Monday, February 18, 2008

Peacebuilidng and the women of Afghanistan

Last November, the International Peace Research Institute of Oslo held a conference entitled "Peacebuilding in Afghanistan: How To Reach the Women". Now, they've released the proceedings as a report.

The conference participants included several highly experienced and respected figures, including: Ms. Meryem Aslan, the director of the UN's Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) in Afghanistan; Ms. Shukria Barakzai, a successful journalist and publisher and member of the Afghan parliament who helped write the Afghan constitution; Ms. Orzala Ashraf, member of the Executive Board of the Afghan Women's Network and founder of Humanitarian Assistance for the Women and Children of Afghanistan, a respected Afghan NGO; as well as Mohammed Hanif Atmar, Afghanistan’s minister of education.

In contrast to various self-congratulatory reports by Western government officials, the IPRIO report has a cautious tone, as seen in the paper's introduction: "[W]hile the post-2001 situation had presented the international community with an exceptional opportunity to improve the situation of Afghan women, it is questionable whether subsequent efforts to include women and their needs in peace, security and development processes within the country have been sufficient."

The report makes some intriguing observations:

... Post 2001, warlords, drug lords and insurgent groups continue to be influential in defining the political, economic and social sphere in Afghanistan. Conservative forces remain strong, both inside and outside the parliament. These actors reduce the space for dialogue and nonviolent approaches. They suppress the voices of groups and subcultures open to gender equality and women’s rights, and thus can be seen as the real threats to women in Afghanistan.

As a result, there is great concern that the ongoing process of state building will be derailed, and that the position of women in Afghanistan will suffer a ‘backlash’. Without a comprehensive peace process, there will be no space for more progressive subcultures to take root. ...

... The rapidly deteriorating security situation has also convinced many Afghan civil society actors that negotiations with the Taliban represent the only way towards a peaceful solution to the conflict. Nevertheless, they warn that such negotiations should not be allowed to undermine the constitution and women’s rights. This is a tremendous challenge.

It is now generally agreed that a military solution will not work in Afghanistan. The appropriate response needs to be based on a combination of political, economic, developmental and humanitarian means. ... (Link to pdf of report.)
In a related matter, recall that even some Afghan government elites appear to be fed up with foreigners allowing them to do stuff all the time, as evidenced by the government-run newspaper Anis. As we relayed on Saturday, the paper took the occasion of President Karzai's trip abroad to urge, reportedly for the first time, that foreign forces set a date for withdrawal, as our "long-term presence" in their country "is in no way defensible."

It is at least entertaining to compare Anis' stance with commentary in Canada. The Liberals' Stephane Dion has lately elicited mockery in some quarters of the mainstream press for his recent efforts to get the governing Conservatives to agree to a date for the withdrawal of Canadian troops from Afghanistan. (2011 looks to be the date he's shooting for.) The Toronto Star's Rosie DiManno excoriates Dion as "stupid" for his plan to "giv[e] the Taliban an exact withdrawal date." (link)

It reminds one of attacks on Jack Layton, with elite media commentators calling him "Taliban Jack" for daring to suggest negotiations with the Taliban. Nobody made any apologies when diplomats and other specialists dismissed such twaddle, pointing out that eventually the victor always has to speak with the vanquished. And no one ate their words when Hamid Karzai began publicly calling for Taliban to sit down and talk.

And most probably, those who express views like in the report above will be accused of siding with the Taliban.

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