Karzai Makes Mockery of Democracy

USA, Hamid Karzai, and his Parliament dominated by warlords have created a mockery of democracy in Afghanistan. It has come down to Karzai pushing this law for the Shia minority which will deny women a right to refuse sex with husbands, among other traditional privileges granted males to enforce male power over women. After the news got out, and Karzai got admonished by Hillary Clinton and other outraged leaders, he trumpets the law is being misinterpreted, then he says he will have it thoroughly reviewed. He deserves no credibility. RAWA (Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan) News documents some offensive sections of the new law in Sharia for Shias: ‘Legalised rape’. For instance,

Article 132
(3) The couple should not commit acts that create hatred and bitterness in their relationship, The wife is bound to preen for her husband, as and when he desires.
(4) The husband, except when travelling or ill, is bound to have intercourse with his wife every night in four nights. The wife is bound to give a positive response to the sexual desires of her husband.

I cannot find the expressions of shock and outrage from world leaders credible. As if they knew nothing of what was afoot? This law was briefly debated in the Parliament, then railroaded through by Karzai as a political stunt. Those who act so shocked that Karzai, alleged ally, would jump at a chance to subordinate women if he thought it could get him a political edge, ought to read RAWA news, or some horror stories in the war news section of this blog. The indifference of the Karzai regime to the rights and safety of women is notorious. The article in the Guardian, ‘Worse than the Taliban’ – new law rolls back rights for Afghan women, also posted at RAWA News, as well as the New York Times in Karzai Vows to Review Family Law, quote Soraya Sobhrang, head of women’s affairs at the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, who had worked on this bill for two years. She decried the lack of protest from the international community while the law was debated in the legislature.

‘Worse than the Taliban’ – new law rolls back rights for Afghan women
Jon Boone in Kabul
The Guardian, Tuesday 31 March 2009

Hamid Karzai has been accused of trying to win votes in Afghanistan’s presidential election by backing a law the UN says legalises rape within marriage and bans wives from stepping outside their homes without their husbands’ permission.

The Afghan president signed the law earlier this month, despite condemnation by human rights activists and some MPs that it flouts the constitution’s equal rights provisions.

The final document has not been published, but the law is believed to contain articles that rule women cannot leave the house without their husbands’ permission, that they can only seek work, education or visit the doctor with their husbands’ permission, and that they cannot refuse their husband sex.

A briefing document prepared by the United Nations Development Fund for Women also warns that the law grants custody of children to fathers and grandfathers only.

Senator Humaira Namati, a member of the upper house of the Afghan parliament, said the law was “worse than during the Taliban”. “Anyone who spoke out was accused of being against Islam,” she said.

The Afghan constitution allows for Shias, who are thought to represent about 10% of the population, to have a separate family law based on traditional Shia jurisprudence. But the constitution and various international treaties signed by Afghanistan guarantee equal rights for women.

Shinkai Zahine Karokhail, like other female parliamentarians, complained that after an initial deal the law was passed with unprecedented speed and limited debate. “They wanted to pass it almost like a secret negotiation,” she said. “There were lots of things that we wanted to change, but they didn’t want to discuss it because Karzai wants to please the Shia before the election.”

The international community has so far shied away from publicly questioning such a politically sensitive issue.

“It is going to be tricky to change because it gets us into territory of being accused of not respecting Afghan culture, which is always difficult,” a western diplomat in Kabul admitted.

Soraya Sobhrang, the head of women’s affairs at the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, said western silence had been “disastrous for women’s rights in Afghanistan”.

“What the international community has done is really shameful. If they had got more involved in the process when it was discussed in parliament we could have stopped it. Because of the election I am not sure we can change it now. It’s too late for that.”

But another senior western diplomat said foreign embassies would intervene when the law is finally published.

Some female politicians have taken a more pragmatic stance, saying their fight in parliament’s lower house succeeded in improving the law, including raising the original proposed marriage age of girls from nine to 16 and removing completely provisions for temporary marriages.

“It’s not really 100% perfect, but compared to the earlier drafts it’s a huge improvement,” said Shukria Barakzai, an MP. “Before this was passed family issues were decided by customary law, so this is a big improvement.”

Karzai’s spokesman declined to comment on the new law.

From the New York Times article:

The law also outlines rules on divorce, child custody and marriage, all in ways that discriminate against women, said Soraya Sobhrang, commissioner for women’s rights at the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission.

While the law applies only to Shiites, who represent approximately 10 percent of the population, its passage could influence a proposed family law for the Sunni majority and a draft law on violence against women, Ms. Sobhrang said. “This opens the way for more discrimination,” she said.

The United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, said the law represented a “huge step in the wrong direction.”

“For a new law in 2009 to target women in this way is extraordinary, reprehensible and reminiscent of the decrees made by the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in the 1990s,” Ms. Pillay said in a statement posted on her agency’s Web site. “This is another clear indication that the human rights situation in Afghanistan is getting worse, not better.”

In addition to the clauses on when women may leave the home and must submit to their husbands, Ms. Pillay said she was concerned about a section that forbids women from working or receiving education without their husband‘s permission.

Ms. Sobhrang, who has been working on the issue for the last two years, said women’s groups and the human rights commissions had worked with Parliament to introduce amendments but then the law was suddenly pushed through with only three amendments. The bill as originally drawn up by Shiite clerics barred a woman from leaving the house without her husband’s permission, she said. The parliamentary judicial commission amended that provision to say that a woman could leave the house “for a legitimate purpose.”

Mr. Karzai cited that provision in a news conference on Saturday, pointing out that the final version of the law did not ban a woman from leaving her house. But Ms. Sobhrang said even as amended the law contravened the Constitution, which recognizes equal rights for men and women. The term “for a legitimate purpose” was open to interpretation, she added.

What is the Afghan government doing, writing an unconstitutional law for a religious minority? Why is Karzai pushing this, just to win reelection? Karzai is a major embarrassment, but what would one expect from a puppet dancing to the strings of Bush and company, who certainly did not give a hoot about rights for women, except as an excuse to justify the war. Are Karzai and the Parliament not making a statement with this law, a way of asserting their independence, daring USA to do something about it?

Obama says America did not choose to fight this war. The people were given no choice. Making Afghanistan pay was the hook, though that nation had only provided shelter to mostly Saudis giving their lives to make USA pay, for maintaining a military base on their holy ground, for instance. Afghanistan was chosen as the scapegoat because Osama bin Laden and company ran warrior schools there. He was an ally against the Soviet Union, and some historians credit that struggle with forcing the collapse of that empire. It was the Vietnam War analogue for Soviet Union, and promises to repeat the lesson for Obama, who is naive or complicit enough to promulgate this fantasy of securing Afghanistan to deny the terrorists a safe haven.

Obama has reservations about Karzai, and has also denounced the new law, but regardless, this mockery of a democracy, created as a corporate friendly shell regime to facilitate the businesses of fossil fuel pipelines and opium, is what Obama is committing to prop up as the cause that could not be more just. USA may not be in a position to tell Karzai to scrap the law, but USA can withdraw support for Karzai, which would probably mean his assassination. His life is worth nothing without protection, getting the fitting nickname Mayor of Kabul. USA has no business trying to occupy Afghanistan or Iraq, and this alacrity to sign away rights for women by this corporate stooge shows how little the Bush experiments in democracy mean. These are sham democracies, where women are worse off than before USA invaded, to set things right? Something went horribly wrong, and if it is all the fault of Bush, why is the Obama policy not a full reversal? These experiments in democracy are total failures, except for a few corporations with sweet contracts supporting the war effort. Obama could renounce it utterly, but has chosen just to shift forces and strategies around, hoping both disasters can be salvaged with his wise leadership? If Obama wants to improve on Bush, or if he thinks rights for women should actually carry some weight, he could renounce recognition of this government headed by Karzai, or get the hell all the way out, preferably both. Obama thinks his strategy will bring America back from the brink. No, that would require abandoning conventional wisdom, from which he has chosen liberally to guide and implement his plans.

President Obama could give up trying to salvage what Bush started. These are not his wars, though he consistently voted to fund them, not wars the people of USA understood, after being sold a bill of goods, a public relations masquerade now shown to have more holes than substance. He could get the troops out of there. They are not wanted and can serve no useful purpose. The occupation plays into the hands of the resistance, which Obama promises to defeat, to deny terrorists a safe haven, but that will never be accomplished by military means, or making alliances with warlords notorious for terrorizing women. Obama could ask the women of RAWA, read their News Archive, get a clue of the views of the women he says he cares about. The occupation has not liberated women, only on paper, and Karzai and that Parliament of warlords has shown how little those words can mean.

Another prominent feminist activist, Sitara Achakzai, was shot down last Saturday in Kandahar. A Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility. Her friend and fellow member of the provincial council, who asked her name not be published in fear for her own life, was quoted in the Sunday Globe and Mail

“Obviously, we’ve had a brain drain. … Now when we’re slowly trying to think for the future of the country …this is how our country repays people,” Ms. Achakzai’s friend said. “I have no faith in my government. I have no faith in the Taliban. I have no faith in the international community.”

Malalai Joya knows how little those claims of liberated women mean. Here is some of what she said recently about the plight of women in Afghanistan, from The Age in Australia

A voice of hope for Afghanistan’s women
Frud Bezhan
April 14, 2009

“Today, because there is no strong central government, Afghanistan is carved up between these same warlords, who have now filled the shoes of the Taliban,” Joya says. “Afghanistan is once again in the hands of rapists, murderers and extremists.”

She claims that although liberating women was one of the main moral arguments for invading Afghanistan in 2001, the situation for women has continued to deteriorate. “Ninety per cent of women in Afghanistan suffer from domestic violence, 80 per cent of marriages are forced, and the average life expectancy for women is 44 years,” she says.

Joya recounts the harrowing stories of two women she has met. Fatima, the daughter of a poor shopkeeper, was sold to a man, 50, who raped and beat her and then traded her for a dog. Her father did not have the money to buy back his daughter, 23. Shabnum, seven, was kidnapped and raped by three men, who cut her genitals.

“The plight of victims such as these girls is my driving force,” Joya says. “I will never give up my fight for justice, and I’ll continue to try to represent the millions of voiceless Afghan people — especially women and children — who are still being brutalised by warlords and the Taliban. While ordinary women and girls face rape, forced marriages and inhuman acts of abuse daily, women who stand up for their rights and take a public role in society risk being killed or silenced.

Despite the pressure brought to bear by the world community and while acknowledging the contribution of international forces in Afghanistan, Joya believes the US and other foreign powers are making a mockery of democracy and the liberation of Afghan women by empowering the warlords and fundamentalists.

“The US talks about thousands of girls flocking back to school, but the fundamentalists in power are encouraging the destruction of schools, the killing of teachers and the kidnapping of students,” Joya says. “The US also talks about the improving situation for women, but they are committing suicide more than ever. They would rather die than live.”

Yes, President Obama is contributing to this mockery of democracy and the liberation of Afghan women by empowering the warlords and fundamentalists. Calling this new law abhorrent is a nice gesture, but it means about as much as Karzai promising to review it. Karzai has no need to review the law; he knew all along what is wrong with it, and pushed for it anyway. If Shia men want to crack down on their rebellious women, that should be condemned. If the law and President cannot forbid Shia from practicing their oppressive customs, they should at least remain neutral, not codify those customs into law. Clearly maintaining his power matters more to Karzai than rights for women. Since that is his attitude, supporting his government contributes to this mockery. Obama may claim his plan is the best hope for Afghan women, but few of them agree, and they ought to know better than any US politician or general determined to defeat the terrorists.

Leave a Reply