Recent attacks in Kabul – claimed by the Taliban – are wreaking havoc. They are also a sign that US-Taliban talks could be turning sour. “But above all”, says Cordaid’s Gender Expert Anne Kwakkenbos, “they show how badly Afghanistan needs an inclusive peace process, in which Afghan women play a prominent role.” With this one goal in mind, Cordaid is intensifying its advocacy efforts in New York, Kabul and elsewhere.
(‘Afghan women will not go back’. Gathering of the Afghan Women’s Network in Kabul, February 2019)
The unusually brutal attack in Kabul on July 2nd, claimed by the Taliban, evoked outrage all over the world. But hardly in Doha, where US negotiators and Taliban representatives are now in their seventh round of talks. Talks Afghan women, representing civil society, have been claiming a seat at the table for months now. Unsuccessfully, so far.
Immediate cease fire should be first step
“For the past months Afghan women have been rallying and lobbying for an immediate cease fire between all parties. They maintain, that without a cease fire you cannot even start to talk about peace”, says Anne Kwakkenbos, who will visit Kabul in the coming weeks and keeps in touch daily with women’s organisations in Afghanistan. “Yesterday’s attacks only add up to the lethal violence that has devastated and affected millions of Afghan citizens in the past decades. They also prove the point women are making: stop fighting, before you start talking.”
“Without an inclusive process, you will never find an inclusive solution.”
Anne Kwakkenbos, Cordaid Gender Expert
Cordaid, in close alliance with the Afghan Women’s Network, continues to push the agenda of gender equity and inclusiveness in the Afghan peace process. “Current negotiations in Doha are still far from inclusive”, Kwakkenbos says. So far, both the Taliban and the Trump administration have kept Afghan women’s organisations away from the table. And the Taliban still refuse to interact with the Afghan government, whose legitimacy they contest. So far for inclusiveness.
Intra-Afghan dialogue needs to be transparant
Meanwhile the intra-Afghan peace process has not been gaining momentum either. Kwakkenbos: “This could change. It appears the Germans are trying to facilitate intra-Afghan dialogue. Some Afghan women received invitations to take part in this. But a lot of these efforts lack transparency. It is of course part of diplomacy to work below the radar. But transparency is key if you want processes to be inclusive. All parties involved need to know who is doing what. You need to allow representatives to prepare for talks, to consult the people they represent. That’s how representation works. It takes time. If you don’t give women’s organisations to do that, you are already weakening their position.
“Through Congress and Senate we do try to change the ways Trump and his associates are handling the talks in Doha.”
Currently, nobody knows who is doing what and what is going on. “There are no time tables, no agendas”, Kwakkenbos continues. “And the confusion is even bigger, because besides the Germans, other international players are involved, like Russia, Pakistan and of course the US. Even on that level, it is not clear who does what. It’s chaotic. Which, for the Taliban is very welcome. But even within the Taliban, there’s chaos. Their network is diverse and diffuse. There is not one homogeneous Taliban. To the extent that possibly the representatives in Doha were not informed up front of the attacks in Kabul.”
Pushing the snooze button of war is not enough
Concluding peace agreements that are not the outcome of an inclusive process, is, to use the expression of the young Libyan feminist Asma Khalifa, like pushing the snooze button of war. Structures of conflict remain the same. “The Doha talks are meant for the benefit of two parties, the US and the Taliban. The Taliban want the US to get out of Afghanistan and the US wants to retreat and to make sure that the Taliban refrains from terrorist acts. But the rest of Afghanistan does not automatically benefit from their agreement. In fact, this kind of unilateral and non-inclusive agreement inflates the power position of the Taliban in Afghanistan. And we all know this is extremely bad news for women, and for the country as a whole. Without an inclusive process, you will never find an inclusive solution”, Kwakkenbos continues.
Influencing US Afghanistan policies
The last few months Cordaid and AWN have been putting pressure on the Trump administration to include Afghan women in the Doha talks. Two weeks ago Kwakkenbos attended a hearing in the US Senate. “Trump and his immediate associates increasingly use their executive powers, seemingly unchecked. But through Congress and Senate we do try to change the ways they are handling the talks in Doha. In a committee hearing of the Senate on the topic of women, peace and security in Afghanistan, initiated by Republican Senator Marco Rubio, we reiterated the need to include Afghan women in the Doha talks. And what you see is that most civil servants, most politicians, most people in the Pentagon agree that Trump’s way of handling things in Doha is going to create more problems in the future.”
“As the US is more or less neglecting and ignoring existing global multilateral political systems, we are forced to work this way.”
Anne Kwakkenbos, Cordaid Gender Expert
By working with and conveying our message to senators and congress members, Cordaid – with Afghan and other international NGOs, do try to correct this. “There is a bill in the making, on women, peace and security in Afghanistan”, says Kwakkenbos. “This bill pleads for the inclusion of women. Once this is passed in the Senate, this becomes US legislation, which, for the Trump administration, is more difficult to ignore. It’s one step in many steps we are trying to make in the US, Kabul, The Hague, Brussels and other places. For Cordaid this is new. We are used to work in EU and UN circles to influence Afghanistan policies, not the US. Luckily we found some amazing partners in the US. The Afghan women’s movement is truly represented all over the world. But as the US is more or less neglecting and ignoring existing global multilateral political systems, we are forced to work this way.”
Meanwhile in Afghanistan
Inside Afghanistan, women keep on organizing themselves. They are gearing up to take part in negotiations that should shape the future of their country. Women take less to the streets and more to diplomacy. They convey their demands for inclusive peace to national and international decision makers, voice their outrage in the media. Every violent attack in the streets of Kabul and elsewhere does affect them brutally. Just like they maim the country as a whole. But it will not stop them. On the contrary.