Shia Family Law: Why you read things before you sign them into law...
Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai admitted over the weekend that he had not read the Shia Family Law he signed last month, which clearly seems to reintroduce many of the oppressive policies of the previous Taleban government overthrown in the 2001 American-led invasion. President Karzai said, "The law is under review and amendments will take place. I assure you that the laws of Afghanistan will be in complete harmony with the constitution of Afghanistan, and the human rights that we have adhered to in international treaties.”
While it is arguable whether or not the furtherance of women's rights in Afghanistan was a valid reason to invade the country in the first place, it is in my opinion morally abhorrent to allow laws so clearly backwards to ever be reimposed on a population once they have been overthrown.
Apparently this is how Obama feels in retrospect, after hearing about how the new "Shia Family Law" allowed for marital rape and barred married women from leaving their homes without their husbands permission. Hamid Karzai has pledged to "review and amend the law" and admitted he did not read the 250+ pages before he signed it, but since the country's constitution allows for separate legal codes for Shia and Sunni Muslims it is unclear how this will be accomplished.
Too bad his "moral compass" led him so far down the wrong path before his "nuanced reflection" inspired him to change his mind...
I suppose Obama isn't entirely to blame as much as the system is because he even admits he didn't know until after it was passed. Not even Hamid Karzai read the bill, so I think to place the blame on the new guy would be harsh. It was clearly squeezed through by Karzai as a domestic political play before upcoming elections (for which he filed as a candidate today) during the information vacuum in the diplomatic relations during the transition and purging of senior diplomats. I am confident Obama would have applied serious pressure on Karzai to kill the law had he known of it.
Considering the investment of political, human and economic capital Obama has committed to Afghanistan, I think he will likely do all he can to squeeze Karzai, but not at the expense of winning on the ground with the Taliban. Winning is peace, and Obama is not unwilling to make a deal to win the peace. This is a radical deviation from US policy under Bush. I don't think it is unreasonable to make deals with people, so I hope he can maintain the leverage long term because the real battle is bringing investment and prosperity once the fighting ceases.
There is a lot that I believe Obama can do both militarily and economically to aid in the Karzai government's fight to win the peace. For example, Afghanistan is known for being the world's largest producer of opium, the vast majority of which is sold onto the black market and used in street drugs. There is a multi-billion dollar global market for opium-based painkillers which multinational companies would likely dump billions of clean dollars into if long term peace is a viable reality. This would have an immediate impact on both the well-being of Afghanistan's many rural farmers, as well as increase the greater national prosperity and re-establish the country as a viable place to do business, both desirable outcomes of any US policy in the country.
Unfortunately, I think the investment will come to the farmers regardless of the laws on how men can treat their wives; we all know the US is a major investor in oppressive governments all over the world. It is such a shame that a society can live in peace with such despicably institutionalized social injustice.