Peace talks: Balkh women fear retreat on their rights 


BALKH: With the advent of intra-Afghan peace talks between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (IRA) and the Taliban in Doha of Qatar, public optimism boosted about a possible end to the 40 years of war, carnage and bloodshed in Afghanistan. However, Afghan women fear that their lack of proper participation and representation in the talks may undermine the possibility of obtaining a stable peace in the country.
The breakthrough in peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government was not an easy achievement as it was fraught with many ups and downs such as lag over prisoners’ release – a required trust-building step for going forward towards formal talks.
The prisoner swap was completed as the Taliban freed 1,000 Afghan soldiers and the Afghan government 5,000 Taliban inmates on September 3.
After the prisoner swap completion, peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government formally started in the Qatari capital of Doha but Afghans are wary of its outcome.
The nature of Afghan women’s presence and their role in the peace talks, as well as future governmental dispensation and non-governmental structures – which constitute some of the key sticking points in the negotiations – are two of the major concerns. 
Women’s rights activists in northern Balkh province believe that if women do not play a key role in the peace parleys, the process would not lead to a stable peace. 
They demand assurances and are of the view that women’s rights gained over the past two decades in the country should be protected and supported in the future. 
The right to education; the right to work and partnership; the right to freedom of expression; participation in government decisions; and active presence in the political, social and cultural spheres are the most essential of women’s rights, according to the activists.
Gulchehra Baheen, a women’s rights activist in Balkh province, welcomed the Afghan peace talks but emphasized that women’s rights should be taken into account in the process.
She said that concerns existed about the negative consequences of the intra-Afghan talks, adding: “The ceasefire must be declared first so the ongoing bloodshed and carnage could be stopped.”
Shazia Haqjo, a civil society activist in Balkh, talking about the importance of women’s role in the peace process said that women formed half of the Afghan society and thus they should have an active presence in negotiations.
Haqjo said peace was the only way for stability and security but emphasized that no actual peace could be established as long as women were excluded from the talks. 
Aurang Safi, another women’s rights activist, also stressed that the number of women in the peace talks was limited, an issue that she said needed revision.
Meanwhile, Balkh Governor Mohammad Ishaq Rahgozar met with women’s rights activists in Mazar-e-Sharif city, the provincial capital, on Saturday. Lending weight to the active presence of women in affairs, he maintained that social justice, the protection of human rights and the protection of women’s rights were among the most important and fundamental issues that must be taken into account in intra-Afghan peace talks.
A number of other women in the session supported intra-Afghan peace talks but stressed that their rights should not be violated by any sides of peace negotiations.
The government of Afghanistan has promised to protect women’s rights but activists in this field are not optimistic about the future.
The Afghan peace talks include a number of Afghan women who are lobbying and advocating for women’s rights at the negotiating table with the Taliban. 
This is despite the fact that since the beginning of the Afghan peace talks, support for the role and presence of women from various institutions and quarters has increased in the country.