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Point 5: Negotiate With the Taliban but Require Acceptance of Human Rights, Especially for Women

Speech by President Obama

In his December 1, 2009 speech, President Obama said: "We will support efforts by the Afghan government to open the door to those Taliban who abandon violence and respect the human rights of their fellow citizens."

Interview with General Petraeus

In his Meet the Press interview on 8-15-10. General Petraeus said: "I think, that there can be low and midlevel reintegration and, indeed, some fracturing of the senior leadership that could be really defined as reconciliation"

Speech by Secretary of State Clinton

In a speech to Afghan women officials on May 13, 2010, Secretary of State Clinton said:

"I appreciate the fact that many women in Afghanistan are concerned about what reintegration and reconciliation will mean for them. It is essential -- I have said this in London, I have said this in the United States, I will say this again at the Kabul conference -- it is essential that women's rights and women's opportunities are not sacrificed or trampled on in the reconciliation process. I pledged to President Karzai that we would not abandon Afghanistan in its quest for peace and long-term stability, and we will not.

"And I make the same pledge to the women of Afghanistan. We will not abandon you. We will stand with you always. I am so impressed and admiring of the contributions that women have made in all of Afghanistan's history, but particularly in recent history and especially in the last years. And I will be their partner and their supporter as they continue to make improvements in their lives and the lives of their children and families. Thank you very much."

The Kabul Conference (July 2010) Communique

In the Kabul Conference of 2010 hosted by the Afghan Government and attended by representatives of more than 70 countries, a communique was issued which included the following:

"Peace, Reconciliation and Reintegration

"14. Accordingly, Participants welcomed and endorsed in principle the Afghan Government's Peace and Reintegration Programme, which is open to all Afghan members of the armed opposition and their communities who renounce violence, have no links to international terrorist organizations, respect the Constitution and are willing to join in building a peaceful Afghanistan. The international community reiterated its commitment to continue to support this endeavor through the Peace and Reintegration Trust Fund, and looks forward to local Peace Jirga meetings that include men and women at district and provincial levels to discuss elements of an enduring peace. "

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Human Rights Watch Report 2010

In July 2010 Human Rights Watch issued a major report calling for protection of women's rights in negotiations with the Taliban. The report is called The "Ten-Dollar Talib" and Women's Rights : Afghan Women and the Risks of Reintegration and Reconciliation.

The report is based on interviews with more than 90 Afghan women from various walks of life.

In the report Human Rights Watch notes growing calls for negotiations with the Taliban in hopes of reconiliation and reintegrating them into Afghan society. However, HRW cites the concerns about this among Afghan women:

"All of the women interviewed for this report supported a negotiated end to the conflict. But they also expressed the view that if the Taliban gain a share of national power or formally govern whole districts or provinces as part of a peace agreement, the consequences for Women's Rights could be dire."

The report says "It is essential that the Afghan government commit to prioritizing the protection of women's human rights in any negotiations, including the rights to education, work, health care, access to justice, and participation in political life. These represent 'non-negotiables' that should be agreed to by anyone who seeks reconciliation with the government."

Some of the specific recommendations made in the HRW report are:

HRW Recommendations to the Afghan Government:

-- Ensure that women are represented at decision-making levels in all national and regional discussions and decisions about reintegration, negotiation, and reconciliation, including the High Level Peace Council and the Joint Secretariat for Peace, Reconciliation and Reintegration Programs.

-- Ensure that women are represented in the government's negotiations with insurgent groups.

-- Ensure that all those who agree to a reconciliation process have made explicit their acceptance of the constitutional guarantees of equality for men and women, including the right to an education, the right to work, and the right to participate in political life.

-- Repeal the amnesty law, and ensure that those against whom there are credible allegations of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other serious human rights abuses are excluded from the reconciliation process.

-- Ensure that background checks are carried out on all insurgent commanders considered for reintegration and reconciliation, and that political and bureaucratic positions at the district, provincial, or national level are not offered to those who have a track record of rights abuses, including against women.

HRW Recommendations to the ISAF:

-- Ensure that military assistance to reintegration efforts does not exacerbate impunity or corruption, and that any engagement with communities or individuals seeking reintegration or reconciliation involves adequate intelligence and background checks for serious allegations of human rights abuses including attacks on women and girls' education.

-- Recognize that civilian casualties, night raids, and detention practices have helped fuel the insurgency, and fully investigate and hold accountable military personnel responsible for wrongful acts.

HRW Recommendations to the UN and International Donors:

-- Provide oversight of the reintegration and reconciliation process so that it does not contravene UN Security Council Resolutions including Resolution 1325, which recognizes women's vital role in achieving peace and security, Resolutions 1820 and 1888 on the prevention and prosecution of sexual violence in armed conflict, and Resolution 1889 which seeks to promote the involvement of women during the post-conflict and reconstruction periods.

-- Urge the inclusion of women leaders and activists in key decision-making and implementation bodies from village to national levels. Speak out publically about the need for reintegration and reconciliation efforts to ensure the protection of Women's Rights.

-- Urge the government to repeal the amnesty law, refrain from endorsing government reconciliation with individuals against whom there are credible allegations of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious human rights abuses, and urge the government to investigate and prosecute these crimes.

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Kroc Institute for Peace Studies Report on Women in Afghanistan (Oct 2010)

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Women's Rights in Afghanistan Before the Taliban

The HRW recommendations appear to be very ambitious given the male-dominated traditions of Afghan culture as well as the extreme repression of women by the Taliban and other insurgent groups. However, before the Taliban came to power (1996) women enjoyed considerable rights in Afghanistan.

Ahmed Rashid writes in his book "Taliban" (written in 2000 before the US invasion)

"Traditionally Islam in Afghanistan has been immensely tolerant to other Muslim sects, other religions and modern lifestyles." (p. 82)

(before the Taliban came to power in 1996) there was "no universal standard of tradition or culture for women's role in society. Nor had any Afghan ruler before the Taliban ever insisted on such dress codes as compulsory beards for men and the burkha ..." (p. 110)

"... Forty percent of Kabul's women worked, both under the communist regime and the post-1992 Mujaheddin government. Women with even a smattering of education and a job exchanged their traditional clothes for skirts, high heels and make-up. They went to the movies, played sports and danced and sang at weddings ..." (p. 111)

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Negotiations for Power-Sharing. Proposal by Gilles Dorronsoro of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Dorronsoro does not agree that Taliban fighters can be co-opted or "bought." He says the only viable option is a power-sharing agreement with the Taliban. In an April 2010 report, "Afghanistan: Searching for Political Agreement" he says:

"There is no solid empirical basis for the coalition's claims that 80 percent of combatants could rally to the side of the Karzai government in order to obtain jobs. First of all, the (fragmentary) data and analysis of the Taliban militants show that their motivations are linked to a rejection of the Kabul government and the coalition, and to the insurgency's propaganda campaign. There is no correlation between economic development and the entrenchment or strength of the insurgency. The insurgents champion values that they consider threatened, such as national independence, religion, and morals. Reducing the complexity of their commitment to an economic motive is unrealistic."

"...the difference between the Taliban's values and those of the coalition is often presented as a major obstacle to negotiations. The reality is more complex. The coalition has worked with (and in certain cases protected) war criminals such as Dostum and drug traffickers linked to Karzai, so asserting the coalition's moral purity is difficult. Also, fundamentalism is not unique to the Taliban"

"A negotiated solution might marginalize the most educated, Westernized segment of the population, but things could be far worse for them: Without an agreement that would make it possible to rebuild society and include the main ideological and political movements, this segment of the population can easily be targeted for violence."

"Opening negotiations could mobilize Afghan elites, who often have the illusion that the coalition will remain in Afghanistan indefinitely."

"The negotiating framework should be determined during a secret contact phase mediated by the Pakistani army prior to the strictly diplomatic phase conducted under UN auspices. The Pakistani army has continuously supported the Taliban against the coalition, and there are good arguments against rewarding this duplicity"

"What preconditions should the coalition establish? First, negotiations must be used to change the internal political dynamic by decreasing the level of violence and, therefore, the local population's opposition to foreign troops. A cease-fire during the negotiating process, which could for months, would encourage contacts at the local level between Taliban commanders and local authorities, strengthening the chances of an agreement. The coalition would gain a few months of calm in the southern provinces, which could significantly alter perceptions. A ceasefire, and the return of some Taliban commanders in Afghanistan, is the best chance to "Afghanize" the negotiation process. At the same time, it is essential to "demilitarize" humanitarian aid and promote agreements between the Taliban and nongovernmental organizations so that the latter can intervene in areas held by the insurgency."

"The opening of direct negotiations with the Taliban and the de facto recognition of Pakistan's influence is an important shift in the regional situation, and the states that are left out -- mainly India -- would oppose it. Yet Pakistan is the only country that can truly act as a spoiler. India, and to a lesser degree Iran, might feel uncomfortable with the inclusion of the Pakistani army (which could consider its inclusion a victory) but they probably do not have the means to sabotage an agreement"

"The new constitution could be more conservative than the current one, so NGOs must try to limit backsliding on human rights, particularly for women. The risk is significant and should be addressed now, before negotiations even begin. The coalition must encourage and assist associations to establish a common front and organize into a pressure group."

"The agreement's general orientation must be a power-sharing arrangement, not the regional division of Afghanistan. Karzai would not accept a regional power-sharing arrangement, where the Taliban would take complete control of the southern provinces, because all the Pashtun areas quickly would switch to the Taliban side."

"Once a power-sharing agreement is in place, the situation in Afghanistan should begin to stabilize. At that point a regional agreement on issues such as borders and trade can be envisioned that would make it possible, in principle, to avoid a return to the 1990s, when foreign powers largely contributed to prolonging the war by supporting different armed Afghan groups."

"The Taliban might also derive tactical advantages from an agreement. But although it is likely that they will use the negotiations as an instrument to accomplish their goal of re-establishing the Islamic Emirate, they could find themselves progressively enmeshed in a political process and lose some control of their regional commanders. If the coalition plays its cards right, the Taliban could initially engage in the process with the idea of seizing power, then find themselves progressively integrated into the political game. Negotiations would strengthen the importance of the Taliban's Quetta-based leadership council, notably Mullah Omar, who could see this as an opportunity to reassert his authority and become recognized as a legitimate interlocutor."

"Nothing guarantees that negotiations -- if agreed to by the Taliban -- will succeed. Furthermore, the regime that will be established will be unstable for months, perhaps even years. But if the negotiations succeed, they will enable the formation of a national unity government in Kabul, a new constitution negotiated during a Loya Jirga, and internal and international guarantees to prevent the return of al-Qaeda. Given the current impasse in which the coalition finds itself, such a result is the best that one can hope for"
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Proposal for Negotiations by Rashid Ahmed, NY Review of Books, February 2010:

Here are some suggestions of steps that should be taken in advance of talking to the Taliban. Almost all these points have theoretically been accepted by the US and NATO but none have been acted upon:

1. Convince Afghanistan's neighbors and other countries in the region to sign on to a reconciliation strategy with the Taliban, to be led by the Afghan government. Creating a regional strategy and consensus on Afghanistan was one of the primary aims of the Obama administration; but little has been achieved. From Iran to India, regional tensions are worse now than a year ago.

2. Allow Afghanistan to submit to the UN Security Council a request that the names of Taliban leaders be removed from a list of terrorists drawn up in 2001 -- so long as those leaders renounce violence and ties to al-Qaeda. Russia has so far refused to entertain such a request; but Obama has not tried hard enough to extract this concession from Russian leaders.

3. Pass a UN Security Council resolution giving the Afghan government a formal mandate to negotiate with the Taliban, and allow the US, NATO, and the UN to encourage that process. This would mean persuading reluctant countries like Russia and India to support such a resolution. (On January 27, a UN Security Council committee announced, with Russian agreement, that it has lifted sanctions against five former Taliban officials who are said to support the Karzai government.)

4. Have NATO and Afghan forces take responsibility for the security of Taliban and their families who return to Afghanistan, enlisting the help of international agencies such as the UN High Commission for Refugees or the International Committee of the Red Cross to work with the Afghan government to assist these returning Taliban members, arranging for compensation, housing, job training, and other needs they may have in facing resettlement.

5. Provide adequate funds, training, and staff for a reconciliation body, led by the Afghan government, that will work with Western forces and humanitarian agencies to provide a comprehensive and clearly spelled-out program for the security of the returning Taliban and for facilities to receive them.

6. Encourage the Pakistani military to assist NATO and Afghan forces in providing security to returning Taliban and their families and allow necessary cross-border support from international humanitarian agencies. Encourage Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to help the Taliban set up a legal political party, as other Afghan militants -- such as former members of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hizb-i-Islami party -- have done. This would be a tremendous blow to al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban and it would give concrete form to Obama's repeated pledge that he is ready to reach out to foes in the Muslim world.

7. The Taliban leadership should be provided with a neutral venue such as Saudi Arabia or elsewhere, where it can hold talks with the Afghan government and NATO. The US should release the remaining Afghan prisoners held at Guantanamo and allow them to go to either Afghanistan, Pakistan, or Saudi Arabia.

Unless such publicly announced policies are carried out, the Taliban may well conclude that it is better and safer to sit out the next eighteen months, wait for the Americans to start leaving, and then, when they judge Afghanistan to be vulnerable, go for the kill in Kabul -- although that would only lead to a renewed civil war.

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