Khalilzad concedes violence levels terrifically high in Afghanistan

KABUL: In a debriefing session to the Congress, the US point-man for Afghanistan reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad on Tuesday assured that women’s and minority rights were a top priority for his country, insisting that the administration had not abandoned their cause.

In a letter, a group of 19 Wolesi Jirga members had earlier asked the chairman of the US House Oversight and Reform National Security Subcommittee to grill Khalilzad about some of their key concerns and issues concerning the peace process.

Of the queries directed towards Khalilzad, one stated “how could he entertain the mere idea of dismantling Afghan national defense and security forces by the Taliban?”

“What will be our response to the families of the Afghan and American soldiers that paid the ultimate price?,” the Wolesi Jirga group “the National Interests Preservation Group” had written in the letter to Chairman Stephen Lynch ahead of Khalilzad’s testimony before the US house panel.

The Afghan lawmakers called on Stephen Lynch to stand for women’s rights and a peace deal that preserved the rights of every Afghan man and woman.

“Not a deal that prevents little girls from going to school, not a deal that leads to the destruction of our institutions, not a deal that backtracks on the great achievements of freedom and democracy. Let’s make sure that Afghanistan does not become a safe-haven for terrorism by proxy,” the Wolesi Jirga members wrote.

In his debriefing session on Tuesday, Khalilzad testified before the House of Representatives, admitting the current levels of violence in Afghanistan were too high by any stretch of the imagination.

 “While we have reasons to be hopeful, we are under no illusions about the challenges ahead. … We expect that there will be setbacks and obstacles,” the special envoy said.

Meanwhile, Rep. Stephen Lynch and other Democrats brought up the issue of Afghan women, saying they feared for their future without a firm guarantee from Washington to safeguard their rights.

“How do we demonstrate to the Taliban that the status of women and girls is a major priority in restoring that country’s stability… when we don’t list it as a priority in our negotiations but instead, leave it to the Afghans to fight that fight?” Lynch asked Khalilzad.

Khalilzad in response assured that women’s and minority rights were a top priority for the US, insisting that the administration had not abandoned their cause. He, however, admitted that the country’s political future would be determined by talks between the Taliban militants and an Afghan government-led delegation. “At this hearing, I want to assure the Afghan women that we will be with them,” the diplomat maintained.

Following the session, the head of the secretariat for the National Interests Preservation Group, Mariam Solaimankhil, expressed her gratitude to Stephen Lynch for reading out an important excerpt from the lawmakers’ letter to the Congress.

This comes as the intra-Afghan peace talks that got underway on Sept. 12 in Doha of Qatar followed a US-Taliban agreement signed in February. The fact that the deal did not address women’s rights, among key other national issues, has raised concerns of certain quarters about the future of Afghan women.