SHAFAQNA | By Leila Yazdani – While some believe the ongoing US-Taliban peace talks could be the beginning of the end of Afghanistan’s 17 year war, Afghan women increasingly voice their concern that hard won rights could be bargained away. A U.S. withdrawal has opened the door to a possible political settlement, but success will depend on regional powers and the country’s neighbors.
The U.S. government is negotiating directly with the Taliban because Washington has finally accepted that there is no better military option, according to foreignpolicy.
Recently, high level talks with Taliban representatives took place in Doha, with the US Peace Envoy, and in Moscow, with Afghan opposition leaders, according to cordaid.org. Though the absence of the government of President Ashraf Ghani on both occasions was conspicuous in the eyes of many, it’s the absence of the Afghan civil society and women in particular, that really undermine the outcome of the talks.
Both sides have remained tight-lipped about the latest round of talks, saying only that negotiations were continuing. But, the talks have nearly collapsed on several occasions, with deep, and at times emotional, disagreements.
The women of Afghanistan, will not go backwards
In recent weeks, thousands of women and young people in Afghanistan as well as Afghans living abroad have been protesting and speaking out against peace talks taking place between the U.S. and the Taliban. Activists say that the views of the Taliban — whose harsh rule from 1996 to 2001 was notorious for repression of women — do not reflect the views and needs of Afghan people. They fear a Taliban return to power will undermine the progress that the country has worked to build since the regime fell nearly two decades ago, npr told.
Arundhati Roy and Margaret Atwood are among a group of international writers and activists backing claims that US peace talks with the Taliban are excluding Afghan women’s voices and risk pushing back the rights of women in the country. In an open letter published in the Guardian, Atwood, the author of the dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale, and Roy, who won the Man Booker prize for The God of Small Things, along with hundreds of Afghan women and young people, call for “global solidarity to keep women’s voices alive”.
“We, the women of Afghanistan, will not go backwards,” the letter states. “History has taught us the bloody lesson that you cannot have peace without inclusion.”
The letter has also been signed by other international figures including the playwright Eve Ensler, the author Neil Gaiman, the film director Ken Loach, the author and physician Khaled Hosseini, the feminist activist Gloria Steinem and five Nobel peace laureates. The letter highlights concerns about the peace deal currently being negotiated between the US government and the Afghan Taliban. It says the negotiations exclude broad sections of Afghan society, including women and young people, as well as democratic structures, government and institutions.
Afghan women expressed fears that a peace deal could bring the Taliban back into the government, leaving women and girls vulnerable to a new wave of the sort of edicts that constrained their lives until the group’s overthrow in 2001.
Regional actors need to agree as well—especially Pakistan
Under the framework being negotiated by the U.S. government and the Taliban, however, the agreement between these two would be implemented only as one component of a broader pact, including a ceasefire and a domestic political settlement derived from negotiations including the Afghan government and the Taliban, with the representation of a broad range of Afghan society, including women and youth.
The main parties to the conflict will also have to agree on the sequencing of the troop pullout, the ceasefire, the political settlement, and long-term assistance to Afghanistan to ensure that the foreign troop withdrawal does not lead to collapse of the government, as was the case in Afghanistan after the 1988 Geneva Accord.
In addition to those core parties to the conflict, for any deal to endure, other regional actors need to agree as well—especially Pakistan. Pakistan supported the Taliban while they were in power and has hosted their leadership and logistics bases since U.S. forces expelled them from Afghanistan.
Pakistan has used support for the Taliban’s military and terrorist activities to pressure Washington and Kabul over five issues: The U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, which could threaten Pakistan, especially its nuclear arsenal, and, Islamabad believes, provide cover for Indian activities against Pakistan; Afghanistan’s refusal to recognize the international boundary with Pakistan, known as the Durand Line, and its claims on the loyalties of Pashtun and Baloch ethnic groups in the two countries; commercial and transit access to Central Asia via Afghanistan, which Pakistan could obtain at any time by allowing Afghanistan reciprocal access to India, which it has so far refused; some understanding on limiting the Indian presence in Afghanistan, at least in provinces directly bordering Pakistan—while there are no Indian troops in Afghanistan, Pakistan claims that Indian aid and diplomatic missions provide cover for intelligence operations; and limits on building dams on waterways such as the Kabul River that flow into Pakistan, which is experiencing a severe water crisis. Afghanistan and Pakistan have made some progress on these issues, especially in talks brokered by China, which is involved because it views instability in Pakistan and Afghanistan as a threat to its massive transcontinental infrastructure project, the Belt and Road Initiative.
Disagreement over a fundamental question: What is terrorism, and who is a terrorist?
Nearly 15 days after peace negotiations between the United States and the Taliban began with high hopes, it has become clear that any resolution to the 18-year war could be frustratingly slow.
According to nytimes, one of the most prominent issues thwarting progress is a disagreement over a fundamental question: What is terrorism, and who is a terrorist?
The Taliban have said they would not allow Afghanistan to be used as a launching pad for international attacks. American negotiators have insisted on specifying that Afghanistan not be used by “terrorist” groups, but the Taliban have resisted, saying there was no universal definition of terrorism. The Taliban dragging their feet on one term might seem to be killing time, but officials, including current and former Taliban members, said it was a sensitive and existential issue for the group. It strikes at the core of the ideological narrative around their 18-year fight. If Taliban leaders were seen as conceding on the issue, it could divide their fighters.
While US wants a gradual withdrawal, Taliban seeks a withdrawal in less than a year
In December 2018, it was reported that Trump intended to withdraw half of the U.S. troops in Afghanistan in 2019. In the last week of January, the United States sent Afghan-American Zalmay Khalilzad as an envoy for peace to negotiate with the Taliban in a six-day meeting in Qatar. The U.S. embassy in Kabul has allegedly started plans for its own drawdown, thediplomat told.
While the Americans have pushed for a gradual withdrawal over three years or longer, Taliban officials have said they want a withdrawal in less than a year, perhaps as soon as six months.
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