LOS ANGELES—American soldiers serving in Vietnam wondered what they were fighting for. U.S. troops in Afghanistan don't have that problem. They know exactly what they're fighting for: rapists.
After President Barack Obama's coming "Afghan surge," there will be 72,000 soldiers in Afghanistan. Their primary mission is to prevent Afghans from overthrowing the unpopular regime of Hamid Karzai, the former oil consultant installed by George W. Bush when the U.S. occupation began nearly eight years ago.
America's media repeatedly claimed that Afghan women would be better off under the U.S.-supported Northern Alliance puppet government headed by Karzai than under the Taliban. But when I went to Afghanistan and asked women what they thought, they had a different story. The defeat of the Taliban brought about the collapse of law and order, making life even more dangerous, especially for women. "Under the Taliban," a woman told me, "I watched rapists being executed. Now I see them in the government."
The Afghan women's rights group RAWA has repeatedly told anyone willing to listen that there hasn't been much improvement for women and girls since the U.S. occupation began in 2001. But no one—least of all left-of-center Americans eager to embrace the Afghan war—has wanted to hear what they had to say. "Most women still wear the all-encompassing burqa through fear of attack and social pressure, a third of women in Kabul do not leave the house, forbidden from doing so by the male members of the family, and it is still almost impossible for women to get a divorce," reported The Sunday Herald in 2005.
Liberal Democrats who cling to Afghanistan as "the good war" the United States should be fighting are being forced to confront the ugly truth about their ally. Karzai has signed a law that states that "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," reported the British newspaper The Guardian on March 31.
The Shiite Personal Status Act applies only to devotees of the Shia branch of Islam, which account for between 10 and 20 percent of the population. How can a secular democratic state have different laws depending on a citizen's faith? The answer is: It can't. Afghanistan isn't secular or democratic. The "new" Afghanistan's constitution is based on Sharia law—exactly as it was under the Taliban. But the U.S. media have purposefully failed to report the icky truth about our ally.
The new law requires women to have sex with their husbands at least once every four days unless they are sick or menstruating. "Obedience, readiness for intercourse and not leaving the house without the permission of the husband are the duties of the wife," reads the law of a nation ostensibly invaded by U.S. troops in part to liberate Afghan women. "As long as the husband is not traveling, he has the right to have sexual intercourse with his wife every fourth night," it says.
Afghan Sen. Humaira Namati calls the rape bill "worse than during the Taliban" and said it was rammed through parliament without debate. "Anyone who spoke out was accused of being against Islam," she said. Several hundred women protesting the law on the streets of Kabul were viciously assaulted by men as police stood back and watched.
In fairness to the responsible male legislators, they did add a provision to protect Shiite women from "dead bed": Afghan men have to put out "at least once every four months."
Karzai signed legalized rape into law in order to appease right-wing legislators in an election year. After international criticism, however, he began backpedaling with the lamest of all possible reasons: he didn't read the bill before he was for it.
"I was not aware of what I had signed," Afghan parliamentarian Sabrina Saqib said Karzai told her. The legislation "has so many articles," Karzai told CNN. "Now I have instructed, in consultation with clergy of the country, that the law be revised and any article that is not in keeping with the Afghan constitution and Islamic Sharia must be removed from this law."
As Karzai bullshits for the cameras, hundreds of Afghan women languish in prisons around the country. Their crime? They're teen brides, some as young as 10, who ran away from much older husbands who purchased them. "In President Hamid Karzai's Afghanistan, women are still imprisoned for running away from home," reports The Sunday Herald.
Nice theocracy you got there, Mullah Karzai.
Remember this column the next time you watch a flag-draped coffin returning from Afghanistan. The young man inside that box didn't die for nothing. He died to protect rapists.
Ted Rall, president of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists, is author of the books To Afghanistan and Back and Silk Road to Ruin: Is Central Asia the New Middle East?