Thursday, October 29, 2009

Why Women Are The Real Architects Of Peace


Risking a Rights Disaster : Washington Post
By Wazhma FroghSunday, October 18, 2009
As an Afghan woman who for many years lived a life deprived of the most basic human rights, I find unbearable the thought of what will happen to the women of my country if it once again falls under the control of the insurgents and militants who now threaten it.
In 2001, when the war in Afghanistan began, the liberation of Afghan women was one of the most important justifications for military intervention. Has the world now changed its mind about Afghan women? Is it ready to let them once again be killed and tortured by militants? Does the world no longer believe in the principles it supported in 2001?
Handing over Afghanistan to those who intend to keep the country centuries behind most of the world -- to men who do not view women as human beings -- would not only call into doubt the global commitment to human rights, it would also raise questions about the commitment of Western democracies to such rights and to democratic values. Bearing in mind how fragile the Afghan government is at this moment, it will not take long for the country's women to come under attack again. The consequences will be even more bitter this time because no matter how limited our success, we have at least managed to act in the forefront of public life in Afghanistan. We have had a taste of what it's like to have rights.
And it is not us alone. On my way to Kabul's international airport recently, I noticed a crowd of taxi drivers sitting under a tree at the airport taxi stand. They were mourning the deaths of Italian troops and Afghans in the suicide attack on Sept. 17 near Kabul. As I talked with them, I realized that they were not only saddened by the deaths but frightened by what they might mean. "Today, after eight years, if the foreign troops leave . . . we will go back to the same Afghanistan that seemed like a funeral every day," one of the drivers said. "This time, the loss will be huge, because during the past eight years we have made significant progress in becoming part of the rest of the world, so much so that our enemies despise us for it."
There has been progress in Afghanistan, as many such people will tell you. But can it be maintained if Washington and its allies shift their focus solely to dismantling al-Qaeda while regarding the Taliban as a lesser threat? The answer to that question will be a life-or-death matter for many thousands of women in my country, and men as well. The fact that it is even being considered makes me wonder: Have people forgotten that it was the Taliban that put the lives of millions of Afghans at risk for the sole purpose of protecting Osama bin Laden -- thus making it clear that their loyalty was to him alone? What is to stop this from happening again under Taliban rule?
Afghans understand the need for international assistance, both for the country's development and for the strengthening of its military. This is especially evident now that the insurgency and the violence are less their own creation than an unwanted gift from the other side of the border with Pakistan.
We see some of NATO's allies rapidly losing interest in Afghanistan, even though they admit that if the country is left to the insurgents, the consequence will be many more incidents like the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. They are being persuaded by a propaganda war on the part of insurgents who seem to have convinced much of the world that they are winning the war. But in fact the enemy will win only if the international community allows itself to be influenced by this propaganda campaign.
The question to keep in mind for all parties involved is, what motivated them to come to Afghanistan in the first place? The answer: global security and the protection of human rights in Afghanistan. Are these two purposes no longer valid?
Afghans do not want to rely forever on such help. They want to take ownership of the war against terrorism and insurgents. History has proved that we have always fought in defense of our sovereignty, and that is why patriotism is central to this war. With good training and adequate weaponry, the Afghan army can win the trust of villagers, who will support it in protecting villages from suicide attackers and insurgents. To achieve this goal, the international community should work with the Afghan government as an ally and avoid creating a parallel government competing with that Afghan government.
It would be helpful to hold an international conference in Afghanistan to allow the government and parliament to come up with common solutions for all parties to adhere to. Such international engagement inside Afghanistan would give a sense of ownership to Afghans, offering a change from the international conferences of the past, where Afghans rarely found an opportunity to express their opinions and offer solutions.
At this time of violence and anxiety, it is important for the international community and the United States to reaffirm their commitment to Afghanistan rather than questioning whether it is worth defending an entire people against those who would install another brutally repressive regime under which women cannot be educated or seek to improve their lot, where "justice" is meted out in mass public executions, where repression is the rule -- and where new terrorist plots will inevitably be hatched to attack the United States and its allies.
The people of Afghanistan, and most fervently its women, desire a long-term and consistent relationship with the United States and European democracies. We do not want to become another Vietnam. We want to be an example of the success of global commitment to making the world a better and safer place for everyone, from New York to London to Helmand.
The writer is a graduate student at Warwick University in Britain and has been active in human rights work in her country. She is the recipient of the U.S. State Department's 2009 International Women of Courage Award for Afghanistan.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

My article in Guardian, September 2009

Afghans can't trust anyone
The challenge in Afghanistan is to hold a serious and consistent political stance on the Taliban. Inconsistency is creating chaos
Wazhma Frogh, Tuesday 22 September 2009 22.30 BST
Article history
Not a day passes without representatives of the international community trying to save Afghanistan without bothering to step out of their fully secured buildings to actually meet ordinary Afghans, the people they are supposed to help. Phrases like "success", "our war", "winning hearts and minds" are used to describe the current chaotic situation. But the international community has contributed to this situation as much as "Taliban insurgents".
The self-styled experts on Afghanistan write books without ever stepping out of the comforts of their segregated neighbourhood. They formulate foreign policy, draft proposals and carry out experiments as if Afghanistan were an experimental laboratory for international diplomacy. But the country's deteriorating situation is also their legacy and the legacy of world leaders who failed to understand Afghanistan.
Needless to say, the experiments are futile and bound to fail. Here is why. The experts don't understand the country because they are separated from its people through security walls, multiple guards and the fact that they only converse with their fellow, self-styled experts, but not with Afghans.
This analysis is based on real-life experience and the realities that I, an Afghan woman, have encountered on the ground for many years. We have a proverb that says, "We learn how to be courteous when we meet those who are rude and disrespectful." The easiest way to learn from mistakes is to reverse them, but the world is taking longer than needed to reverse its mistakes in Afghanistan.
Although the list of mistakes is long and continues to grow, let's start with the recent dilemma: the "AfPak" drama. The US government and its allies need to understand, and here I mean understand fully, that they are dealing with two different governments, two separate states and nations so different that they cannot be equated in a single mission. The differences are too pronounced to legitimise a one-size-fits-both solution.
This is not to speak of the fact that such an equation overrides the legitimacy and sovereignty of both nations, especially since sovereignty and legitimacy are critical to their survival at this point in history. It is true that the Taliban are a regional threat, but they need to be tackled through a cohesive but contextualised struggle by each country. The Taliban ruled Afghanistan for five years but it is an established fact that in part they were a Pakistani creation, organised and funded by the Pakistani army and government. But today, both governments are put on the same scale when it comes to fighting against the former "rulers" and "puppets".
For the Pakistani government the Taliban represent only a backlash against what used to be their own creation. But in Afghanistan, the Taliban are far more than a backlash. They are a serious threat to the people and the government. This threat might be somewhat curbed by drone attacks in the border areas, but as recent incidents reveal, the Taliban cannot be prevented from blowing themselves up right outside the headquarters in Kabul where the international troops are based.
Millions of dollars have been poured into this "AfPak mission", paying the salaries of self-styled experts who are hardly able to set foot outside the safety and comfort of their castles. Ironically, the Afghanistan mission has hardly any Afghans in it, at least not the kind of Afghans who have lived through the critical times in this country and hence, by virtue of their experience and knowledge, are capable of formulating strategies within a chance of success.
This is everyone else's war, not the Afghans' war. Any other country in the world claims that this is their conflict, but not Afghans. That's the heart of our misery. Afghans are being fought in their homes and expected not to lose their "hearts and minds". One of the reasons why the Taliban are making progress in Afghanistan is their ability to fight a successful propaganda war. But both local and international media outlets indirectly encourage the Taliban by publishing stories of Taliban success. For the Taliban, this is free, international publicity. Neither the international forces nor the Afghan government have come up with a media campaign to encourage the public to help them fight terrorism. In fact, neither the government nor the international community has ever held a clear stance regarding the Taliban. In 2001, Kabul was full of posters of Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader. He was wanted dead or alive and a bounty of $25m was placed on his head. Today, the same international community is calling Omar a "moderate" and is trying to persuade him to negotiate peace with Kabul.
The challenge in Afghanistan isn't about resources but principles. It's about holding a serious and consistent political stance regarding the Taliban. For example, the Afghan army's lack of success in the fight against the Taliban is not so much the result of their inadequate salary or the number of troops but the lack of patriotic sentiment that is needed if the army is to win. The fact that the Afghan leadership itself is hesitant to clarify the exact nature of its relationship with the Taliban leaves the army unsettled: is the government against the Taliban or ready to negotiate with them? The recent elections were another example of how national security has become a mere political game for wannabe Afghan leaders. For example, one candidate said the Taliban were like her own brothers, her own sons. And yet, we have thousands of troops fighting the same sons and brothers. This inconsistent approach continues as Afghanistan's elections are declared "fraudulent" and unacceptable even though the critics are also the ones who set the election day and called it "an achievement towards success in Afghanistan".
Afghans on the ground are confused; they no longer know who they are supposed to fight against. They fear that if they stop the Taliban from blowing up their village, the same Taliban might come back to power, installed as governors or ministers. Under such circumstances, standing up against the Taliban is just too risky.
But there's nothing new in this inconsistent approach. In late 2001, during the Bonn agreement, Afghans were promised justice and that people accused of war crimes would be held to account. But those accused of war crimes are now leaders, openly and publicly supported by the very same international community that promised to take them to court. No wonder, then, that Afghans no longer know who is supposed to be their enemy, and who their friend.