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The forgotten Perspective: For London Conference

These days the news about Afghanistan actually starts and ends with the London Conference and its expected outcomes. Around 70 countries of the world, as allies of the Afghan war and mission are going to attend the Conference and seek new or maybe promote the old ways of dealing with the Afghanistan conflict. However, there is another perspective to this conflict. A perspective that is overlooked as it isn’t of any threat but provides opportunities and its gateway towards ending the Afghan conflict. That is the forgotten perspective of Human Rights, not the International Declaration of Human Rights, nor the United Nations Coventions but the rights of an Afghan, an ordinary Afghan man and woman who is also countering insurgency. The insurgency of increased radicalization, the insurgency of poverty and the insurgency of injustice.

There is growing concern among Afghan civil society activists that the international community has lost interest in helping to promote democratic values, including human rights, in Afghanistan. It appears that support for human rights values in Afghanistan has been simply a political stance that has served its purpose at times of convenience and is now being disregarded. In the early years of the Afghan mission, popular rhetoric was all about the struggle to protect human rights, and to promote women's participation in the political sphere. Afghans were encouraged to work on building democratic institutions and value-based governance as viable alternatives to fighting terrorism and extremism. Since then, as Afghan activists and campaigners of women's and human rights we have worked hard to promote these values in our communities, often risking our lives in the process. We did so willingly because we believe that human rights are critical for a viable peaceful Afghan society. They are not a luxury of western societies but a necessity for a world at peace. The people of Afghanistan have come to understand this from their painful experience of the country’s wars which were not only the result of foreign occupation but also injustice and inequality in society. We also understand that like any other culture, our culture has room for positive change rooted in Afghans values of consultation and Islamic values of human equality. But in our struggle we were faced with backlash from some parts of our society who influenced by cultural identity politics regard human rights as a set of exclusively Western values with no relevance in Afghanistan. The fact that we had no option but to rely on financial support offered by Western democracies encouraged them to view us as a people who are paid to promote Western values in a traditional society.

But in spite of threats of violence and pressure to conform to traditional values, such was our commitment to the values of human and women’s rights that we made incredible achievements. We succeeded in enshrining human rights values within the government’s structure and conducted effective public policy campaigns with the financial support of the international community. Just as Taliban die for their goal of setting up a backward theocracy in the country, Afghan human rights have been equally ready to take great risk for their convictions. A number of Afghan agents of change lost their lives in their struggle for the protection and advocacy of women's rights and human rights in the country. From Safia Ama jan, the Director of Women's Affairs in Kandahar who fought for a women's right institution within the government structures in the conservative region of Kandahar, to Malalai Kakar, the most senior woman police office who protected women's rights and achieved a high rank in the most difficult region of the country, to our journalists who were killed for promoting the freedom of speech to our aid workers who lost their lives while bringing development to the local communities, the list of Afghans who fought and died for human rights is long. But the stories of these unsung heroes of human rights are often overshadowed by the exotic images of the Taliban, creating a distorted picture of the country. If the Taliban are Afghans fighting for a certain set of values, so are the country’s human rights activists. They are equally Afghan and equally courageous. But while the Taliban have been given much attention in the global media because they pose a direct threat to foreign troops, human rights activists have been largely ignored even though their presence in the country is equally important, if not vital. The fact is that if we don’t continue with our mission, in fifty years the average life expectancy in Afghanistan is likely to remain at 44, a disgrace in the globally interconnected world of the 21 century. This is not to mention the other consequences of keeping Afghanistan as it is which include an oppressive regime, a weak economy and as a result mass migration putting even more pressure on developed countries to accept political refugees and economic immigrant.

But the Taliban have hijacked the news and the country’s image, and support for Afghanistan has now shifted to the insurgency. While in the early years, the international community contributed towards stabilizing Afghanistan through democracy and development to enable us to fight the Taliban and eventually terrorism and al’Qaida, in more recent times attention has shifted from a humane approach to a more aggressive military response with the sole purpose of tackling Al-qaida and "finishing the job". By contrast to the early promises of commitment, present foreign policy debates assume as a matter of fact that the international community has no long term interest in Afghanistan but is there only to fight and dismantle Al-qaida structures and so protect their national security.

It’s obvious that human rights activism has been tremendously affected by the current lack of interest and the international community’s shift of focus away from the struggle for democracy. In the past, the International community supported civil society and human rights struggles even if it meant confronting the government of Afghanistan for human rights violations, even daring to call acts of the government 'abhorrent'. But this is no longer the case. The bulk of funding is now allocated to a military response and as a result, Afghan human rights activists and advocates are now under threat, more than ever before. Our movement is authentically Afghan but the fact remains that like the rest of the country, we rely on foreign support to carry on our struggle.

As Afghan civil society activists we believe that the only viable way to fight terrorism and extremism for good rather than to curb it temporarily by military means is to alleviate poverty and illiteracy and to promote a response and service delivery function within the Afghan government. This strategy would not only be less costly, but would also be sustainable and practical because it would empower Afghans through education and resources, helping them become a self-reliant nation no longer in need to international troops to defend the country against extremism. Given that the cost of one soldier fighting in Afghanistan can easily be as high as a million, the money would be better spent on creating support and infrastructure for an authentic Afghan civil society. Once again, it only remains a hope that the international community and donors will be able to look at this conflict from our own eyes.

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