Negotiating with the Taliban will not work and will produce disastrous results for Women and Afghanistan
Women for Afghan Women, a women's human rights organization with programs for women in NYC and throughout Afghanistan, and the Feminist Majority Foundation, the first (1997) U.S. organization to work for U.S. and U.N. non-recognition of the Taliban because of its gross violations of women's human rights through gender apartheid and that has conducted a campaign for Afghan women and girls ever since, are alarmed by the prospect of a negotiated settlement with the Taliban, so alarmed that we adamantly oppose negotiating with its leadership (if its leadership could actually be located) altogether. We will be negotiating with men who add depth to the word "evil", whose intention has not changed in 10 years: to destroy an incipient democracy for the sole purpose of resuming their despotic control of the country. If the Taliban wanted a role in a coalition government, which is the carrot supposedly leading them to a settlement, they wouldn't be assassinating government officials on a weekly basis right now or throwing acid in girls' faces, or burning down girls' schools and murdering teachers. They'd have laid down their arms by now and run for office in Afghan elections. What the Taliban really want is Afghanistan itself, lock, stock and barrel. Their aspiration has the backing of other countries and groups that are licking their chops for a safe haven, a place where they can ply their terrorist trade unhindered.
The most important point is that the subjugation of women is not a sidebar, something that can be avoided through negotiations. It is the linchpin of Taliban strategy, having nothing to do with religion. The subjugation of half a country is the straightest path to subjugating the whole. Just forbid women from going to work or school or leaving the house without a mahram, (allowable male escort), beat them with whips or guns on the street because a square inch of ankle shows below the burkha, drag a few into the Kabul stadium, force them to their knees and shoot them in the head, and a terrorized country will submit. This strategy worked before and will work again. And we in the "developed" world will sit before our TV sets wringing our hands as we did a mere 10 years ago. We will wonder--some of us with contempt--how that country failed to transform itself from the ground up in those 10 years--after 30 years of war, inexpressible brutality, dire poverty, and a 40% unemployment rate.
The world doesn't seem to grasp the messages the Taliban are insolently broadcasting. The issue isn't monitoring the Taliban. It's what we'll actually do when (if) we open our eyes to their repudiation of settlement articles, beginning with those about women's rights.
Although there have been significant gains for Afghan women and girls in the past ten years, those gains are precarious. The Taliban have demonstrated that wherever they control in Afghanistan that they have eradicated those gains such as access to education, employment, participation in governance, freedom of mobility, etc. The Afghan government, however, has shown too often a willingness to cave when it comes to reactionary demands concerning women's rights. For example, recently President Karzai defended the Ulema Council of Afghanistan statement that women should "respect the right of men to polygamy" and "not travel without a close male relative." Moreover, violence against women is rampant and the government has done little to guarantee that the Law on the Elimination of Violence Against Women be implemented. The government tried to take over all women's shelters in the country (shelters being concrete examples of progress toward women's rights) and impose Taliban-like regulations for their administration. Protests from Afghan women's rights groups and women's groups worldwide as well as protests from U.S. and other government officials scotched this plan, but its aim was clear: to reverse progress on women's rights or advertise willingness to do so.
Women for Afghan Women and the Feminist Majority Foundation do not believe negotiations with the Taliban will bring peace to Afghanistan or protection of any kind to Afghan women. We believe the opposite will happen. We fear dire consequences for the country, especially for women. The Taliban does not have the support of the Afghan people. Its leadership has shown nothing but contempt for the Afghan constitution and women's and human rights. Although we believe women must be at all negotiations and decision making tables, we also believe these negotiations are doomed to failure. They simply will not and have not worked.
We want to invest our considerable energies and experience in other solutions to the Afghan situation. Security, economic, infrastructure, and civic development are essential for Afghanistan as well as advancement of women's and girls' economic, educational, health, civic participation, and political rights. Funding from NATO countries is necessary to secure this security, development and advancement. It does not mean we are giving in to a permanent war. It means we look for strategies that are not destined to failure before the ink is dry on the settlement pages. Unfortunately, if the Taliban take over the country, the advances we hope the world will invest in as part of its new plan will come to nothing, for the Taliban will want to keep the country at the bottom of the human development index. The lowest imaginable standard of living for the Afghan people will be part of their strategy, as it was in the past.
We are not in favor of war. We want peace. But not one that will cost Afghan women's and girls' rights, lives, and human dignity and lead to civil war in Afghanistan.
Manizha Naderi, Executive Director
Women for Afghan Women
Eleanor Smeal, President
Feminist Majority Foundation