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Campbell: Gordon Brown’s exit, women in Afganistan

Gordon Campbell on Gordon Brown’s exit, and the SAS role in defending women’s oppression in Afghanistan

Now that Gordon Brown has resigned, the way is a little bit clearer for Nick Clegg to make a deal with Labour – but only a little bit clearer. The arithmetic of cobbling together a parliamentary majority for a Lib/Lab government (which would need a gaggle of minor parties to come on board all with an agenda and a price) is still very forbidding. Yet at least the Brown departure has forced the Tories to up the ante, and offer Clegg a referendum on an alternative voting system.

The real disappointment for Clegg is that neither Labour nor the Conservatives is offering him what he wants: a referendum on proportional representation. What both the major parties are offering instead is the alternative vote (AV) system – which isn’t a proportional system at all, but a majoritarian one, that creates a majority for a candidate in each constituency, but does sweet nothing to address the issue of proportionality. For the two major parties, AV would mean a purely cosmetic change.

So the injustices of last week’s election would continue whereby – for example – Labour won 8.6 million votes and 258 seats, while the Lib Dems got 6.8 million votes and only 57 seats. In fact, the vote for Clegg’s Lib Dems went up by one percent, but it lost about 10 percent of its representation in Parliament. The Conservatives on the other hand, improved their share of the vote by less than 4%, but yet increased their haul of seats by more than 40%. That’s how FPP works in Britain.

Given how utterly the offers of an AV referendum fail to address the problem – and the guarantee that the Murdoch media empire will campaign solidly against even that prospect if it is being proposed by a Lib-Lab administration – one can only, once again sympathise with the ‘damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t’ choice that Nick Clegg has to make.

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Afghanistan and women

One reason commonly offered for the SAS presence in Afghanistan is that we are seeking to build what John Key calls a ‘peaceful stable democracy’ in that country. One that respects the rights of women that were formerly trampled underfoot by the Taliban. In fact, the Hamid Karzai regime that we propping up has shown no genuine commitment to women’s rights – as was evident last year, when Karzai was willing to legalise the marital rape of Shia women, and to require Shia wives to seek the permission of their husbands before venturing outside the home. It took an international outcry for Karzai to back off from that proposal.

Since then, the situation has not improved. This year Karzai personally pardoned three men who had been convicted of the particularly violent rape of an Afghan woman. For the past few months, Karzai has also been putting out feelers to “moderate” Taliban to join his government – and women’s rights are up for grabs in those talks, as Anber Raz points out in this story in the Guardian. Apparently, a new constitution in which even the existing token commitments to women’s rights are likely to be abolished, is on the table in the ongoing negotiations.

In similar vein, Raz reports that only 115 women have been invited to the 1,200 strong “peace jirga” due to be held in Kabul at the end of this month, in order to debate policies for reconstruction and reconciliation. This is a lower ratio of women even than the 27% of seats nominally reserved for women in the Afghan parliament – a quota that Raz says Karzai is also rumoured to be in favour of abolishing. Earlier this year at a major international conference on the future of Afghanistan, women were excluded entirely from Karzai’s delegation. As she concludes :

The few women who are given the opportunity to take part in public life as parliamentarians, in local governance, the media and public administration do so at their own risk. The Afghan government has done little to protect women in public life. Yet another woman provincial council member, Nida Khayani, was seriously wounded in an assassination attempt last month….

While the warlords, the Taliban and corrupt government officials fight for power in Afghanistan, excluding the voices of women fighting for peace and justice means that true progress is unlikely. The women of Afghanistan who oppose reintegration of the Taliban are not anti-peace and do not want to see their country continuing on a downward spiral of violence. However, they no longer want to be the sacrificial lambs in a game of politics which has nothing to do with the welfare of the people of Afghanistan. Lasting peace cannot be achieved without the inclusion of the women of Afghanistan…

Perhaps the next time that Key dons his flak jacket and heads off to Afghanistan for a photo op with Hamid Karzai, he should be making it clear to his host that the continued presence of our SAS troops is dependent on Karzai starting to respect the human rights of half the Afghan population. Because as things stand, New Zealand is being a party to the continued oppression of Afghan women – given that UN resolution 1325 on the rights of women is plainly not being upheld by the government that our military is helping to defend.

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