The recent cover of “Time” magazine, which shows a young Afgahni woman who was brutally punished by her husband and his family, has ignited a firestorm as various commentators argue about what purpose the magazine cover serves (whether as exploitation or awareness-raising,) and about the role of the United States in the ongoing fight for the rights of women in Afghanistan. As always, I am here to provide my take on the situation, such as it is.

Although I would argue that the magazine’s cover was intended to raise awareness of the plight of women in Afghanistan, and about what might happen to them should the Taliban be allowed to return to power (or at the very least be allowed to re-enter mainstream Afghan society,) I would also say that their choice of title obscures this in favor of, basically, justifying the war in Afghanistan and making it appear that we went there in order to liberate Afghani women. As we all know, this is most certainly not the case. We went there to topple a government that was hiding a terrorist group that perpetrated a horrendous act of terrorism. The plight of the women was, as always, secondary, and was only brought up later as a means of justifying our presence there and of ensuring that we stay there. The women are victims, the belief goes, and we should stay there in order to help them.

This cover also obscures the fact that this attack happened, not when there were no American soldiers in Afghanistan, but when there thousands of soldiers on the ground. This, to me, says that the military solution is clearly not working, or at least not in terms of human rights abuses. Although some military presence will no doubt be necessary, I firmly believe that they should be in charge of the UN, and that they should be used in conjunction with NGOs, who are often much more able to help with social issues than the military, who are generally there with the purpose of quelling armed resistance. The United Nations should most definitely take a stronger hand in the policing of countries regarding human rights abuses, and this would ensure that we are not the only country bearing the economic burden of supporting this seemingly interminable war in Afghanistan.

Perhaps most importantly, this magazine cover makes it sound as if only the United States Army stands between Afghan women and a precipice leading down into oppression, mutilation, and death. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but merely having a military presence in the country is not going to change this system of beliefs. If we truly want to prevent these sorts of abuses from happening to women, we would have to stay there for an enormous amount of time, basically reshaping Afghanistan in America’s image. Of course, there are those who would say that this is a good idea, but it’s dangerous in the extreme, a modern-day version of colonialism (which is far from dead, in any case.) However, not all is lost. We can, and we must, help to fund NGOs and other organizations that will be able to educate the citizens of Afghanistan–not just the tribal leaders, but families of every stripe–about the perils of oppressing women and the terrible toll this takes on individuals and on the society as a whole. As always, education is the key to change and improvement for the future.

Of course, the situation in Afghanistan is enormously complicated and, as with all such complicated stations, there is no easy solution. That fact, however, should not discourage us from trying to improve the world and, if possible, ensure a more peaceful and prosperous world for everyone. This will not be easy, and it will no doubt take several more years of investment in order to come to fruition. There is no question or problem, no matter how complicated, that does not have an answer or a solution. We just have to be willing to look past the obvious.