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Karzai Is About to Introduce a Bill Severely Restricting Afghan Women’s Rights

Speaking at the U.N. conference on Afghanistan today at The Hague, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said:

The status of Afghanistan’s army, the lives of women and girls, the country’s education and health systems are far better today than they were in 2001. So if all of us represented here work with the government and people of Afghanistan, we will help not only to secure their future, but ours as well.

Well, maybe not all. I’ve just confirmed with knowledgeable Afghanistan sources that Hamid Karzai is about to introduce a bill that will severely restrict the rights of Afghan women. As Megan Carpentier summarized the Guardian story that first reported the impending legislation, the bill would “legalize marital rape; require women to seek their husband’s permission to leave the house; additionally mean that women obtain their husband’s permission to see a doctor, go to school or work; and eliminate the child custody rights of women in the event of divorce or widowhood. No, for real.”

Karzai, as Megan points out, is an increasingly unpopular figure in Afghanistan, which has grown tired of his government’s corruption and fecklessness. He’s been repositioning himself as a voice of “authentic” Afghan culture, and apparently that’s leading to such a retrograde and cynical stance on women’s rights that an Afghan woman parliamentarian calls it “worse than during the Taliban.” Karzai may still win the August presidential elections, but he would be well positioned to ask himself such a bill will benefit him if it’s true that only a marginal proportion of Afghans support the Taliban. David Weigel noted this morning that John Nagl, the counterinsurgent who runs the Center for a New American Security, thinks the U.S. has “good options” besides Karzai, but it’s unclear whether they’d take less medieval positions on this bill.

Meanwhile, this is also a test for Clinton. At her confirmation hearing, she tied discrimination against women to the Taliban insurgency, slicing through the relativistic position Karzai is embracing by saying misogyny “is not culture, this is not custom, this is criminal.” Megan noted the same thing at the time. What will Clinton say about the bill? It’s worth remembering that within months after taking office, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright visited an Afghan refugee camp in Pakistan and bravely called the Taliban’s treatment of women “despicable.” This was before the Taliban was an enemy of the United States. Are we somehow obligated to acquiesce to the abuses of our clients?

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