May 1, 2019
Many members of Afghan civil society have said they refuse to let the Taliban reverse progressive advances including in the area of women’s rights while the insurgents, who feel they have handed a great foreign invader a military defeat, have their own conditions including making the country’s constitution more Islamic.
The warring parties in Afghanistan, of course, have yet to have a single meeting. The Taliban have been talking to foreign puppet masters while the Afghan government threw a Loya Jirga party which underscored that Kabul still needs to get its own divided house in order.
However, although recent intra-Afghan talks have been canceled, there has been interaction between Taliban and ordinary Afghans operating in a non-official capacity. Politician Fawzia Koofi is one of the only women to attend the first round of negotiations in Moscow in February and she came away with mixed feelings.
“One man in the Taliban delegation spoke for about 15 minutes after my speech and said women are allowed to work, own property, choose their life partner, and go to school – which had all been banned in Taliban time – but they cannot be president,” Koofi told the BBC in an article published on April 19.
The Taliban have claimed that they have changed, and are no longer the beasts that beat women in the street and banned female education during their rule in the 1990s. The Taliban movement has even included women within their own delegation to attend some of the talks.
Koofi however said that she does not believe most Taliban share these same beliefs, especially the ones fighting on the ground. She has good reason to be skeptical considering the Taliban are a highly fragmented movement and nobody really understands the extent to which the Doha office represents the rank and file.
In an April 28 interview with The New Yorker’s Isaac Chotiner, Afghan Human Rights activist Sima Samar cast doubt on the Taliban’s intentions. Samar, who is chairwoman of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, said she is willing to welcome the Taliban if they are willing to embrace the democratic process.
Samar pointed out that in 2005 the former Taliban minister of foreign affairs and the former “Vice and Virtue” office minister both stood in democratic elections and failed. These were the same men during the Taliban reign who stopped women in the streets asking why they were walking without a male relative, for example.
“So that shows the desire of the Afghan people,” Samar said.
Even more controversially, Samar suggested that while she is not looking for revenge, she believes the reconciliation process must also consist of establishing a mechanism to hold Taliban accountable for past crimes.
“At least these people should be pushed to apologize to the people,” Samar told The New Yorker. “I think we have to have accountability – we should not undermine justice. Because, in the previous agreements, including the Bonn Agreement, we forgot about accountability. We forgot about justice. We forgot about the victims of war. Then what? Then the war continued. And the war continues.”
Samar also blasted U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad’s efforts to negotiate a U.S. withdrawal by talking only with the Taliban and war criminals like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar while excluding Afghan civil society and government.
The Afghan human rights activist is absolutely right in a moral sense. Yet, from a practical perspective, this type of thinking might be over optimistic unless there are major changes on the ground. Khalilzad, recently, has tried to echo Samar’s sentiments.
“If the Taliban insist on going back to the system they used to have, in my personal opinion it means the continuation of war not peace,” Khalilzad told Tolo News on April 28.
First of all, there should be no doubt that the Taliban talks with Khalilzad are not about insurgents hoping to end the war at all costs. This is not a movement that feels the need to reform.
The Taliban see themselves as the victors in the war against the foreign enemy. They also believe they have the edge in the ongoing civil war. Washington, for its part, is negotiating with the Taliban from a position of weakness.
In fact, the Taliban believe the Americans are only negotiating to legitimize their exit and prevent the retreat from appearing like a total humiliating defeat while at the same time “saving face” with regional actors, both friend and foe.
“The United States is meeting Russia and other representatives of regional countries to make legitimacy for withdrawal and so it will not be named defeat. But it [the United States] has already been defeated in Afghanistan,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Sputnik earlier this week.
Of course, if U.S. forces exit and negotiations fall apart, the question is will the Taliban simply conquer the country or will Afghan forces be strong enough to keep it deadlocked in perpetual civil war marked by endless terror attacks planned and launched from Pakistan.