A new law that critics say legalizes marital rape will face a thorough review, the president's spokesman said Tuesday, and a State Department spokesman said the U.S. was glad to hear it.
The law, quietly passed and signed last month, has stirred international outcry over women's rights. The law says a husband can have sex with his wife every four days unless she is ill, and it regulates when and for what reasons a wife may leave the house by herself. The law would apply only to the country's Shiite population, between 10 percent and 20 percent of Afghanistan's 30 million people.
"Women have had an unfortunate and a very sad history in Afghanistan," State Department spokesman Robert Wood told reporters in Washington. "This type of a law shouldn't have been enacted without regard to changing some of these provisions that send a very negative signal to the international community about where Afghanistan is going."
Critics have said the legislation undermines hard-won rights for women enacted after the fall of the Taliban's strict Islamist regime in 2001. The regime banned women from appearing in public without a body-covering burqa and a male escort from her family.
Much has improved. Millions of girls now attend school, and many women own businesses. Of 351 parliamentarians, 89 are women.
But in this conservative country, critics fear those gains could easily be reversed.
Wood said the U.S. was "glad" that President Hamid Karzai has agreed to review the law.
Karzai's spokesman, Humayun Hamidzada, said the president has consulted with Afghanistan's leading clerics and his Cabinet over the law, and that it has been sent to the Ministry of Justice for review.
"The president is committed to upholding our constitution that provides equal rights for men and women, and he's committed to the rights of minorities and all rights and privileges provided in our constitution to our citizens," Hamidzada said.
The Justice Ministry has said the law, which has not been published in the official registry, is not being enforced while it is under review.
Also Tuesday, a Romanian officer was killed in a roadside blast in southern Afghanistan. The Romanian vehicle patrol was hit by a roadside bomb northeast of Qalat, the capital of southern Zabul province, killing the officer and wounding four other troops, the Romanian Defense Ministry said in a statement.
In neighboring Uruzgan province Monday, insurgents fired rockets at the Dutch main base, killing a soldier and wounding five others, said Gen. Peter van Uhm, the Dutch defense chief.
Southern Afghanistan is the center of the Taliban-led insurgency, where thousands of new U.S. troops were ordered by President Barack Obama to try to reverse militant gains of the last three years.
Australia's Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said Tuesday his country was considering sending more military trainers in addition to 1,100 troops already in Afghanistan.
Coalition troops, meanwhile, killed four suspected Taliban militants and detained two others following a raid on a bomb-making cell in Kandahar province Monday, the U.S.-led coalition said in a statement.
The latest violence comes as the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David McKiernan, said that despite the arrival of 21,000 new U.S. troops this year, it will be years before Afghan forces can be in charge of security.
McKiernan also said his troops had increased targeting of drug operations eight- to 10-fold in the past four months, specifically for drug lords or operations that could be tied to insurgents and insurgent funding.
Afghanistan is the world's largest producer of opium, the main ingredient in heroin. The Afghan drug trade accounts for 90 percent of worldwide production. The U.N. estimated last year that up to $500 million from the illegal drug trade flows to Taliban fighters and criminal groups.