According to some civil society activists, the low presence of women in the government’s negotiating team is one of the signs of the government’s distrust of women’s political position. The government does not believe in women’s equal participation, in contrast to what it always propagates.

In an interview by Civil Society and Human Rights Network (CSHRN), Mr. Rufi said that “despite having a republican political system, the Afghan government does not believe in democratic values, including women’s political participation”. He believes that Afghanistan’s republican system and constitution believe in equal participation; however, senior government leaders do not. A few numbers of women are working in governmental administrations less than what number is always claimed. This means that the government does not trust women’s abilities. The number of female members of the negotiating team of government makes my claim solid that is considerably less than what women deserve to have. Additionally, almost all cabinet members of the government are headed by males except some less worthful ministries headed by females.  

CSHRN: You criticized the number of female members in the cabinet and in the negotiating team; however, some people believe that the over-presence of women representatives in the negotiations may have a negative impact on the Taliban’s view of women. What is your opinion in this regard?

Rufi: I think women should have meaningful participation. In other words, women who are specialized in Islamic and philosophy studies armed with negotiation skills should be selected in the government’s team so that they impress the Taliban and make them realize that women with having merit are part of the Afghan government team. It is almost two decades that Afghanistan’s democratic system has provided equal opportunities for both men and women. These women have the capacity and ability to challenge the Taliban negotiating team through their knowledge and proficiency. In my point of view, the women currently in the government negotiating team are capable of representing Afghan women. All of them are holding an impressive political background. For instance, Fawzia Kofi is one of the pioneers in defending women’s rights. I wish, alongside her, many other women could work on women’s emancipation and empowerment by convincing oppositions by their arguments which particularly would lead negotiations toward a desired outcome.

CSHRN: What is your assessment of the peace talks so far?

Rufi: I think the selection of negotiating team members of the government does not meet inclusiveness criterion. Representatives of civil society, free media, and women’s rights organizations are not in the team. It means that women’s rights activists are marginalized. No consultation was done regarding the process of negotiating team members designation. Unfortunately, civil society, as part of a democratic political system, is ignored by the government. All members of the government’s negotiating team had to have the ability and capacity of debating on all issues, including the issues of women’s political participation, the nature of government, and the rights of citizens.

Network: Given the history of the Taliban, to what extent can the role of women be highlighted in the peace negotiations? 

Rufi: The members of the negotiating team must be able to argue against the ideological demands of the Taliban. Taliban talks about Islam and Sharia and we claim to have an Islamic system. Therefore, people who had religious knowledge and could make a strong and logical argument against the Taliban’s claim should have been in the team. Unfortunately, such an issue is not considered, especially for female members. Women with knowledge of religion are not in the team to argue against the Taliban and to make them understand that women have the right and ability to keep their presence in various fields and prove them by quoting religious texts that this right has been given to them by Sharia. Overall, there is an international consensus behind the government’s negotiating team. Although the United States initially abandoned the debate of values to some extent, recently, Mr. Khalilzad, the US Representative in Afghanistan said that the issue of women’s political participation is important to them. On the other hand, European governments supported the political participation of women, civil society, freedom of expression, and freedom of assembly and association in the opening session of the intra-Afghan talks.

Network: In your point of view, will restrictions on women’s rights be backed by social acceptance in society?

Rufi: There are two issues regarding the outcome of the negotiations. The first one is a peace that should not lead to injustice and the sacrifice of values. Another one is the ceasefire or the absence of war. We advocate peace in which social justice, democratic values, and women’s political participation are respected. 

Network: To what extent the Taliban’s presence in the government structure would affect civil society activities?

Rufi: As Western-educated technocrats limit the space for civic activities, rallies, and strikes, our concern is that these restrictions will be exacerbated by the Taliban’s involvement in the government, but fortunately the post-2001 generation is well-educated. It is democratic to challenge the government with rallies, demonstrations, and lawsuits. The same generation in the next government will also pave the way for civic activities. However, the support of the international community is definitely needed which fortunately the Afghan civil society has it for now. All governments that believe in democratic system support and defend the creation of a conducive environment for civil movement in Afghanistan.

Network: What are your concerns about the outcome of the peace talks?

Raufi: Our main concern is facing negotiation to an impasse that should not happen. If so, the Taliban, with the global popularity that they have gained, will certainly increase violence which is worrying.

According to Mr. Rufi, if the United States embark more pressure on both sides, the talks will definitely have a positive outcome. But if the United States uses the Afghan peace talks as a tool for its elections, the talks will reach an impasse which definitely results in an increase of war and violence.

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