Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Word on Women - Does the threat to the women of Afghanistan only come from the Taliban’s insurgency? Not, exactly.

For the past two years, the Afghan government has been making repeated statements that no reconciliation or negotiations aimed at bringing peace through talks with the Taliban will impact women’s rights and other civil rights guaranteed in the Afghan Constitution. But, does the threat to the women of Afghanistan only come from the Taliban’s insurgency? Not, exactly.

The failure of governance—with the accompanying impunity perpetuated through a corrupt and incompetent system--is the first predator of women’s rights in Afghanistan, especially in the rural villages. Moreover, interventions aimed at bringing security and defense, like arming militias, result in the oppression of Afghans ,particularly women, in different parts of the country.

While the national and international attention on Afghanistan is shrouded in stories of the withdrawal and transition of international forces, many realities on the ground go unnoticed. For many of us in Afghanistan, it is now routine to hear about incidents that involve severe beating or murder of women, at least once or twice a week, in various parts of the country.

Last week was no exception.. While many women’s groups are struggling to verify the brutal murder of a female NGO worker in Zurmat, Paktya, we also were shocked to hear about a woman in Nimroz whose husband tried to take out her eyes with a knife..She is in the hospital and her doctors say they don’t have the adequate technology to treat her brain damage.. The Institute for War and Peace Reporting recently released a report from Ghor province in which the Afghan Local Police and the local militias created and armed during the experiments with ‘Counterinsurgency’ are accused of kidnapping, raping and murdering women in many villages and districts. In the same report, Anjila Shafi, secretary of the Provincial Council of Ghor, said that in the past year 50 cases of violence against women by militia commanders had been recorded, including assault and coerced marriages.

Mohammad Sharif, a tribal elder in the Dawlatyar district of Ghor, recalled a case where a man was killed last spring and his wife was abducted by a local commander and murdered a month later. No action had been taken on either killing, he said.

Many of the women’s groups and civil society organizations engaged in human rights work in Afghanistan believe that the continued silence of the Afghan government and its international supporters on women’s rights violations and oppression has a lot to do with appeasing the militants and conservatives in the country so that they will join the government’s peace and reintegration processes. These women’s organizations and civil society groups are mobilizing themselves around the question of why initiatives aimed at peace and security are resulting in injury and loss of life, especially among Afghan women.

A male journalist covering the southeastern region of the country said, “We don’t see the peace process making much of a difference in Kabul and other urban centers, but the impact is so visible in the rural areas. The local warlords, power brokers, militias , militants, and criminals all turn into Taliban and, claiming they want to be part of the peace process, they either get arms through local policing initiatives, or get tribal powers and then they are the ones who oppress locals, kidnap, rape and kill women when they want. They are even sent to more remote areas to fight militants and then they do whatever they want with no responsibility”.

Daily Afghanistan Outlook, a leading independent newspaper writes in a recent editorial that President Karzai has been selling Afghans’ rights to appease militants. The editorial analyzes the context around which Abdul Satar Mirzakwal, deputy governor of Helmand province, was sacked because he arranged a concert by a female singer that attracted 30,000 residents of Lashkargah, with children cheering the music. The editor writes, “But this event and a “female” singer’s performance was not something to be “acceptable” for the radical Mullahs and Ulemas of the province. They all complained to Karzai about Mirzakwal…”Karzai bowed in front the religious radicals and took action quickly on their demand, sacking Mirzakwal without even consulting the Independent Directorate for Local Governance (IDLG), the body responsible for appointing and dismissal of governors, district chiefs and other officials.

It is very obvious that the 30,000 people celebrating at the concert did not object to the performance, but some religious clerics did and only they are the ones that matter to the government, not the masses of citizens.

However, when it comes to condemning, investigating and prosecuting those responsible for murder, kidnap and rape of women and girls, we witness a poisonous silence from the Afghan government and its international supporters. Do they understand that what this silent impunity means for the stability of Afghanistan?

As the government and its international supporters remain silent over the brutalities committed against women and citizens of Afghanistan, the culture of impunity persists. Fighting insurgency threats through military means will take us nowhere unless and until there is a principled stance against brutalities, and inhumane treatment of Afghans by the same very system that they are expected to support. If the international community doesn’t clarify its stance against such atrocities, the resistance of Afghans will grow against them, not because they are reluctant to support foreign presence but because they don’t see the difference between the enemy and an apparent friend.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Who is America talking to on Afghanistan?

Sunday, 03 April 2011 12:49

The talks on the abilities of transition and transfer of security responsibilities on Afghan forces is a long time dream for every sensible Afghan who want their government and its institutions to realise and take on their own responsibilities.

But with the purpose of protection and safety of its citizens, not for the sake of a political cover up for deals with the insurgents, or for a superficial sovereignty that does not exist in Afghanistan anymore."There are problems in military back-up and air defence. We have no reconnaissance at all. Our classes on anti-aircraft missiles haven't been started. We have a bunch of other problems in ground forces in terms of heavy weaponry, back-up fire and so on," said Defence Ministry Spokesperson General Zaher Azimi a day before the transition announcement.

On the eve of Afghanistan's new year, President Karzai announced the areas which can now be secured by the national forces. While the other provinces are not worrisome in terms of security, hand-over of Lashkargah is a reall challenge. Just the same week, the Spokesperson for Ministry of Defence spoke to TOLOnews that Afghanistan National Army (ANA) is facing some serious shortfalls and incompetencies that halt their abilities to take security responsibilities as part of the transition process. He detailed out the lack of air forces, tanks, radar back up, reactive forces and that the patrol forces lack clear signs of abilities and equipment. In short, he said Afghanistan is not ready for a security take over with its current defence (in)abilities.

But is he the one that America is talking to for making a transition or withdrawal decision? Of course, not. Another Afghan official from Ministry of Defence in the same report of TOLOnews who remained anonymous to keep his job said , "The international community hasn't even agreed on tanks and it is also reluctant about missiles and long-range rockets. There are also a lot of ambiguities about the air force. "I'm certain that even the defence ministry wouldn't be able to provide details on how they will find a plane this year."But it is not the Generals of Ministry of Defence and Interior that America is talking to while deciding its strategies for Afghanistan.

So who is America talking to while deciding its approaches and plans for Afghanistan? The list starts with the President Karzai and ends with some of its cabinet members who are in the cabinet because they are obedient enough and who don't want to suffer the same consequences as Amrullah Saleh or Hanif Atmar.

The main question is how relevant and effective would be the American decisions when they are based on the views and behaviour of President Karzai and those thinking along his lines? Our experience as Afghans living the current instability in the country is that the President has been kept astray from the larger population concerns by a few who have encircled him. The President would meet the victims of a Special Force bombing for the 17th times, but he is not available or ready to meet the civil society and activists groups who want to bring him the concerns of the segments of the population including the frustrated and disillusioned youth of the country. Those youth who are abandoned, and sidelined from the ongoing political set ups and who are getting ready to arm or re-arm themselves in Takhar, Kapisa, Faryab, Kunduz, Bamian, Jawzjan and other provinces.

President Karzai is no more in touch with those who voted for him in 2004 or even with those who voted for him in 2009. He has reduced the government mission into a mediatory role for a one-sided reconciliation and political deal with those who don't have the support of the larger population in Afghanistan. However, the Taliban continue taking advantage of the local population grievances on a government that is not there when needed. In such circumstances, American decisions and policies based on response or attitude of the President are not for the better of the people of Afghanistan. Any common Afghans on the streets of Kabul to Jalalabad to Gardez to Lashkargah want their government forces to be able to take on the responsibilities of their own security and protection but they would also immediately express concerns that our national forces are not yet there.

Why aren't the national forces there yet? Besides the conventional debates on the lack of capacity and low capacity that have been provided to the national forces and that only since 2007, the international community became wary of the need to strengthen the national forces. But there is a bigger fear among Afghans. That fear is that Pakistan continues to be resentful of Afghanistan to have any strong military or defence. The prospect of an Afghanistan facilitating US-India relationships and deals are still the major threat in the eyes of the Pakistani establishment.

There is no doubt that Afghanistan needs a non-military solution, one that is not about making deals with the tools of insurgency but addresses the roots and source of insurgency and unrest. Afghanistan needs a political reform that goes beyond integration and deals with the Taliban. The Afghan government needs to come up with a regional plan of action on how to deal with the threats posed by Iran and Pakistan immediately and promote diplomatic relations with other far neighbours up to China so that eventually Afghanistan gets out of the economic and political hijack of Pakistan and Iran. But why is not such a process being initiated by the Afghan government?

Given doubts that the current leadership in Afghanistan lacks conceptual and strategic objectives of such a political reform for the national interest of Afghanistan, it becomes evident that the international community particularly America should define and address the challenges and solutions in a more cohesive manner. They need to get out of the dichotomy of talk to Taliban or don't talk to Taliban and look at Afghanistan beyond Kandahar and Helmand.

It is very strange to hear the President's talks on the transition and transfer of security responsibilities are without any focus on their abilities and equipment they need. The debate on transition and transfer of security responsibility evolves around politicians of international community and politicians of Afghanistan but has not made its way into the technical areas or no opportunity provided to the ANA and ANP Generals fighting on the ground. It is equally questionable on how can the President so confidently accept the transfer when he, being the Chief of Army, knows that Afghanistan still does not have air forces or in the words of the Defence Generals, does not yet have any tanks.

The threat of Taliban to Afghanistan comes from their strength as a rented insurgent. But the real danger lies in the immediate neighbourhood. Just last month, Isaf announced that they found weapons made in Iran around the areas of Taliban but the Afghan government made no attempt to investigate further or check with Iran. Similarly, the district of Goshta in Nangrahar has been attacked by the Pakistani army for the past 40 days as per the daily media reports, but there is not any official stance of the Afghan government side. This is happening when we still have around 150,000 international troops, how would these two neighbours behave when Afghanistan's national forces struggle for defence with their old and inadequate weapons?

While it is understandable that the Afghan government's failures and arrogance have restrained the relations with America, but it is the people of Afghanistan, who do not matter to their own government anymore, bear the brunt of American decisions and policies towards their government. America needs to broaden its scope of consultations beyond the President and his alikes to the larger population groups to hear the real needs and challenges. Otherwise, if the transfer and transition decisions come from an alien government, it can only result in another Operation Enduring Freedom after 2014 and again for the national security interests of America.