Liberal Interventionism and the blasted Afghans

August 14, 2009

It is doubtless the case that the recent law passed by the Afghani parliament will cause more cries of, “Why the devil are our boys being killed on behalf of a bunch of barbarians?” Make no mistake, this law is truly barbaric – anyone who really entertains the suggestion that putting one sex in such a position of power over the other can be excused as a matter of culture has no regard for any humanity beyond their own kind.

However, it also represents the classic liberal dilemma – a democratically elected government rejecting liberal norms to reflect the wishes of its constituents. While it is clear that the Afghani President, Hamid Karzai, is making this move to shore up his support amongst the Shia population of Afghanistan and counting on the West being too concerned with the Taliban to allow him to get away with it, it’s been claimed that it runs counter to the Afghani constitution itself.

Except it doesn’t. Article 131 states , “Courts shall apply Shia school of law in cases dealing with personal matters involving the followers of Shia Sect in accordance with the provisions of law.” This new law only applies to the Shias, and while the constitution does provide for equal treatment of women before the law, I would anticipate that any effort to seek judicial review (which is currently not possible in Afghanistan in any case) would founder on this matter. The Afghani constitution also requires that any law does not conflict with the rules of Islam, and a very specific law targetting a specific type of Islam would probably fall under this purview.

So, what the Afghani Government has done is most likely legal, if repellent. How should the West respond? Does this mean we should withdraw our forces and let the barbarians fight it out amongst themselves? This latter position has been advocated by other Lib Dems. I suspect that the main impetus towards it thus far, apart from the illiberal nature of the Afghani Government, is that the war has been incompetently prosecuted by Labour – a summary of which is in my response to the Payne article.  We can’t do anything about Labour’s mishandling the military for now, so let’s consider other options a future government might take.

1) Withdrawal, and abandoning the Afghanis to their fate. This will result in human rights abuses and most likely a long civil war in which many people will die. It’s also a war I’m not convinced Kabul would win – although the Afghani army has improved, it’s no match for the tribal forces without the West’s help.

2) Continuing our current strategy of shoring up Karzai’s government while attempting to defeat the Taliban. As has been pointed out, this may take upwards of 40 years, and given the weakness of the current constitution and its attached judiciary, may not in the end produce a liberal state regardless.

3) (As you may have guessed, we’re coming up to my preferred option in my capacity as a Swivelly Chair General) Identify the flaws in the current Afghan state and use our forces in the country to supplement them.

What do I mean by that? Well, I’ve previously touched on the idea that the state is not the be-all and end-all of service provision, or indeed the only foci of power within a country. We need to get away from the idea of identifying a nation with the apparatus of its state, and consider it more as its collective of people.

In this case, part of the problem with the Karzai government is that its judiciary is notoriously weak and corrupt, and that the legal system tends to take an age to reach a decision. This has been part of the reason for the success of the Taliban, who are much more efficient at providing justice to the citizens in areas under their control – Afghanis have been known to go to Taliban representatives to settle disputes in Government-held areas, rather than to the courts.

My suggestion is that we stop protecting the Afghani Government and leave it to its own devices. If it is effective at representing the will of its people, it will withstand the Taliban thanks to the popular support being an effective representative will engender. However, I’m not suggesting we leave Afghanistan. I’m rather suggesting that we divert our military resources to protecting the infrastructure and institutions that will comprise the foundations of a liberal state – the schools, the roads, the power & water supply.

We provide military courts in areas in which Afghani Government justice is inadequate, and guarantee the rights of all children, male and female, to attend school and live within a legal system that recognises these rights. We do not require children to attend school, but we step in when they are denied the choice or intimidated into not doing so. We do not require Afghanis to use our courts, but we step in when they are denied the choice or intimidated into not doing so. We will stop the Taliban burning down schools, but we will not prevent families from sending their children to madrassas. Our aim will be to prevent the removal of those choices by the Taliban, not to enforce them on the Afghans. We will have achieved victory when every child in Afghanistan has not only the right to attend school, but the freedom to do so. We will have achieved victory when every Afghani woman has the freedom to exercise equal rights to every Afghani man. We will not require these rights, we will merely enforce them when they are taken away.

In essence, we will create a parallel legal system within Afghanistan. We will give the Afghanis the option of a liberal state, and leave it up to them to choose. After all, if we believe that liberalism is the way ahead, surely we must believe that others will believe it too.

We can’t do this everywhere, but the current situation in Afghanistan is down to our intervention, and is therefore our responsibility.


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