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Afghan activist: Any peace deal must ensure women’s rights

By EDITH M. LEDERERJuly 26, 2019

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — An Afghan women’s rights activist urged the international community Friday to ensure that the rights of women are not compromised to reach a political deal with the Taliban, who severely repressed women and banned girls’ education during their years in power.

Jamila Afghani, leader of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom in Afghanistan, told the Security Council that “at this crucial moment” the world must make certain that women are part of any peace negotiations with the Taliban.

She spoke as the Trump administration has called for accelerated efforts to reach a negotiated end to the war in Afghanistan, America’s longest conflict. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last month that Washington has set a target of Sept. 1 for the Taliban and the Afghans to negotiate an agreement.

U.S. special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has held eight rounds of talks with the Taliban, who refuse to meet with the current Afghan government. But Afghans from all walks of life have met with Taliban representatives to discuss grievances and find common ground, including last month in Doha, the capital of Qatar.

U.S. deputy ambassador Cherith Norman Chalet told the Security Council that the United States is “not negotiating, nor will we negotiate, with the Taliban on behalf of the government or the people of Afghanistan.”

She reiterated that the administration supports “bringing Afghans together at the negotiating table to decide the future of their own country — one that is inclusive of women, representatives from opposition parties, civil society and minority groups.”

Chalet said Khalilzad is currently in the Afghan capital of Kabul consulting with the government “on next steps in the peace process, including identifying a national negotiating team that can participate in intra-Afghan negotiations.”

“Not only should Afghan women have a seat at the negotiating table, they should have meaningful participation and a role in decision-making,” Chalet stressed.

She reaffirmed that the U.S. doesn’t want an agreement just on the withdrawal of some 14,000 U.S. troops, but a comprehensive peace deal “that would guarantee Afghanistan never again becomes a platform for transnational terrorism.” In January, she said, the U.S. and the Taliban agreed any accord must address counterterrorism, foreign troop presence, intra-Afghan talks leading to negotiations, and a permanent cease-fire.

Afghan women and many governments are concerned that a peace deal with the Taliban might roll back gains made by women and return them to the days of the repressive 1996-2001 reign of the Taliban, who were ousted from power by a U.S.-led coalition.

Speaking by video from Kabul, Afghani told the Security Council that “Afghan women today are not the women of 30 or 40 years back.”

“We know our rights granted by our faith and granted by the constitution of Afghanistan,” as well as by international conventions ratified by the government, the activist said. “The international community must stand with us at this crucial moment and ensure that our rights shall not been compromised for a political peace deal.”

The council meeting focused on Afghan women and was briefed by the two top women in the United Nations — Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed and Undersecretary-General for Political Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo. They just returned from a visit to Afghanistan that included talks with President Ashraf Ghani and many women.

Mohammed said the U.N. officials “heard a strong call from Afghan women for peace — but for peace that safeguards their hard-won rights and does not backtrack on what has been achieved.”

Since the fall of the Taliban 18 years ago, Mohammed said, Afghanistan has made “great progress for women,” with millions of girls back in school, the rise of women entrepreneurs, and women in senior roles in the defense, foreign affairs and interior ministries.

Di Carlo said three of the 18 candidates running for president in Afghanistan elections scheduled for Sept. 28 have women as vice presidential candidates on their slate.

Afghanistan’s deputy U.N. ambassador, Mohammad Wali Naeemi, stressed that women’s rights and gains must be preserved.

“A comprehensive settlement must have women at the very center of the agenda and must recognize their role as leaders and agents of change, willing and able to delineate what peace means to them,” he said.

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