London ~ Tuesday, 20 July 2010, page 15
Human rights groups fear for women's status in deal with Taliban
Amnesty urges Afghan government not to jettison women's rights
Scroll down to read "The Taliban War on Women Continues", followed by the background to the utter betrayal of Afghanistan's women by US-led war mongers
By Mark Tran
Human rights groups have called for women’s rights be guaranteed and monitored in all reconciliation strategies in Afghanistan. (Hasan Sarbakhshian/AP)
Human rights groups today urged the Afghan government not to jettison women's rights as international delegates gathered in Kabul to discuss the possible reintegration of insurgents into society.
Tomorrow's meeting in Kabul brings together aid donors and national delegates from across Afghanistan to build on commitments made in London in January, amid calls for a political settlement with the Taliban.
"Amnesty International fears that human rights, including women's rights, will be compromised as the Afghan government and its US/Nato partners seek a quick solution to the conflict with Taliban and other armed groups," said Sam Zarifi, the group's Asia-Pacific director. "The Taliban have a record of committing human rights abuses and abuses against women in particular and if they want to be brought back into the government then they should demonstrate that they will improve their conduct."
Similar concerns were raised in the US by Human Rights Watch in a report last week, which carried details of intimidation and murder of women in areas under Taliban control. The group accuses the Taliban of targeting women who work outside their homes.
In April, unidentified gunmen shot Hossai, a 22-year-old woman working for an American development company, after she had received a telephone warning from the Taliban to stop working.
Another woman received a so-called night letter telling her that she would be next: "In the same way that yesterday we have killed Hossai, whose name was on our list, your name and other women's names are also on our list."
Human rights groups have criticised Hamid Karzai's government for failing to adequately address concerns about these attacks in its programmes to reintegrate Taliban insurgents.
"In recent years, Karzai has sold women short when it was politically expedient," said Human Rights Watch. "In March 2009, for example, he signed the discriminatory Shia personal status law (which denies Shia women rights to child custody and freedom of movement, among other rights), and in 2008 he pardoned two convicted gang rapists for political reasons."
President Karzai was forced to dilute the controversial law following an international outcry over the legislation.
In its letter to delegates at the conference, Amnesty recommended that human rights, including women's rights, be guaranteed and monitored in all reconciliation strategies; that Afghan women are meaningfully represented in the planning stages and during the talks; and that reconciliation should not mean impunity for serious human rights abuses and war crimes.
But human rights are not expected to be high on the Kabul conference agenda, nor measures to promote anti-corruption and the rule of law.
July 14, 2010
The Taliban War on Women Continues
When 22-year-old Hossai was told to quit her job by the Taliban, she refused to be bullied. She was shot and killed.Ms. Reid is the Afghanistan researcher for
by Rachel Reid
Kabul: Beware Taliban revisionism. You're going to hear much more of it in the coming months as policy makers from Kabul to Washington seeking to reintegrate Taliban fighters try to explain why the enemy isn't so bad after all. Bombs that slaughter civilians, acid attacks that disfigure school girls, assassinations of women in public life-all of this will be swept under the carpet.
In its place, a new narrative will be trotted out, one in which most of the fighters are "ten-dollar Talibs"-just in it for the money-or modern-day Robin Hoods fighting the injustices of their local government. While money or politics may indeed be the motivation for many low-level fighters, that doesn't change the fact that too many Afghan women are experiencing the same kind of oppression today they faced under Taliban rule.
In one attack in Kandahar in 2008, around 15 girls and teachers were sprayed with acid by men on motorbikes. (Al Jazeera)
"We as Taliban warn you to stop working . . . otherwise we will take your life away. We will kill you in such a harsh way that no woman has so far been killed in that manner. This would become a good lesson for women like you who are working." When Fatima K. received this letter she was terrified and left her job. Such messages-called night letters, since they are delivered after dark-are a common means of intimidation used by the Taliban.
When 22-year-old Hossai received similar threats by phone from a man saying he was with the Taliban in Kandahar, she refused to be bullied. She loved her job at the American development company DAI, and her salary supported her family. But one day in April Hossai was shot by an unknown gunman as she left her office. She died from her wounds.
A few days later another woman in Kandahar received a night letter. It demanded that she give up her job, or else she "will be considered an enemy of Islam and will be killed. In the same way that yesterday we have killed Hossai, whose name was on our list." This woman has since stayed home.
These stories are seldom heard, but it's not because they are rare. The victims are often too terrified to report such attacks to the authorities, or have little hope that anything will be done if they do. They can expect little or no protection from their government, which seems more willing to provide patronage to senior insurgents who switch sides than assist women at grave risk. When high-profile women are assassinated, their cases are not given the priority they deserve and their killers are rarely brought to justice. While men who run afoul of the Taliban are also attacked-particularly in Kandahar, where the murder rate in recent months has reached unprecedented heights-the situation for women is worse.
The reassurance offered by the Afghan and U.S. governments is that those Taliban who lay down arms through reintegration or reconciliation programs must accept the constitution, which enshrines equal rights for men and women. But given how often President Hamid Karzai has himself ignored the constitutional protections afforded to Afghan women-as when he approved the highly restrictive Shia family law in 2009-it is not clear why Taliban who return to the political mainstream would have any motivation to respect the rights of women.
Many women activists would prefer to see explicit guarantees put at the heart of negotiations with the Taliban. There are some rights that should be nonnegotiable: the right to work, to participate in political life, and to send their daughters to school. But when I spoke to Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, a founding member of the Taliban and its former ambassador to Pakistan, he did not inspire confidence that this would be possible.
Zaeef, who now resides in Kabul after a stint in Guantanamo, explained in our May meeting why he believes the freedoms won by Afghan women in recent years are "corrupting" them. "If you put a young adult man and woman in one room for some time, of course there will be some interactions, which is against Islam. This is like a virus here and it will spread," he said to me.
I emerged from my conversation with Zaeef uncorrupted. As for my questions about what gender segregation might mean for mixed work environments, like the Afghan parliament where women make up 25% of the members, I got no straight answer.
The Afghan government should have women's rights at the center of the reintegration programs. But the experience of the past nine years has been one of hasty deals and impunity for serious crimes. And with the need for an exit strategy weighing heavily on the minds of U.S. policy makers, there's a strong chance that justice and principle will once again be sacrificed.
American officials are often tempted to deny their own influence by claiming that this will be an Afghan process. But since the U.S. will pay for most of it, this is not a credible position. Worse still, it flies in the face of repeated U.S. commitments to help protect and promote the rights of Afghan women. The U.S. should make clear that if reintegration and reconciliation results in less freedom for Afghan women and girls, American taxpayers will not foot the bill.
London ~ Tuesday, 20 July 2010, page 14
Taliban talks: the obstacles to a peace deal in Afghanistan
• US withdrawal pledge 'handed propaganda coup'
• Ceding south to insurgents risks civil war
By Jon Boone in Kabul
A fighter with the Haqqani network, part of the Afghan insurgency, at a camp in Khost, eastern Afghanistan. The network is said to have close links with Pakistan. (Ghaith Abdul-Ahad for the Guardian)
As the big names of world politics fly into Kabul for a conference on the future of Afghanistan, many of the capital's international residents have been fleeing in the opposite direction, keen to escape before the airport is closed down and the city put into "lockdown".
Today cars in the city were stopped at checkpoints every few hundred metres as part of a "ring of steel" operation. Those foreigners who have not escaped have been banned from leaving their guesthouses by their employers.
Organisers have attempted to attach great historic symbolism to the half-day conference. Of the nine international conferences on Afghanistan held in the last nine years, this is the first to actually convene inside Afghanistan.
But even diplomats involved in the five-hour event roll their eyes when asked whether it is going to produce any dramatic changes in policy.
The communique – already leaked in draft form to the media – focuses on efforts to build up the Afghan state by making it more effective, better funded and less corrupt. But on the fringes of the conference the hot topic is a subject that is barely mentioned in the draft and until recently eschewed by the US administration; making peace with the Taliban.
That's because despite the fact that the Afghan government is finally strong enough to organise its own conference, the prospect of that government ultimately prevailing over an ever stronger insurgency has never looked more bleak.
At an evening reception a few days before the conference, a senior European diplomat said glumly: "I cannot think of a single reason to die for Afghanistan."
The country, which has suffered almost 30 years of war of one form or the other, is a problem for its neighbours, not for Europe, he said. It was a different a few years ago, when most people still thought victory was possible, he said. But now, pessimism has taken over. "Afghanistan is in a state of freefall and I don't think strategy proposals announced at a one-day conference will solve that," said Candace Rondeaux, a senior analyst from the International Crisis Group. A paper by the Afghanistan NGO Security Office articulated what most people believe: that the counter-insurgency programme cannot win. It sees this summer's surge of US troops in southern Afghanistan as the "grand finale" of a western intervention which is looking to wind itself up.
The biggest problem is that what Nato soldiers are trying to do cannot be achieved on the time frames of the "political clocks" ticking down in Washington and its allied cities. In a recent off-record briefing, one of the most senior US soldiers in Afghanistan pointed out that no counter-insurgency has prevailed against an enemy with sanctuaries of the size the Taliban and other groups enjoy over the border in Pakistan.
No wonder then that most people's thoughts, including Barack Obama's administration, are turning to some sort of negotiated settlement with the insurgents. It is now part of the conventional wisdom in Kabul that the west will have to make compromises with insurgents that once would have been unthinkable, including dropping efforts for women to be given a more equal place in Afghan society. Few people put it quite as bluntly as Francesc Vendrell, a retired senior diplomat who served first the UN in Afghanistan before 2001 and then worked as the top representative of the European Union in Kabul. He recently told the Guardian that the current military effort to push the Taliban out of Kandahar and Helmand was particularly foolish because these are precisely the areas that, in his view, will have to be handed over to Taliban control.
Such a handover of the south could be achieved, he argued, through constitutional reform that would decentralise power from Kabul. In a trice, the south would be ceded to Taliban control, under the pretence of local democracy. Meanwhile, the north would similarly be handed back to the old warlords, the former strongmen who rose to prominence during the 1980s resistance to the Soviet occupation and its violent aftermath.
But deal-making with the insurgents is fraught with danger. Hamid Karzai's so far fairly limited appeals to the Taliban, not least during his "peace jirga" in June, have lost the Afghan president the support of some of the few political powerbrokers who backed him that are not from the Pashtun ethnic group, from which the Taliban draws most of its support.
Haroun Mir, a political analyst and parliamentary candidate with close links to the largely non-Pashtun Northern Alliance that fought against the Taliban, predicted civil war as the ultimate consequence of peace deal with the Taliban.
He said: "The moment the south is abandoned to the Taliban, you will see the north rearming. Any change that sees the Taliban entering government and you will create a full ethnic war."
Put most simply, the risk to the Americans is that they may win over the south, but lose the north. And it is not clear how the Americans will talk to the Taliban.
European diplomats say that whatever the latest thinking in the White House might be, David Petraeus, the new US commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan seems interested in making the fight against the Taliban last as long as possible. After years of refusing to contemplate even the most secret of discussions with a movement viewed as partly responsible for the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, the Americans have precious few ways of reaching out to the other side.
A security official who has in the past been involved in efforts to reach out to the Taliban bemoaned the fact that so many years had been wasted, pointing out that in Northern Ireland the British government had contacts "from the beginning".
Instead of a well-organised effort to talk to the Taliban, there is currently an extraordinary free-for-all, with a whole range of people and countries trying to make contacts with the quetta shura, the Taliban's leadership council. They include Karzai's elder brother Qayoum, and even Burhanuddin Rabbani, a northern power broker and former president. Countries interested in getting in on the act are the UK, Germany, Turkey and Indonesia.
While Saudi Arabia is often cited as potential interlocutor because of that country's status as the guardian of the Islam's holiest places, and because of previous involvement in Afghanistan, diplomats say the Saudis are holding back after "getting their fingers burned once before", according to one diplomat.
With everyone keeping their cards close to their chests, it is not clear whether any country or individual has had any success in talking to anyone of consequence. Mark Sedwill, Nato's ambassador in Kabul, said that Karzai has had little success in forging strong channels of communication. "There are channels of communication with various people, but it is very hard for the Afghans to know how close those people are to the inner circle," he said.
Obama's announcement that US troops will start withdrawing next July has been ruthlessly exploited by Taliban propagandists to convey the impression they are on the road to victory. This has helped deter them from negotiating a peace deal now, said Michael Semple, a former deputy of the European Union political mission and regional analyst. "The Taliban's dominant perspective is to ride it out for another year. They think 'one more push and we'll get them out'."
Post-conflict power grab
Insurgent groups are already positioning themselves for the post-conflict power grab, he said. "Perversely, now that the Americans have signalled they are leaving, there's an incentive for the Taliban to keep fighting so they can show they were the ones who pushed them out," he said.
The British description of a commitment to leave by 2015 "plays better to the Afghan audience", he added. "That's a more Afghan-style timetable." For Nato to reverse insurgent thinking it needs to "credibly clarify its plans for the period between 2011 and 2015". For the time being the Taliban are sticking to their negotiating position that talks will not begin until foreign forces leave Afghanistan.
Another senior western diplomat said that such talk was surely just the sort of "bluff" that characterises the start of any negotiation. He also hinted that the requirement that insurgents must lay down their weapons as a precursor to "reconciling" with the Afghan government was also not to be taken too seriously.
One possibility that is often suggested as a potential confidence-raising measure is reform of the UN list of terrorists, offering to remove the names of senior Taliban officials that would allow them to travel internationally and have bank accounts.
But what the Taliban appear to be most confident about is their chances of outright victory. Rumours abound that Mullah Omar, the one-eyed leader of the Taliban, has recently responded with a list of his own: a kill list of senior government officials and politicians.
London ~ Tuesday, 20 July 2010, page 28
Talking to the Taliban: Late in the day
The penny seems to have dropped in the White House, although this Damascene conversion comes somewhat late in the day
The report in today's Guardian that the White House is revising its strategy in Afghanistan in favour of negotiating with senior members of the Taliban through third parties
is welcome news. [Note this GSN deletion,, since this is not welcome news for Afghan women, nor for their freedom-loving compatriots]. Make no mistake, this is a change of heart. When Barack Obama made Afghanistan his war by committing 30,000 extra troops in December last year, he set himself three objectives: to deny al-Qaida safe haven; to reverse the Taliban's momentum and deny it the ability to overthrow the government; and to strengthen the capacity of Afghan security forces. None of these objectives have been met, nor do they show any sign of being met in the timeframe both he and David Cameron are talking about. Hence the rethink.
The surge of US troops was predicated on the assumption that the Taliban could be physically squeezed out of southern Afghanistan to the point where its place on any putative negotiating table would be smaller, and its political demands more easily managed. Largely meaningless mental constructs about the Taliban were created and put into service to support a policy that had little chance of working. The Taliban were accordingly divided into "reconciliable" and "irreconciliable" elements. Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy, made a distinction between reintegration of low-level insurgents (a good thing) and reconciliation, or negotiation with senior members of the Taliban, in which he said there would be no US involvement. None of these neat distinctions work in practice. Yes, some fighters in Helmand have been handing in their weapons for cash, but a local mechanism has yet to become a national movement. The truth is that the Taliban, which has been described as a network of networks, is both more complicated and more durable than anyone fighting them is willing to concede in public. While our armies continue to fight there, we provide the Taliban with a glue more binding on the disparate groups and clan loyalities comprising this insurgency, than Pashtun nationalism and supra-ethnic Islamism combined. Putting more troops in to split the Taliban is thus a contradiction in terms. The presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan is their central rallying cause. Put more troops in, and their determination to fight becomes all the stronger.
Now, it seems, the penny has dropped at least among some in the White House, although the Pentagon will fight a rearguard action in favour of the view that reconciliation can be delayed until the US-led coalition can negotiate from a position of strength. Even if the talks-now policy prevails, this Damascene conversion comes somewhat late in the day. After countless conferences, there is not yet a political settlement to broker, in part because President Hamid Karzai has done nothing to create one. One person whose name is being touted as a potential mediator is Michael Semple, the former European official Karzai expelled for having supposedly unofficial contacts with the Taliban. A man of Mr Semple's experience will argue that negotiation is not a tap that can be turned on. It requires a major investment of time and a consistent effort just to establish the required level of personal trust between the interlocutors.
The first item on the Taliban's agenda will be assurances about their physical safety and they will demand an end to the drone strikes in Waziristan. The closer, too, that the sides come to a political settlement then the deeper the cracks will become in Kabul between Karzai and the Northern warlords, most of whom have peeled away from his government. Talking to the Taliban raises difficult questions: is it in their interests to talk, rather than fight on? Can Karzai remain in place if talks are ever to reach fruition? A regionally brokered political settlement is the only way the war is going to end, but whether the White House has absorbed the implications of pursuing this policy, has yet to be seen.