Don't Jirg' Them Around

May 29, 2010

The Peace Jirga in Afghanistan has been delayed for a second time till June 2, 2010. It is important to know that jirgas are a traditional Afghan legal practice but are not governed by Afghan law. The official word from Pres. Karzai’s office is that ‘technicalities’ of getting that many people to Kabul safely requires more time.  The latest delay only reflects the government’s continued lack of organization, says Haroun Mir, a former researcher at the Afghan Center for Research and Policy and a candidate in the upcoming parliamentary elections. “But it [is] also because the government does not have a specific plan,” he adds. As many as 1,600 people are believed to attend the jirga, 20% of those will be women

Whatever the reason, the recent signal by President Obama in support of peace negotiations by President Karzai with members of the Taleban is troublesome to many of us in the Afghan and International human rights and women’s rights organizations as well as within civil societies in Afghanistan.

Upon meeting with President Karzai this past month, President Obama is quoted as saying:  “I appreciated the president sharing his plans for the upcoming Consultative Peace Jirga—an important milestone that America supports.  In addition, the United States supports the efforts of the Afghan government to open the door to Taliban who cut their ties to Al-Qaeda, abandon violence and accept the Afghan constitution, including respect for human rights.”

Having been in Afghanistan nine times, covering about one year’s worth of living there as a teacher trainer both in Kabul and in rural areas, I have witnessed positive steps made by women.  Most obvious progress seems to have happened in larger cities like the capital of Kabul.  The majority of women still live in rural areas and progress there has been much slower, albeit moving in the right direction.

I observed more women working in government jobs.  I had the pleasure to meet many of the female Afghan members of Parliament in April 2009 (more about my visit with the Afghan female parliamentarians in my next blog entry!) and  there is a Ministry of Women’s Affairs.   More women are employed as teachers, nurses, doctors, journalists, hold media positions. Girls and women are more than ever attending school.  In Kabul some women have stopped wearing the all-encompassing burka and the Afghan female soccer club is getting well-deserved attention as are the few young girls who skate during their allotted time at Kabul’s skate park!

Don’t get me wrong though: these most precious first steps need the full and continuous support of the international community and the present Afghan government needs to uphold its’ own constitutional demands which include equal rights for men and women, as well as President Karzai’s signing of other important human treaties which includes the Convention on Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

With so much progress still needed, especially in the area of security, political power and access to higher education, any peace talks should not barter away the human rights of another generation of Afghans.  AIUSA already is tracking threats to, intimidation of and violence against some of the female leaders in the struggle for women’s rights in Afghanistan by both pro government and anti government forces.

In response to the serious worries, the International Secretariat has written up an action stating four important demands of both the Afghan and American government.  Please join me and help send a letter by just a click of the finger by going to the on-line action I have posted HERE.

AIUSA, together with other sections is calling on President Hamid Karzai and US Secretary of State, Ms. Hillary-Rodham Clinton and other Nato governments that:

  1. Human rights, including women’s rights, must be guaranteed and monitored in all reconciliation strategies
  2. Any agreement must include verifiable benchmarks for the parties’ conformity with their human rights obligations
  3. Afghan women are meaningfully represented in the planning stages and during the reconciliation talks
  4. Reconciliation talks should not result in impunity for serious violations of human rights and war crimes

Both past and present actions by the Taleban have proven that any negotiations with them toward a peace deal should include, without fail, current human rights and women’s rights enshrined in the Afghan constitution as well as other signed and ratified treaties and covenants.

Take action on human rights in Afghanistan by going HERE.