Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Monday, April 19th, 2021

Compromising Women’s Rights in Peace TalksWill be a Pyrrhic Victory

The Taliban’s parochial mindset towards democratic values is disconcerting for Afghan women. The Afghan and Taliban negotiators are most likely to wrangle over the fundamental rights and liberties of women – widely approved of and included in the post-Taliban Constitution – at the negotiating table in Qatar. The Taliban show no inclination to buy into women’s constitutional rights and freedoms and, in turn, proposing amendments to the Constitution.
Shaping the post-deal political structure, with women’s active participation, will be a highly contentious issue in the peace talks. Protecting the framework of the Constitution and fundamental rights of women is a “red-line” for the Afghan republic team, however, the Taliban insist that women have to exercise their rights and liberties based on Islamic tenets, a vague term and may mean Taliban’s interpretation of Sharia Law. The Taliban’s radical ideology is irreconcilable with democratic values and constitutional principles of Afghanistan as Afghan negotiators have said earlier that the Taliban’s worldview regarding women and their rights and liberties are not moderated. To put it succinctly, abiding by “Afghan Constitution” and the return of “Sharia Law” will be a bone of contention between the negotiating sides. But the Taliban leadership will possibly lose its popularity among its proponents and rank-and-file if they backtrack on “return of Sharia Law”.It is self-evident that Afghan women have made heavy sacrifices in support of democratic principles and protection of their rights and freedoms within the last couple of decades. The blood of Afghan women was spilled in polling stations, schools, universities, educational institutions, hospitals, wedding halls, streets, and social and political gatherings. With the ongoing peace talks, however, they find their achievements at stake. That is, amendment to the Constitution is intended to curtail women’s rights and liberties. Women believe that if talks end in restrictions on their social, cultural, and political role, it will be a pyrrhic victory. So, Afghan women will neither take a back-seat concerning their rights and democratic gains, obtained in the last two decades with blood, sweat, and tears. The post-Taliban Constitution – approved with the participation of Afghan heavyweight religious clerics, jihadi leaders, tribal elders, women, and United Nation’s representative and international observers in 2004 Loya Jirga – leaves no room for gender discrimination and requires the state to observe the United Nations Charter as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 22 stipulates, “Any kind of discrimination and distinction between citizens of Afghanistan shall be forbidden. The citizens of Afghanistan, man and woman, have equal rights and duties before the law.” With their participation in the Loya Jirga, Afghan clerics also reiterated their support to non-discriminatory principle and democratic values. Simultaneously, Article 3 states, “No law shall contravene the tenets and provisions of the holy religion of Islam in Afghanistan.” With this in mind, Afghan moderate religious clerics could reconcile Islamic tenets with democratic values. As a result, Afghans believe that since the Constitution does not contradict Islamic principles, it is not required to be amended. To this end, the pair of conflicting views – Taliban’s push for a Sharia-based political structure and Afghans’ persistence on maintaining the Constitutional framework, women’s fundamental rights, and democratic principles – will drag on, widening the gap between the negotiating delegations in their visions of a future Afghan state and society. Hardly surprising, the Taliban leaders and military commanders view the peace process from commercial perspective and bargain for higher price and further concessions at the negotiating table and on the battlefield. That ideology rather than pragmatism, in addition to challenging the process, is likely to dominate Taliban’s narrative of “jihad” is easily dismissed. One must bear in mind that appearing as business dealer or radical ideologue at the table will make reaching an agreement extremely hard or even push the talks to a deadlock. To chart the future of Afghanistan, the initial step is that the two sides have to show flexibility and bring down their expectations. Second, a council has to be formed with the participation of legal experts and high-level clerics of the two sides to review the Constitution and propose necessary amendments to the articles, in case of being, contradictory to Islamic tenets with protection of the constitutional framework. A workable compromise could be reached with reintegration of traditional – not radical – values and democratic principles in the Constitution, to the extent that human rights and women’s rights and liberties are not put at stake. Such a two-step-forward-and-one-step-backward tactics could serve as an accelerant to the fruition of talks. A more balanced political framework could prove further productive for national and regional security and will be a win-win situation.On the contrary, it will be proved abortive if the Taliban seek to impose their warped mind on the people and tailor women’s rights and freedoms to their dogmatic convictions. Afghan women will not backpedal after paying heavy sacrifices for the safeguard of their rights to life, liberty and property. The decades-long achievements and framework of the Constitution, which is the product of democracy, need to be maintained. In short, a peace agreement at the cost of democratic gains, will not be acceptable to the Afghan nation or state.