‘Women’s rights were sidelined throughout the process’ – Afghan women and minorities fear consequences of US-Taliban peace deal

Najia Nasim is the Executive Director of Women for Afghan Women – an organization that has been cited as having some of the “bravest women in the world” by Amnesty International.

As the Trump administration scrambles to end US military involvement in Afghanistan ahead of November’s Presidential Election, The City’s Cameron Weymes examines the consequences of largely excluding women and ethnic minorities from the recent ‘peace deal’ between the Taliban and the US.

On February 29 the United States and the Taliban signed a ‘comprehensive peace agreement’ in relation to Afghanistan.

According to the agreement, all US military forces will be withdrawn from the country within 14 months in exchange for a guarantee that the Taliban will “prevent any group or individual from using the soil of Afghanistan to threaten the security of the United States and its allies.”

If the agreement is put into effect, it will bring an end to the United States’ longest ever war after almost 20 years.

The Afghan government – which was largely ignored throughout the process – has rejected aspects of the agreement, such as the requirement to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners.

For many Afghan women, the memory of Taliban rule before 2001 brings significant apprehension towards the deal.

Afghans enjoying their weekend at Qargha Dam, near Kabul, August 2017. Photo: Cameron Weymes

“Throughout the Taliban’s reign, women and girls suffered a brutal loss of agency and were denied their fundamental rights and freedoms, such as education, the opportunity to work, access to healthcare, and movement,” said Najia Nasim, the Executive Director of Women for Afghan Women, in an interview with TheCity.ie.

“Taliban rule essentially imprisoned women and girls in their homes and eviscerated their basic rights and ability to participate in any facet of personal, political, or societal decision-making,” she added.

“The gender inequality, domestic violence, and discrimination that rose dramatically during the reign of the Taliban led Afghanistan to be consistently ranked as one of the worst places in the world to be a woman,” said Najia.

There was a notable lack of female involvement in the peace talks held in Doha, Qatar.

“To date, women and civil society have been largely excluded from the negotiations. Women’s omission inhibits their ability to convey their unique experiences, grievances, priorities, and hopes for Afghanistan’s future, and to shape post-conflict institutions and broader society,” said Najia.

The aftermath of a suicide bombing by the Taliban on a Kabul bank where five government employees were killed while collecting their salaries. August 29 2017 Photo: Cameron Weymes

“Alarmingly, women’s rights were sidelined throughout the process that gave rise to the US-Taliban deal, heightening concerns that a withdrawal of US forces and an intra-Afghan dialogue will create a power-sharing arrangement that will facilitate a reversion to brutal Taliban rule,” she added.

Minorities fearful

Minorities such as the Hazaras, a predominantly Shia ethnic group, also have considerable grounds to fear a return of the Taliban to power.

In the late 1990s the Taliban committed many atrocities against Hazaras as they took control of 90% of the country, including the massacre of 2,000 Hazaras in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif.

In recent times the Taliban and Islamic State have targeted Hazaras in suicide bombings and other attacks.

In 1997, the Taliban governor of Mazar-i-Sharif, Mullah Niazi, delivered a series of speeches about Hazaras.

Dasht-e-Barchi, a Hazara majority area in western Kabul that has been targeted by the Taliban and Islamic State with suicide and gun attacks. Photo: Cameron Weymes

“Hazaras are not Muslim, they are Shi’a. They are kaffir (infidels). The Hazaras killed our force here, and now we have to kill Hazaras,” he said.

“If you do not show your loyalty, we will burn your houses, and we will kill you. You either accept to be Muslims or leave Afghanistan,” he added.

Although Niazi was subsequently killed in a US drone strike, fear persists that the current Taliban leadership will be similarly hostile to Hazaras.

“The Taliban have proven before that minorities have no place in the country. They have no respect for different religions or tribes,” said Raziya Masumi, an Afghan lawyer and women’s rights activist, in an interview with the TheCity.ie.

“Shia groups were forced to say prayers as the Taliban did, and were lashed or even imprisoned for making mistakes during prayers.”

On Friday 6 March 2019, Islamic State gunmen attacked an official event in Kabul dedicated to Hazara leader Abdul Ali Mazari, killing 27 and wounding 55 others.
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“Recently, more suicide attacks have happened in the west of Kabul where the majority are Shia. They attacked mosques and schools in these areas. The Taliban only accept their own beliefs and religious thoughts,” she added.

For Atiq Lotan, a Hazara from Ghazni province, the peace deal is nothing short of a disaster.

“In the Jaghori district of Ghazni, where I am from, the Taliban enforced Sharia law and carried out public executions. They also actively sought methods to forcefully convert Hazaras to their denomination of Islam,” he told TheCity.ie.

“The recent legitimacy the United States has afforded the Taliban will result in a new era of persecution and political exclusion for Hazaras.”

“In addition, the return of the Taliban to power means their crimes against us will be forgotten.”

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