Foreign Policy Blogs

Afghan Woman's Rights and US Strategic Interests Collide

Afghanistan continues to find its way onto American news cycles and like most news, it’s of the bad and bloody variety.  The US military is on the verge of releasing its latest strategic review of the conflict and how the US expects to go forward, with the hottest topic (more troops?) being avoided.  The Taliban have announced and already put into practice an effort to disrupt the upcoming August 20 Presidential election and unfortunately their efforts have had some effective results.  Lastly, is the increasing uproar over a quietly passed law by the Afghan government that basically allows marital rape, among other restrictions on Afghan woman’s rights.   The passage of this despicable law shows just how complex this conflict is for the United States.  The Obama administration stated early on that its goals in Afghanistan were to defeat Al Qaeda and their partners in order to protect the US homeland and interests, but by its actions, and Bush’s, it is obvious that part of that policy includes creating a stable, democratic government in Afghanistan.  The fact that this government has illiberal elements that go against American values cannot be ignored, but what should/can the US do about it?


After all, the US/NATO is desperately working toward a successful and legitimate Afghan Presidential election in the face of a surging insurgency.  The US and nascent Afghan government need the winner to be seen as legitimate and strong.  Is this the time to raise a raucous over human/woman’s rights?  After a similar law came to pass in Afghanistan in April, President Obama condemned the policy and seemed to put some pressure on President Karzai, who quickly stated that he would review the legislation, but not much was ever changed.  As of knowledge right now, I have not heard a response to this latest woman’s right restriction from the Obama administration.

The dilemma remains and will most definitely continue for as long as the US has a strategic presence in Afghanistan:  How will it juggle its realist (defeat Al Qaeda, regional stability) interests with its liberal ideals (liberal democracy, human rights, woman’s rights)?  The way I see it is that the US (Obama administration) cannot ignore such egregiously illiberal policies from a government that it helped create and keep in power, but will have to treat the issue with a light hand.  In other words, the Obama administration cannot order the law to be repealed, threaten to redeploy its troops, or take away financial assistance.  It should publicly state its disapproval of the law, explaining why it sees the law as wrong.  In cases like these, the US should rock the boat gently, very gently, as this is one boat on immensely rough seas.

This is not a good position to be in, but when one has strategic interests in faraway lands with distinct histories, cultures, religions, societies, these are the positions you will find yourself facing.