Wednesday, December 19, 2018
Peace may be an achievable goal in Afghanistan, where the Taliban and government delegates are intensifying talks to reach an agreement. But will Kabul sacrifice women's rights in exchange for peace?
At the moment, a peace deal between the Afghan government and the Taliban seems closer than ever before, according to German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who spoke at the UN's Geneva conference last month. Indeed, the last weeks have witnessed a lot of diplomatic commotion, aimed at bringing the Taliban and the Afghan government to the negotiating table.
Recently, Zalmay Khalilzad, the US' Afghan representative, said that he had conducted many meetings "with all participating Afghans." The Taliban also confirmed that its members had met him three times this November in Qatar. In the last weeks, the Afghan government and the Taliban also confirmed that they met in the United Arab Emirates. On Sunday, representatives of the Afghan government as well as those from the US and Pakistan spoke with the former rebels, and on Monday Taliban representatives met with their counterparts from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
Many influential actors are now pressing for a solution for peace, but how would women's rights look like under an Afghan government with the participation of the Taliban?
Former Taliban member Sayed Akbar Agha has an answer: "I believe that the Taliban wants to guarantee women's rights only within the Sharia [Islamic law]. It will not guarantee them the rights that are being demanded by the West. The Taliban will not allow shamelessness into this country. Something similar exists now already, like common schools for boys and girls. According to me, the Taliban will never accept that."
Abbas Stanikzai, the highest-ranking Taliban representative at the Moscow Afghanistan conference in November, has also made his ideas clear to the press: "If the world expects us to give them [women] the rights, which they have in America or in the West, then I would say that these rights are neither compatible with our tradition and culture nor with our religion. But we will give them the rights that are guaranteed to them by Islam, like the right to education, work or property."
Reactionary forces could benefit
However, it is unclear what the Islamists mean by the rights for women. Women's rights in Afghanistan are also subject to the conditions of the Sharia, which is part of the the country's 2004 constitution. Article 3 of the constitution states that "In Afghanistan … no law is permitted to contradict the instructions of the holy religion of Islam."
Abdulrab Rasul Sayyaf, a former Islamist who worked with mercenary Arab fighters during the Afghan war in the 1980s, has been particularly vocal about including conditions from the Sharia into the constitution and for amnesty to Islamist groups that were active during the civil war in the 1990s.
In this manner, a strong Islamic-oriented coalition made of former Mujahideen (Islamic warriors) leaders could strengthen its position. Without the diplomatic intervention of the US, these groups would have already come to power after the presidential elections of 2014.
These militias include the Harakat-e-Inqelab-e-Islami (the movement for the Islamic revolution), which is led by Mohammad Nabi Mohammadi, who had fought in the ranks with Mullah Omar, the founder of the Taliban.
Women's rights on the back burner
Afghanistan's patriarchal culture and a strict interpretation of Islam have strongly moulded the country in the last four decades. Currently, no one in the inner circle of power is speaking about the women's rights. The reason: nobody wants to endanger a possible peace accord with the Taliban.
But Afghan women are adamant and don't want to relinquish their rights.
Sara Azizi, a 22-year-old woman Kabul resident, says: "If there is a peace pact with the Taliban and the laws are changed such that we lose our freedoms, then I will not accept such a pact."
Given this sinister backdrop, it would be unwise to believe that this dangerous trend of drug abuse among the Kashmiri youth is only because of the socio-psychological impact of prolonged conflict, unemployment or family/social issues. There is obviously a much larger design to this growing menace that is damaging the already stressed social and moral fabric of the Valley.
It is time the political corridors in New Delhi and Srinagar, the separatists’ lobby and the Kashmiri society as a whole got serious and thought about the way forward — especially since most of the state responses to the changing face of terror in Kashmir have fallen well short of their objectives. If the count of body bags is taken as the sole indicator, counter-insurgency operations seem to be paying rich dividends in Kashmir. However, if the objective of the ‘bullet for bullet’ response of security agencies is to curb terrorism in the Valley by eliminating top commanders of militants’ groups, the strategy seems to have made not much difference. On the contrary, it has led to further alienation and created a fertile ground for ready terror recruitment. Despite eliminating nearly 240 terrorists in the current year so far, there is a constant flow of local boys being recruited to replace their fallen comrades. In 2018 alone (up to 10 November), nearly 175 local boys have been recruited. On the other hand, Pakistan-sponsored narco-terrorism seems to have changed the dimension of terrorism in the Valley and given a new lease of life to it. It is now further percolating to the border State of Punjab too. Media reports also indicate that up to 25 percent of narcotics being infiltrated into J&K is via Punjab.
It is time the political corridors in New Delhi and Srinagar, the separatists’ lobby and the Kashmiri society as a whole got serious and thought about the way forward — especially since most of the state responses to the changing face of terror in Kashmir have fallen well short of their objectives.
The J&K police, for the past couple of years, have red-flagged the growing threat of narco-terrorism. Former J&K DGP, S.P. Vaid, had reportedly remarked in July this year that the drug menace was a ‘bigger challenge’ than terrorism in the State and that contrabands were being “pumped from across the border” by people “who want our future generations to be addicted to drugs so that they can succeed in their nefarious ploys.” Last year, 70 kg of pure heroin was seized from the Valley, while over 25 kg of contraband was seized from Jammu — totally worth INR 500 crore in the international market. The State government has provided land to the police to set up a full-fledged de-addiction centre near Eidgah in Srinagar, but it is yet to adhere to the proposal to allocate land for a similar facility in Jammu. The State police have also planned to send a proposal to the Ministry of Home Affairs to allocate land for a 10-bedded de-addiction facility in all the districts of the State. While all these are sensible initial responses, they are largely reactive and defensive. The need of the hour, on the contrary, is launching a concerted and active offensive by the government to strike the problem at its roots and break the narcotics supply chain.
The history of terrorism in the Valley indicates that the social disintegration of Kashmir directly as a result of Pakistan’s nefarious activities and proxy war is not likely to end anytime soon. First, Kashmir lost its aborigines — the Hindu Pandits. Then it lost an entire generation to the gun culture. Now, Kashmir seems to be on the road to losing yet another generation to drug abuse.
Pakistan has constantly upgraded and calibrated its proxy and hybrid war strategy in Kashmir and challenged India’s internal security. The Indian government can no longer afford to be stuck on the backfoot to foil our neighbour’s evil designs.
محمد سعید اظہر