These interventions by the colonial state against social practices that oppressed women have been described as 'colonial feminism', that is where the colonial government intervened on behalf of women, claiming it was doing so on humanitarian grounds.
Sometimes these measures operated simultaneously as forms of colonial control. The colonial authorities were often sympathetic to those interventions that they regarded as a way of transforming the values of societies whose traditions resisted their rule. This was clearest with respect to the French colonial policy of forced unveiling in the Maghreb.
In all cases, it was entirely predictable that such legislative acts would become the focus for nationalist resistance. Yet, paradoxically for women colonial ideology could represent new forms of freedom. As a result, women were much more ambivalently placed in relation both to colonialism and anti-colonial nationalism. This has also meant that while women struggle with the legacies of colonialism in the postcolonial era, they are repeatedly accused of importing western ideas.
Well-meaning interventions by western feminist, human rights groups, and Ford Foundation-funded non-governmental organization can at times end up by making life more complicated for local feminists. Development of all kinds comes best from below rather than being imposed by above.
Interestingly, he also writes about how during anti-colonial struggles, women are often seen as the vessels of culture, "retrieved for the present from the society of the past."
For macho-nationalists, home and the domestic sphere, relatively free from colonial control, was the best guardian of the traditional values, culture, and identity of the new phenomenon they were creating on the Europen model against their European masters, 'the nation'.
Which means women's struggles do not end upon achieving self-determination, but that this is a precondition for a strong and viable feminist movement.
There's nothing new with what we are doing in Afghanistan, nor with the arguments used to justify it. It's been done by colonial powers in the past, and will continue to be done in our name unless we stop it.
Quotations from Postcolonialism: A Very Short Introduction by Robert Young. Formatting added to make it easier to read.
Inspired by the ongoing conversation here (see comments).
See also Afghan Women: Used by the Taliban, Used by Us.