Sayed Pervez Kambaksh’s death sentence is a compelling demonstration of how thoroughly the west has failed in Afghanistan. The death sentence was issued by an Afghan court in response to the allegation that Kambaksh had downloaded and distributed a report about the oppression of women. This is not the first time a death sentence has been issued for blasphemy in Afghanistan since the imposition of the Karzai government, but it is a pretty egregious case. Yesterday, the sentence was confirmed by the Afghan Senate.
Is the whole point of the war in Afghanistan the replacement of one brutal band of thuggish warlords with another? Admittedly, the present government is better than the Taliban was, but that is hardly a ringing endorsement. Canada is considering an ever-more long term commitment to the protection of this government while, at the same time, we cannot trust them not to torture detainees that are transferred to them.
What is to be done in response? Do we become hard-headed realists, asserting that aiming to empower women or promote human rights was never a realistic or appropriate aim of the war in Afghanistan? Supporting a government just because they seem relatively pliable and seem to say the right things about cracking down on groups that worry us is certainly a practice with a long history. That said, it isn’t a very successful one. After all, it is why the west armed the Mujahideen in the first place (not to mention the Pinochets and Musharrafs of the world). Do we become isolationists, then, despairing of our ability to effect any progressive or worthwhile change in the world? That doesn’t seem practically or morally tenable in a world as interconnected as ours has become.
Perhaps all we can do is become a bit more cynical and a lot more critical about the supposed justifications for interventions. Rather than aspiring to replace oppressive societies with somewhat better ones, perhaps we should admit that overthrowing governments – however awful – will normally lead to horribly broken societies. That is not to say that it is always the worst option available. A horribly broken society is better than one in which an active genocide is occurring. With such exceptions admitted, it does seem as though the dream of a transition to liberal democracy through military intervention has been essentially invalidated by the experience of western states in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001.