Read the media coverage of the Taliban’s office in Qatar, and you could be forgiven for assuming that this is the first time that the group had entered diplomatic talks. Of course some of the features here are new: the luxurious office building, the raising of the flag and so on.
But if you look more closely at the nature of the talks, nothing has really changed. The US and its allies were already in contact with the Taliban before the opening of the office, the Pakistani establishment is still playing an important role, and the Afghan government’s commitment still keeps on wavering.
I view the Taliban’s political office not as a new or game-changing event. From Afghan experiences over the past decades, one can foresee that there will be a deal to bring them into the system one way or another. The key question is: will such a deal result in sustainable and inclusive peace and stability all over Afghanistan?
The answer I see for such a question so far is not entirely positive. If I am pessimistic, it is because there are still many unresolved internal conflicts, and because there has been a failure to ensure stronger rule of law across the country by putting a real end to impunity. There are also external factors that dampen my optimism: Afghanistan’s neighbours near and far have plenty of political, resource-related and strategic interests in maintaining a level of chaos in the country.
Afghanistan’s future continues to be in the hands of the international community. The stakes are high, and the risk of mishandling the situation is high: direct intervention has proved a failure in the past, but complete abandonment by the world too has resulted in leaving the country in the hands of regional powers and, hence, chaos.
Afghan women’s struggle for their rights is – contrary to claims by many – not just a struggle of the recent decade. It is a fight the women of Afghanistan have been engaged in over the past century. The shape of this struggle has differed in each phase of the history, but one thing that is certain is that the struggle will undoubtedly continue – regardless of the shape the country’s future will take.
Women in Afghanistan are well aware that their involvement in political decision-making is very vulnerable and easily used as a bargaining chip. Yet it is crucial for the world, the government of Afghanistan and its political opponents to realise that no real and sustainable peace can be achieved in this country if the demands, concerns and needs of half of the population are ignored or locked behind closed doors. Afghan women are not looking for symbolic representation, but a more meaningful part in any negotiations and bargaining that happens in their country.
It has never been just the Taliban who have felt threatened by women in politics. The recent opposition to the law on elimination of violence against women (Evaw) in the Afghan parliament highlights this fact. There is no doubt that the Taliban have been rightly marked out for their unreasonable hostility towards women – which above all contradicts the fundamental principles of Islam. Yet other forces believe that the empowerment of women will result in their own disempowerment. These forces can be found within the current government and beyond that..
Those who want a non-violent resolution to the ongoing must realise that there can be no return to the past. If they want to create a future for Afghanistan, it cannot be based on the subordination of women. Instead, it is crucial for all parties involved in the current conflict to ensure the protection of women and children as the most basic and fundamental rule of engagement during conflict. Second, they should frankly state their position on the status of women, particularly with regard to health, education, access to justice and above all political representation.
Orzala Ashraf Nemat is a civil society activist from Afghanistan.