A day and a half before President Barack Obama dismissed Gen. Stanley McChrystal, Brookings Institution scholar Michael O'Hanlon wrote in The Wall Street Journal of "too much loose talk and sloppy thinking" on Afghanistan. "Along with the debates on timelines for U.S. troop drawdowns, the confusion feeds a sense of strategic drift that is not helpful to maintaining national resolve on this important war."
O'Hanlon's timing confirms that loose talk and sloppy thinking did not begin with a commander and his cadre speaking off the cuff to a liberal journalist in a Paris hotel. It has characterized too much of U.S. policy toward Afghanistan these nearly nine years of war. Our forces cleared Taliban militants from mountaintop gateways only to have them sweep back in via the valley's back door. Civilian leaders looked the other way while Afghan counterparts fed corruption and graft habits with U.S. dollars. Along with McChrystal, Vice President Joe Biden has undermined both military commanders and the president, insisting publicly that troops will be out of Afghanistan by July 2011 (most recently to Newsweek) while others, notably defense secretary Robert Gates and incoming commander David Petraeus, view the date as "a starting point."
But of underlying significance is the loose talk and sloppy thinking that surrounded the adoption of Afghanistan's constitution, despite the applause it received in Washington and Kabul when it passed in 2004. As religious liberty advocates pointed out then (see "Dress rehearsal?" Jan. 17, 2004), it spelled out the framework for an Islamic republic with "Islam as its sacred religion." Article 3 states that "no law" can be contrary to Islam. Article 130 allows for "Hanafi jurisprudence," a form of Shariah (Islamic) law, to take precedence where there is no other legal provision on any issue. These provisions marked the end of free speech and personal liberty in Afghanistan before they had begun-and explain much about the war's nagging challenges.
The canaries in the coal mine, the country's Christians, have been discovering to their peril the effects of such provisions. After Afghan television showed converts being baptized on May 31, calls went up for their execution-including from a deputy leader in parliament. Two of those in the footage were arrested in June. One, asked in televised court proceedings to renounce his faith, broke: "If you pardon me, I will return to Islam," he said. Officials suspended the work of two NGOs with the word church in their name (Church World Service and Norwegian Church Aid), though both have worked in the country for decades and agreed not to proselytize.
Afghan Christians who already live in fear and worship underground became overnight targets: Authorities drew up a list of NGOs, local, and foreign Christians to be investigated, and searched homes in Kabul for signs of Christian activity. President Hamid Karzai's spokesman announced that conversions must be stopped. Dozens of Afghan Christians fled, some leaving the country. At $70 billion a year, these are your tax dollars at work.
Government leaders may back down. Karzai may deport these Christians, as he has done to hundreds of others caught changing their religion. But that will be the result of international pressure, and so far there's little: No statement from the White House, U.S. or NATO leaders in Kabul. No coverage from news outlets with full-time correspondents in Afghanistan. Washington Examiner editorial page editor Mark Tapscott picked up a WORLD story on their plight and contacted the State Department: No comment.
Who did speak up? A group of 150 Afghan exiles living in New Delhi-all Christians who fled their homeland under similar duress. "We do not know how the whole world and especially the global church is silent," they wrote, "while thousands of their brothers and sisters are in pain, facing life danger . . . persecuted and called criminals."
Liberty is dependent on the free exercise of conscience and the preservation of society on the protection of all citizens. U.S. brokers in Afghanistan do their past and future a disservice to stand for less. As Tapscott put it, are we in Afghanistan to defend Kabul's right to kill Christian converts?
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