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The gains Afghan women have made over the past 20 years are “up in the air”, Afghan-American author Khaled Hosseini said.
He spoke of his fears as the Taliban quickly seized control of Afghanistan following the US exit after almost 20 years of a US-led coalition’s presence in the country.
Hosseini told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that “while the last 20 years have certainly been challenging and beset by missteps and tragedies, it is also true that there has been progress in Afghanistan”.
If the president met a marine who had lost her legs in Afghanistan, what would he say to her if she said, ‘What did I lose my legs for?’ Before this chaotic withdrawal we could have at least pointed to some progress in Afghanistan
Author Khaled Hosseini
The “significant improvements and achievements” have included women serving in the Afghan parliament, becoming police chiefs and being part of the workforce, and millions of girls who had returned to school.
He said: “Now all of that is up in the air and whether any of those gains will last remains to be seen.”
Mr Hosseini, who wrote The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, was born in Kabul Afghanistan, before moving to the United States in 1980.
US president Joe Biden failed to show “empathy” for the Afghan people during a speech in which he said he stands “squarely” behind the US exit, according to Mr Hosseini.
Mr Hosseini told the programme that Mr Biden did not give “a statement of empathy with the millions of Afghans whom the Americans have been calling partners now for 20 years, who are left behind and have to fend for themselves and face the very unenviable reality of having to live under a regime that proved to be extremely brutal when they were in charge in the 1990s”.
He also said Mr Biden had not “clearly” explained what the legacy of the past 20 years in Afghanistan had been for.
Mr Hosseini added: “If the president met a marine who had lost her legs in Afghanistan, what would he say to her if she said, ‘What did I lose my legs for?’
“Before this chaotic withdrawal we could have at least pointed to some progress in Afghanistan.”
Of the Afghan army which fled instead of standing to fight as the Taliban made sweeping gains across the country, Mr Hosseini said: “I don’t condone it but I understand it.”
He told the programme: “With rampant corruption and a failure to deliver services and most importantly a failure to protect the Afghan populace against groups like the Taliban, the legitimacy of the Afghan government was lost in the eyes of many Afghans.
“Therefore, when the Afghan army is facing the onslaught of a powerful united army like the Taliban and they have been poorly paid, in many cases not paid, poorly armed, poorly fed with no obvious state structure in place – it is not a wonder they decided to save their lives and walk away.”
Mr Hosseini is also a US Goodwill Envoy to the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and the founder of The Khaled Hosseini Foundation which provides humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan.