Allied troops were forced to turn a blind eye to this Afghan tradition whenever they encountered it. In fact, they soon learned that one of the favorite sayings among Afghan males is “women are for (making) children, young boys are for (sexual) pleasure.”
Washington Examiner — A document released by WikiLeaks described efforts by high-ranking Afghan officials to quash reports of police officers and other Afghans arrested for “purchasing a service from a child.” The leaked diplomatic cable quoted former Minister of the Interior Hanif Atmar’s concern that publicity about the arrests, which involved the hiring of “dancing boys,” would “endanger lives.” The author of the diplomatic cable fretted that the case would be “blown out of proportion, an outcome that would not be good for either the U.S. or Afghanistan.”
The vast gulf between U.S. and Afghan attitudes about homosexuality and pedophilia has generated concern among U.S. advisers in Afghanistan since the American presence there began to expand.
In late 2009, U.S. and British forces ordered a study of Pashtun male sexuality. They were worried that homosexuality and pedophilia among Afghan security forces and tribes could create cultural misunderstanding with allied troops, according to a copy of the report obtained by The Washington Examiner.
The study, requested by 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade along with British forces in Lashkar Gah, was conducted by members of one of the Defense Department’s Human Terrain Teams stationed in Afghanistan. The report was authored by team member Anna Maria Cardinalli, who said the goal was to learn how to advise “U.S. and British service members who report encounters with men displaying apparently homosexual tendencies. These service members are frequently confused [by] this behavior.”
The report described unease by U.S. Marines and British soldiers who felt they were being propositioned, or who were outraged by apparent acts of pedophilia by Afghan soldiers and police. It documented one case in which 12 of 20 Pashtun interpreters working with one U.S. Army unit had contracted gonorrhea from homosexual encounters.
Troops interviewed by The Examiner say they are frequently forced to deal with a radically different attitude toward sex with male youths by Afghan security forces.
“I know Marines and soldiers who have refused to work with Afghan military or police,” said one U.S. military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “It’s not about homosexuality as much as it is about the young boys. Some of them like to show pictures on their cell phone — that should be illegal. Some of the Afghans have their own young boys they use for sexual purposes and we can’t do anything about it.”
Cardinalli told The Examiner by e-mail that she is writing a book about widespread acceptance of male homosexuality among Pashtuns, a culture where far fewer opportunities for premarital heterosexual encounters exist. “To dismiss the existence of this dynamic out of desire to avoid Western discomfort is to risk failing to comprehend an essential social force underlying Pashtun culture which can potentially effect the success” of the U.S. effort there, Cardinalli wrote in the report.
An American military official who works closely with Afghan security forces called the discomfort among U.S. and British troops “the elephant in the closet that no one’s talking about, but needs to.” The study makes a number of observations about the extreme segregation of women in Pashtun culture.
It discusses the prohibitive cost of marriage within Pashtun tribes and the long-standing traditions in which boys are appreciated for their physical beauty and apprenticed to older men to learn a trade at an early age.
“Homosexuality is strictly prohibited in Islam, but cultural interpretations of Islamic teaching prevalent in Pashtun areas of southern Afghanistan tacitly condone it in comparison to heterosexual relationships,” the study states.
For a male to have sex with a boy is considered a “foible,” the report said. By contrast, having sex with an “ineligible woman” would set up “issues of revenge and honor killings.”
Years of living under that cultural construct have greatly altered sexual attitudes, the study said. “One of the country’s favorite sayings is ‘women are for children, boys are for pleasure,” the report noted.
The study said the prevailing sexual attitudes in some parts of Afghanistan are creating a cycle damaging to boys and young men.
“There is frequently the risk that Pashtun boys will face a set of experiences that mold their beliefs regarding sexuality as adults in ways that are ultimately damaging, both to themselves and to Afghan society,” the report concludes. “It appears that this set of experiences becomes cyclical, affecting generations, and that this cycle that has existed long enough to affect the underpinnings of Afghan culture itself.”