In a rare triumph of human rights in Afghanistan, a young woman who was jailed for “zina” (adultery) has been pardoned by President Karzai. About 5,000 people signed a petition for the release of Gulnaz, who was imprisoned after she came forward to report that she had been raped and impregnated by her cousin’s husband.
Afraid of persecution for dishonoring her family and her community, Gulnaz kept the secret of her rape until her pregnancy made it impossible. As a result, she and her attacker were both charged with adultery. Her child, a daughter, was born in prison and has remained with her.
Gulnaz was initially sentenced to 2 years in jail, but after she appealed the decision her sentence was actually extended to 12 years. The man involved was sentenced to 7 years. Activists who are fighting for human rights in Afghanistan say that adultery is a common charge when rape cases go to court.
Democracy or Drug-ocracy?
The abundance of opium crops in Afghanistan have made the area a war zone for at least the past 200 years. Druglords have been fighting for control of the opium trade and fighting anyone who threatens their position on the global market.
Even the British Empire once sought to control this valuable resource, through the British East India Company, throughout the mid-1800’s. This coincided with the Opium Wars and the beginning of China’s “century of humiliation”, a time of widespread addiction and subjugation.
The economic power gained through the opium trade, and the ability for those in power to use the drug for social control, make it very difficult to build an honest democratic system that respects human rights in Afghanistan.
Despite the proclaimed War on Drugs, America’s military presence has not diminished the drug trade in Afghanistan at all. In fact, heroin production has increased since the war began. Back in 2000, the Taliban had banned poppy cultivation and, according to an article in New York Times, they were successful in eradicating the crop completely.
How did the drug trade make such a comeback? The drug lords simply took advantage of the opportunity when NATO ousted the Taliban, and our military forces have done little or nothing to stop them.
When the new democratic government was being formed, political power was gained by many people involved in the drug trade. They had the money and influence necessary. They even had the support of the people in some cases; people who depend on the drug trade for their modest income.
Standing for Human Rights in Afghanistan
At the Loya Jirga in 2003, an elected delegate named Malalai Joya voiced her dissent about criminals being present, saying:
“My criticism on all my compatriots is that why are they allowing the legitimacy and legality of this Loya Jirga come under question with the presence of those felons who brought our country to this state.”
She was cast out because of her speech and she was suspended from her position in the government, but she has not given up her fight for human rights in Afghanistan. Despite death threats and assassination attempts, she published a book and is frequently invited to speaking engagements around the world.
In the spring of 2011, Joya was denied a travel visa to visit the United States for several speaking engagements. The U.S. State Department claims she was denied for being unemployed and “living underground”, but she suspects it is more than likely because she endeavors to expose the “wrong policies of the U.S. and its puppet regime”. (Popular outrage caused them to reconsider her visa.)
Her suspicion has some merit. Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of President Karzai, is allegedly being paid by the CIA and he is also suspected of being intimately involved with drug lords. This would not be the first time the CIA has been linked to the drug trade. Covert operations, secret even to the President and Congress, have to be funded clandestinely.
If people desire respect for human rights in Afghanistan or anywhere else, government corruption of all kinds must be exposed.