Karzai and Women's Rights in Afghanistan


The details are sketchy about a controversial new law in Afghanistan, one that apparently legalizes marital rape and was signed by President Hamid Karzai. It cover the Shiite population in the country, variously reported as making up 10 percent to 15 percent of the population. The details are sketchy because the Afghan government has not released details or the text of the law, which is hardly a comforting sign.

According to United Nations organizations that have seen it, a law backed by the Karzai government would legalize rape within marriage and would forbid women from going to the doctor or leaving their home without their husband's protection.

It also reportedly grants custody of children only to fathers or grandfathers….

"This is an area of absolute concern for the United States," [U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton] told reporters. "My message is very clear. Women's rights are a central part of the foreign policy of the Obama administration."

Officials from other countries had even more trouble hiding their disappointment with a government that was meant to signal a turn away from the sexual oppression of the ousted Taliban regime….

A British cabinet minister was more explicit. "We are caught in the Catch-22 that the Afghans obviously have the right to write their own laws," Lord Malloch Brown, the foreign secretary for Africa and Asia, told the Guardian newspaper yesterday. "But there is dismay. The rights of women was one of the reasons the U.K. and many in the West threw ourselves into the struggle in Afghanistan. It matters greatly to us and our public opinion."

Full account here.

Most observers say that the condition of women in Afghanistan is greatly improved since the days when the Taliban ran the place. But most observers are also very (and rightly) troubled by a Karzai government that has done very little to improve the lot of people in general over the past several years. As in Pakistan, a lot of money and resources has been poured into sand.

Afghanistan has functioned as "the good war" in the war on terror. The U.S. invaded Afghanistan because the Taliban government refused to hand over Osama bin Laden after the 9/11 attacks. Once we blew that mission, it was far from clear why we're still there, engaging in nation-building that seems every bit as ineffective as in Iraq. With each passing day, and each report like the above, it becomes increasingly less clear exactly what we are trying to accomplish there. Which makes Barack Obama's decision to double down there all the more troubling. We're digging into a landscape that has famously rebuffed virtually every great power that tried to reshape it without a clear mission. And the friendly government is pulling stuff like this new law? And the Taliban is resurgent? Oh, brother.

For a disturbing and haunting movie about the Taliban's treatment of women, I highly recommend 2003's Osama, which showcases the horrors of Islamic theocracy far more effectively than anything ever put out by the U.S. government. Trailer below.