Rape case in Afghanistan turns focus on local police
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KUNDUZ, Afghanistan -- The policeman spoke with calm and assurance as he insisted that he could not have raped the teenage daughter of a local sheepherder, because a mullah had married them just before intercourse.
"Once the marriage contract is done, any sexual intercourse is not considered rape," said Khodaidad, 42, who until he was detained in the case had worked for the U.S.-trained Afghan Local Police.
His brother, Ghulam Sakhi, accused by the young woman of participating in her abduction, sat beside Mr. Khodaidad on the floor of a small traditional reception room at the Kunduz provincial jail. He chimed in: "In Pashtun culture, the girls do not have the right to say who they marry and who they don't want to marry. Whomever their parents choose for them, they should marry."
Neither man has been formally charged, and both deny the abduction and rape allegations.
Prosecutors, family members and human rights advocates vehemently disagree with the suspects' description of what happened to Lal Bibi, the young woman. They say there is little doubt that she was abducted and raped, and that there was no marriage.
They also challenge the idea that any marriage in such circumstances could be legitimate or exonerate the rapist. Forced marriage is illegal under Afghan law, said Gen. Mohammed Sharif Safi, the military prosecutor in Kunduz.
But for many people here, including the Kunduz police chief and the Interior Ministry spokesman -- both of whom insisted that the case involved forced marriage, not rape -- the former appeared to be less objectionable, although others would regard the line between the two as thin.
Interviews with more than a dozen people suggest that much more is at stake than the fate of an 18-year-old sheepherder's daughter. Her plight illuminates the persistence of tribal custom, the fragility of newly legislated protections for women and the power of armed men.
What constitutes rape is only one of the contentious issues in this case, which first came to light about a month ago, when Lal Bibi and her family took the rare step of going public with their accusations. The case galvanized President Hamid Karzai, who ordered that the culprits be brought to justice, and that the police unit involved be disarmed.
But some members of Afghanistan's National Security Council argued that pursuing the allegations could tarnish the image of the Afghan Local Police, a network of militias they view as essential to maintaining security and keeping the Taliban at bay.
While sharing the goal of security, prosecutors and human rights advocates want to show that this is a new Afghanistan, where the rule of the gun should not trump the rule of law.
Lal Bibi and her family are unsure whether justice will be done or whether they will remain humiliated in their community for having a daughter who, by Pashtun tribal traditions, has been tarnished. Families in similar circumstances sometimes kill the victims because of the perceived dishonor.
First Published June 28, 2012 12:00 am