Christian makes a good point, which is that the “Northern Alliance” don’t have a monopoly on behaving abhorrently toward the weak (a point that must be made with more frequency as of late). He similarly makes the strong case that simply integrating “moderate” Taliban into the government will not end the abuses that spur the Taliban leadership to ask their men not to take young boys into their tents at night.
But at the same time, the case he narrates is one of many that have emerged over the past two years that have details Hamid Karzai’s specific complicity in pardoning convicted rapists so they can get out of prison. A brief summary of only what I’ve been able to catch over the last year or so:
- Jowzjan Province. Ali Khan makes the news last August by being one of the first parents of a rape victim (in this case, his 13-year old neice) to speak to the media about the ordeal—including when he tried to report the crime and the police called his neice a whore and refused to investigate.
- Samangan Province. Hamid Karzai faced broad criticism over his decision last August to release three convicted rapists connected to a prominent regional warlord after serving only 11 months. The victim, Sara, had complained that the warlord, Karim, had abducted her 22-year old son to frame him for an affair he was having with a neighboring warlord’s wife. Soon after, Karim’s henchmen raped her in front of a dozen witnesses; soon after that, they were released from prison.
- Kabul Province. At least one 3-year old girl and another 12-year old girl are in hiding because of the shame associated both with their brutal abductions and rape, and the Karzai government’s unwillingness to prosecute them. Both families conceal the identity of the victims to avoid public approbation.
- Jowzjan Province. 10-year old Sweeta was abducted off the street by a gang of men driving an official Afghan government vehicle last summer and taken to a local Army barracks, where the commander raped her in full view of his men. The commander then dropped her home, and threatened her family with death should they ever mention the incident. The government declined to investigate.
- Baghlan Province. An even greater scourge than raping little girls, it seems, is the damning prevalence of bacha bazi, or the abduction and raping of little boys. There is even Dutch video of one ANP commander boasting of his boy-slave in Uruzgan (for more on how much we seem to ignore places like Uruzgan, see the invaluable Péter Marton).
- Kandaha Province: Canadian troops have reported that the ubiquity of child sexual abuse, especially against boys, is so disturbing they have had to undergo trauma counseling—just for witnessing it.
There are countless others, of course. That is just a brief vignette of what’s popped on the international radar scene at the tail end of 2008. Every single agency that monitors, or more accurately attempts to monitor this issue estimates the real number of cases is in the thousands. It is one of several factors driving the disturbing rise of self-immolation among women who feel their best option is committing suicide through lighting themselves on fire.
The issue might seem like a standard rule of law problem, but it can have significant counterinsurgency implications. As Christian noted above, the Taliban seem to be just as bad as the non-Pashtun warlords the U.S. has allied itself with across the North. Here, lore plays a major role in shaping perception: while it is true that the Taliban gained support in part for their opposition to, and punishment of sex crimes in Kandahar in 1994 (my friend Steve LeVine documented this in the mid-1990s), their inclusion into the government seems to give at least some reconciled commanders the space to continue raping children.
As strange as it sounds, though, it is not the raping itself that is the real problem, but rather the environment in which rape appears an unpunishable crime. This is not a problem to lay solely at the feet of the police or army—they contribute, it is true, but when Hamid Karzai himself simply pardons whomever begs him (with the obvious implication of money exchanging hands somewhere), then it is difficult to even begin a discussion about “rule of law” or anything else. There cannot be any trust in the government so long as such outrages continue.