could “return to chaos” with the wrong peace deal, say women’s rights groups in the country. A poorly negotiated agreement without proper representation of Afghan citizens and a clear counterterrorism strategy would place the democratic gains of the past 18 years at risk, says Suraya Pakzad, founder of the Voice of Women Organisation.
between the US and the Taliban are running alongside campaigning for twice-postponed presidential elections, now due to take place on 28 September.
The Taliban have urged a boycott, describing the elections as “nothing more than a ploy”. Among the 18 candidates standing are the incumbent president, Ashraf Ghani, and chief executive Abdullah Abdullah.
Rights groups fear any further delay or cancellation could risk a return to an emiratic rather than democratic government. Recollections of the Taliban’s six-year rule remain vivid. “We remember, our children remember, hanging bodies in the street under that regime,” says Pakzad. “It’s a kind of nightmare for all of us, if we were to turn to those circumstances or that situation where there is no government, no governance, and there is no law that we can rely on.”
Any agreement will not be successful unless all parties are involved, say activists. To date neither the Afghan government nor Islamic State-affiliated groups have been part of the talks.
“We are exhausted [by] this 40-year-long war. We know the only way is through peace negotiations, but without representation by the government and the citizens of the country, any deal wouldn’t be a good option for the people of Afghanistan, nor would it build peace,” says Pakzad.
Despite the “roadmap for peace” from the Doha talks calling on all sides to stop attacking civilian locations, such as schools, religious centres, mosques and hospitals, there has instead been an intensification of bombings.
Attacks this week in and further highlight the challenges for peace building in the country.
“The growth of Isis is a big concern,” says Pakzad. The group, whose presence is rising in the east and north of the country, at the weekend for an attack at a , in which 63 people died and 180 were injured.
Negotiators should look for a strategy that will prevent Afghanistan from returning to a “crisis situation”, says Pakzad. “Our geographical area, our geopolitical area is very, very vulnerable to [becoming] a safe haven for terrorists to regroup and to reestablish here.”
President Ghani, speaking at an independence day address in Kabul on Monday, called on the international community to stand with Afghanistan to . Earlier, , he said, “Taliban cannot absolve themselves of blame, for they provide platform for terrorists.”
Activists fear that the deal currently under discussion could focus on safe withdrawal of foreign troops at the expense of a secure political future of the Afghan people. On the table is the potential release of 13,000 Taliban prisoners, some of whom could become part of any future government.
Women’s rights groups remain concerned at their limited representation in the talks to date and the vague reference to women’s rights being ensured within “the framework of Islamic values”in the Doha statement.
Pakzad fears that without guarantees for the gains achieved in the past 18 years, the Afghan people “could once again pay a high price” for a flawed deal. “We risk being pushed backwards again and having to start again from scratch.”
Returning from a UN delegation to Afghanistan last month to lend support for “credible” elections, the executive director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, said: “Women were very clear that they do not want a deal to be at the expense of women’s rights. They do not want a trade-off. They want peace with women’s rights.”
“These are highly accomplished women,” she said, “resilient, capable and ready to lead. They are concerned that the levels of violence and insecurity in the country are still such that something extraordinary would have to happen for people to feel secure.”