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A BBC interview with an Afghan human rights activist today made me wonder whether the U.S. anti-insurgency campaign there makes any sense, except for short-term military expediency.

Here’s the argument: in Afghan tribal society, women’s rights are generally in the stone age. For negative example we in the west can readily get furious over, in some provinces there, female children are still not allowed to go to school. Under the anti-insurgency doctrine, the U.S. is supporting local government in the provinces, to offer an alternative to the Taliban. It is such local tribal governments which have such extreme policies and traditions limiting the role of women. The activist interviewed by the BBC maintains that a stronger central government that would bring together the diversity of views and practices of the country would create a more progressive Afghanistan, as it pertains to women’s rights.

I’m no authority on any of this, but I think this discussion illustrates the complexity and risks of meddling in the native cultures of a society. Just look at the mess in African society that lies in the aftermath of centuries of european meddling. I find it hard to understand the U.S.’s strategic interest in Afghanistan, any more than ours in Vietnam or Korea. What makes sense to the militarists seems to make little sense in terms of society. Meanwhile, we’re busy killing people — ours and theirs.

July 2010

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