Trying to navigate the cultural minefield that is Afghanistan is a difficult job on the best of days. Because when you work in places like the graveyard of cultural understanding you get told things like don’t point the soles of your feet at people. That they don’t eat bacon. And they will use a lot of water all the time but you will never see them with a bar of soap.
What the cultural subject matter experts don’t cover as well are things like bacha bazi. That’s where Afghan power brokers prove how powerful they are by keeping little boys. So they can rape them.
Because when you think “powerful man,” you think “pedophile.”
It’s not the case for all Afghan men, and not even a majority. But the men who tend to participate most often, at least in places like Helmand?
That’s right, ‘murca. A large chunk of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) are responsible for the systematic kidnapping of young Afghan boys so they can rape them. Some of them for years. And the West has no plans to do anything about it.
That’s what AFP’s Anuj Chopra found when he tried to talk to people whose children had been victims of bacha bazi.
That in Helmand, the cops are mostly responsible.
That to escape from their captors, bacha bazi victims have had to make deals with the Taliban.
And that Western authorities have enough problems of their own to deal with in their home countries that they can’t be bothered to do anything about Afghan cops who rape boys.
It’s a worthwhile read, so do check it out, but here’s a few things we need to understand about why bacha bazi is not on anyone’s to do list in the graveyard of meaningful interventions.
Helmand’s got bigger problems
While Ashraf Ghani promises investigations into claims that Afghan cops are running child sex slavery in Helmand, the bigger problem in that province is the Taliban.
Who are making inroads into the heart of opium country and now control most of the province. Which, given how much blood and treasure has been spent on securing the area, is a problem.
Because it’s not just about controlling Helmand, it’s about showing Ghani the money.
Donors are getting stingy
Sure, all kinds of long-term commitments to Afghanistan have been promised. But there’s a sense across most of NATO and the other nations in the coalition from the folks back home that people are getting a little tired of Afghanistan.
Now, people only really get tired of a war when US personnel are dying in it. Because Afghan lives matter, just not as much as American lives.
At least to voters who put a sentient orange into the White House.
But His Trumpness isn’t the only one leading a nation that appears to be less than enthused with globalization. Britain’s now contending with the ramifications of the Brexit vote, and the rest of the European Union may take their cue from the UK in the not-so-distant future.
All of which means that the Afghan government needs to show progress in things like improving security, knocking down corruption, and ensuring that donor dollars are being spent as intended.
None of which ties to what’s happening to boys in Helmand.
We don’t need no stinkin’ refugees
In the most telling exchange in Chopra’s post, he talks to a Western official about rescuing the victims of child rape.
“Rescue them to where?”
Which is more than nationalistic fervor and wanting to make countries white again. It’s also a practical consideration, since none of the main destinations for refugees in the world are prepared to take on the people flocking to their shores.
And that’s the question that all of us wanting to raise our outrage high can’t ever seem to answer: What are we supposed to do now?
The easier answer used to be to ship them off to welcoming shores.
Except those shores are getting full, on both practical and rhetorical levels.
The devil we know is raping young boys
Like I said in my last post about Vice President Dostum, the United States makes deals with less-than-savory people in the name of security.
And they do that…a lot.
As in a ridiculous amount, and not just in places like Afghanistan.
Because, as the argument goes, what’s happening is for the greater good. And the greater good is served, in this case, by focusing on other problems, and continuing to provide material assistance to security forces that are raping kids.
Is there a solution, though?
Probably, but no one’s gonna like it.
Let’s rethink that surge
Because that’s the only way this works at this point.
- Bring back more troops: And by more I mean enough to fight a war you intend to win, and enough to train Afghan security forces properly. Which probably should include a lot of instruction on “Why You Need To Stop Raping Kids.”
- Get rid of the rapists: Since you’ve got enough foreign troops to hold and build security, you can start weeding out cops and their commanders who do things like rape boys.
- Tie funding to improved human rights: And this works only if you have a force in place to fight off the Taliban, but if things like rape by cops doesn’t improve, you start shutting off some of the funding for things like newer equipment. Don’t cripple the country or its security forces, but don’t let them operate with impunity, either.
What Afghan forces still need is one-to-one mentoring down at a squad level. And by that I don’t mean a weekly Key Leaders Engagement (KLE). I mean troops living in close proximity to their Afghan partners, and everybody’s pulling a trigger against the bad guys.
None of which is going to happen.
Because no one has the political will it would take to stand up that many more troops.
So we’re left with making deals with devils. And Afghan boys will continue to suffer.
Because if you can’t put America first, then what, after all, is the point?