Is the end of war peace? Remarks on the US-Taliban peace talks in Afghanistan

by Ghazaal Habibyar

© Ali Ahmad

Die jüngsten Friedensverhandlungen zwischen den Taliban und der US-Delegation rufen Hoffnungen aber auch Ängste unter der afghanischen Bevölkerung, besonders unter Frauen, hervor. Die Tatsache, dass derzeit weder die gewählte Regierung, noch Frauen- oder Jugendvertreter*innen bei den Friedensgesprächen beteiligt sind, scheint besorgniserregend für Demokratie und nachhaltigen Frieden. Siebzehn Jahre nach dem Sturz der Taliban und einer erheblichen Verbesserung der Rechte für Frauen sind auch die Erwartungen in Richtung einer selbstbestimmten, (geschlechter-)gerechten Zukunft groß. Ghazaal Habibyar forscht zu Frauenrechten, Frieden und Entwicklung. Für Spotlight schildert sie die Stimmung in Afghanistan und beleuchtet die Gefahren für die fragile Demokratie und die erkämpften Frauenrechte.

Auch die VIDC Veranstaltung „Unerhört? Afghanische Frauen und ihre Kämpfe“ am 7. März 2019 in der Diplomatischen Akademie Wien widmet sich der aktuellen Situation afghanischer Frauen vor dem Hintergrund der Friedensverhandlungen. Die Leiterin der Afghanistan Research & Evaluation Unit Orzala Nemat und die BBC-Reporterin Sana Safi diskutieren, welche Erfolge afghanische Frauen seit 2001 erzielt haben, vor welchen Herausforderungen sie heute stehen und wie nachhaltige Frauenförderung aussehen kann. Anmeldung unter

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Ghazaal Habibyar is a freelance consultant and researcher. Formally, she was a deputy minister and acting minister at the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum, Afghanistan. She has a vast experience of working with governments, international organizations and research institutes. Her research interests are women and peace, aid, development, horizontal inequality and extractive industries. She holds a master degree in International and Development Economics from the Australian National University.

The recent peace talks with the Taliban have brought a lot of hopes, concerns, fears and memories among Afghans. They can’t help but wonder what the cost of these negotiations and an unknown peace agreement, will be. They wonder what it means for them when Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, and the Taliban negotiators say they have “in principle agreed to a framework for a peace deal”. They question why the government that they have elected at the expense of their lives is being sidelined. Is this the end of the young democracy in the country? This article will look into the common fears and hopes of Afghans and especially Afghan women.

Responsible Withdrawal of Troops  

While President Trump’s announcement of the withdrawal of US force from Afghanistan was widely celebrated as victory of the insurgency among the Taliban, it has also created worry among the majority of Afghans. The reduction of troops has been previously discussed and implemented. However, what makes the talks about this withdrawal different are a) the timeframe assigned to it; b) the lack of involvement of the government in the process; and c) a general sense that the interests of the Afghan population are not on the agenda, as the withdrawal is only based on the sole condition of ensuring that Afghan soil will not be used for terrorist activities.
According to Mariam Safi, Director of the Organization for Policy Research and Development Studies, The Afghan war has been the longest in US history, the longest mission in NATO history and the longest peace-building mission in UN history and these missions will, as has been the case in other contexts, have to come to end. But, the recent hasty US-Taliban talks and signals from Washington of an impending withdrawal puts the hard-won gains of democracy in Afghanistan at risk. The general sentiment among Afghans is that withdrawal is inevitable, but they hope for it to be phased, reflecting realities on the ground, and one that leaves behind a sustainable environment where peace can flourish. The fear is that a hasty withdrawal and one that does not take into account the realities on the ground will result in loss of every value and achievement that Afghans, especially Afghan women and youth, have been enjoying in the last seventeen years. While Ambassador Khalilzad rejects any agreement on a timeline for the withdrawal, he emphasizes that reaching a peace agreement before the 2019 presidential election will be ideal. Since the elections are set for mid-2019, this means that there is an indirectly set timeline for the withdrawal of troops as it is a precondition for peace talks.

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Protecting Current Political Order

Regardless of the problems the current government may have, it is the legitimately elected government of the country. President Ashraf Ghani, in a recent interview, raised the question who could sign a peace agreement if not the government. While reforms are needed without doubt, ignoring the government in the process will not lead to desirable results.
The possibility of an interim government is also discussed among nationals and internationals but the question is on what legal basis an interim government would be installed and how politics could develop after that. There is no guarantee that there will be another election after that and the fear is that we might say goodbye to the long and hard-won democracy. Research shows that most interim governments have failed after their establishment and ended up in civil war. History is not on our side. Afghanistan has the unfortunate experience of such an arrangement in the 90s.

Women and Youth Inclusion

Ambassador Khalilzad directs all questions related to women’s rights, the constitution, and democracy to the intra-Afghan talks, even though the war on terror once was referred to as “saving Afghan women”. A two track negotiation, i.e. an agreement between Taliban and the US and then the intra-Afghan dialogue, will definitely undermine the negotiation position of the Afghan team. Without the US and international backing the government may not be able to defend the values of the last seventeen years.

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Women make up 50% of the population and 65% of Afghans are below the age of 25. They, along with the victims of war, are also the least represented groups in the peace talks so far. Women’s participation in the negotiations should not be considered as a favor to them. Their presence ensures the sustainability of the peace agreement for all citizens, men and women. Kathleen Kuehnast, United State Institute of Peace, says that “women’s involvement is not a moral issue or question of gender equity; it is an efficiency issue.” Former President Karzai in a recent conference said that women will not be included in the process, but that the negotiators will ensure that the process upholds the rights of women. When terms such as “women’s issues” and “rights of women” are used, women’s political contribution becomes limited. They should not only be asked to speak on “women’s issues” as no man is ever asked to just discuss “men’s issues”. “Women and youth need to be at the negotiation table because of the substance they bring in and the contribution they make, it is not enough to tick a box”, says Shaharzad Akbar, a political activist in Kabul. Afghan women will not be silenced again. They stand and fight for their rights as they have done in the past. The gathering of Afghan Women for Peace on 28 February 2019 is an example. After a consultation with 15,000 women that took more than six months and covered 34 provinces, more than 3,500 women from across Afghanistan came together in Kabul, to voice their concerns and hopes for the peace process. The message was clear. They all wanted peace but one that is sustainable and based on justice and inclusion.

Does the end of this war mean inclusive peace for all?

There is a general sense of optimism about how the Taliban have “changed” and how they will give women their rights in accordance to Islam. We have to be cautious of believing such promises. The rights of women in Islam have always been there but have never been implemented during the time the Taliban were in power. Take the example of the right to education. The Taliban had restricted the movement of women along with their ability to study and work. Even now although they are not in power, they have issued statements restricting women’s participation and involvement in media, politics and the justice sector. In parts of the country under their control, girls can’t go to school and women can’t leave their houses without a mahram (male relative).
Shabana Sayedkhilli, a fresh graduate from Kabul University, says that “for me peace is only sustainable when it is inclusive of women, youth, minorities and victims. I and my generation do not feel represented in the talks. I can’t let those who were involved in bloodshed decide over my future”. Given the distrust among the parties involved and the public, it will be crucial to have a grantor who could monitor the terms of the long awaited peace in Afghanistan. Otherwise it will be a peace that is achieved at a very expensive cost. Maybe the end of this war will not result in an inclusive and sustainable peace (2 March 2019).