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February 8, 2019

The cost of peace

Opinion

February 8, 2019

The people of Afghanistan have witnessed wars, violence, instability, destruction and gross human rights violations over the last 40 years and now want peace, prosperity and economic progress in their country. Ongoing negotiations between the US and the Afghan Taliban have heightened hopes of peace and lasting stability.

The current talks are not an outcome of the defeat or victory of either side in the conflict. Instead, they mark the realisation of the fact that both sides cannot inflict a complete military defeat on each other. In addition, the talks are an attempt to break the impasse between the US-supported Afghan military and the Taliban.

Both sides have made claims that peace negotiations have been constructive and resulted in unprecedented progress. Discussions and debates are also taking place behind the scenes. The Taliban held six days of talks with US officials in Doha to discuss the military dimensions of the conflict and two day of talks with Afghan opposition figures and groups in Moscow to discuss political issues.

These overtures seem to be far more serious than previous ones. Both the US and the Taliban have confirmed that they have made substantial headways in negotiations to end the 17-year-long US war in Afghanistan, even though some contentious issue still remain unresolved. It is still a long way to go to strike a final deal to end the conflict and bring peace to the war-torn country.

However, the underlying political causes of the conflict have yet to be addressed. These include a political settlement and the complicated issue of how power will be shared among the Taliban and various ethnic and political factions. The present constitution is another point of disagreement as the Taliban want a more ‘Islamic’ constitution. So far, there is no agreement on talks among the Afghan parties about an inclusive political system or a ceasefire that would protect the lives of innocent civilians while these talks are taking place.

While the ongoing peace talks have given rise to the hope that the war might finally end, there are serious concerns that a possible deal with the Taliban might undermine democratic, human and minority rights. There are some groups in Afghanistan who fear that a possible peace deal with the Taliban might compromise the rather limited human and democratic rights that they are enjoying at the moment.

What’s more, the past track record of the Taliban government seems to be a source of concern for women and religious minorities as they faced all forms of discrimination, segregation and restrictions during that dark era. During Taliban rule in the country, repressive rules were imposed on women that affected their social lives, stifled their educational and employment prospects, and limited their access to healthcare services. Women who didn’t follow these rules endured humiliation and severe punishment.

This era must not be brought back through a political settlement as an entire generation of Afghans has grown up since the Taliban were ousted and witnessed great advances in terms of personal freedoms. The proliferation of cellphones, television and now the internet has changed society, making it even less tolerant of the form of repression that prevailed during the Taliban’s rule. Women have been guaranteed the right to work and get an education under the 2004 constitution. Religious minorities have been liberated from a fate that cruelly consigned them to the status of second-class citizens.

At this stage, there has been no mention on either side of how these limited but important gains in terms of human rights will be preserved. This explains why any peace negotiation and political settlement should have included women, religious minorities, the youth, and representatives of different ethnic groups, not just powerful bloodthirsty warlords and reactionary clerics who have perpetuated conflict in the past.

Breaking with a history of human rights violations, the subsequent Afghan government has committed itself to doing away with brutal and medieval punishments. Many key advances that have been made on these fronts could now be in danger of being rolled back unless the necessary pre-conditions are set in negotiating a peace agreement.

Afghanistan deserves peace that will place the human rights of the Afghan people at its core. But peace must not be achieved at the cost of basic human, democratic, economic and gender rights. There should be no restrictions on women’s right to get an education, work and move about freely in public. Media freedoms must be protected and democratic and political rights should be preserved. The Afghan peace deal should lay the basis for a pluralistic, modern, democratic and forward-looking Afghanistan.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

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