Afghan female negotiators push for more representation

Eleanor Watson
·4 min read

The women on the Afghan negotiating team told members of Congress at a recent event the benchmarks for a successful political settlement with the Taliban require female participation. 

Fatima Gailani, Fawzia Koofi, Habiba Sarabi, and Sharifa Zurmati were the only female members of a 21-member negotiating team to attend peace negotiation talks in Doha, Qatar in 2020, but just one, Habiba Sarabi, was invited to the most recent summit in Moscow in March of this year. 

In a joint statement on Tuesday, the UN, the Republic of Turkey and the State of Qatar said that they are co-convening a high level and inclusive conference from 24 April – 4 May 2021  

Their warning comes as the international summit on the future of Afghanistan is set to start later this month, a senior Afghan official confirmed to CBS News last week. It's unclear who the participants of the summit will be. 

Afghanistan's ambassador to the United States Roya Rahmani told CBS News in an email that the Afghan government will ensure that women will be participating. 

"Giving women a seat at every decision-making table is imperative, but it is not sufficient. They must be treated as active and equal participants in shaping Afghanistan's future. Anything less would undermine peace," Rahmani said. "Women are instrumental in creating lasting peace and stability. Any agreement must be reflective of that reality, diversity, and equality." 

The U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad met with female leaders over the weekend before left Kabul to listen to their thoughts and express support for their inclusion in the process in order to have a durable peace, according to his Twitter

"Women participation in this process should be the main benchmark for the success of this process," Koofi, one of the female negotiators, told members of Congress. "In fact, this peace process is about women's rights. It is about human rights."   

On the Women, Peace, and Security caucus virtual call earlier this month when they called for representation, the female negotiators also spoke of the gains women have made in the years since the end of the Taliban rule that sidelined them. 

The discussion took place as the United States is grappling with whether to withdraw troops by the May 1 deadline set under the agreement the Trump administration made with the Taliban. 

President Biden said in a press conference last month that "it's going to be hard to meet the May 1 deadline," but his administration is still conducting a review on the agreement. 

The Biden administration is pushing a diplomatic effort to convene talks between the Afghan government, Taliban, and the United States in Istanbul later this month. 

Koofi said the Istanbul conference is an important opportunity, and it should pave the way for an "insurance process" that results in a political settlement that includes women's participation. 

The four women all argued that a political settlement before the withdrawal is important, and Gailani warned if there is not a settlement before the withdrawal, Afghanistan will see a repeat of the chaos that killed thousands and led hundreds of thousands to flee during the 1990s when the Soviet Union withdrew its forces.  

"The Doha agreement of 2020 with Taliban was negotiated, negotiated in haste, and therefore it has given the Taliban a behavior of victory," Koofi said. 

The agreement under the Trump administration set a deadline for U.S. troop withdrawal if the Taliban reduced violence and denounced association with groups like al  Qaeda. The Pentagon has said the violence is too high but has not said the Taliban has broken their side of the deal. 

"It's obvious that the level of violence remains high," Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin told reporters in Afghanistan at the end of March. "We'd like to see that come down. It could begin to set the conditions for fruitful diplomatic work."

In recent remarks at the Hudson Institute, a think tank in Washington DC, Hamdullah Mohib, Afghanistan's National Security Advisor, said the Taliban had increased the violence. 

"This winter was the bloodiest of all. In previous years, the level of violence and the level of casualties had been lower than this year's winter," Mohib said.  

Congresswoman Lois Frankel, the chair of the Women, Peace, and Security Caucus, applauded the negotiators  for coming forward to present a point of view for Congress to consider and convey to the Biden administration. 

"I had such admiration for them for what they're doing," Frankel told CBS News. 

Democratic Senators Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin sent a letter to the White House this month asking the Biden administration to underscore the importance of promoting women's rights and active participation in ongoing peace negotiations. 

"The future of a democratic and stable Afghanistan depends on how gains on human rights and women's empowerment are protected, and how the country's political processes and institutions are safeguarded to be inclusive and representative," the senators wrote. 

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