Not surprisingly, it is quickly becoming clear that the election in Afghanistan is a sham that flies in the face of the U.S. narrative of bringing democracy to the Afghan people. Kavita Ramdas, the President and CEO of the Global Fund for Women puts it succinctly, "After five years, $30 billion in aid, and the presence of 150,000 foreign troops,
While the Obama administration's recent shift in military strategy towards increasing the protection of Afghan civilians is encouraging, it begs the broader question of whether top-down military interventions from the global North are the best means towards securing lasting peace in Afghanistan. Unless we are willing to question whether violence can truly be used to end violence, it is unlikely that this election will change anything in Afghanistan. It will not bestow legitimacy on Karzai nor is it likely to bring greater security and safety to ordinary Afghans.
Even the tired Western trope of charging in to "rescue" Afghan women from the clutches of their "oppressive" culture and their "tribal" menfolk has lost its sheen. That narrative collapses under the weight of the fact that pro-government NATO bombs that kill one in three civilians. Afghans also remember their history. They know that the Taliban and Al Qaeda were networks recruited, armed and trained by US Special Forces and the CIA. Ordinary people are the victims, caught in the crossfire between the Taliban and the West's precision drones that leave villages in towns with countless orphaned and maimed children and widows.
Today Afghan women are tired of broken promises and of living in a land overrun by foreigners. Women parliamentarians like Malalai Joya write, "the longer foreign troops stay in Afghanistan doing what they are doing, the worse the eventual civil war." Afghan women laugh outright at the argument that further militarization of their society will bring them peace and security. They have seen the rise in "insurgent" violence alongside increased foreign military troops.
Despite the fact that, according to Ramdas, women make up 35% of registered Afghan voters, very few appear to have actually voted. As I pointed out on the Feminist Peace Network blog last week, even if women were able to get to the polls, a shortage of female poll workers for the segregated polling places virtually assured that few women would be able to vote.
In a report published on the RAWA website, Alex Strick van Linschoten, an independent journalist based in Kandahar, provides this glimpse of what actually took place.
Women's voting centers were interesting to visit. The first that I saw, Kaka Said Ahmad High School in the center of the city, had some women voting (perhaps several dozen) early in the morning. In one room that we entered, however, the two boxes were open and women were in the process of handling the vote papers. When we asked the head of the voting center what was going on (boxes were supposed to be locked and closed) she said that some women had come very early in the morning (before the official opening time) and asked, hands trembling out of fear, to vote quickly.
In another women's voting station (Mirwais Meena Girls School), we were kept waiting outside the locked main gate for around ten minutes before finally being allowed in (a policeman outside gave us a hand opening the gate). When inside, there were hardly any voters (under a dozen in the whole building) but lots of election workers and other girls. Again, I'm not sure if this was an irregularity, but my guess is that women's polling stations, especially ones in the districts, were easy places for fraud to occur.*
Along with the U.S. silence regarding the passage of a law legalizing marital rape in Afghanistan, the liberation of Afghani women at the point of a gun can only be seen as a deadly farce that as I noted on FPN and Ann Wright also points out, should make us seriously question recent statements by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton regarding helping women in the Democratic Republic of Congo. As Wright reports,
The US Agency for International Development (USAID) will implement a $7 million program with medical care, counseling, economic assistance and legal support to 10,000 women and girls in North and South Kivu provinces, the regions most affected by rape and sexual assault.
Another $10 million U.S. contribution will fund new programs in eastern DRC to include equipping women and front-line workers with mobile devices to report abuse and share information of treatment and legal options.
A separate $2.9 million U.S. program will recruit and train female police officers to investigate rape and interview survivors of violence against women.
All of which sounds like the U.S. is making a huge commitment to help women in the DRC. But as Wright notes, that the U.S. military, rather than humanitarian agencies, will decide how to best provide the aid should make us question the motivation and usefulness of these promises.
(T)he U.S. military's Africa Command (AFRICOM) is sending an assessment team to "determine how to best assist survivors," and provide "sensitivity training on sexual violence and legal seminars that contribute to the professionalization of the Congolese military."
If the women of the Congo should Google, "U.S. military - sexual assault and rape," I suspect they will decline the offer of assistance from the African Command. 1 in 3 women in the U.S. military are sexually assaulted or raped. Women and girls in countries with U.S. military bases are raped by U.S. military. 8,000 U.S. Marines are being "re-located" from Okinawa in great measure because of citizen activist pressure following the numerous rapes of women and girls there. Prosecution rates in rape cases in the military are abysmal- 8% versus 40% in civilian cases.
The August 10, 2009 Washington Post article "Congo's Rape Epidemic Worsens During U.S.-Backed Military Operation" begins with an alarming statement: "For the women of eastern Congo, a U.S.-backed Congolese military operation meant to save them from abusive rebels has turned an already staggering epidemic of rape has become markedly worse since the January deployment of tens of thousands of poorly trained, poorly paid Congolese soldiers, with people in front-line villages such as this one saying the soldiers are not so much hunting rebels as hunting women."
Writing about the Afghan election, Malalai Joya sums it up well,
Democracy will never come to Afghanistan through the barrel of a gun, or from the cluster bombs dropped by foreign forces. The struggle will be long and difficult, but the values of real democracy, human rights and women's rights will only be won by the Afghan people themselves.
Clearly the same could be said about Iraq as well, where women's lives are in far more peril now than they were before the U.S. invasion. The bottom line is that the use of militarism is not only oxymoronic when it comes to establishing democracy and freedom but also when it comes to protecting the lives of civilians, especially women and children.
In both Iraq and Afghanistan, we used women's lives as a cynical justification for military action. This should serve as a cautionary note regarding the connection of aid to the women in the DRC and an increased U.S. military presence and is extremely worrisome. If history is an indication, the chances are that, like in Afghanistan and Iraq, the lives of Congolese women will be further imperiled in the name of U.S. imperialism.
*The full report makes riveting reading and also points to another site where firsthand reports on the voting have been posted. Please take the time to read both.