Friday, April 3, 2009

Why we fight? (Afghan edition)

When I first heard about an idea floating around Washington to create a political party for the Taliban in a bid to bring peace to Afghanistan, I had some problems – a big one being that bringing the ultra-conservative Taliban and their 11th century mind-set into the Afghani government would be a huge blow to women’s rights. Of course who needs the Taliban to set back women’s rights when you have Afghan President Hamid Karzai?

In case you missed it, this week Karzai rammed through a new law that slaps Taliban-style restrictions on the Shiite women of Afghanistan. Among the specifics of the law are that women must have sex with their husbands at least once every four days (whether they’d like to or not) and that wives cannot leave the house without their husband’s permission; girls can also legally get married (or more accurately get married off by their fathers) once they hit puberty, thus legalizing child marriage. Though the law technically only applies to members of Afghanistan’s Shiite community, there is fear that it could easily be extended to apply to the whole country, it can’t be seen as anything other than a huge reversal of women’s rights in Afghanistan, which had slowly been improving during the past few years (girls have been returning to school post-Taliban and women now hold nearly a quarter of all provincial government seats).

Karzai's new law has been roundly condemned by the world community, though no where has the criticism been louder than in Canada, which long has positioned itself as a global champion for human rights. Now many Canadians are asking why 116 of their countrymen have died to defend a regime that has just taken a giant step backwards to the bad old days of the Taliban.

It’s a good question to ask as is what are we even doing in Afghanistan in the first place? Let's remember that the United States only got involved in Afghanistan in the wake of the 9/11 attacks to capture Osama bin Laden, who was being sheltered by the Taliban. The Bush Administration demanded that the Taliban surrender bin Laden; the Taliban asked for proof of bin Laden’s involvement in 9/11 (under the complex rules of the Taliban’s Pashtun culture they were honor-bound to defend their guest bin Laden, unless he violated their hospitality by committing a crime). The Bushies though were unwilling to comply with this request and declared war on the Taliban, which other than playing host to bin Laden had no connection to 9/11.

The US rallied together a coalition to free Afghanistan from the oppressive rule of the Taliban; and the western-educated Karzai was tapped as the perfect choice to lead Afghanistan into the 21st century. But Karzai’s presidency has been marked by charges of weakness and widespread corruption that have allowed heroin production to flourish and the Taliban to make a comeback in many parts of the country, and now he seems willing to sell out the women of his country for some votes from the Shiite community ahead of a tough reelection campaign this summer.

The Afghans, of course, have the right to run their country the way they see fit. But that doesn't mean we have to like, or support, their choices. Before we commit more soldiers and more money to the Afghan cause, we should make sure it is a cause worth fighting for in the first place.
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