Hanging by a thread?

Afghan Women’s Rights 2014: Hanging by the thread?

Once again, Afghanistan is at a crossroads.  Now, just when the country is beginning to slowly move forward, we are expected to put an end to a war that ten years of massive international support could not help win. Jalal Foundation publishes this Occasional Paper, vol. 1 to share the perspectives of those who are not being heard back home, shedding light on important issues that we face in relation to our security as we transition towards sustainable peace.


Our government’s vision of sustainable peace is framed in a strategy with twin agenda:  (1) to bring back the so-called ‘moderate’ Taliban into the mainstream of national life and (2) to grant political concessions to their leaders. Women have been excluded from the process of conceptualizing this strategy;. However, through informal channels, we have raised our issues relating to its wisdom and viability.

First, we know that democracy and talibanism cannot co-exist because they are antithetical to one another. Democracy is based on the rule of law, human rights,

co-existence and the protection of human life. Conversely, Talibanism is based on despotism, repression, tyranny and the glorification of violence. Democracy can only thrive where peace is present, while talibanism can only thrive under violent circumstances. Thus, to assume that Taliban will embrace peace is an unforgivable mistake. And further, to hope that they will make peace under democratic terms is to ignore their ideological makeup. Expecting Afghanistan to make peace with the Taliban is like expecting the world to make peace with the Al Qaeda. Have our foreign friends ever considered what it feels like to have Al Qaedans living in their very midst – in their neighborhoods, in local businesses, in government agencies, or in places of worship?  Do they think that making peace with Taliban will bring about sustainable peace? If by now we do not realize that the concept of peace held by the Taliban and Al Qaeda is death to their antithesis, then we have missed the very essence of our quest for sustainable peace.

Second, every Afghan knows that there is no such thing as a moderate Taliban. Those who became members of Taliban went through processes in life that were as uniquely edifying and compelling as the experiences that made us lovers of peace and democracy. Nothing could genuinely convince a Taliban that terrorism is evil  and democracy is good for the majority. To make peace with them is to allow them to erode the very foundations of democracy that in the past decade have allowed us to live in relative freedom and harmony.

Third, long before our government even thought of reintegrating them into society, Taliban had already realized that mainstream society is the best tactical ground from which to launch terrorist operations. If complex attacks with horrific results continue to occur, it is because the Taliban are now seamlessly assimilated into families, police departments, armed forces, businesses, the government, and perhaps even international agencies. Our government certainly does not need to spend large amounts of money to bring them back into society. Tactically, they are already within our midst and are quickly multiplying with skillful invisibility.

Fourth, the seed of talibanism flourishes in an atmosphere of poverty, hopelessness, oppression, and, most especially, weak leadership. We lack the kind of leadership that could inspire and draw support from all sectors. Our people will not support a president with a long list of credibility issues – ranging from election fraud, clandestine alliance with lawbreakers, graft and corruption, dishonesty and incompetence. We cringe at the thought that the substantial amount of money that the international community would provide to the peace process will be channeled to a government that ranks third on the list of the world’s most corrupt governments (Transparency International, 2011).

Fifth and most importantly, we believe that a peace process should be pursued from a position of strength. Today, it appears that our government has been granting concessions to the Taliban without receiving anything in return. If the Taliban are committed to the process, they should be asked to immediately desist from all armed hostilities. We need peace to make peace. Every concession that the government gives to the Taliban should be reciprocated with an equivalent act of peace.  The first thing that our government should request of them is to immediately stop offensives, bombings, and all acts of violence while negotiations are taking place. They should agree to adopt a zone of peace, a peace moment or some rules of engagement that protect civilians from their hostile engagements.


Flawed as it may be, the strategy supported by the international community is in place for now as there is no better option at hand. Despite the exclusion of many sectors, we need to stand as a united nation and support our government to give it the chance to succeed.

It might be of interest that there are currently several initiatives in support of this strategy. The Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Program (APRP) reported that as of January 2012, it had already enrolled 3, 354 ex-combatants and has 442 new cases that are yet to be processed. The Afghan government also announced that in accordance with the second component of its strategy, 15 individual taliban leaders have been de-listed from the roster of sanctioned international terrorists.

It is also noteworthy that as of January 2012 some US $157.5 million has reportedly been deposited to the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund to support projects that include small livelihood grants to ex-combatants. Community-based policing is also being strengthened, with 11, 000 members having been recruited to serve as community police in 57 localities.

Likewise, a survey of the UNDP showed 46 percent improvement in the public perception of the police force, compared to 34 percent in 2009. In addition, both the army and the police are reportedly on track in reaching their respective growth targets of 195,000 and 152,000 members respectively in 2012.

Within the South Asian region, President Karzai has received political support for an Afghan-owned, Afghan-led peace process, notably from the Presidents of Pakistan and Iran. During the NATO Summit in Chicago, he signed a framework for Afghanistan’s security transition beyond 2014, which embodies a written commitment from NATO and the international community to continue their support for Afghanistan’s peace and development initiatives, albeit on a bilateral basis.

Yet, some of our President’s pronouncements and political actions bring confusion and discomfort to ordinary citizens. For example, he announced that he is already engaged in peace talks with the Taliban, but the veracity of this claim was vehemently denied in the media by Taliban leaders. Likewise, amidst serious concerns of the Afghan population, he declared that he supports the setting up of a Taliban office in Qatar to enable it “to come to an understanding with other nations”. The wisdom of supporting an office for Taliban, whether in Afghanistan or abroad, is extremely perplexing.


Amidst such developments, not only were the women’s perspectives ignored, but the women’s rights agenda was also marginalized. Through the Afghan Women’s Network, consultations with women were conducted nationwide on the matter of conceptualizing the framework for sustainable peace. However, their recommendations were not incorporated into the final strategy for Afghanistan’s security transition beyond 2014.

Given the continuing marginalization of our agenda, the question of where women stand in the process of pursuing sustainable peace arises. Our first major concern is the return of talibanism. To us, talibanism is a terrorist ideology perpetrated by violence and sustained by the oppression of women. The reason the Taliban is so adamant in its oppression of women is because women’s oppression is the only key to inter-generational perpetuation of Taliban control. Oppressing half of the population is winning half of the war. Depriving women of education spawns generations of ignorant people who will submit to subjugation with uncomplaining docility. The use of domestic violence in order to control women and girls embeds in children at a very young age the very ideology that sustains talibanism. When women are scared, fear is handed down in magnified proportions from generation to generation. When women have no voice, society learns that voicelessness is the norm. The international community must recognize that the main issue is not simply a denial of women’s rights; it is the perpetuation of talibanism through the oppression of women’s rights which is a core issue in our transition to sustainable peace.

This core issue brings with it a number of related concerns, one of which is the exclusion of women from the peace process. Our government has been systematically marginalizing women in consultations and decision-making processes because of its shallow understanding of the dialectics between women’s oppression and talibanism. Like Taliban, the government does not respect the views of women, and they do not wish to recognize that women have perspectives that could enrich decision-making. In this particular case, the exclusion of women does not only represent a denial of women’s rights. More than anything, it is a rejection of the opportunity to benefit from perspectives that could substantially strengthen Afghanistan’s strategy for dealing with the Taliban.

Another related issue is the strong possibility that women’s rights will be discarded in the name of peace. Unfortunately, what Taliban value as a top bargaining chip appears trivial to our leaders. President Karzai demonstrated this when he supported a recent declaration of our religious council, which, among other provisions, directs society to adhere to a tenet of women’s subjugation and gives men the power to control women.

And how do we protect the investments of the international community and the Afghan people in the reconstruction process of the past decade? Despite enormous setbacks, we have made modest gains and are now optimistic about the future. We have been granted equality in relation to men, at least in law and through certain policies. Our girls and young women are back in schools; our professional women are, for the most part, employed; we can travel abroad and secure protection and services when we need them; we can participate in elections and public life; and we can dream of a better life. We are happy that there are episodes of peace, even if they are continuously disrupted. We are grateful that the international community has helped us restore democracy and human rights, even if they are not fully enjoyed by many. We are living because  hope has been returned to our life. It is these very things that deepen our fear of a potential Taliban resurgence. Life continues to be enormously difficult for many Afghans, but it is a life far sweeter than one lived under Taliban rule.


By all indications, the gains that we have made during the past decade are bound to be lost once our rights are traded off in the peace process. In order to prevent this from happening, we require the help of the international community in the following ways.
· Help us get our leaders genuinely committed to women’s rights as they apply to the peace process. Your senior diplomats and officials could help by communicating our issues to our leaders. There are several ways
to do this.  (1) send a joint communiqué (to be signed by various diplomatic missions to Afghanistan) to our President containing a ten-point women’s agenda in the peace process; (2) organize a delegation (of the signatories to the communiqué) to meet with the President and senior peace officials for the purpose of adopting the recommendations; and (3) support a high-level technical meeting to work out the details of its implementation, funding and monitoring.

· Assist us in establishing an independent body (unlike the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, which is subject to the authority of the President) to act as an oversight committee and hold our senior officials accountable for women’s issues in the peace process. If this is not possible, help us request the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women to form a special task force within the Committee on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women to monitor and hear complaints on women’s issues in the pursuit of sustainable peace in Afghanistan.

· Evaluate the achievements of the peace process at least every two years, including its achievements in building upon the gains of the past decade, particularly gains on the protection, promotion, and fulfillment of women’s rights.

· Help us remove from power leaders who cannot serve as custodians of the people’s trust.  In the coming election, the international media should expose the track records of candidates and prevent the international community from providing logistical support to those who have records of human rights violations. More importantly, consider how the politics of peace will change under the leadership of non-traditional politicians. Think about supporting female presidential candidates. And help us get a woman appointed as the next Vice President.

· Invest in ongoing capacity building and the sensitization of law enforcement and security institutions to women’s rights in the context of sustainable peace. Educate high-ranking officials on the strategic value of women’s empowerment to the eradication of talibanism in the country. Help us develop the tools needed to promote women’s empowerment as a tactical weapon against the flourishing of Taliban ideology.

· Oppose any effort to amend the existing Constitutional provisions, laws and policies on gender equality. Withdraw support from projects that do not show clear contributions to women’s empowerment. Call for the imposition of an indefinite moratorium to the adoption of new laws and policies that will alter substantive gender equality, especially in the name of peace and religion.

Note from Publisher:
Jalal Foundation is pleased to introduce the first edition of its series of Occasional Papers on Women’s Rights.  It is a compilation of thoughts and positions of the Foundation about the many issues that affect the lives of women in Afghanistan. It aims to stimulate further thinking and action on the issues that, hopefully, will lead to stronger measures for women in Afghanistan.
Jalal Foundation is a non-profit organization that is run by Afghan women. Currently, it has 50 member NGOs and women’s councils throughout Afghanistan. The Foundation brings together partners around building of capacities, protection of women’s rights, promoting women’s participation, and raising the voices of women in international fora. She was the first Afghan woman to run for Presidency and was Minister of Women’s Affairs from 2004 to 2006.