Afghanistan’s progress in women’s rights in jeopardy

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Remember Canada’s mission in Afghanistan? It wasn’t long ago that Canada mothballed its forward operating base (complete with Tim Horton’s) outside the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar City in order to enable the Karzai government to assume responsibility for the security of the one of the toughest neighbourhoods in Afghanistan.

How’s that transition going, you ask? Rather badly, it turns out. The other day a suicide attack outside a bank killed six and wounded at least 20 people, in Kandahar.

If this were an isolated incident, you might be willing to give the Afghan government, supposedly ready to take control of the country in 2014 (the date given by ISAF for the departure of NATO troops), the benefit of the doubt. But it’s just the latest in a series of bloody terrorists attacks carried out by the increasingly emboldened Taliban. According to UN statistics, in the month of July of this year alone, the body count rose to over a 1000 civilians, staggeringly!

Even more worrying is the way that the violence seems to be trending. Much of it is aimed at women and even little girls, more active in Afghan society since the fall of the ultra-medieval rule of the Taliban in 2001, one of the few positives to emerge from one of the longest and costliest wars in Canadian history.

But now even this progress is under threat of being reversed by a wave of attacks deliberately designed to intimidate Afghan women. Arguably, the most notorious example of this is the case of Farabi Ahmadi Kakar, a female member of Aghanistan’s national parliament that was kidnapped along with her three children.

Ms. Kakar’s whereabouts remain unknown, though her children have since been rescued. But her Taliban kidnappers are demanding the release of four Taliban prisoners in exchange for her life.

This would be a troubling enough case, even if it were the only one. However, it is the symptom of a much wider epidemic that has seen many prominent female leaders in the country subjected to daily attempts on their lives. The growing list of victims include a police chief from Helmand province and the daughter of a female Senator who had the misfortune of being blown up by a car bomb intended for her mother.

I can recall many a neo-con in this country boasting about the success of their humanitarian efforts in Afghanistan to bring justice and equality for women in that country (though you would have to be born yesterday to believe that that was ever part of the original motivation for the invasion). And, to be fair, they have managed to enshrine gender equality in the 2004 Constitution, no small feat in a country as deeply chauvinist as Afghanistan (see the case of Mohamed Shafia for just one example of this.

Yet the onus is now on the Canadian government and its allies who invaded Afghanistan and helped put in place the current state structure, to see that the country doesn’t backslide into the brutal oppression of women which was the hallmark of the Taliban era. Otherwise, all of the rhetoric from NATO countries about turning Afghanistan into a respectable member of the international community, even as they prepare to abandon the country by the end of next year, will ring hollow.

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