Mittwoch, 7. September 2011

10 x 9'11, Peace talks and some concerns

There is a lot of talk about talks about potential negotiations for peace, and about the scepticism and fears that this raises among the Afghan civil society and women organizations particularly.
What exaclty that means you can sense from two interivews I've led in the past couple of weeks. One with the former Taleban contact person with the United Nations Abdul Hakim Mujahid, currently a high-ranking member with the High Peace Council. (see full English text below, and the printed German version that appeared in Der Tagesspiegel here)
The opposite position is expressed in the second interview further down in this blog by young female activist Noorjahan Akbar, a founding member of Young Women for Change, a relatively new grassroot civil society organization. Some of the concerns expressed in this article is what I could hear at different occasions in Kabul and elsewhere in the country these days. (English version in the blog post below. The German printed version is here, also with a look at the situation of women in the past ten years.

Other reflections on the 9'11 date approaching.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has some interesting answers in a report entitled „What do Afghans know about 9/11?“. One would wonder what answers a corresponding article named „What do Americans/westerners know about Afghanistan?“ would tell us.
Michael Steiner, Germany's Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the security advisor to former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder at the initial stage of the war, has this résumé after 10 years: „We had appraoched things with a presumptuousness near to arrogance, setting ourselves unrealistic goals with unadapted means raising expectations impossible to fullfil as a consequence. We nearly needed a decade to learn about the necessary humility confronted with the realities on the ground.“ He adds: „But now we've learnt our lesson“. It is to hope, for all sides included in the conflict. Reading Thomas Ruttig („The best scenario is, that everything remains as it is right now: meaning as situation underneath the level of a civil war.“) there are more dark days ahead. What if we didn't have some of the optimism that helps Afghans to live through things from day to day?

"The Taleban will be part of a future coalition government"
- Interview with Abdul Hakim Mujahid. (Mujahid is the first deputy head of the current High Peace Council of Afghanistan, which was established in October last year by President Hamid Karzai and by the support of the international community. He is one of the founding members of the Taliban religious movement in Afghanistan and was Representative of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan to the United Nations)

- Where do we stand 10 years after the foreign intervention in Afghanistan ?
A military solution for the people of Afghanistan, the government and for the international commnity is not a workable one. We need a political solution instead. President Karsai has established the High Peace Council for this, with 69 members. Former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani presides the council. I was elected his first deputy. The structure of the Council itself is a great achievement, because not only all the warlords are represented in it,
but also different organizations from civil society as well as women from the Afghan senate and parliament. That means: all the people who were fighting each other in the past are now talking with each other about peace.
- The average man on the street would rather see Taliban leaders and warlords in jail or in court instead of them leading the process.
Yes, there have been such concerns before. But this is not the time to split the country and divide the nation even more. We are in need of national unity and cohesion.
The US government tries to work with carrots and sticks. Can its 'kill or capture' strategy ultimately bring the Taliban to the negotiation table ?
This is a situation of war. And the nature of war is, that both sides show their strength and power on the battlefield. Without a comprehensive settlement and a peace process the war will go on for years and years.
As far as the negotiations are concerned, at the level of individuals we have made some progress. Individuals from different factions of the insurgency are in contact with us. But we are not in direct contact with the leadership of the insurgency. We have direct contact with the leadership of Hezb-e-Islami and with some of their high-ranking representatives. We had meetings with the leadership in Islamabad. There is a little bit of progress. We also sent two letters to the Taliban movement. But the Taliban did not respond us formally.
- How is your contact with Taliban leader Mullah Omar?
We do not have any contact with Mullah Mohammad Omar. You know that the leader of the Islamic Movement of Taliban are living underground. It is totally impossible for them to communicate while they are living in the caves in the mountains. It is impossible to reach them.
Meanwhile, we try to remove the other obstacles for peace one by one. These obstacles are: the list of sanctions from the UN security council. Many of the Taliban leadership are still on this list. There is also the black list of the United States governement with rewards on the head of different political figures and leaders of the Taliban. And finally, the Taliban as a political movement faces a lack of political recognition. As long as they are not fully recognized and do not have any kind of political address, it will be totally difficult for us to reach them for direct communication. This address could be installed inside or of outside of Afghanistan.
It seems obvious that nothing in the process can work without the consent of the Pakistan. Taliban leader Mullah Omar might even be under Pakistani control ?
I do not believe that he is under the control of Pakistan. He was and is an independent man and an indepndent personality.
But Mullah Baradar, the number two of the Taliban, was arrested by the Pakstanis in 2010 when trying to play a more independent role ?
Certainly, in one way or antoher Taliban are under the influence of Pakistani laws. But I don't believe Mullah Mohammad Omar is under the control of Pakistani ISI. To what I know – and maybe this information is right – he is out of reach of the Pakistani authorities. He is also out of reach of the Afghan authorities.
- Some in the High Peace Council suggest to talk to the Taleban leadership, others suggest to talk with mid-ranking groups in order to destabilize the top of the movement. What is your view on this?
Those who are talking of splitting the Taliban, of dividing the insurgency and weakening it by these means will not produce any kind of result. It would bring an even bigger desaster. Also the crisis of the economy would be continued. And the involved foreign countries would loose more lives of their beloved ones.
- What is the position of the Taliban to women's rights and civil society ? They have not pronounced themselves clearly as to this.
I think this will be a minor, not a major problem of the talks. The Taliban are from this country. They are Afghans. They do respect the rights of women. The rights as they are provided in our constitution will be continued. I don't think there would be any kind of concern. These concerns
are coming from very small minorities, from people who are affected by westernization. I mean the liberal kind of women rights, which neither the people of Afghanistan want, nor the Taliban. I do talk of women rights within the frame of the Afghan culure and tradition. In this frame, I don't think there will be any harm for their rights.
- Women these days are presenters on TV and active in other professions. Would anything change in this once a peace with Taliban participation is reached?
The concerns on women issues are coming from very small minorities of the society. They express illigitimate and illegal concerns in this regard.
What would the future of education for women be in a peace agreement?
People and the world are misinformed about this. Even during the Taliban era, Taliban were not opposed to the work of women in public offices, nor were they against women's right to education. According to islamic teaching, every individual – weather man or women – is obliged to get education.
- As former Taliban representant to the United Nations, you have sought the recognition of the Taliban regime. Looking back what mistakes have the Taliban made?
The problem was not a legal nor an ideological one. The problem was the clash between two different attitudes: the rural mentality against the urban mentalities. While the absolute majority of the Taliban was from the rural area, when they came to the urban area, this created conflicts. But this clash of mentalities was not about ideologies or about principles.
...but this conflict seems to persists up until today. Does that not complicate the outcome of any talks ?
We are now working towards the future: the insurgency and the Taliban islamic Movement will be a part of a coming coalition government in Afghanistan. A coaltion government represented by all ethnicities and tribes in this coutry. This coalition government will have two committments.
That this soil will not be used against any other country. And that Afghanistan will be an active and repsonsible member of United Nations.
And the other committment will be from the world community to support Afghanistan for the long term, politically and economically. If these two committments go together, I dont' t think there will be any trouble with any faction or segment, any group or party. Nor will Afghanistan be dangerous for neighbouring countries or the world.
-Can the reintegration of former Taliban fighters work without the political process in place?
The reintegration programme with the help of the High Peace Council is going on. But I dont think we will be very successfull with this. Very few Taliban fighters will join with the government. Those who do will not be part of the ideological insurgency. They will be people who already had problems with the local authorities or feuds with them before. The bigger number of the ideological fighters will only join the peace process once it is more advanced.

"Women are nobody in Afghanistan", Interview with Noorjahan Akbar, 20, co-founder of 'Young Women for Change', a grassroot civil society organisation that started its activities in April this year. Akbar is a Kabul activist for Human and Women's rights. Besides YWC she is a founding member of the Hadia-Afghan Youth Volunteer Group for Social Reform, an organisation working for the empowerment of women.

How do you perceive the situation for women in Afghanistan right now?
For women, this is getting a serious time. During eight years, women had the support of the international community, as well as of the civil society in Afghanistan. However now, fewer people seem to care for women rights. For Afghan women, this basically means giving up all the rights and freedoms they have achieved in the past years.

What excactly has changed ?
Right now the idea that is propagated is: let's negotiate and not make anybody angry. And women are not part of this anybody. Woman are nobody in Afghanistan. For those who negotiate, it is okay to make women angry. Also because women don't count economically.

Has the logic of negotiations made Taliban stronger in recent months ?
I don't think that a lot of the international stakeholders right now invest in anything else than negotiations. I'm not saying that they support the Taliban. But what they say is - without making a big deal out of it - let's finish it up and leave this country. But that's the wrong way to look at Afghanistan. Because if you wanted to finish it up and leave, you could have won the war in 2001 war and left the country. An this without playing so much with our lives and producing so much civilian casualties. Now that the western countries have been here and have provided women with some freedom, one cannot just give everything back to the Taliban and leave.
But that is what is gradually happening: Up until 2008 there was an actual effort to bring warlords in this country to justice. There was an actual advocacy to cancel the amnesty law that
saves warlords from the hands of justice. But today, three years later, a four year old girl is raped and nobody speaks a word.

You say that you feel a negative climate against women in the central area of Kabul where you live ?
Yes. I was recently walking across the street with my sister. And there was a car that was driving really slowly. It was beginning to get dark outside. The people in the car drove up to me. I began to ran. Insults, that go with it, happen almost once a week, if not more. I can hear men on the street murmur 'Hopefully the Taliban will come back and pay it back to these prostitutes'.
They treat me like a hore. Before, they could not have done this. Before, I could have gone to the police. But now, even the police will treat me like a prostitute. The police stops us in the evening, if we happen to be with a male person, and asks us who that person is. They want to see the marriage certificate, even if it is your brother who is sitting next to you. All of this gives me the feeling, that the government and the international community has completely forgotten the 50 % of the society who is living here.

Foreign women in Afghanistan often do not talk about such observations. Why is that?
Because foreign women have body guards and cars who take them everywhere. They are not like miserable Afghan women who cannot afford a taxi. I think for most international organisations that work here, even for the Afghan government, what matters to them is the numbers: how many girls go to school, how many girls are working. They don't know what happens the moment an Afggan girl or woman takes a walk from her home to school. The average time a girl in Afghanistan spends learning at school is 2 to 4 years. She doesn't even learn to read and write in these four years in Afghan system. And then she gets married.
Our neighborhood in Kabul is believed to be a safe one, with educated people. An area where there are schools and universities, public and private ones. However, since we have moved in here, we have received three warnings from our landlord, who is a commander, regarding gatherings for work of young women and men in our house. We work with our volunteer organisation when we meet. But they claim that we had an illegal business running here. Two years ago, people who speak like this could not have raised their voices so easily. But now, due to a climate created by the reconciliation process – whatever that exactly means – the people who have a Taliban mindset now feel that they are getting support, from the government but also from the international community.

The words of the international community have not been followed by acts. Is that what you are saying ?
In 2001, when NATO forces led by the United States 'won' the war in Afghanistan, Laura Bush made a statement that the primary goal of the United States is to insure human rights and women rights in Afghanistan. If you ask any person, who currently works in the US embassy in Kabul, if that is the primary goal of the United States in Afghanistan, they will say no. The primary goad of the US government is to negotiate and create peace in Afghanistan. And women are part of neither of these words. It will strike you, how much the strategy has changed.

Everybody looks at the Arab countries these days. Is the young Afghan generation somehow inspired by what is happening there ?
Two weaks ago, I had an interview. I was speaking against the idea of the peace jirga. Because the High Peace Coucil to my mind can't be a peace jirga if it is made out of 80 percents of warlords, who picked guns and burnt the city in the 90ies and now say they are talking peace. This is ridiculous. It is like criminals talking about justice. It is like thieves becoming the police. But even when we talk about it publically, very quickly we are discouraged or people try to silence us.

What form of protest has Young Women for Change staged so far to raise awareness ?
N.A.: We do hold or prepare protests that will give us the chance to do things publically or secretely, anonymously and through rallies. We are a group of 20-50 women for this.
We held a public walk against street harassment in July 14th, distributing pamphlets and flyers and holding up signs, handing out flyers so we could spark a debate. One of the local Afghan TV dedicated its Friday sermon to discussing street harassment. But they blamed women for it. At least our walk caught their attention, and also of international media, so we created a debate. For us, harassment stands as a violation of our human rights. It discourages women from social participation.

Do you run certain risks in doing so ?
Everything you do in this country involves risks. But now, the times have changed. Now, if I am raped, nobody will speak for me in court. The Afghan Human Rights Commission will keep quiet, and I probably will not even have a proper lawyer to defend me. And the chances of me being raped as a woman who goes out every day are very high.