News broke Sunday of the Taliban’s public execution of a woman accused of adultery in Afghanistan. Officials in Afghanistan stated that two Taliban officials apparently had a “dispute” over the woman, and then decided to execute her. The execution was conveyed via this video, though it is unclear when the video was actually filmed.
The brutal story of the Taliban’s violence toward women is one we hear over and over again — but the timing of this video feels especially eerie: the video surfaced a day after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a quick stop in Kabul, and the the same day as an international summit in Tokyo where leaders pledged to support $16 billion in aid to Afghanistan after 2014.
Clinton visited Kabul on Saturday to personally deliver the news that Afghanistan is now a major non-NATO ally of the US, along with Japan, Israel and Pakistan. During the visit Clinton made clear that she was sending a message to the Taliban, asserting that the Taliban “will face the increasingly capable Afghan national security forces, backed by the United States” if they do not renounce terrorism.
On Sunday in Tokyo, leaders of 70 countries pledged that they would not abandon Afghanistan after the US occupation ends in 2014, and that $16 billion in aid would help Afghanistan “avoid collapsing” but won’t be enough to grow its economy.
There did not seem to be discussion of human rights issues in Tokyo, even though Human Rights Watch issued a statement on July 4 calling for Afghanistan to make women’s rights and justice a priority at the Tokyo conference. Human Rights Watch points out that women in Afghanistan continue to be excluded from major decision-making, such as May’s NATO summit in Chicago, and that if Afghanistan seeks peace with the Taliban, women’s rights could be bargained away.
It seems Human Rights Watch’s statement fell on deaf ears. And unfortunately there is much evidence to support the NGO’s concern that Karzai will bargain away women’s rights: in March, soon before International Women’s Day, Karzai endorsed a non-binding edict stating that women are worth less than men. In 2009, Human Rights Watch reported that Afghanistan passed a law giving a husband the right to deny his wife food, if she refuses his sexual demands, and that guardianship of children is granted only to fathers and grandfathers. The law also requires women to get permission from their husbands to work and allows a rapist to avoid prosecution by paying the girl.
Given Karzai’s troubling stance on women’s rights, it is concerning that the US has chosen to declare Afghanistan a non-NATO ally and that the international community seems to be pledging funds with no clear strings attached — human rights or otherwise. On the other hand, special diplomatic status as well as financial resources could be the only way to influence human rights concerns in Afghanistan going forward.
There is no evidence as to whether the disturbing execution video is a response to both Clinton’s visit and the Tokyo conference, but it is hard not to connect the incidents — particularly since the video could have been filmed at any time. When viewed in this light, the video rings of an obstinate rebuke of human rights as well as Clinton’s words of warning.