|What is New Zealand still doing in Afghanistan? And what is the situation that prevails amongst its gay inhabitants?
Afghanistan is a failed state. The Soviet Union invaded it in 1981 and spent a fruitless decade trying to patch together the warring tribal communities. When they admitted defeat and withdrew in 1989, the Taliban took over in 1994, albeit not with the consent of rival warlords. Forgotten in the aftermath of the Cold War, Afghanistan became a base of operations for the Sunni Islamist network known as al Qaeda. It launched a devastating attack on New York's World Trade Centre in 2001, with the loss of three thousand lives. Promptly, the United States assembled a United Nations expeditionary force and invaded. Since then, it's being trying to keep the peace and apprehend al Qaeda, now probably centred in northwestern Pakistan. Meanwhile, it's not having much luck trying to piece things together. So, what about the lives of LGBT Afghans?
In DNA 133, Rob Marshman commented on Afghanistan, with reference to the variety of homosexualities on display there. As Afghanistan is a failed state and prone to tribalism, there is no central authority and ethnicities vary in its expression. Some resemble Indo-Pakistan kothis and engage in cross-gender dress and mannerisms, even some Taliban soldiers. There is widespread public display of affection between men and 'safety valve' sex between men, while women are treated with brutal misogyny and isolation still. Er, we're fighting to defend this…?
In Afghanistan, gay sex is something one does, and may not be the basis for a social identity as it is in the West and Eastern Asia. Solidarity is somewhat problematic in this situation. However, overall, Afghanistan is still a failed state and a patchwork of disparate ethnic groups, rather than a coherent nation. As the next cited commentary discloses, Marshman's conclusions about consolidation and liberalisation may be forelorn hopes.
Writing in Harpers magazine, Matthieu Adkins provided a gloomy review of Afghanistan's lack of progress toward stable democratic development since the US-led army of occupation overthrew Taliban rule in 2001. According to him, there were widespread opportunities for voter fraud in September 2010, when the last legislative elections were held. These included multiple voting, ballot stuffing, falsified counts, bribery and voter intimidation. The Taliban even sabotaged voting booths in areas still under their control, although other legislature representatives weren't exactly innocent either. Corruption, moral decay and hypocrisy seem to dominate political life in contemporary Afghanistan. Past war crimes go unpunished, and some elected representatives have connections to illegal paramilitary groups, while other banned candidates don't. Voter and civic education is non-existent.
Since 2002/3, there have been endless squabbles between President Hamid Karzai and Afghanistan's National Assembly, which has resulted in the ascendancy of an ‘imperial presidency' that often rules through decree, as opposed to the fragmented and dysfunctional legislation. The Single Non-Transferable Vote (SNTV) electoral system has the result of destabilising political parties or coherent blocs- Indonesia, Jordan, Vanuatu, Thailand and the Pitcairn Islands are the only nations that share it. It seems to also encourage legislature corruption and given that many of the incoming ‘representatives' have business contracts with US military outposts, the occupying forces have turned a blind eye. And overseas election observers are powerless to intervene.
So, why are our medical, humanitarian and SAS army units providing assistance in this context, again? And will any improvements survive a Taliban resurgence? Granted, any lesbian and gay SAS, medical and humanitarian personnel presumably believe in equality of sacrifice and believe in their mission there, but does that mean that any of our soldiers or other military personnel should be at risk in this questionable conflict?
Recommended: Matthieu Adkins: “Disappearing Ink” Harpers: January 2011: 39-44. Rob Marshman: “Dancing Boys” DNA 133: Feb 2011: 74-77. Craig Young - 11th April 2011