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The Progress of Women is the Progress of Afghanistan

TOLONews Monday, 19 July 2010

There is no doubt that the current war in Afghanistan needs a political non-military solution. Therefore, a reconciliation process that is built on national consensus is needed to gauge the support of an expanding insurgency. Likewise, the members of the NATO and international community, Afghans too are desperate for an end to the ongoing violence in their home. However, the larger question is the regional dynamics of the ongoing insurgency with a leadership that does not decide inside Afghanistan but is run from Quetta, and that alone speaks a lot about the nature of the insurgency in Afghanistan. This is also one of the main reasons for the skepticism on the government's Peace and Re-integration Program Plan that aims to focus on the fighters inside Afghanistan rather than regional level negotiations.

Many Afghan critics believe that the Reconciliation and Re-integration Plan that is predicated on a polarized comprehension of the insurgency, and challenge whether the plan would bear any peaceful results for Afghanistan.

Re-integration of the men fighting for various justifications is as well important to establish some level of trust between the government and the militants. But the rising concern is that the re-integration should not however, mean more impunity and injustices. If an unjust Re-integration and Re-conciliation process is taken further to integrate the Taliban militants, the other segments of Afghan society will revolt for the injustices against them. We should not forget that the Taliban movement actually started with the calls for justice against the corrupt warlord ruling in 1990s. And that is the fear of the Afghan woman.
In the last few years Afghanistan's stability is no longer seen as an end in itself. It's now just a tactic of counter-insurgency in the southern regions for the international community, and a one-sided political project for the central government. Therefore increased human rights violations as a result of non-existent rule of law and political deals and the plight of women are irrelevant since they do not serve the purpose of enhancing stability in this cold view of security. The Prisoners Review Commission established right after the Consultative Peace Jirga and has released more than 20 prisoners so far. The women fear that the Commission does not have the required legal mandate nor the willingness to review the cases from a legal point of view, but rather make political decisions as per the governments inclinations towards the militants.

We have heard from international community members on numerous occasions that NATO countries are not responsible for women's rights and other democratic values and we understand that, however we still expect that while women's human rights are respected as a core principle of their home countries, why can't it be the same for Afghanistan?

The re-integration and reconciliation plan would provide an exit mechanism for international forces, but would the international community members accept the return of oppression on Afghan women as part of this process? In an appealing editorial, the Kabul weekly magazine argues, " indeed, the Consultative Peace Jirga was the first step in legitimizing a power-sharing agreement with the Taliban and their terrorist cohorts. Maybe high-ranking officials believe that a fair deal with Taliban and power sharing is in the interest of their political survival, but this deal is not fair nor just. For one, the deal is being struck between the Taliban and a network of government officials. Social justice will be sacrificed in this deal. Moreover, the Taliban won't agree to a power sharing deal for long. Before you know it, they'll take control of the government entirely".

As reported by the Human Rights Watch just recently, the night letters (threatening letters left at night), the death threats, the assassinations of (female government officials a female politicians and activists) with a clear line of responsibility by the militants, cannot be challenged in Afghanistan. If everyone has forgotten the oppressive regime on women before 2001, how can we ignore the current barbaric treatment of women and girls in the militant controlled areas? How many woman and girls are able to go to school in Kandahar andHelmand anymore? Not only there, but in provinces like Wardak and Logar, which are are only an hour away from the capital, the doors of education and work are closed on women. How to believe that the same militants, if back in political power would adhere the AfghanConstitution, which is one of the reasons that

Taliban are fighting against and killing Afghans? In such circumstances, its ironic and unbelievable to even formulate conditions that the reconciliation and re-integration process would adhere. The concept of redlines and conditions that the process will secure women's progress made during the past 9 years does not provide any groundings to trust such a claim.

While the same Peace and Re-integration Plan has started releasing the militant prisoners without a proper form of legal scrutiny, we have more than 476 women in one of Kabul's jails and half of them are those, who should not have been imprisoned in the first place. According to a recent BBC report, half the women are jailed for so called ‘Moral Crimes,' like adultery or running away from home. Meanwhile the militants kill, behead and torture Afghans and these are not considered a ‘Moral Crime', rather the perpetrators are called ‘angry brothers' byPresident Hamid Karzai in a recent speech.

This is the political dilemma of Afghanistan. However, civil society still looks towards the international community, perhaps vainly, to speak out against the injustices that afflict them. Many in Afghanistan were disappointed United Nations response to remove the militants names from the UN terror lists and struggles already started towards that direction. We had hoped to hear from the UN at least that one of the criteria of the re-opening of the terror-list militants, would be of those who are not involved in school burnings and killing of women and girls.

A medical doctor from Malalai hospital in Kabul asks, "If the plan is to throw us back to the darkness is acceptable to all actors involved in Afghanistan, why cant they be honest about it? Why have they shown us the dreams of freedom and progress while its all about political deals. They provide more than half of the government budget, how can they not resist its policies?"

As the Afghan government is preparing for Kabul Conference in the coming week, the matter of social development including women empowerment needs to be taken seriously. International donors should ensure that the gender indicators as part of the Afghanistan National Development Strategy in order for the Afghan women to trust in the promises of the red-lines and conditionalities of the current political settlements in Afghanistan.

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