Afghanistan: Peace process offers little hope for women
"If the conflict is to be wound down, real compromises will have to be made on the constitution, women's rights and civil liberties." These are the words of an editorial comment in Afghan Scene, a magazine written by and mainly for the international community in Afghanistan. After years of fierce fighting and numerous counterinsurgency initiatives, the Afghan government and some of its international allies seem to have reached to the peak of desperation. They are now even exploring whether Afghan women's rights can be sacrificed in order to declare "mission accomplished".
The idea of subsuming women's rights so that the war can end has come in formal and informal talks between some parliamentarians, government officials and is also reported to be part of cynical discussions among some of the international diplomats in Kabul gatherings.
Many women activists believe the growing Talibanisation of the Afghan government will not only bring further instability, as it could upset the diverse ethnic composition of Afghanistan, but also predict that they will pay for this political settlement with their rights.
Despite receiving promises from the members of the international community and the Afghan government about the so-called "red lines" of talks with the Taliban, women activists are concerned that recent developments are step-by-step moves towards the loss of women's rights.
The Afghan peace jirga earlier this month legitimised criminal aspects of the insurgency by referring to offenders merely as political "angry brothers". It ensured that impunity will continue – for example, through the formation of a commission to review the cases of militant prisoners.
In the past two weeks, according to Afghan national television, around 15 ex-combatants have been released from two prisons in Parwan and Kabul. The longest trial that took place was four hours.
Women activists fear that the judiciary is not equipped to distinguish between the guilty and the innocent. As a result, notorious war criminals and human rights violators will be released under this political settlement, including the men that threw acid in the faces of girls in Kandahar, those who assassinated the senior police officer, Malalai Kakar, and those militants who continue to target girls' schools.
The same peace plan also allows the militants to keep their guns even though they embrace the reintegration mechanisms. This is of great risk for the women of Afghanistan, who have been oppressed, killed and tortured by the power of guns during the civil war and afterwards.
It appears that the government is over-ambitious in this talk of political settlement with the militants, and the new commission is more political than legal, so it will serve political agendas. The president has used his powers to pardon prisoners, as we witnessed in the past – including criminal elements of the insurgency who were responsible for kidnapping rackets. It is questionable whether the commission will be just and transparent amid the corruption and growing nepotism of the state.
The former chief of the Afghan intelligence services has shared his concerns over the political pressure of the quick release of militants in the past few years. He called the Pul e Charkhi central prison a "terror camp" where militants and terrorists are too easily freed to go back to militancy.
Women activists are concerned that this short-termist approach to "peace" will not only be a threat to justice but will also create further opportunities for more corruption and nepotism within the Afghan government.
The overarching concern is the impact of such a strategy in the short and long run. If dangerous criminal militants are easily freed, what does this mean for societal welfare and security in the first place? Does it not call into question the overall "counterinsurgency" operations?
While these developments reflect looming threats for the women of Afghanistan, the argument of sacrificing their rights has been created for purposes of the peace programme. But Afghanistan has the second largest maternal mortality rate in the world. More than half of school-age girls are not able to go school and those who dare to go are too often threatened by insecurity and school attacks.
Women in politics are taking risks with their lives (those who threaten or kill them rarely go punished), while the new election law gives their seats to a man if they don't run for office due to security reasons. The media rarely covers the conditions for women in the central and northern provinces who are plagued with hunger and poverty because they do not relate to the counterinsurgency initiatives.
It is in these circumstances that we are being asked to sacrifice. As one activists from the Afghan Women's Networks said: "We have sacrificed for the past 30 years with our lives and rights and the men were the ones who killed and ruined. We are also not so privileged that our government will fight for us – therefore it is time for them to sacrifice their powers and give up creating more violence and injustices for women."
There is a humanitarian call for the international community members struggling for stability and governance in Afghanistan to unify their voices as the plight of women gets murkier. There is a stronger need for further accountability on the part of the Afghan government before we end up in the same Afghanistan that we were in 10 years ago.
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 23 June 2010