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Afghanistan: From Bhutto to Christmas, Child Marriage to the Plight of Women

Time for a brief roundup of Afghan blogs, and many apologies for the lengthy delay since the last.

For starters, the vicious murder of Benazir Bhutto looms large for Afghanistan, for the prospects in Pakistan will impact the prospects in Afghanistan. Hassan Abbas, a former Pakistani official and now a scholar at Harvard's Belfer Center, wrote a fascinating analysis of who her possible murderers may be:

But few here believe LeJ could have managed to carry out the attack without assistance from sections in the establishment. Analysts believe Al Qaeda has become a convenient smokescreen to explain motivated attacks on political rivals. The question people are asking is: What motive could the establishment have in killing Benazir?

Top political sources told Outlook that hours before Benazir was assassinated, she was on the verge of exposing an ISI operation to rig the January 8 general election. They say she had been collecting incontrovertible proof about a rigging cell allegedly established at an ISI safe house in Islamabad.

I hate to be the one to point this out, but would it be very hard to discover a rigged election in Pakistan? The last few have been rigged by Musharraf himself; how would a rigged election this time prove any different? Indeed, I remain deeply skeptical that Musharraf would be behind her murder, if only because suicide bombers are not his style. A rogue element with ISI, in at least tacit collusion with al-Qaeda? That is certainly possible, though at that point I fail to see the usefulness of distinguishing the two.

There is also the distinct possibility, amidst the weeping and gnashing of teeth, that Ms. Bhutto's murder may not really mean anything at all. Regardless, the theories of Musharraf's involvement will continue apace, and in the end Bhutto's real killers will probably not matter in the slightest: perception is what counts, and if everyone thinks Musharraf did it, then he did it.

Of a wholly different stripe is the continued deplorable treatment of women. Atash Parcha recounts one horrific account:

Doctors at a hospital in Qalat, capital of Zabul Province in southern Afghanistan, are treating a brutally tortured woman whose husband cut off both her ears and nose, broke her teeth and shaved her head only three months after their marriage. The victim, 16-year-old Nazia, is also suffering from psychiatric distress due to her experience, according to a doctor in Qalat hospital.

It's like a Hosseini novel come to life. Mohammed Fahim Khairy has a picture of the poor girl, who must now live the rest of her life mutilated because her husband was an monster. He also relates a terrible statistic:

Most of the opium farmers and warlords are marrying children by force or given good money to the needy parents…

About 16 per cent of children are married under the age of 15, according to recent data from UNICEF. And there is evidence that the poverty of recent years is pushing down the marriage age further in some areas

It's not just girls. Back in November I noted the resurgence of bacha bazi, or boy-play:

Later into the night, once the dancing is over, the boys are frequently shared with close friends, for sexual favors. And by the end of the evening it is not at all uncommon for the boy to have a new owner, as the parties often provide the opportunity for buying and selling.

An enlightened sense of multicultural tolerance surely draws the line here. It is not controversial to call this sex slavery—the worst sort, involving children. In stark contrast to the West, where there is a very real dichotomy between what we consider to be homosexuality and what we consider to be pederasty, in Baghlan it seems the distinction is meaningless.

As I noted there, a society that sells impoverished boys and girls like property is not a healthy society. And the growing prevalence of both practices—child-marriage for girls and bacha bazi for boys—can be traced back to the endless grinding poverty in the countryside. It is a pattern sadly repeated everywhere there is endemic poverty.

It makes for a strange contrast with Nassim Fekrat's best Christmas wishes. Nevertheless, I agree with him wholeheartedly:

I wish you all a great Christmas. Let 2008 be the year of peace and security. The year 2007 was bloody year for Afghan people, suicide attacks and several explosions in central of the cities. Lots of people died. Don't forget Afghanistan, don't forget its children, women and homeless people.

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