Hookers and Truck Bombs

by Joshua Foust on 1/24/2008

This probably shouldn’t be surprising:

A police official in the northern province of Jowzjan, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that according to official figures, 2,000 families in his province alone had resorted to prostitution over the past 10 years. The true figure is likely much higher.

“The main factor is the lack of employment opportunities,” he said.

In many cases, prostitution becomes a hereditary trade, passed on from mother to daughter.

The Taliban strictly controlled sexual activity, meting out harsh punishments for extra-marital relations and adultery. Married women who had sex outside marriage were stoned to death; others were publicly flogged.

Sex outside marriage remains illegal in post-Taliban Afghanistan, and the prisons are full of women who have been convicted of “fornication,” a charge that carries a penalty of from five to 15 years in jail.

But this has not stopped women like Dilbar (not her real name), a 40-year-old madam who keeps a brothel in Mazar-e-Sharif.

Dilbar is a professional. She worked as a prostitute for many years, and has passed the trade on to her daughter, who helps her run the brothel. She no longer takes on clients herself.

“I am too old now,” she laughed. “I have children. But I help other girls to become prostitutes. I provide the means to make young men happy for a short time.”

Like most other impoverished countries on the planet, the number of illicit sex workers is a fairly reliable indicator of relative wealth, and potentially societal chaos. Given the many ways the never-ending spike in opium production also seems to indicate a growing degree of chaos in Afghan society, it might be possible to assume prostitution, as an indicator, behaves the same way.

But it’s more than that. Consider the societies: somewhere like Denmark, which has a decidedly liberal attitude toward prostitution, wouldn’t necessarily consider a bunch of hookers too big a deal. Afghanistan, however, has a much more conservative attitude toward sex. That so many are resorting to prostitution speaks very strongly to how too many women are considering their prospects for the future.

Meanwhile, taking a glance from a bit of a higher altitude, the news that supply trucks are being blown up in Chaman, Pakistan, doesn’t bode very well. Placed in the context of “Kip’s call” for the U.S. government to “stop confronting these questions [of border security] with kid gloves,” a broader picture emerges.

That picture, of course, is the traditional one of underinvestment. Bipasha Ray points to two must-read articles concerning the ways NATO is faltering, and the conditions Canada is placing upon NATO to continue its mission. Neither are easily extractable, but both are well worth reading.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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