The critique of the Liberal Peace is based on the assumption that Western countries attempt to impose ‘their’ values and models on war-torn countries. In reality, however, the effects of Western intervention are often far more complex, and often contradictory. This was the case even in Afghanistan, where the need for social transformation provided an explicit justification for the military intervention.

Western pledges to improve the conditions of Afghan women have been particularly prominent justifications for the intervention and subsequent military operations to defeat the Taliban. While the genuineness and, indeed, durability of these promises are debated, the main contention of this chapter is that the Western presence from the beginning had an ambiguous effect on the conditions of Afghan women. Rather than one-directional, the intervention set in motion a number of contradictory processes that profoundly shaped the landscape and the strategies of those fighting to improve women’s positions in contemporary Afghanistan. In doing so, this chapter questions common assumptions about straightforward relationships between ‘liberal peace’ interventions and the effects on the society in question, whether positive (as its advocates maintain), or misguided (as critics argue).

The chapter explores these contradictory processes through an examination on two important pieces of legislation that have preoccupied women activists in Afghanistan in recent time; the Shia Personal Status Law and the Law on Elimination of Violence against Women. The history of these two laws reveals four important dynamics at work in post-2001 Afghanistan.  Together these dynamics render problematic the idea that outside interventions in fact translate into ‘liberal effects’ on the ground.