Government Security Foreign policy

Sacrificing the Women of Afghanistan

But what about the women of Afghanistan? photo: Marius Arnesen/flickr

“If someone is sentenced to death, they must be killed with a gun, and photographing the execution is forbidden.” So goes one of the directives handed down by Taliban leader Mullah Omar in an effort to avoid images that might cause a rift between the movement and supporters. It was part of a 69-point document, published in May 2009, which formed a new PR strategy designed to recast the insurgency around local liberation rather than violent fundamentalism.

Western moves toward ‘reconciliation’ and withdrawal suggest that the strategy has helped to maintain the narrative of a war that ‘cannot be won’. Much of the recent media focus has been on abuses perpetrated by the coalition and its partners: the Wikileaks revelations, charges against British forces, and unlawful killings by the Pakistani military. These have contributed to the collapse in international public support – with 63 percent and 58 percent of UK and US populations now opposing the war.

Politically, the criteria for withdrawal has been narrowed. British Prime Minister Cameron said that he could “sum it up in two words…national security: clearing al-Qaida out of Afghanistan, damaging them in Pakistan. We don’t have some dreamy ideas about this mission.” President Obama now supports efforts to “open the door to the Taliban” and has backed Afghan President Karzai’s move to form a reconciliation ‘high peace council’ and invite the Taliban into parliament. As one western diplomat explained: “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.”

But who, specifically, will be making the sacrifice? Last week, a UAE-owned television station provided an emphatic answer – if indeed it was ever doubted – by smuggling out what is believed to be the first verified recording of the Taliban stoning a woman. The grainy but horrifying images of a hooded victim kneeling before her executioners – after she was accused of “being seen with a man” – are testament to the reality of life for women in the Taliban-controlled areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan, under an ideological movement that also kills women who go to school, work or participate in the political process (along with the men who support them).

The reality of what is at stake is illustrated in the story of Robina Jalalai, one of Afghanistan’s first two female Olympic athletes, who now trains “in the stadium where the Taliban used to play football with women’s heads.”

Government Culture Business and Finance

Corruption in Russia: Business as Usual?

Anti-corruption poster in Saint Petersburg, photo: mutatdjellyfish/flickr

Transparency International’s latest Corruption Perceptions Index saw the ratings of many western countries drop. Scoring worst among the G20 countries, Russia’s ranking dropped to 154, its lowest ranking since the index began in 1995.

Naturally, there are limits to how useful measuring a population’s perception of how corrupt their government actually is. Transparency International’s Francois Valerian acknowledges that “a drop in ranking can often result from the exposure of corruption that had already existed for some time.”

And corruption in Russia has existed for a very long time. For millions of Russians corruption is often seen as the norm. Russian authors have explored the theme of corruption in Russia over centuries. Nikolai Gogol exposed corruption in tsarist Russia in Dead Souls and The Inspector General, while Mikhail Bulgakov satirized the greed and corruption of Stalin’s Soviet Union in Master and Margarita.

According to one Russian polling station, the Levada Center, “nearly 80 percent of Russians say that corruption is a major problem and that it is much worse than it was 10 years ago.” Recent years have seen a rise in coverage of corruption scandals in Russia. So have Russians become increasingly critical of the government’s failure to deal with the problem of lingering corruption?

International Relations Environment

Negotiating Biodiversity and the Business with Genes

Not the most biodiverse place: artificial creatures in Nagoya, photo: rumpleteaser/flickr

Eric Johnston called it “the most important conference you never heard of”:

You would think that a conference that was once billed as a meeting designed to come to an agreement  on a “Kyoto Protocol” for all living things would get just a bit more media respect. Or public attention.

And indeed, having just returned from Japan, I am surprised how much less media coverage COP 10 is getting outside its host country. It was by chance that I stumbled over COP 10 when in Nagoya last week and it took me a while until I understood the meaning of the acronym, which was all over the Japanese media: COP 10 stands for the tenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Given the technical and complex nature of the issues at stake, lay people may find it difficult to understand let alone explain what’s going on in Nagoya. However, the International Year of Biodiversity should provide reason enough to make an effort.

The most contentious issue at the conference is a possible compensation paid by drug companies to indigenous people for using and patenting their knowledge on the medical use of natural resources.

I give the word again to Eric Johnston of the Japan Times:

  • Should we offer some sort of compensation to indigenous peoples for medicines from their traditional lands already on the market?
  • Should we sign contracts directly with them so the next time a drug company is hiking through a biodiverse rich environment, they’ll be doing so with the approval of whoever lives on the land those plants come from?
  • And how do we determine, legally, whether the knowledge of how to manipulate those plants came from ancient oral traditions or a peer-reviewed article in a scientific magazine?
  • And if payments are to be made to indigenous peoples, how are they to be paid, and what does this mean for drugstore prices in developed countries?

Keyword in Focus

Keyword in Focus: Gay Rights

Gay rights are human rights, photo: William Murphy/flickr

In the wake of an Ugandan newspaper publishing the names and pictures of the country’s “top homosexuals” recently (with an appalling banner reading ‘Hang them’ on the cover), gay rights across the world and particularly in Africa have become a topic of discussion once more. As many Ugandan homosexuals said in response to the publishing of what can only be described as a ‘hit list’, the situation had been much calmer and more stable prior to the publishing of this article and in the years before homosexuality had become a religiously and politically charged issue on the continent.

With well-documented involvement from western, especially American evangelical groups in stigmatizing and condemning homosexuality openly and vociferously, the space for maneuver for many African gays has become suffocatingly narrow. They are trapped between traditional norms that do not approve of homosexuality; attitudes that had simply lain dormant or been overlooked until recently, and a religiously conservative movement that has systematically stoked intolerance and hatred against gays.

Will the situation for the LGBT community only get worse or are we witnessing a mix of setbacks and progress worldwide, with true human rights respected in some places, while a wave of intolerance and prejudice hits others?

We hold an excellent set of resources on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights in the ISN Digital Library. Feel free to explore and let us know what you found particularly interesting. Here are some highlights:

  • An ETC paper on the LGBT community as an ‘easy target’
  • A News Article on the position of gays and lesbians in the military

Plus a host of excellent Links and Organizations.


ISN Insights: Look Back, Week Ahead

The new ISN Insights week starts today, photo: Michael LaCalameto/flickr

Last week ISN Insights explored the following issues:

In the week ahead we’re going to be looking at China’s foreign relations in a special ISN Insights week. Look out for articles on the Sino-US relationship, China’s aid policy in the Asia-Pacific, Sino-Russian relations and China’s increasingly strained relationship with India. Friday’s ISN Podcast will discuss North Korea with Aidan Foster-Carter.

Stay tuned and keep checking the ISN site each day for the newest ISN Insights piece.