Where’s the voice of the Afghan people?

Hamid Karzai, a former president of Afghanistan, and Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai, the head of political office of the Taliban, once bitter enemies, now attend peace talks in Moscow – but how much do they represent the Afghan people of today?
Where’s the voice of the Afghan people?
by Maya Evans
20th February 2019

A new round of Afghan peace talks has been underway first in Doha, Qatar, and then in Moscow, Russia; respectively between the Taliban and the US Government, and then between Afghan politicians and the Taliban. Amid the analysis and comments most are talking about how the Afghan Government have been left out of talks, and how realistic are Taliban demands for all US troops to be withdrawn in exchange for a Taliban promise that they will never again harbour terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda. While it’s interesting to muse over what a peace agreement between groups which have been at loggerheads for nearly four decades might look like, few are asking:
“Where’s the voice of the Afghan people?”

Women and young people
Today, Afghan women and youth combined make up the majority of the Afghan population. But neither the older generation of Talibs, the US appointed special reconciliation envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, nor the Afghan politicians (all older men) represent the experience or perspective of an average Afghan. It’s hard to see where the interests of ordinary Afghans at the tail end of four decades of war and violence, are being represented. In fact, of the fifty Afghan delegates attending the talks in Moscow, only two were women.

Afghan women’s groups are voicing their grave concerns and worries as their rights are being glossed over and potentially sacrificed for a peace deal being forged in the interest of the US Trump administration’s will to withdraw their military from Afghanistan. Women’s greatest fear is that the Taliban regime of the nineteen-nineties will be re-installed with all the horrors for women that that entailed. Afghan women’s rights groups are demanding as an absolute minimum a written statement by the Taliban agreeing equality and rights for women.

The talks between historically misogynistic warring groups already seem disingenuous as the Taliban continue to carry out violent attacks across the country, the last being only a few days ago with 20 border police killed in Southern Kandahar by Taliban.

Afghan women
As in all war-torn countries, women and children suffer disproportionately. Afghanistan is still ranked the worst place in the world to be a woman.

An estimated two thirds of Afghan girls do not attend school, 87% of Afghan women are illiterate, while 70-80% face forced marriage often in their early teens.

Last September a watchdog report called the USAID’s $280 million ‘Promote’ program – which was the largest single investment that the U.S. government has ever made to advance women’s rights globally – a flop and a “waste of taxpayer’s money”. While according to the Afghan Government, in 2014, 80% of the suicides were women.

The Afghan Government
And what about the Afghan Government who have up to now been excluded from peace talks? Just last week President Ashraf Afghani was in Munich and talked about the importance of including the Afghan people in peace negotiations, saying: “Peace needs to be citizen-centered, not elite-centered”, but he fudged the issue of women merely saying that they will attend a national debate. In practice his administration like all those before have failed to take responsibility for implementing and protecting women’s rights.
This time last year Afghanistan passed into law a new criminal code that the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) hailed as a milestone in the country’s criminal justice reform. However, one chapter of the code was removed before it was passed: the chapter penalizing violence against women, including marital rape.

In 2015, 27-year-old Farkhunda Malikzada was beaten to death by a mob in Kabul after being falsely accused of burning the Quran. The government did little to bring about justice and ignored demands for more action to combat violence against women.

Where is the love?
On Valentine’s day 23 year old poet and student Mazhar read his poem in a small auditorium at Kabul University as an emblem of dissent:

Every step, every destination, I love you.
To spite the murderous traditions, I love you.
You are pious, your kisses are your prayer.
You are different, your kisses are your protest.
You are not afraid of love, of hope, of tomorrow.
I kiss you amid the Taliban, you are not afraid!
Expecting a shoe to be thrown at his head by fellow students he also delivered this message; that the mostly older leaders who sat with the Taliban in Moscow did not represent the values that shaped his generation. His classmates greeted him with applause.

In the last 18 years young urban Afghans have grown up with a degree of education and freedom of expression, something they very much fear will be lost with these peace talks going the way they are.

If meaningful peace is to succeed in Afghanistan it must include the voices and interests of the people, and at the moment women and young people together are the majority.

Young Afghans at the Borderfree Peace Centre discuss what it takes to bring peace

What it really takes to secure peace in Afghanistan
 by Kathy Kelly
(writing from Kabul)

13th February 2019

 Constant military surveillance of Afghans yields almost no real intelligence about the problems they face each day. An unusual group of volunteers uses a far different approach. 

Hossein, a member of the Afghan Peace Volunteers, (APV), which hosted my recent visit to Afghanistan, rolled up his sleeve to show me a still-healing three-inch wound. Thieves had broken into his family home in Kabul. When they were discovered, one of the robbers stabbed Hossein.
An APV coordinator, Zekerullah, was robbed and beaten by assailants in broad daylight. Ata Khan lost his camera and mobile phone to a gang of young thieves who accosted him and eight other people in a public park during the daytime.
Habib, a recent young graduate of the APV Street Kids School program, suffered blows from several attackers a month ago.“I didn’t have anything they wanted to take,” he said, assuring me he is OK even though his lower back, where they beat him, is still sore.

Read more

Voices for Creative Non-Violence UK in 2019
In this coming year Voices UK will be focusing on the following campaigns:
– Stop deportation to Afghanistan. 
– Economic justice for Afghanistan instead of further billions spent on military operations, reparations to grassroots organisations, as well stop the plunder of Afghan raw materials by foreign countries.
– Building a peace movement with the Afghan diaspora. 
– Withdrawal of UK troops.

VCNV UK will soon be setting off to Kabul to be in solidarity with the Afghan Peace Volunteers.
Themes we will be exploring this trip include:
– This month is the 30 year anniversary of Russia withdrawing.
– Women and young people combined make up the majority of Afghans today.

Mary Dobbing and Maya Evans attending an ACAA organised event in Parliament focusing on Afghan women. It was exciting to meet so many young and engaged Afghans.

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Fly Kites Not Drones 21st March 2019
Organise an event in your area around the Persian New Year to show solidarity with young people living under the threat of drones
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Today killer drones are still reaping fear and violence over Afghanistan
In Syria 27% of British air strikes in Syria were drone strikes in 2018 alone, there were 75 strikes in December alone.
Join this simple but fun action to raise awareness about the impact of drones.