements in a desperate bid to make their voices heard over the noise of American fatigue for Afghanistan. Maniza Naderi of Women for Afghan Women, which leads the way in fighting violence against women throughout Afghanistan, wrote "the Taliban are murderers who will stop at nothing to regain the totalitarian power they held in Afghanistan in the 1990s," adding "we are unwaveringly for the Afghan people, which means that we are against negotiations with the Taliban."

Meanwhile, the Taliban carried out yet another attack today, on the Kabul-to-Jalalabad Highway. In Pakistan, they murdered 10 foreign tourists. Yesterday, Taliban insurgents assassinated a police chief in Herat. On June 18, they killed more American soldiers. Earlier this week, as the news reported on the opening of their Emirati office, they shot one guard after another as they bombed their way past checkpoints towards the presidential palace in the city centre, unleashing chaos and bloodshed over a city that has seen plenty of it so far this summer at their hands. The only difference is that now there is talking and fighting.

It's a strategy bound to fail. Serious negotiations require a serious ceasefire. Why a ceasefire has not been the foremost condition for negotiations is baffling, but has certainly fueled Afghan suspicions that the US is impatient to sell them out. Overall, it's been a peace process that has seen a remarkably low investment from all sides, beholden to a narrow view of what peace means. For many ordinary Afghans, conceding to the worldview of the Taliban is the antithesis of peace.

Perhaps the greatest tragedy of all is how little much of the world knows about the tremendous progress made in Afghanistan over the past decade, and just how much is at stake. This is not yet another chapter in an unending story of a country perpetually on the brink of self-implosion. Afghanistan is at a critical turning point, a nation in the midst of a defining struggle of the sort we in established democracies have long forgotten.

The greatest democrats, the greatest liberals, the greatest feminists I have ever encountered, are people I've met in Afghanistan. They are living and breathing for, and in some cases dying for, values we too often arrogantly claim as ours alone. The front lines in the battle for modernity over backwardness, for democracy over fascism, and for equality between men and women, have been drawn in the mountains and the deserts and the valleys of the heart of Central Asia. And the events of the past few days affirm this more than ever: as Afghans harden their stance against negotiating with the brutes whose rule they only recently escaped, it's the leaders in the world's most powerful democracy who insist that the Taliban are really not so bad.

Article 22 says "any kind of discrimination and privilege between the citizens of Afghanistan is prohibited. The citizens of Afghanistan - whether man or woman - have equal rights and duties before the law." It was Afghans who wrote those words, fought for them, and won them through democratic means, but it shouldn't be Afghans alone ready to defend them.