Peace is – generally – good, and war is – always – bad. There can be little doubt that to achieve something that can be called “peace” in Afghanistan some distasteful deals will have to be done. Just as in order to get rid of the Taliban govenment in 2001, the West had to do deals with warlords who were little better (if any better) than the Taliban.
But as tomorrow’s London Conference on Afghanistan assembles, and talk of a deal with at least some sections of the Taliban is being heard from “realists” in Washington, London and Kabul, it’s worth reminding ourselves just how barbaric the Talibs were and still are (not least because the Pilgers and Corbyns of this world have started describing them as, to all intents and purposes, ‘freedom fighters’):
And it’s worth remembering that whatever the costs in human terms of the war (and I write as someone who opposed it from the start), women in Afghanistan have gained significant rights (especially in education) over the last nine years, despite savage attacks from the Talibs – including the dreadful murders of brave women teachers (torn – literally – limb from limb) and disfiguring acid attacks upon women students, by these gynophobic rural fascists.
Most Afghan women want peace – but not (one suspects) at any price. Homa Sabri, national officer-in-charge of UNIFEM (the United Nations Development Fund For Women) says: “I have great fears, and I am greatly confused…2001 was a very clear signal that there is no more room for conservative elements to rule in Afghanistan.”
Mary Akrami, Director of the Afghan Womens Skills Development Centre says: “Afghan women have the most to gain from peace and the most to lose from any form of reconciliation compromising women’s human rights. There cannot be national security without women’s security, there can be no peace when women’s lives are are fraught with violence, when our children can’t go to schools, when we cannot step onto the streets for fear of acid attacks.”
UNIFEM and other Afghan women’s and human rights organisations point out that the London conference is hosted and chaired exclusively by men: “Peace is impossible when half the population is excluded!” they say, and have issued this statement, including the following demands:
* Ensuring women’s representaion in peace processs. Consistent with constitutional guarantees for women’s representation, women must comprise at least 25 percent of any peace process, including any proposed upcoming peace jirgas. They must be represented in any national and local security policy-making forums, such as the Afghan President’s National Security Council.
* Guaranteeing that reconciliation protects women’s rights. The government and international community must secure and monitor women’s rights in all reconciliation initiatives so that the status of women is not bargained away in any short-term effort to achieve stability.
*Implementing a gender-responsive security policy. All efforts to enhance security in Afghanistan must better serve women.
Oisika Chakrabarti, UNIFEM, +1 347 449-2260; firstname.lastname@example.org