Toward a peace without Afghan women?

by Una Moore on 7/26/2011 · 15 comments

Women who run a community-based organization in rural Bamiyan. May 2010.

Only nine of the 69 members of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council are women. Supporters of women’s rights have cried foul over the council’s lopsided gender balance from the start, but it’s not just numbers they’re concerned about now  –it’s also the growing body of evidence that the few women who were appointed to the council don’t have a meaningful role in bringing negotiations about and are disrespected by their male colleagues.

The Washington Post reports:

“With the current negotiations, the Karzai government is compromising our rights,” said Suraya Parlika, head of the All Afghan Women’s Union, an advocacy group. “The talks are too soon. They’re too rushed. The women on the council are his pawns.”

Leading men on the council say their female counterparts have unrealistic expectations.

“They want to go as a group of women to meet with Mullah Omar. But that’s just not possible. If they go, they will be killed,” said Ataullah Luddin, the council’s deputy director.

“And anyway, we all know that women can’t keep a secret for more than 34 hours,” he said, laughing.

Human Rights Watch Washington director Tom Malinowski believes negotiations led by the current government will result in women’s human rights being sacrificed for the possibility of an end to Afghanistan’s conflict and wants fellow advocates to understand that crushing disappointments await:

“It’s better to face that squarely and to do everything possible to minimize the harm, than to imagine that the Taliban are going to stop believing or acting as they do.”

The same can be said of council members like Luddin, who share the Taliban’s view of women as humanity’s lesser half.

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Realist Writer July 26, 2011 at 9:12 pm

“[I]t’s also the growing body of evidence that the few women who were appointed to the council don’t have a meaningful role in bringing negotiations about and are disrespected by their male colleagues.”

A few cherry-picked quotes from a couple of cherry-picked sources DOES NOT count as a “growing body of evidence”.

And seriously, saying “[t]he women of Afghanistan are not convinced”…and only quoting ONE woman is daft, to say the least. And in fact, there was a second woman who said the council is kinda-sorta working…though I’m willing to disregard that opinion since she’s on said council.

There was no attempt to offer any polls asking the women of Afghanistan if they approve of the High Peace Council and comparing it to the response of men and seeing any differences in approval ratings or not. I honestly would trust that more than I would trust the “All Afghan Women’s Union”, mostly because I know nothing of this Union and do not know if they are indeed representative of the women of Afghanistan. If they indeed are representative, then obviously we should see a difference of approval ratings over the effectiveness of this High Peace Council based on gender.

Realist Writer July 26, 2011 at 9:16 pm

Alright, I apologize. Fauzia Kofi, member of Paraliment, was quoted as well. So that’s three women that were sampled. The point still remains: quotes do not provide us with valuable information over what the women of Afghanistan actually wants, only what these three people believe. Polls are unreliable, but relying on a couple of people to speak for everyone else is worse.

Una_Moore July 27, 2011 at 1:50 am

Realist Writer,

Accounts of the women on the HPC being excluded from official HPC activities have been piling up since the council was formed. I wish I had time to dig up all the references now, but I don’t. I’ll write more on this another time.

Osman July 26, 2011 at 11:49 pm

Whats the point of putting powerless women on a council that is meant to be comprised of power brokers who can eventually bring the opposition to the table? Enough with the empty show of “equal rights” when its detrimental and only meant to appease foreigners.

anan July 27, 2011 at 12:23 am

Osman, anti Taliban Afghan woman and anti Taliban Pakistanis woman are more influential than you imply.

President Karzai hasn’t been willing to make major concessions to the Taliban since 2001. He remains unwilling. The reason for this is de facto opposition from former Northern Alliance, Hazaras, Uzbeks, Tajiks, anti Taliban Pashtuns, Russia, India, Iran, NATO. None of this has changed.

Talks with the Taliban remains a farce until important Taliban leaders are willing to make major concessions, which they haven’t been willing to do so far.

The reason Pres Karzai has filled the High Peace Council with the Taliban’s fiercest enemies is because any negotiated settlement that isn’t supported by many anti Taliban Afghans is dead on arrival.

The power of anti Taliban Afghan woman power is magnified by their ability to work with and make deals with other anti Taliban factions.

Una-Moore, many Afghan woman say that some of the Afghan warlords or organized crime bosses that are connected to GIRoA are as anti woman or almost as anti woman as the Taliban. Many Pashtun Afghan woman see night raids by ISAF/ANSF [all night raids have ANSF participation with 20% of night raids being ANSF lead] as being as objectionable as the Taliban.

How would you characterize nuanced sentiments by Afghan Pashtun woman towards the peace process, Taliban, GIRoA, ANSF, ISAF?

Osman July 27, 2011 at 2:06 am

These women have no political power whatsoever and are merely proxies of warlords who use women to put a more civilized faced on their policies.

It seems as if its the anti Talib forces who need to make concessions instead of the Taliban themselves. The Taliban have only gotten stronger in 10 years of war and with time ticking with regards to NATO withdrawal, their futures in Afghanistan depend on them making concessions. It will be these new found suits and ties who will wish they had softened their stances once their protection leaves.

anan July 27, 2011 at 12:06 am

Una_Moore, thanks for your article. No doubt the vast majority of Afghan woman oppose the Taliban and a significant majority of Afghan woman strongly oppose the Taliban. What data points do you have about conservative Afghan woman perspectives from large parts of the rural south and rural east?

Worrying about Karzai making concessions to the Taliban is much ado about nothing. It is hard to see Karzai making any deal with the Taliban that are opposed by the ANSF commanding generals, Hazaras, Tajiks, Uzbeks and millions of anti Taliban Pashtun [of which educated urban Pashtuns are only one component.] Afghan public opinion supports talks without major concessions and President Karzai dutifully delivers what the people want. You should only start to worry about concessions to the Taliban “IF” important QST leaders start to publicly make major concessions in an attempt to woo ANSF commanders, Hazaras, Uzbeks, Tajiks, or anti Taliban Pashtuns. This hasn’t happened yet.

Maybe this is an unfair criticism; but too many Afghans make unrealistic emotional demands. Isn’t it better to ask for practical things? For example request increased international enablers for the Afghan education ministry catered to woman. Or request increased international enablers for ANATC and ANPTC aimed at educating woman ANSF officers and senior NCOs. Increasing the capacity of Afghan woman will have all sorts of salutary effects and weaken extremists, including the Taliban.

Its a travesty this hasn’t happened yet nearly to the degree it could. The ANA only admits 600 4 year officer cadets and 50 medical students a year. 650/year in a country of 34 million. Of these, only 10% of 600 and a larger fraction of 50 medical students are woman. The vast majority of qualified male applicants are not accepted in NMA-A because of the ANSF funding shortage.

It wouldn’t cost many international enablers to increase the number of admissions from 650 to 6500 per year, including every motivated Afghan woman who applies [ANATC would have to create many female only high schools for Afghan woman applicants who are accepted as officer cadets in addition to expanding NMA-A since many Afghan woman would take 5-7 years to graduate college versus 4 years for every male Afghan officer candidate due to the shortage of educated Afghan woman applicants.] Afghan woman officer cadets who do not pass with a BS or BA could join the ANSF as educated senior NCOs. After the Taliban are defeated many of these woman ANSF officers could work as judges, attourneys, civil servents, professors, teachers, or in the private sector [as part of a reserve ANSF that could be called back to duty at the discretion of the GIRoA.] Admitting many thousands of Afghan woman to officer cadet programs would do far more to advance the welfare of Afghan woman and to change President Karzai’s willingness and ability to compromise with the Taliban than almost anything else.

One reason this hasn’t happened yet is because ANSF female applicants are disproportionately Hazara (and to a lesser extent Uzbek and Tajik), with few Pashtuns signing up so far. There is a fear that ANSF woman will not be ethnically and regionally balanced.

Una_Moore, would you support allowing every motivated Afghan woman applicant who wants to join the ANSF to join [and get educated in the process], regardless of background? Or would the price for this type of Afghan woman empowerment be too ethnically and regionally devisive?

Realist writer, do you see a long term brutal war between ANSF/Northern Alliance and the Taliban/AQ as inevitable? With neither side able to defeat the other? Do you believe the ANSF cannot decisively win even with substantial international enablers? How do you propose calibrating international enablers for the ANSF? Do you support inviting China, Russia, China, India and Pakistan to join NTM-A and to surge ANSF capacity under LTG Caldwell’s Operational Control? How would you regionally distribute ANSF assets (concentrate on a smaller ink stain or a larger ink stain)?

Does the outcome of the Pakistani civil war matter to you? If it doesn’t, are there any global security challenge as important for the international community [all 7 billion of us] as the Pakistani civil war? I think we would both agree that there are global challenges [economic, environmental, values, health] that are more important than all global security challenges combined. But are there any global security challenges as important as the Pakistani civil war?

DD July 27, 2011 at 4:12 am

Anyone seen my ten foot pole? Yikes.

I’m all for women’s rights, but we’re rushing things a bit, aren’t we? I mean, defeat the Taliban, modernize Afghanistan, legal reform, and women’s suffrage and political participation all at once?

Meanwhile, the bank doesn’t work and GIRoA still has limited ability to influence ANYTHING outside Kabul. Oh, and the Taliban are slaughtering public figures almost at will, these days. But ya, lets all focus on this, while the foundations of Afghanistan fall out from underneath.

Una_Moore July 27, 2011 at 4:23 am

Riiiight. Because this is totally an either/or situation and women are a special interest group we just can’t afford to pay attention to.

DD July 27, 2011 at 4:39 am

You tell me. We are trying to do everything at once in this country, and we’re failing at most of it. I wasn’t being facetious when I said I am “all for women’s rights,” but at some point you have to pick your battles and win them one at a time.

Exactly how much resources should we devote to enabling 15 million women with at least 80% illiteracy and no formal education at all, and to what end? To participate politically? Are you going to design a 5 week crash course to make them literate and functional outside of their homes/villages? We’re trying that with the men with the ALP, and look how well that’s going.

It’s very convenient to accuse someone like me of not wanting to “pay attention” to women, that’s such an easy battle to win in theory, but I invite you to come here and apply it. Let me know when you get to Afghanistan, we can hash out a plan. Or if you are already here, even better. If you can show me how this can be done in a way that isn’t a complete charade to appease the int’l community, I’ll happily help. I’m serious. In the meantime, I’ll be focusing on the people trying to kill us, and figuring out ways to get them to stop.

Nick Hanz July 27, 2011 at 4:33 pm

The Taliban movement arose out of chaos to protect women/girls from rape and murder. Its highly problematic that this much is left out of such a discourse.

Back in 1994, 2 girls were raped by a Anti-Soviet commander, the locals went to the local Mullah. This Mullah gathered his students, attacked the base where the girls were being held, and hanged the commander from the barrel of a canon. They brought law and order to Afghanistan.

What has Karzai brought? He has brought a US occupation which has killed and tortured thousands of Afghan people. This is what he is desperately trying to sell, and he has failed.

No Afghan tolerates the US occupation. It is highly inappropriate to not mention this blatant fact. You talk about women’s rights, yet the US is violating all human rights there, killing the Afghan people via night raids and airstrikes. The womens rights is a horrible joke.

Present facts. Aren’t there some type of journalistic standard to uphold. Lets talk about why the Taliban arose to power, why they are back in power, rather than trying to see how a US-installed Kabul government (which is an illegal form of government as long as there is a US occupation) can impose a ruthless rule upon the rest of Afghanistan. This will never happen.

DD July 28, 2011 at 2:51 am

Sigh. This is why I get frustrated with myself for arguing on the internet. It leads to people like this. You sir, have no idea what you are talking about.

The Taliban hang someone from a tank, and that’s justice?!

You want facts? Despite the US’ often misguided efforts, the Taliban are responsible for 87% of civilian casualties in this conflict. Of the 13% they are responsible for, a significant portion of that results when the Taliban use “human shield” tactics.

There’s your facts.

anan July 28, 2011 at 12:54 pm

DD, to elaborate; ISAF causes about 8% of all civilian violent deaths. A plurality of these are from night raids. Many are also from air strikes. The ANSF causes about 5% of all civilian violent deaths and a lot more work needs to be done to reduce the number of civilians killed by ANSF.

The rest are caused by others. But not all the 87% are by “Taliban.” While eighty some percent of all civilian violent deaths are caused by the “Taliban;” this statement is misleading since the “Taliban” are a loose coalition of many Afghan and Pakistani warlords and militias [with IMU/IJU and some other regional militias thrown in for good measure.] It might be more relavent to break down casualties by different Taliban factions. Most Afghan violent deaths are caused by Sirajuddin Haqqani and the Pakistani Taliban allied with him. By contrast there are several local Taliban groups that have a better record in civilian casualties than many ANSF and ISAF.

While it is no doubt true that many Taliban factions use civilian shields in violation of international law, some local Taliban do not.

DD, many Americans are more pro Taliban than many actual Afghan Taliban. Nick Hanz might be one of these types. Actual Afghan Taliban are more likely to be self critical and more critical of rival Taliban factions, especially internationally linked Taliban. The American political debate about the Afghanistan lives in an alternate universe compared to the Afghan debate, or even the debate within the Afghan media and Afghan blogosphere.

Do you think Nick Hanz would criticize Siraj and the Peshawar Shura for working with foreign fighters? Or the role of part of the deep state? Or the Pakistani security forces firing on ANSF at the border? Or even acknowledge how much more popular and legitimate the ANA is among southern Afghan Pashtun and eastern Afghan Pashtun than the Taliban.

Osman, I think you percieve the GIRoA and ANSF as anti Pakistani Army and that this influences many of your statements. I think you are wrong. I think Afghans are willing to embrace President Zardari, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar and other non fundamentalist nationalist Pakistanis.

The ANSF isn’t going anywhere. It might lose in pockets of the south and east. But it won’t lose in most of Afghanistan. [That the currently resourced ANSF end state may not be able to defeat the Taliban is also true.] If Pakistan and the Pakistani Army embraces the ANSF and GIRoA, it would advance Pakistani interests. Pakistan could demonstrate its good faith by offering to send many of her best officers and NCOs to join NTM-A and train ANSF [including MoI judges and lawyers.] Pakistan could further demonstrate its good faith by publicly issuing a joint statement with the GIRoA requesting major contributions to NTM-A, ANATC and ANPTC on the part of China, India, Iran and Russia.

The ANSF are fighting the syndicate surrounding Siraj [that include TTP, TNSM, late Ilyas Kashmiri’s forces [LeJ, Bde 313, Bde 055]] who are murdering many Pakistani civilians. Pakistan benefits from Afghan success and ANSF success.

Seidkazi July 28, 2011 at 3:34 am
the lost flaneur July 29, 2011 at 10:35 am

the women should join minorities and fight any peace deal which sacrifices basic human rights.

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