Afghan Women’s Rights Advocate Wants Women Involved in Taliban Reconciliation
It’s gotten much less attention than his unilateral revision of Afghanistan’s electoral law, but Afghan President Hamid Karzai is scaling back a milestone for human rights in post-Taliban Afghanistan: setting aside parliamentary seats for women politicians. Things are still in flux, and for weeks, a spokesman for the Afghan government has not returned my emails seeking clarity. But Suraya Pakzad, one of the leading women’s rights activists in Afghanistan, told me this morning that she’s appealing to the international community “not to support a process where women’s rights are denied — not just women’s rights, but human rights,” particularly at a time when crucial decisions for the future of women’s rights in a potential postwar Afghanistan may be up for discussion.
Pakzad is in Washington for the next several days to press that case to a number of U.S. officials, including aides to Amb. Richard Holbrooke, the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, and on a variety of fronts. Beyond attempting to preserve women’s parliamentary representation, Pazkad, the recipient of a State Department ‘Women of Courage’ award in 2008, wants the U.S. and its allies to press Karzai on allowing women to help draft the terms of any reconciliation offer to Taliban insurgents.
“We’re not just looking at women in parliament, but women at the local and national level,” Pazkad said after a breakfast event on the Hill sponsored by the United Nations’ Development Fund for Women and the Women Thrive Worldwide non-governmental organization. “We need the international community to push the Afghan government that they should not support any reconciliation with the Taliban without women’s presence.”
As he announced in the London international conference on Afghanistan in January, Karzai is going to draft a reconciliation proposal to present to the heretofore-disinterested Taliban leadership. “We don’t want to stand against the draft when it is made,” Pakzad said. “We would like to be there while they make the draft. We don’t want our rights to be bargained [away]. We don’t want compromising. We need real, equal positions in the making of important decisions for our country.” If Karzai ignores Pazkad’s concerns, he could turn a glimmer of hope for the end of the war into a looming human rights catastrophe, considering Taliban rule during the 1990s made Afghanistan one of the worst places on earth to be a woman.
Pazkad said representatives from her Herat-based organization, Voice of Women in Afghanistan, met with Mohammed Masoom Stanekzai, the Karzai aide responsible for drafting the reconciliation offer, a few days ago, while she herself was traveling to Washington. Even so, she added, “Advocacy doesn’t mean being invited. We raise our voices.”