Week in Review, 3/29-4/4

The most important piece of domestic news from Afghanistan this week broke right after I posted last week’s review. President Karzai will remain in office after his term expires on May 21 through the August elections. I have no idea how constitutional this is–the court’s decision refers to the “interest of the Afghan people and state”. In any case, I doubt many people would dispute that this is a better situation than having the UN recognize a “temporary president”, which had been seriously discussed.

Ashraf Ghani seems okay with the decision but calls for some kind of civil society mechanism to make sure that Karzai doesn’t deploy state resources to boost his chances. The National Front, on the other hand, continues to maintain that Karzai’s government will no longer be legitimate after the 21st. Karzai had promised to call a loya jirga to resolve the dispute “if we see there are problems and there is no general agreement”; I can’t find a statement from him since the ruling came out. Meanwhile, former foreign minister Dr. Abdullah seems likely to be the National Front’s candidate for president. Abdullah was a top official in the Northern Alliance and is presumably a strong candidate–with ties to the both the Pashtun and Tajik communities–though I have no idea how visible he has been among the population at large.

Meanwhile,  NATO partners have apparently committed an additional 5,000 troops in advance of the August elections, including increases from Germany, Spain, and the U.K. Absent, however, are pledges of combat troops; the focus is on training and what Chancellor Merkel refers to as “Afghanisation“. The United States has announced an additional commitment of $40 million in election aid, which Secretary Clinton portrays as the opening salvo in Obama’s new course in Afghanistan. That $40 million sounded much better until I read that the UN is facing a “$100 million shortfall…in fund-raising for the August elections.”

The other big Afghan political development this week was much, much less hopeful. President Karzai’s signing of the Shia Family Law has garnered a great deal of international attention, and for good reason; the law makes forced consent to marital sex binding on Shia women, along with stripping women of custody rights and even the right to leave their homes without permission. Read the details; it’d be an understatement to say that this law poses a big problem for Secretary Clinton’s promise to include women’s rights in our foreign policy agenda. Apparently Karzai is playing to the Shia clerics–the article I just linked to quotes an MP saying this will also “curry favor among the Hazaras”, but the Hazaristan Times claims that Hazaras have traditionally had a more liberal attitude towards women and that prominent Hazaras have criticized the law. I don’t know enough to arbitrate.

The Guardian was already speculating about Afghanistan being the “downfall of NATO” before this story broke, and the Family Law has certainly sucked the air out of the summit. Gordon Brown, President Obama, and NATO’s secretary general are among those who claim to have given Karzai a lengthy talking-to; Karzai says he will “review” the law to make sure it’s consistent with the constitution and with Sharia. That’s not much of a walkback. And not surprisingly, commentators abroad are beginning to ask whether this is a government worth sacrificing lives for–Canada, U.K., etc. Joshua Foust, however, claims that the law is essentially institutionalizing a situation that already exists. That isn’t a defense, of course, but Foust claims that we should understand that this “is not materially different from the experience of rural women anyway”.

Since Karzai is garnering a fair number of comparisons to the Taliban this week, now’s a good time for a review of what they’ve been up to lately–that’s Christian Bleuer on their use of children as targets. Naturally, the Taliban are rejecting the idea of negotiation as loudly as possible–though of course this leaves the question of whether the “moderates” exist unanswered. (Here, the Telegraph profiles a “Pashtun tribal leader” running against Karzai on a platform of negotiation. This is apparently going to be a campaign issue.) Additionally, the AP has a report on the Wardak experiment–often described as “arming the tribes”–attempting to recreate the success of the Sunni Awakening in Iraq. OxFam protests the risk of “infiltration, co-optation, and subversion” of the militias while the provincial governor defends the force as “formal, well-equipped, and trained”.

Aside from the Shia Family Law, the Afghanistan-related news item that got the most domestic coverage this week was U.S. District Judge John Bates’ ruling that prisoners at Bagram Air Force base can challenge their detention in civilian courts. This has generated a great deal of hysteria in some circles, but it’s important to note that the decision explicitly does not apply to those captured on the field of battle in Afghanistan–only those transported there from abroad. (And Bates is hardly a left-winger–he was the judge who dismissed Valerie Plame’s lawsuit.)

Some miscellaneous links:

A coalition of NGOs on the need to de-militarize aid.

The Center for American Progress praises the new approach to Pakistan aid.

Russia is willing to discuss supply routes. Uzbekistan has also agreed to discuss the transit of non-military supplies.

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