The U.S. says women’s rights will remain an important issue after the withdrawal, even though American officials acknowledge the limits of their waning influence. “Afghanistan is run by Afghans; we are significant partners,” says Melanne Verveer, the U.S. Ambassador at large for global women’s issues. “We will continue to ensure that women’s rights are pivotal because of our partnership and because it is critical to the future.”

Such promises fail to allay international observers like Heather Barr, Human Rights Watch’s Afghanistan researcher. “We’ve seen Karzai repeatedly do violent zigzags on women’s rights,” she says. “The explanation is that he’s getting pressure from opposite directions—the international community and conservative elements of Afghan society. But…if that political pressure [from the West] stops, the government’s already weak support for women’s rights will drop away even more.”

In March, the Ulema Council, Afghanistan’s government-funded supreme religious authority, decreed that Afghan husbands were allowed to beat their wives if they showed disobedience. Mr. Karzai publicly backed the Council’s code of conduct. The Ulema Council declined repeated requests for comment.