Sacrificing justice for peace?

SHIRAZ MAHER

This week’s edition of Time magazine carries one of the most provocative front covers I have seen in a while. Harrowing but compelling, it is one of those pictures that sums up everything about our mission in Afghanistan. (I have decided not to reproduce it, but you can view it here).

The editor explains:

Our cover image this week is powerful, shocking and disturbing. It is a portrait of Aisha, a shy 18-year-old Afghan woman who was sentenced by a Taliban commander to have her nose and ears cut off for fleeing her abusive in-laws.

The article has more gruesome details:

The Taliban pounded on the door just before midnight, demanding that Aisha, 18, be punished for running away from her husband’s house. Her in-laws treated her like a slave, Aisha pleaded. They beat her. If she hadn’t run away, she would have died. Her judge, a local Taliban commander, was unmoved. Aisha’s brother-in-law held her down while her husband pulled out a knife. First he sliced off her ears. Then he started on her nose.

Aisha’s story is reminiscent of the video which emerged from Pakistan’s Swat valley last year which showed the Taliban flogging a 17 year old girl in the street for refusing a marriage proposal. The Pakistan Army responded by launching a major offensive in Swat and pushing out the Taliban in the process.

Similarly, Aisha’s ordeal seems to present one of the most compelling reasons for staying in Afghanistan. I support an ongoing campaign in the region to rid Afghanistan of the Taliban, but Time‘s story is every bit as provocative as its picture. I haven’t changed my opinion but there is certainly a lot to think over. For example:

[Hamid] Karzai mused on the cost of the conflict in human lives and wondered aloud if he had any right to talk about human rights when so many were dying…”What is more important, protecting the right of a girl to go to school or saving her life?” How Karzai and his international allies answer that question will have far-reaching consequences, not only for Afghanistan’s women, but the country as a whole.

[…]

“You have to be realistic,” says a diplomat in Kabul. “We are not going to be sending troops and spending money forever. There will have to be a compromise, and sacrifices will have to be made.”

It is naïve, of course, to assume an unlimited commitment to Afghanistan. But where should we draw the line? Perhaps more crucial is the question: how do we leave, and on whose terms? Should we sacrifice justice for Aisha – and hundreds like her – in return for peace? Over to you in the comments below.

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