IT WAS a consummate logistical operation of the sort that showed the "special relationship" at the very top of its game. As the First Lads of the US and Britain plotted how to finish off the Taliban without handing a free pass to the Northern Alliance, the First Lasses were deployed in a pincer movement of their own.
From Washington at the weekend, we had Mrs Laura Bush - becoming, so the White House boasted, the "first First Lady to deliver an entire presidential radio address" - denouncing the "severe repression and brutality against women in Afghanistan".
Then in London yesterday we had Cherie Booth QC - speaking on this occasion from Downing Street as Mrs Cherie Blair - exposing the plight of women in Afghanistan, along with some of those fortunate enough to have escaped the Taliban's clutches and a bevy of sympathetic (women) MPs. Now, there are several observations that could be made about these two events. One, invited by the White House press release, would be to congratulate the one-time primary school librarian on being the first First Lady to manage "an entire" radio address by herself. Another would be to remark how America's Republicans would have howled if First Lady Hillary Clinton had tried the same trick.
Yet another, more serious, response would be to lament the gender apartheid implied in both leading ladies' appearances that separates women's issues from mainstream politics and regards women as the only people capable of representing their cause.
It pains me to say so, but I suspect that until the people at the very top, such as President Bush and the Prime Minister, make the cause of women more prominent in their everyday war talk, the male half of the population - either here or in Afghanistan - will see no compelling reason to sit up and take notice.
All of which is by way of a preface to my main concern, which is that we in the West risk simplifying the women's issue in Afghanistan to the point where we do no one a service, least of all the Afghan women themselves.
This is not to detract from the closeted torment of women's lives under the Taliban. Nor to dismiss the unmistakable joy of many women in Kabul and other Afghan cities when their oppressors fled town. It was a delight to see women - some boldly, some more shyly - uncover their faces after five years behind the veil. And it was an inspiration to listen as individual women told of how they were returning to their professional lives as doctors and teachers after their enforced inactivity, even prison. …