Experts: Cost to Afghan women's rights depends on community’s unity in negotiations with Taliban

Experts: Cost to Afghan women's rights depends on community’s unity in negotiations with Taliban

Azerbaijan, Baku, July 23 / Trend, E.Ostapenko /

Only participation of the Afghan community's all groups, and their unanimous support for democratic reforms will help to avoid speculation on women's rights in negotiations with the Taliban, experts believe.

"The only way to safeguard women's rights in a negotiation is to have an open Afghan debate that brings in people from all walks of life, well beyond the civil society of Kabul," Kristian Berg Harpviken, Norway's expert on Afghanistan told Trend. "This is particularly challenging, as the sensitivity of talks may mean require secrecy," he said.

The new strategy of peace and reintegration of former rebels in the Afghan community were among five strategies prepared by Afghans, which were presented at the international conference on Afghanistan held July 20 in Kabul.

After nine years of the armed conflict, President Hamid Karzai offered to integrate into society of those Taliban militants, fighting for money, seeing the hopelessness of decisions by military methods. He offers allocation of financial assistance, providing them with jobs and housing.

Taliban has a very problematic record when it comes to women's rights, Harpviken, Director at Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) believes. It is hard to see that a political settlement with whole or parts of the Taliban will not come at a cost to women's rights.

He says women's rights are weakened, also under the Karzai regime, as other concerns are seen as more pressing.

In the Afghan regions, which are now under Taliban control (mainly in the south and east of the country), women and girls are deprived of the inalienable constitutional right to receive education and work outside the home. When violating these Taliban postulates they face death, the international human rights organization Human Rights Watch's (HRW) report says.

"Compromising on the rights of women could be avoided only if the West would be willing to substantially increase its investment in the security and civil build up of Afghanistan or if the Afghan population would unequivocally support democratic transitions. Neither condition is met", - Christian Tuschhoff, Political Science Fellow at German Otto-Suhr-Institute told Trend.

According to his words, the history shows that democratic transitions that exclude the previous elites require almost unanimous support by the local public. This condition has been present in Eastern Europe where communist elites have been removed from office without negotiations.

However democratic transitions in Latin America have been achieved by negotiations with the previous authoritarian elites because the public did not unequivocally support the new democratic leaders, Tuschhoff said. The situation in Afghanistan is closer to the transition in Latin America than to Eastern Europe. Therefore, some negotiations might be unavoidable, but they will produce some costs of certain segments of the population including women, he said.

Human rights activists doubt that the Karzai's government will not try to take advantage of a compromise in the form of sacrificing women's rights for the sake of peace deal with rebels.

Women's groups point to two decisions by Karzai that raise questions about his commitment to their rights. In 2009, he approved a law that the United Nations said sanctioned marital rape. He later agreed to re-examine the law.

In 2007, Karzai had pardoned three men who had been found guilty of gang raping a woman in the northern province of Samangan. The pardon, signed by Karzai and reported by the British paper the Independent, freed the men from their 11-year sentence because "they had been forced to confess to their crimes", Bloomberg reports.

Nevertheless, the Taliban's current leaders are no longer so radical against women, Ramazan Bashardost, Afghan MP and an Independent Candidate in the upcoming Presidential Elections believes.

Former Taliban leaders coming to power tightened the already strict rules towards women that existed in Former president of Afghanistan Burhanuddin Rabbani's time (1992 - 2001 years), Bashardost told Trend. However, they now adhere to a more loyal attitude and use all means to enlist the support of the people to come to power, he believes.

For example, in the past the Taliban attributed pictures and statues to the concept of "haram" (sin), Bashardost said. And now on their blogs on the web Taliban post the most professional photography, thereby promoting themselves.

However, the best option would be the removal of the Taliban from power, Bashardost, former Afghan minister of planning believes. Despite the less radical position, it will be difficult to integrate them into the power, and there is no hope that they will respect human rights.

During Taliban's five-year reign in Afghanistan, from 1996 to 2001, girls were forbidden to go to school, and even today they are subjected to attacks by extremists there. Women were not allowed to go outside without a veil and without accompaniment of any male members of their families. Women were publicly beaten in the streets for such offenses as wearing white shoes, and women raped by bandits were subjected to public punishment, beatings and executions as unfaithful persons.

It is a question of culture and religion that will take a long time to change, and might  better be done by supporting Afghan women (and men) who wish to promote change than by setting it as a condition for political negotiations, Arne Strand, Research Director at Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI) believes.

"Exactly because of the realities that Afghan women suffer from the conflict and that Taliban is not the only one to pose a risk to the security and rights of women - continued killing of Taliban and others in opposition to the Afghan Government does not in itself improve or secure the rights of women," he told Trend.

D.Khatinoglu contributed to the article.

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