Part of what is so shocking about the public execution of an Afghan woman for alleged adultery is where it took place.
The close-up shooting took place in Parwan Province before a crowd of 150 onlookers who cheered the killers as “mujahideen” as the woman was shot nine times. The Afghan government says the incident, captured on video, was the work of the Taliban; a Taliban spokesman denies this.
Parwan Province lies just north of the capital Kabul and houses Bagram Air Field, a massive US base. This incident took place directly under the noses of the Afghan government and the international community.
Since the Taliban’s ouster in 2001, the province has always been the most obvious place for foreigners looking to work or relax outside Kabul. It’s one of the safest places in the country, with the large security footprint, good connectivity to the capital, and the mostly-Tajik ethnic makeup.
I have made the journey a half dozen times since 2005. There’s a lovely ice cream shop off one of the rotaries, and a decent restaurant serving fish and kebabs overlooking the Panjshir River.
The province has received a lot of development assistance, both by nongovernmental organizations based out of nearby Kabul and from the military Provincial Reconstruction Team operating out of Bagram.
A local elder in Parwan once told me how the foreigners had now built three girls’ schools within a mile of each other. Girls schools are a popular project for foreigners, and Parwan is a popular place to put them, given the relative security, but there weren’t enough girls in the area to fill three, the elder claimed. Instead, the security guard at one of the schools did nothing but protect the squirrels and birds who nested in the empty building.
So if there’s any place where the international community might expect to wield influence and blunt the rougher edges of village life, Parwan would be it.
But the execution follows a number of disturbing events in Parwan that suggest slipping Western influence.
- When news emerged that US soldiers had inadvertently burned some Qurans at Bagram, a member of Parliament from Parwan named Abdul Sattar Khawasi declared that “jihad against Americans is an obligation.”
- More than 80 schoolgirls were hospitalized in 2009 after feeling ill and reporting a strange odor in their classroom. The Afghan government has claimed these incidents are Taliban poisonings, but a recent World Health Organization investigation concluded these periodic incidents are “mass hysteria” not uncommon in conflict zones.
- The Long War Journal website notes that the security situation has grown “especially perilous” since last year. NATO turned over security responsibilities for the province to the Afghans in December of 2011.
Parwan presents a problem for those who argue that foreign militaries need to stay to hold the country together and protect its women. As regional expert Christine Fair told CNN in the wake of the execution, “We can ask the question what will happen when we leave, but let’s remember that this is actually happening while we’re still there.”