TODAY THE TALIBAN’S crimes against Afghanistan's women are well known. But, in the months after the party swept into Kabul in September 1996, the United States needed an education. It was feminists who provided it. Well-orchestrated public relations efforts, like the Feminist Majority's "Campaign to Stop Gender Apartheid," kept the United States and the United Nations from recognizing the Taliban.
We were stuck in the border zone between Tajikistan and Afghanistan—some 15 journalists from all over the world in a caravan of Russian Lada Nivas and Volgas, Land Cruisers, Mitsubishi jeeps, and minivans. For five hours, since setting out from the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, the caravan had been scattering dust squalls over fields of bursting cotton and parched earth. Down here in the border zone, though, the dust took on a different, unsettling aspect. We had a lot of time to notice because it was 5:10 p.m. and the Russian and Tajik border guards had closed their office at 5:00.
As well as bombs and food, American aircraft have been dropping leaflets over Afghanistan that say, "The partnership of Nations is here to assist the People of Afghanistan." It's unclear how many Afghans have been convinced their welfare is the primary aim of America's war. But the propaganda is certainly winning hearts and minds at the State Department, which has been busy plotting Afghanistan's political destiny.
He looked like an old man—perhaps seventy, although we had learned during our journey that age comes quickly in Afghanistan. He squatted across the room from us, holding a rifle that had seen other wars. We had traveled ten thousand miles to find out about the war in Afghanistan and the people who fought it. But the old man, learning we were Americans, decided that our own country was to be the subject of discussion. "Why do Americans claim they are friends of the Afghan nation?" he demanded through our translator.
How does he do it? Here is an administration in ruins. Here is a president who has nearly quadrupled the inflation rate at home, has produced the highest interest rates in American history, and now is deliberately steering the nation into a recession; abroad he has kicked away confidence among friends and foes alike in the sobriety, consistence, and reliability of American foreign policy. Six months ago he was nowhere in the polls.