The South Asia Channel

Afghan ‘Roadmap’ to Peace—A Dead End for Human Rights?

Pakistan has accepted an Afghan "roadmap" for peace, according to news reports this week. If true, this would be quite a breakthrough given the setbacks of the last year, such as the suspension of talks by the Taliban in March, cross-border shelling into eastern Afghanistan, and recent allegations that Pakistan was involved in an assassination ...

Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/GettyImages
Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/GettyImages

Pakistan has accepted an Afghan "roadmap" for peace, according to news reports this week. If true, this would be quite a breakthrough given the setbacks of the last year, such as the suspension of talks by the Taliban in March, cross-border shelling into eastern Afghanistan, and recent allegations that Pakistan was involved in an assassination attempt on the Afghan intelligence chief last week. Ending a conflict that has claimed so many thousands of Afghan lives is desperately needed, and signs of a shift in Pakistan’s attitude to talks could be a positive step towards that. However, a recently leaked copy of the Afghan High Peace Council’s "Peace Process Roadmap to 2015,"[posted here], which has not yet been made public, lays out a trajectory that does little to assuage fears that a deal with the Taliban could erode women’s rights and human rights in general.   

The roadmap contains five steps. The first includes an end to cross-border shelling, the transfer by Pakistan of Taliban prisoners to Afghanistan or a third country, and pressure on the Taliban to sever ties with al-Qaeda. Phase Two (slated for the first half of 2013) includes safe passage for Taliban negotiators to unspecified countries, contact with Taliban negotiators, agreement on the terms of a peace process, and further delisting of Taliban by the United States  and the United Nations.

Phase three, in the second half of 2013, envisages a ceasefire. Taliban prisoners would be released in exchange for renouncing violence. The plan proposes that the Taliban could transform into a political movement, and prepare to contest elections (presumably including the Presidential elections in 2014). While the emergence of a political party from the Taliban is conceivable, and desirable, the hope that this could be achieved next year seems remote. There are clearly reformers within the Taliban, but many who have engaged in preliminary negotiation efforts have been killed by hardliners or imprisoned by Pakistan, while Afghan negotiators have been assassinated. Consequently the breadth of commitment to politics and peace within the Taliban movement remains uncertain.   

Step three also contains the most frank description I’ve seen so far about non-elected appointments of Taliban as an incentive to reconciling. This will likely include critical governorships, potentially legitimating some of the shadow provincial governments of the Taliban. Appointments remain one of the primary means of patronage in Afghanistan, so it’s hard to imagine jobs not being a part of a peace deal, however unpalatable it may seem to those bearing the brunt of the ongoing Taliban violence against civilians. But the roadmap contains no red lines here, such as the exclusion from government jobs of commanders suspected of war crimes and other serious human rights abuses. There’s a pragmatic argument for this -a peace process is more likely to last if it can defuse the enmity created by atrocities committed by both the Taliban and the government. Unfortunately, whenever I raise the basic human rights principle of "no peace without justice," I usually get a withering dismissal from Afghan and international officials. This year, though, the principle seemed oddly vindicated when the Taliban cited the corruption of the Afghan government as a reason for not negotiating with them.   

When consulted, a majority of Afghans tend to support calls for justice and accountability. But it’s not until step four of the roadmap, when the real deal-making has already been done, that the Afghan government plans to "mobilize" support from its citizens. There is much more that the government could do now to reassure its citizens -particularly women -that their protection is the primary goal of any peace agreement. 

The roadmap, though, doesn’t even mention women until the final paragraph, when a government pledge to uphold constitutional guarantees of freedom is repeated. Given President Hamid Karzai’s proclivity for casting off women’s rights when there’s a political incentive, this isn’t enough, and certainly doesn’t measure up to the Tokyo declaration of July 2012, which has far stronger promises to respect rights. But the Tokyo declaration was signed when 16 billion donor dollars were on the table, so the roadmap may be the more accurate indicator of the government’s commitment to women.  

Those foreign dollars can still be made to count. In steps four and five, the roadmap talks of international support in implementing the peace process. It would be better if it allowed for international monitoring of the peace process and its implementation, with a place for women at the negotiating table. Only if women are there to argue for their own protections can this not result in a significant setback. It is areas where the Taliban are active, and where the roadmap might formalize their power, that women in public life are most at risk. One woman I met recently, whom I’ll call "Shamsia,"was from a conflict ridden area of southeastern Afghanistan. Before we’d finished our introductions, Shamsia launched into her worst fears about the 2014 transition: "Everyone is afraid. Everyone talks about it, particularly women who are working.  After 2014, when the Taliban come back, they will kill those who are working with the government." Earlier this week the head of the women’s affairs department in Laghman province, Najia Sediqi, was killed by gunmen, five months after her predecessor was assassinated by the Taliban.

Persuading the Taliban to embrace politics over violence, and equality over segregation will take more than prisoner release and government jobs.  It will take leadership, and probably many more years than the current roadmap envisages. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been the clearest international voice supporting women’s rights in the peace process, but will soon step down. A female activist recently described her as the "conscience of the world" on this issue. When the U.S. Senate holds confirmation hearings for her successor, they can help ensure that the next secretary will also act as a strong "conscience" for the peace process. The international community should also make sure that the roadmap doesn’t abandon justice. If peace rewards all Taliban commanders, no matter how terrible their crimes, and doesn’t make room for women in the process, this roadmap could be a dead-end for human rights. 

Rachel Reid is the Senior Policy Advisor on Afghanistan and Pakistan for the Open Society Foundations.

Rachel Reid is the Open Society Foundations’ advocacy manager for the Middle East, North Africa, and Southwest Asia. She was based in Afghanistan for Human Rights Watch from 2008 to 2011. Before her move into human rights work, she spent more than a decade with the BBC.

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