Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Word on Women - Does the threat to the women of Afghanistan only come from the Taliban’s insurgency? Not, exactly.

For the past two years, the Afghan government has been making repeated statements that no reconciliation or negotiations aimed at bringing peace through talks with the Taliban will impact women’s rights and other civil rights guaranteed in the Afghan Constitution. But, does the threat to the women of Afghanistan only come from the Taliban’s insurgency? Not, exactly.

The failure of governance—with the accompanying impunity perpetuated through a corrupt and incompetent system--is the first predator of women’s rights in Afghanistan, especially in the rural villages. Moreover, interventions aimed at bringing security and defense, like arming militias, result in the oppression of Afghans ,particularly women, in different parts of the country.

While the national and international attention on Afghanistan is shrouded in stories of the withdrawal and transition of international forces, many realities on the ground go unnoticed. For many of us in Afghanistan, it is now routine to hear about incidents that involve severe beating or murder of women, at least once or twice a week, in various parts of the country.

Last week was no exception.. While many women’s groups are struggling to verify the brutal murder of a female NGO worker in Zurmat, Paktya, we also were shocked to hear about a woman in Nimroz whose husband tried to take out her eyes with a knife..She is in the hospital and her doctors say they don’t have the adequate technology to treat her brain damage.. The Institute for War and Peace Reporting recently released a report from Ghor province in which the Afghan Local Police and the local militias created and armed during the experiments with ‘Counterinsurgency’ are accused of kidnapping, raping and murdering women in many villages and districts. In the same report, Anjila Shafi, secretary of the Provincial Council of Ghor, said that in the past year 50 cases of violence against women by militia commanders had been recorded, including assault and coerced marriages.

Mohammad Sharif, a tribal elder in the Dawlatyar district of Ghor, recalled a case where a man was killed last spring and his wife was abducted by a local commander and murdered a month later. No action had been taken on either killing, he said.

Many of the women’s groups and civil society organizations engaged in human rights work in Afghanistan believe that the continued silence of the Afghan government and its international supporters on women’s rights violations and oppression has a lot to do with appeasing the militants and conservatives in the country so that they will join the government’s peace and reintegration processes. These women’s organizations and civil society groups are mobilizing themselves around the question of why initiatives aimed at peace and security are resulting in injury and loss of life, especially among Afghan women.

A male journalist covering the southeastern region of the country said, “We don’t see the peace process making much of a difference in Kabul and other urban centers, but the impact is so visible in the rural areas. The local warlords, power brokers, militias , militants, and criminals all turn into Taliban and, claiming they want to be part of the peace process, they either get arms through local policing initiatives, or get tribal powers and then they are the ones who oppress locals, kidnap, rape and kill women when they want. They are even sent to more remote areas to fight militants and then they do whatever they want with no responsibility”.

Daily Afghanistan Outlook, a leading independent newspaper writes in a recent editorial that President Karzai has been selling Afghans’ rights to appease militants. The editorial analyzes the context around which Abdul Satar Mirzakwal, deputy governor of Helmand province, was sacked because he arranged a concert by a female singer that attracted 30,000 residents of Lashkargah, with children cheering the music. The editor writes, “But this event and a “female” singer’s performance was not something to be “acceptable” for the radical Mullahs and Ulemas of the province. They all complained to Karzai about Mirzakwal…”Karzai bowed in front the religious radicals and took action quickly on their demand, sacking Mirzakwal without even consulting the Independent Directorate for Local Governance (IDLG), the body responsible for appointing and dismissal of governors, district chiefs and other officials.

It is very obvious that the 30,000 people celebrating at the concert did not object to the performance, but some religious clerics did and only they are the ones that matter to the government, not the masses of citizens.

However, when it comes to condemning, investigating and prosecuting those responsible for murder, kidnap and rape of women and girls, we witness a poisonous silence from the Afghan government and its international supporters. Do they understand that what this silent impunity means for the stability of Afghanistan?

As the government and its international supporters remain silent over the brutalities committed against women and citizens of Afghanistan, the culture of impunity persists. Fighting insurgency threats through military means will take us nowhere unless and until there is a principled stance against brutalities, and inhumane treatment of Afghans by the same very system that they are expected to support. If the international community doesn’t clarify its stance against such atrocities, the resistance of Afghans will grow against them, not because they are reluctant to support foreign presence but because they don’t see the difference between the enemy and an apparent friend.

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