Afghan robotics team and US white saviour complex

Jul 4, 2017
So here we have it. Women and young girls from the Af-Pak region are only likely to catch America’s eye if they can be exploited for supposed US military gains in this part of the world. In Malala’s case, for example, the then schoolgirl became the unwitting poster girl for the Global War on Terror; supporting Washington’s mantra that Pakistan needs drones so that Malala can live. Or in the case of the then 18-year-old Aisha Bibi who had her nose and ears cut off by the Afghan Taliban, the US state apparatus shamelessly outsourced propaganda to certain quarters of a compliant media only too happy to turn her into a cover girl with the accompanying: What Happens if We Leave Afghanistan. A more blatant means of justifying the deep American footprint in that country we have not seen.
What the above two examples have in common is this: they both serve to cast the American state as the white saviour of brown women. And when this role is no longer up for grabs, Washington loses interest.
How else to explain the State Department’s refusal of a visa to an all-girl teenage robotic team from Afghanistan, the country that the US has still failed to liberate from Taliban clutches some 16 years on. The girls were to participate in this month’s FIRST Global Challenge, an international robotics competition. Aside from the physical danger the adolescents put themselves through in order to simply submit visa applications — twice did they have to travel from Herat in the west of the country to the US embassy in Kabul, despite the latter being targeted by militants — the six teenagers faced discrimination from the very beginning. Meaning that representatives from other countries received raw materials for the project months ago while none was delivered to the Afghan team in time due to terrorism concerns. The team had to make do with improvising with household items.
This gross indifference may mean nothing or it may mean something quite significant. In other words that the much touted Trump troop surge in Afghanistan is merely a cosmetic measure. So much so that the administration appears entirely disinterested in even exploiting the Afghan teenagers’ hard work as evidence of the progressive path the country is now taking. All of which points to a more or less complete American disengagement from Afghan theatre of war. Such a cavalier approach may underscore once more how Trump is following his predecessor’s assessment of this region: namely, that it is Pakistan that is the cancer consuming its neighbour.
And yet once again, it is women from this region who represent all new demarcations in the battle lines. We hope that Malala takes up the cause of the all-girl Afghan robotics team and the wider implications of what the visa ban means for everyone. We say this because she is a true global leader. 
Daily Times, July 4, 2017

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