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by Dominique Bari

Karzai legalises rape within marriage.

Translated Friday 24 April 2009, by Shelagh Rothero

Barack Obama must convince his allies at the NATO summit to accept his new and well justified approach to the situation in Afghanistan, especially the so-called ‘hand of friendship’ extended towards the more moderate Taliban. The implications of such a policy have already wreaked havoc with opposition groups and secular associations warning that the re-integration of Islamists into the Afghan political scene will pose further threats. For the past year President Hamid Karzai has had the backing of Washington for this national pseudo- reconciliation only to discover exactly how dangerous it can be. A few months before the presidential election he has given the green light to a law which legalises rape within marriage and forbids married women to go out, to work or even to visit the doctor without the permission of their husbands.

A Return to the Dark Days

The new law signed last month by the head of state clearly disregards their rights. From now on, a married woman cannot refuse to have sexual relations with her husband and is not allowed to go out without his permission. In addition, certain privileges are granted to the husband at the time of divorce or during legal proceedings. Those who criticise the law say it is a pure and simple legalisation of rape and a return to the darkest hours of Taliban rule, giving in to the influence of hard-line Islamist clergy.

The Shi’ites demanded the adoption of this law in order to have more control over their community. And Karzai has yielded to their demands. The hastily adopted law applies only to the small Shi’ite population, but another law to control the rights of Sunni families is also being studied. These laws will be added to the 2004 Constitution, which is already no advertisement for feminism and progress. Equal rights for men and women may be guaranteed on paper but in reality it is those fundamentalists in a number of key posts in the centres of power in Afghanistan who are once again using religion to slow down the emancipation of women and the progress of democratic rights.

So what has changed since 2001?

Members of the various political and social groups should have been able persuade government officials and the Ulema (Muslim scholars trained in Islamic law) to tone down the idea, especially regarding the legal age of marriage for women, polygamy and the custody rights of divorcees. Afghanistan is light years from Western ideology and its intention to set up a democracy in that country. What has changed in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban in 2001?

The issue was raised at the opening of the NATO summit where the order of the day focused on Afghanistan. The United States agreed to ask their European allies for more support for the government in Kabul. But for what purpose? Ottawa suggested that the Family Code could have ‘serious implications’ for the involvement of Canada in the country of Hamid Karzai.

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