President Ahmed Karzai of Afghanistan has approved a law that among other things forces women to have sex with their husbands, abolishes their rights to leave the house without their husband's permission, and prevents them from having custody of children. The law has not been passed as of yet, luckily.
On Tuesday, the Canadian government contacted Afghan officials to express their concern and outrage at this piece of legislation. I have often criticized Harper on this blog, but his government has done the right thing in boldly proclaiming that Canada does not endorse nor support this policy.
The recent events at the cause of this outrage also cause us to ask "[h]ow can we say that our soldiers are there to protect women's rights when the Western-backed leader of this nation pushes through laws like this?" as NDP MP Dawn Black has said. The second question would be that logically progresses is also, "If this is what happens, why are we there in the first place?"
Women's rights has been pretty much the only defense provided for this government and others involved in the military operations in Afghanistan. It has been the only success story, with news reports constantly showing us new schools, with classrooms full of smiling and joyous young girls with the opportunity to learn and make a future themselves for the first time in their lives. But now, with these recent developments, this line of argument falls apart.
The cruel reality of the matter is that in the final analysis, we removed the Taliban to end up with a government that in many ways is showing itself to be very similar. The Taliban restricted women's rights, and so now does Karzai. This government, as any government, cannot avoid politics. With a crucial election coming soon in Afghanistan, Karzai decided to make a pitch to the Shia minority in Afghanistan, a group of key swing voters. The provisions in the law proposed are exactly what they asked for.
And this is what reveals how failed a mission the mission to Afghanistan was even before these recent events hit the newsstands. THE LAW PROPOSED IS NOT UNCONSTITUTIONAL. Granted, the Afghan constitution contains provisions for gender equality. However, this clause can be declared null in this case because another also states that the Shia to have separate family law based on religious tradition. This constitution has existed since 2004. What have our governments been doing since?
This mission was supposedly humanitarian, to deliver Afghan men and women from the yoke of the Taliban. But Karzai's government has proven to be ineffective, showing itself willing to pander to the will of people that are extremely sexist.
We were deluding ourselves from the beginning. It is very unlikely that this mission can accomplish much in the long term on the humanitarian front with a government such as this one. In fact, if we are to endorse democracy for Afghanistan, we have to resign ourselves to the fact that we cannot police the world and tell them what their policies must be. With democracy comes freedom, and the people can choose for themselves.
But was it worth giving democracy to Afghanistan if this is what results, essentially a return of some Taliban mindsets? It's a question we will have to ask ourselves.
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