Afghan peace talks must be inclusive for lasting stability

Side streets of Kabul(Abdurahman Warsame/Flickr).

The road to peace in Afghanistan is definitely not an easy one and the innocent civillians who continue to suffer from violent tension in the region have been excluded from talks on reconciliation. The focus on peace talks among the Afghan government, United States, the Taliban and Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies has ostensibly left out Afghan women and ethnic minorities who have been repressed since even before the Taliban came to power in the early 90s.

In the past ten years, the Afghan government has made little effort for an inclusive national reconciliation. Although women’s situation has considerably improved in terms of education, public life and health care since the fall of the Taliban regime, they continue to face abuse and harassment. According to Human Rights Watch general population in Afghanistan especially women continue to suffer from lawlessness and violence by government security forces and as well as other armed groups. Currently, nearly 400 women are imprisoned over charges of “moral crimes” running away from home even or allegations of adultery. Last week, the Ulema Council, a body of religious scholars, declared that “men are fundamental and women are secondary”. The edict also states that beating and harassing a woman was permissible for “Sharia compliant” reasons. Although the Council’s statement carry’s no legal weight, President Hamid Karzai has been criticized for endorsing the statement as women groups are concerned about the government sacrificing women’s rights in attempting to negotiate with the Taliban. Ethnic minority groups are equally concerned about being left out of the U.S.-backed peace negotiations with the Taliban.

On a more general level, Afghan people are tired of conflict that has ravaged the country almost consistently since 1979 and continue to be disappointed by a weak and inefficient government, lack of justice, violence and bloodshed. In the decade long war, 2011 has been the year of highest recorded civilian casualties in the country since the start of the war in 2001. According to the United Nations (UN) report 77% of the 3,021 civilian deaths in 2011 were caused by anti-government forces and 14% of the civilian deaths were attributed to “pro-government forces” (read: Unites States and NATO forces). The recent executions of 16 unarmed civilians by an American soldier in Panjwai district of Kandahar province adds to the ever growing wave of  violence and anti-Americanism in Afghanistan as the international forces prepare to leave the country by 2014. Last year in an interview to Pakistan’s GEO TV, President Karzai admitted that the Afghan government and NATO had failed to provide adequate security to the people of Afghanistan. With the Afghan people losing faith in their own security forces and in international forces, the Taliban may see an opportunity to increase their influence.

As critics emphasize the need for a speedy withdrawal from Afghanistan, Ahmed Rashid argues that the West cannot exit without ending the war. While the West attempts to hold talks with the Taliban to end the war, lasting peace and stability in the region cannot be reached by excluding women and minority groups from the reconciliation process.

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