Unfinished Business in Afghanistan

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), October 30, 2005 | Go to article overview

Unfinished Business in Afghanistan


Byline: Swanee Hunt, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

KABUL, Afghanistan - The Afghan election September 18 was an important benchmark on the road to democracy. For the first time in 36 years, citizens chose national and provincial representatives. A daunting 5,805 candidates, with campaign posters hanging in trees and affixed to walls, competed for hundreds of positions. Among them were 347 women who came forward in the face of intimidation and violence to claim a place in the lower house of parliament.

Half of the ballots have now been counted. When the process is complete, a form of "positive discrimination" will ensure that women electees comprise at least the 25 percent mandated by the constitution.

Afghanistan has taken a momentous step toward a model of inclusive security, whereby all stakeholders - including women -participate in governance and other aspects of peacebuilding. But it was only one small step. Women have the potential to play key roles in fostering openness and religious and political moderation that will facilitate a peaceful, prosperous future for a democratic Afghanistan. Two critical policies will help the Afghan people and the international community turn that potential into reality.

First, tribal warlords must be disempowered. The elections were marred by candidates with histories soaked in blood who, given a nascent judiciary, have not been brought to justice. Instead, political legitimacy increases the warlords' strength. One openly asserts that human rights, including women's rights, are contrary to Islam. An Afghan diplomat I met shortly before the election insists the warlords spell disaster: "Their strength grows day by day. International troops will leave soon. If we can't go after them now, when will we be able?"

Second, the Afghan judicial system must be profoundly reformed and revitalized. The justice system is neither fair nor functional. For example, despite contravening laws, too often, women are denied the right to divorce, frequently forced into marriage by family members, and jailed for "moral crimes" like refusing arranged marriages, speaking with an unmarried man, or traveling without a male guardian. Afghan women face gender-based discrimination in the application of laws and crimes against them go unpunished.

The current supreme court, though charged with interpreting the constitution, offers little hope for women. These nine influential judges - all male - are required to have "higher education in law or in Islamic jurisprudence," but that education may be religious training in madrassas or local villages that favor tribal customs over human rights and civil law. …

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