Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Thursday, September 24th, 2020

‘If You’re Not at the Table, You’re on the Menu’

The active engagement of Afghan women in the peace talks will be highly crucial since the rights and liberties of women are one of the issues discussed at the table. The Taliban hold radical mindset towards women, who are concerned about the outcome of the ongoing talks between the Taliban and US representatives.
Afghan women reiterated their inclusion in the talks on multiple occasions and were concerned that the Taliban would continue their radical mindset towards them.
Following the collapse of the Taliban regime, the Afghan constitution was approved based on democratic principles and recognized equal rights and liberties for both men and women. Meanwhile, international organizations and Independent Human Rights Commission also advocated the rights of women. Enjoying equal rights, Afghan women held high political positions within the government’s machinery.
However, with the start of talks between the Taliban and Washington and discussion regarding women’s rights and liberties, concerns emerged among women.
Two issues seem very controversial at the negotiating table. First, the amendment of the constitution approved in January 2004 in a Loya Jirga (Grand Assembly) with the presence of the UN representative, religious scholars, Jihadi leaders, tribal elders, women, and other national representatives. The Taliban seek the amendment of this democratic constitution, which seems irreconcilable with the Taliban fundamental ideology.
To put it in the words of Dr. Zeng Xiangyu, a lecturer in the Institute of South Asian studies at Sichuan University, the most difficult challenge between the Taliban leadership and the Afghan government could be “to abide by Afghan Constitution” and “the return of Shariat,” a pair of conflicting demands determining the future framework of Afghan politics and being directly interlinked with political position and prospects of each side. Kabul would hardly quit its democratic Constitution, as it is of vital importance for its own survival. The Taliban in turn could ill-afford quitting the “return of Shariat,” a “divine” objective it has struggled for years, because this could be a price unbearable for itself considering the possible loss of popularity among conservative forces, and the nightmare scenario of disbandment of itself.
Second, the Taliban seek to restrict the rights and liberties of women, stipulated in the constitution. Although the Taliban have claimed that they have moderated their ideology regarding women, they state that women would be free within the Islamic framework. That is, the Taliban still insist on “Sharia law” but have replaced the terms with “Islamic Law” to desensitize the issue. Even though “Sharia law” does not carry a negative concept and is dependent on a group’s interpretation, it is the reminiscent of the Taliban’s fundamental mindset and harsh practices for Afghan people as well as for the world. Now Sharia law is equivalent to the Talibanic mindset for the public. But the Islamic law mentioned by the Taliban still carries an ambiguous meaning for Afghan people. The Taliban should make it clear that the Islamic law is supposed to be interpreted by moderate religious scholars and Ulema Council or by the Taliban mullahs and muftis, which would not be acceptable to Afghan people.
Afghan women fear that their marginalization from the negotiating table will put their rights and liberties at stake and pose threat to their social, cultural, and political activities and positions. Female activists and politicians seek to be included in the peace talks so as to represent Afghan women and support their rights and freedoms. Afghan women believe that the exclusion of women in the Taliban’s negotiating team suggests their misogynistic mindset and their intention for establishing a patriarchal community.
It is unlikely that the US representatives will compromise the rights and liberties of women or undo their decade-long achievements. Empowering women and supporting their rights and liberties were a precondition for the international support to the Afghan government.
Meanwhile, it is stipulated in Article 149 of Afghan Constitution that “the principles of adherence to the tenets of the Holy religion of Islam as well as Islamic Republicanism shall not be amended. Amending fundamental rights of the people shall be permitted only to improve them.” This article indicates two issues. First, the constitution is based on Islamic principles with the presence of religious scholars but moderate interpretation of Islam. Second, amendment is allowed only for the improvement of people’s fundamental rights. Thus, Afghans persist that amendment will take place only on the basis of mechanism predicted by the constitution itself.
Afghan women should be included in the talks and their rights and liberties have to be supported. In short, compromising women’s rights and freedoms at the negotiating table is neither likely nor acceptable. Women constitute half population of the country and should play their role freely in social, cultural, and political arenas for the betterment of the society.