The international politics of Afghanistan’s new Shiite Personal Status law

A new law signed by Afghan president Hamid Karzai is infuriating some people from his NATO allies. The law is controversial because it appears to restrict the rights of married women.

The first thing people need to do is calm down. When passions are aroused like this, we are bound to make mistakes. The biggest danger, I believe, is taking this law to be something it is not. I have not read the law–how could I? It is too long. (Even Hamid Karzai admits he did not read it.) I am not supporting the Shiite Personal Status law, but I am not willing to call it the “rape law”, as many others are doing, because doing so closes the mind. Perhaps the law is not as bad as it seems; it only affects Afghanistan’s 10% Shiite minority. Or perhaps it really is that bad; but if all we have to go on are translated tidbits from newspapers, we do not have the full story.

Assuming the law does trample on women’s rights, which it appears to, I agree that NATO leaders have a role to play in seeing it repealed. Never mind sovereignty: rights are at stake. I agree with critics of the law in asking, why are NATO forces there if not to uphold human rights?

But there could be something more going on here. Recent polls found just under 50% of Americans in favour of the war in Afghanistan, and 71% of Canadians said Stephen Harper should decline if Barack asks Canada to contribute more troops. (Support for the war in France, Germany and Britain is even lower.) As I said in my last post, public support for the war in Afghanistan in Canada and the US, two of the biggest contributors to the mission, could decline rapidly over the next two years or so. If it does, this law could provide the pretext political leaders need to scale down involvement in Afghanistan.

NATO’s civilian leaders are all politicians from democratic nations that can topple governments in punishment for unwanted wars. If there are more laws like this one, it is possible that the governments will say, that’s it, I am taking a stand, the troops are coming home and you are on your own. It is not necessary that anyone reads the laws, it is only important that the leaders speak to the law their constituents think is written. Leaders are sometimes called cowardly if they pull troops because they are dying, but this would provide an excellent pretext for them to be called decisive. And if they can time their decisions in line with elections, they could get reelected. Afghan laws could, at a stretch, be the making, or the undoing, of the Harper and Barack governments.

2 Responses to “The international politics of Afghanistan’s new Shiite Personal Status law”

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