Recently, I took part in a meeting with Dutch ambassador, Mr. Radninck J. van Vollenhoven, along some other Afghan journalists where we discussed the issue of freedom of expression, press developments and progresses as well as loosely about women achievements. There, one of the participators put down a very interesting view about developments and achievements made since the start of foreign civil and military engagement in the country which made me obsessed long after the discussion. He said that developments were fragile and could be set on a reversal move easily. "All what we have achieved are superficial and can simply be washed out" he added.
His notion made to think about various issues, like peace negotiation, violence broke out over Kurran-burning in Bagram airfield and etc from a different angle, and got worried what if a bigger stone get loose in the future. Over a vague incident how anti-American sentiments broke out and led to creation of bigger and deeper gap between Afghan and their foreign allies. Though both Afghan and foreign officials thereafter have emphasized that incidents may not bring about changes in bilateral relation, but closely observing the condition, a different picture can be drew. Series of attacks against foreign forces by Afghan soldier have enhanced the already dominant suspicion and distrust. Foreign staffs and employees were called off from ministries inside and around Kabul for security precautions.
So, if anything like that goes wrong once again, say for example, the holy Kurran be burned somewhere by another foreign soldier then what? That is what even its assumption looks horrible. Similar mistakes/ mistake can fuel anti-foreign sentiment and people once again hold Jihad and, when allies withdrew, turn against one another---repeat of the history. Many Afghanistan are worried about the resumption of communal war after military withdrawal.
Anyhow, along many other things, Afghan women achievements are the first prone to political upheaval in the country. And one of thing which can set women achievements at the fore-front is the ongoing vague peace negotiation with Taliban-led insurgencies.
Talks and negotiation have been one of the options since the very start of US-led military interference in 2001 for bringing peace and stability. There were reports that Taliban leaders met some of the top current Afghan officials in Kandahar at twilight of Taliban regime and talked about their conditions joining the so-called democratic process.
But with the rapid collapse of the regime and strong presence of international community, military actions were deemed as the only solution to lasting insecurity and instability during few years when insurgencies had not resurged. With the passage of time and engagement of US in the Iraq's issues as well as exhaustion of some NATO members from anti-insurgency struggle, support to military strategies declined tremendously. The commitment of foreign allies regarding anti-insurgency struggle loosened.
They have spent billions of dollars along with risking the life of their soldiers, but still the prospective remained gruesome.
As result, many decided to pull their military out as the in case of Dutch soldiers who were in Urozagan. Some other countries also have assessed withdrawal as the in the case of French when after an unfortunate incident of killing French soldiers by an Afghan soldier, President Nicolas Sarkozy announced to that he might withdraw French soldiers. Those who remained committed also are not willing to stay here for longer term and try to get rid off Afghan mess as soon as possible.
This atmosphere certainly has not appeared at once. Long time ago, some NATO members were exhausted and yielded to President Karzia's demand to opening a diplomatic door, the policy they initially never thought off or never included in the political and military agenda.
Therefore, Mr. President put down the issue of Afghan-led peace initiative and gained wide support inside as well as out of the country. After months of endeavor and releasing of Taliban prisoners, as signal for serious talks and negotiation, no palpable change observed in militants' leadership rank. Taliban never welcomed the move instead warned to target the high peace council members, who were assigned to contact with Taliban leaders.
The assassination of former President Mr. Burhanuddin Rabbani by a person claimed to be the Taliban authorized delegation brought the Afghan-led peace process in complete stoppage. Though Mr. President has tried a lot to restart negotiation with Taliban militants through summoning Loya Jirga, but Taliban never changed its standing.
After months of failed attempts, the United States of America put step ahead and started talking with Taliban representatives in secretly. Afghan government initially stood against, but later on accepted the US-led peace process.
Up to here nothing looks worrisome. The picture gets gloomy when considering the status of Taliban-led insurgency. The deadline has been set---foreign forces will withdraw in 2014, perhaps without consideration of the ground situation. Taliban leadership obviously understands that.
In such a situation, it looks too hard to assume that Taliban leadership will accept to join Afghan government without changes in ruling laws, including constitution. Because if they did so, Mr. President Karzai would of course has welcomed them in his cabinet.
Seemingly, they have some other intention. They want some bigger changes in political structure and sex combination. Taliban understands that U.S. and its allies will soon leave the country if they just continue their armed struggle for few more years. So, if they announced preparation to hold peace talks directly with United States, they bargain from a relative strong position. What can the US offer to them to get them put down arms and join Afghan government?
Before answering this question, it should be identified that what Taliban leadership really wants? Do they fight for political power? Were they fighting for a ministry post or so? I will answer these questions along with other challenges ahead of Afghan women in the next part of this article.
In the first part of this article, I put down a question and left that unanswered. That was: what Taliban leaders want and what the United States of America can offer to entice them lay down arms and join peace process. I hinted there that some top Afghan officials contacted Taliban leaders when they could not resist against giant US-led military power.
Though no details of such meetings has been presented, but it can be assumed Taliban leaders were not said to lay down arms and surrender to international security Assistant Force (ISAF) without condition. Instead it looks possible they were proposed to lay down arms and join government without any apprehension of possible persecution. There is no authentic document at disposal to say this with certainty, but the inflexible stance of militants supports my assumption.
Taliban has never accepted openly to hold peace talks with Afghan government. While Afghan government did a lot, and Mr. President frequently called them as "dissent brothers". Their prisoners were also released; efforts made to remove their names from the blacklist, yet no green signals showed from the opposite.
Experts maintain that if Taliban joined the government, President would have offered them mouth-watering positions. But they did not. Why? There are some, quoting Taliban leaders that they are not indeed fighting for power or any political position. Instead their main is to establish a Sharia-based government. That is what they want. (However it should be noticed that Taliban leaders perhaps are not the only one to decide. They are under influence of organizations and establishments whose approaches effective in defining the status of Afghan militants.)
Assuming the allegation true----Taliban fight for Sharia, not for power----the situation gets complicated. They have their own conditions, and constantly made mockery of Kabul government's condition like accepting the constitution, yielding to democratic process and etc, saying it is call for surrender not for negotiation.
So, possibly the aim of Taliban leaders is to build an Islamic government which cannot be realized without tremendous change into constitution and other ruling laws.
It is not clear what is going on between the US and Taliban leaders. After opening of an office in Qatar, and the likely transfer of Taliban prisoners Guantanamo to Doha, the process is not transparent and apparent. Except agencies and individuals, dealing with classified information, no body knows what exactly going on behind closed doors.
Basing assessments on assumptions and reasoning, however, we cannot find way to reality but we can get closer.
First, Taliban perhaps do not fight for power. Second, Taliban demand the withdrawal of foreign forces---that would be realized without hard bargaining of Taliban too, because deadline set. Third, removal of their names from blacklist. Fourth, release of their prisoners, and many other things.
If all these demands accepted fully or partly, then we have to be worried about the achievements of Afghan women. Establishment of a Taliban-like Sharia government means washing out all achievements made during past ten years with sacrifices and expenditure of billions of dollars.
However, the response of the US is not clear. Publicly, the US claims that its commitment for democracy and protection of human rights would not shake at all. But as far as it concerns to negotiation with Taliban-led militants, it has came short and showed flexibility. The Washington has accepted to open an office for Taliban which, some experts maintain, is not only a sign of serious talk with militants, but also giving legitimacy to rebellions.
Secondly, Taliban leaders always emphasized to hold talks with the US, not with Afghan government----this is also something accepted now by Washington. Same is the case with removal of militants' names from blacklist and transfer of prisoners.
Thus, after observing this array of retreats, does compromise over women achievements look impossible? I afraid not. Washington has to retreat in spheres if want to end its military mission, for example, co-education, social and political participation and etc.
The second storm which threatens the achievements of Afghan women is the withdrawal. Military withdrawal indeed takes out de facto foreign pressure on Afghan government and officials to abide by their international and global commitment. Some top officials have showed having no belief over women rights by their actions as well as statements.
If they do not stand against vigorously, it is just because of large foreign pressure. After withdrawal, they certainly will talk with vigor about the so-called traditional and Afghan values. (Hope in near future, I find the opportunity to write in detail about this particular one)
The third storm is a simmering reactionary move against democratic process by traditional wings and fronts. Just consider the recent Afghan Ulema Council's guidelines, in which men are proved superior by creation. They referred to verse of one and thirty of Surah an-Nisa where, according to their interpretation, men are superior to women and they can rule on them. They also suggested that sex segregation should be applied in all spheres, particularly, educational and working ones.
Ulema council, like many others, is non-governmental institution and its guidelines are not legally non compulsory. What is worrisome the support of President Karzai and large number of common people. Following reactions in virtual environment, I found that those who opposed the guidelines mostly were whether Afghan refugees or from a particularly in community in Afghanistan. But may supported the guideline and their number, though not large, but worrisome because they are the generation of facebook, twitter-- in brief-- young and educated. if they support the guidelines, then state of common and illiterate people are clear.