POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN TORONTO'S GLOBE AND MAIL
The plight of women in Afghanistan is horrible, but I am always deeply concerned when any Westerner today focuses exclusively on it. Why? The answer is complicated.
The fact is the plight of women is horrible over much of South Asia and Central Asia, not to mention South America and Africa. We see some of these ugly practices even carried over into Canada, as in the recent B.C. Indo-Canadian violence.
Afghanistan is a horribly poor, backward country with an average life expectancy of 47. It is a huge land of deserts and rugged mountains with a population not all that much lower than Canada's.
America's allies, the Northern Alliance, are every bit as horrible as the Taleban. People like General Dostrum are vicious killers and women-abusers. America used them to gain a cheap, quick "victory." But the victory is almost meaningless. The Kabul government does not rule, it has only the power to tolerate the regional warlords.
America is actually reasonably satisfied with this outcome despite its mouthings. Al Qaeda is gone or dispersed from its camps. The plight of women was only brought up as Bush prepared to invade as a way of influencing the opinion of suburban soccer moms in favor of war.
The best propaganda is always based on truth - it is the selectivity and intent which makes it propaganda - and this worked. People haven't stopped talking about something they in fact can do almost nothing about.
Most of the efforts in Afghanistan amount to Potemkin-village efforts. I'm not saying they should be stopped, only that it should be recognized how ineffective they are. Many of the so-called schools in the hinterland go empty or unfinished. Central government authorities cannot even go to many of these places with consent of a warlord.
You cannot change things in a land still in the 14th century without changing these conditions, something beyond the entire West's capacity, much less Canada's. What's more, no one ever bombed anyone into democracy and tolerance.