Word has trickled out over the past months that peace negotiations between the Karzai government and the Taliban are underway and being brokered by ex- Taliban leaders. Already there are a set of early strategic responses to the peace negotiations. Some call for conditional peace negotiations (conditions vary with the stakeholders); others, for unconditional. "Reconciliation" is gaining currency; the United States weighs in from time to time; Pakistan is jockeying to be a central player; and peace movement strategists are readying to endorse the negotiations for the sake of ending the US-NATO war.
Thus far, the negotiations and responses disregard a mortal flaw --the absence of Afghan women, as stakeholders and brokers in the negotiations, as strategists and consultants; and as a power bloc/interest group at the table for women's rights and credible peace. The few Afghan women interviewed about the peace negotiations state unambiguously their sense of being sacrificed on the altar of national reconciliation.
Afghanistan has a history of strong, political women - a number of whom have been assassinated or are in exile - and some few of whom are in Parliament. Networks of courageous grassroots women with some male supporters run community clinics and underground schools; and networks of those in exile work in refugee camps and from abroad on behalf of human rights and services for Afghan women. They also educate people in the West about the history of and potential for women in their country. All of these constitute a diverse and substantive base for representation in the peace talks.
Malalai Joya, exiled from the Afghan Parliament for exposing criminal warlord Parliamentarians, invites US human rights, peace, social justice and feminist organizations to "join hands" with the people of Afghanistan. She pleads for support in getting the US-NATO forces out of Afghanistan and also for solidarity with the people of Afghanistan in their struggle for democracy. The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), the Afghan Women's Mission, and independent-minded Afghan women parliamentarians are in agreement. Ann Jones, chronicler of the condition and capacity of women in Afghanistan from her years teaching there, wrote in The Nation, "Whatever happens to women in Afghanistan is not merely a women's issue; it is the central issue of stability, development and durable peace."
The UN under the tutelage of Ellen Sirleaf Johnson, President of Liberia, and other African women, is now championing women in peace negotiations and peacekeeping with the evidence-based conviction that women are central to the stability, socio-economic progress, and lasting peace in their societies. This core insight and principle must be a beacon for peace strategies in Afghanistan.
Twin wars are ravaging Afghanistan: an internal war against women, fueled by patriarchal fundamentalism; and an ideological and imperial US-NATO war against the Taliban. Peace in Afghanistan will require a revolution in women's rights, given that violence against women is normative, as much as it will necessitate the US-NATO military withdrawal and the Taliban renunciation of Al-Qaeda and violence. Peace negotiations need Afghan women leaders at the table to assure that both wars are in the negotiations, that peace is brokered with justice for all and that women have a secure and substantive place in the power-sharing plans that emerge.
H. Patricia Hynes has published and spoken widely on the public health effects of war on civilians, particularly women. She is a member of the board of the TraprockCenter for Peace and Justice (http://traprock.info/index.shtml)