War in Afghanistan: what solutions?

Abdul Hekmat, a Hazara refugee from Afghanistan, doesn't believe that the US-NATO invasion and occupation of his country amounts to a "good" war, and is troubled by the prospect of the Taliban seizing more power.

Hekmat fled Afghanistan eight years ago, before the US-led invasion. He told a meeting hosted by Stop the War Coalition Sydney on May 25 that the Taliban was "suffocating" and "repressive", and that it had increased its power since the 2001 invasion.

Hekmat, like most Afghans, is upset at the high numbers of civilian casualties. More than 2000 people were killed by US-NATO forces in 2008. He also pointed to the attacks in Farah province in early May, where around 140 people were killed in a US bombardment of villages.

"Hamid Karzai [the Western-backed president] did not take the opportunity to make lives better", Hekmat said. "He has promised a lot, but has not delivered."

Hekmat was particularly scathing of a new law that sanctions rape in marriage. "It treats women like sex objects. Women have to have sex with their husband four times a week. It also allows men to have multiple wives and it even sanctions sex with minors."

He said there had been some muted outcry about this from the US, among other countries, but he was upset that Canberra had said nothing at all. Because of the silence, Hekmat organised a 70-strong protest outside Parliament House and the Afghan High Commission on May 12.

Hekmat said Karzai was using this law to win support from ultra-conservative religious scholars for his re-election bid in August.

"There is no freedom of expression [in Afghanistan] when it comes to religious beliefs and anything questioning Islamic law", he said.

Although he acknowledged the Western invasion had actually helped strengthen the Taliban, he said he feared a troop withdrawal would leave the Taliban in control of the country.

"Afghans are increasingly ambivalent [about the occupation] because nothing has changed and people are tired of war. If the foreign troops could provide security, protection and construction assistance, people would want them to stay," he said.

[The Australian Education Union is touring Shazia from the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, in May and June.]

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