Bacha bazi, or ‘boy play,’ is an Afghan practice whereby wealthy, powerful men, including politicians, military and police officers, etc., buy and keep adolescent boys – known as dancing boys – for entertainment and sex. The boys are trained to dance seductively at male-only parties and are often sexually abused. These boys, known as bacha bareesh, or ‘beardless boys’, are generally between ten and eighteen years old, and tend to come from poor backgrounds. Parents are persuaded to hand over their sons for financial reimbursement, with the promise that they will be given work and an education and some of the boys are forcefully taken away from their parents and conscripted into permanent sexual indentured servitude.
While western government and the news media like to tell the world about the evil of the Taliban and write ad nauseum about the Islamic fundamentalist group’s inhuman behavior, how it subjugates women and opposes western-style education, the superpowers of the western world turned blind eye on the predatory activities of the people they installed in power in Afghanistan and the moralizing western press failed to report on the atrocities committed by the Afghan ruling class who steal young boys from their parents and turn them into sex slaves.
In the 20-year occupation of Afghanistan, the American government, its western allies, and the foreign aid workers made a decision to ignore the sexual enslavement of young boys and instead they chose to focus on the liberation of women. Even as molested young boys cry out in agony, American soldiers and Marines were instructed not to intervene. The Washington Post reported that, “Instead of weeding out pedophiles, the American military was arming them in some cases and placing them as the commanders of villages – and doing little when they began abusing children.”
But the Afghan people could see through the hypocrisy of the western world. It was clear to the Afghans that western nations were more interested in promoting their self-interest and not the interest of little Afghan boys. They understood that foreign aid workers do not care about the bacha bareesh; they were more focused on their agenda of westernizing Afghan women. In order not to offend the powerful people in government in Afghanistan, the American government did nothing to stop powerful Afghan men from turning little boys into sex slaves.
You cannot build a skyscraper on a faulty foundation; sooner or later it’ll come crashing down. The American government and its western allies built an Afghan government on a foundation of corruption, incompetence, ineptitude, and sexual deviancy. The result, after 20 years, is the collapse that is occurring before our eyes. The American government tried to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people by backing a profiteering ruling class that the Afghan people did not trust and which they despised.
The Afghan reciprocated by embracing the Taliban, whom they consider the lesser of two evils. Just as the western nations made a choice to turn blind eye on the crookedness of the Afghan ruling elite, the Afghan people also made a choice; they chose the Taliban despite the notoriety of the Islamic fundamentalist. The Afghan people would rather be subject to the Taliban than be ruled by a bunch of pedophiles.
Those who fault the Biden administration for the manner in which American forces withdrew from Afghanistan ignore the fact that no matter how you leave, the result would have still remained the same. There really is no honorable exit from an unwinnable war. Past US presidents understood this fact but lacked the courage to do what they knew was right. Instead, they pass the problem on to the next administration. George W Bush pushed it on Barack Obama, who in turn kicked it to Donald Trump, who gladly left the mess for Joe Biden to handle. Not afraid to take the blame, Joe Biden decided it was time to cut our losses and leave Afghanistan.
The American people are bothered by the images coming out of Afghanistan, and rightly so. It is understandable that they are disturbed to see the US embassy in Kabul being evacuated in a manner reminiscent of the evacuation of the US embassy in Saigon, Vietnam. Such images are bound to evoke a feeling of defeat and weakness. Any American with an ounce of national pride will naturally feel that way.
That being said, a feeling doesn’t necessarily equate reality. Americans should not allow their feelings to override their objectivity, and they shouldn’t let national pride cloud their better judgement. It is a gross mischaracterization to equate the US leaving Afghanistan with what happened in Vietnam 46 years ago.
Here is the simple fact: The Taliban did not and cannot defeat the United States military. What happened in Afghanistan was that the Afghan government and the Afghan military simply lacked the will to fight for their country. They chickened out and surrendered to the Taliban.
President Biden described the lack of will of the Afghan military remarkably well in his address to the nation on Monday, August 16, 2021. He said:
“American troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves. We trained and equipped an Afghan military force of some 300,000 strong – incredibly well equipped – a force larger in size than the militaries of many of our NATO allies. We gave them every tool they could need. We paid their salaries, provided for the maintenance of their air force – something the Taliban doesn’t have. The Taliban does not have an air force. We provided close air support. We gave them every chance to determine their own future. What we could not provide them was the will to fight for that future.”
What the American people are failing to grasp is that the Afghan people have indeed determined their own future. It just happens not to be the future the United States would want it to be. The Afghan made a choice, they chose the Taliban over a corrupt government of kleptocrats and sexual predators. The sooner the American people and the rest of the world accept that fact the better it is for everyone.
Ojumu, MD, MPH, of the US National Institutes of Health, writes on the African Plume Blog.