posted on Sun 26 Jul 2020 7:47 PM
Arria-formula Meeting on the Participation of Women in the Afghan Peace Process

Tomorrow (27 July) an Arria-formula meeting will be held via videoconference on “Women and the Afghan Peace Process: Ensuring Women’s Participation and Promoting their Rights”. It is being co-organised by Afghanistan, Germany, Indonesia and the United Kingdom. The First Lady of Afghanistan is the expected keynote speaker, while the concluding remarks will be provided by Baroness Fiona Hodgson of Abinger, member of the UK House of Lords and honorary member of the Group of Friends of Women in Afghanistan. The anticipated panelists are: Hasina Safi, Afghanistan’s Minister of Women’s Affairs; Dr Habiba Sarabi, member of the Afghan government negotiating team; Ghezal Haris, head of the Afghanistan Ombudsperson’s Office; Deborah Lyons, Special Representative for Afghanistan and head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA); and Sheikha Alya Ahmed bin Saif Al-Thani, Permanent Representative of Qatar to the UN.

Following interventions by Council members, statements will be made by representatives of Norway and Uzbekistan, which are expected—in addition to Germany, Indonesia and Qatar—to host future rounds of the intra-Afghan negotiations. The meeting will be livestreamed on YouTube at 10 am EST; a link to the event will be shared on the social media pages of the permanent missions to the UN of Afghanistan, Germany, Indonesia and the United Kingdom.

According to the concept note prepared by the co-organisers, the meeting serves as a platform to amplify the voices of Afghan women ahead of the potential start of the intra-Afghan negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban. The panelists are expected to express their views on ways to facilitate the meaningful participation of women in the peace process and on how an eventual peace deal can safeguard women’s rights. The meeting is also viewed as an opportunity for Council members and the international community to reaffirm their support for the participation of women in the Afghan peace process and for the promotion and protection of their rights in the peace agreement, as well as to emphasise the importance of preserving the gains made in the past 20 years towards the empowerment of women and girls in Afghanistan.

Since the end of the Taliban’s rule in 2001, there have been strides in the promotion of rights of women in Afghanistan and their increased participation in the country’s political and social spheres. Women hold positions as mayors and provincial governors, and 28 percent of parliamentary seats. There has also been a significant increase in access to education, and more than three million girls attend primary and secondary school. According to the concept note, a recent survey indicated that 70 percent of Afghans will not support a peace agreement that jeopardises access to education for women and girls or their ability to work outside the home. However, regardless of the improvements in fulfilling women’s rights, many challenges remain, as the continued conflict in Afghanistan adversely affects women and girls, creates humanitarian needs and prevents economic and political development.

Since the early stages of negotiations between the US and the Taliban, which started in July 2018 and culminated in the signing of the US-Taliban agreement on 29 February, international stakeholders, including members of the Security Council, have expressed strong support for the full participation of women in any future intra-Afghan peace processes and have voiced concern about any curtailing of the rights of women and girls. During 2019, two intra-Afghan dialogue meetings were facilitated by international stakeholders—the first convened by Russia in Moscow on 5 and 6 February, and the second convened in Doha by Germany and Qatar on 7 and 8 July—in which Taliban representatives participated for the first time in talks with female Afghan civil society representatives. In both meetings, women played a key role in drafting and adopting the outcome documents. The second meeting in Doha was also attended by members of the Afghan government, who participated in an unofficial capacity as the Taliban had not agreed to meet with Afghan government officials.

On 26 July 2019, the Security Council held a meeting on women, peace and security in Afghanistan, following a 20-21 July trip to Afghanistan by a high-level UN delegation led by Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed, which was focused on the situation of women in the country. Mohammed noted that during her visit she heard “a strong call from Afghan women for peace—but for peace that safeguards their hard-won rights and does not backtrack on what has been achieved”. The Council was also briefed by women’s rights activist Jamila Afghani, who claimed that women were sidelined during the talks between the US and the Taliban and called on the international community to stand with women and “ensure that our rights will not be compromised for a political peace deal”.

In November 2019 the Permanent Mission of Afghanistan to the UN, in cooperation with the Permanent Mission of the United Kingdom to the UN, established the Group of Friends of Women in Afghanistan, with the aim of highlighting the importance of protecting and enhancing women’s rights and the role that women can play across society and government.

Security Council members are generally united in their support of promoting women’s participation in the intra-Afghan peace process. In resolution 2513, which welcomed the 29 February US-Taliban agreement and the joint declaration issued by the US and the Afghan government, Council members emphasised the importance of having effective and meaningful participation of women in the peace negotiations. The resolution further stated that a future political settlement must “protect the rights of all Afghans, including women, youth and minorities” and build upon the economic, social, political and development gains which have been achieved since 2001.

Many Council members and UNAMA have also welcomed the Afghan government’s 23 March announcement on the composition of its negotiating team. At tomorrow’s meeting, panel members may address why the number of women participants on the team was reduced to four from the five originally envisioned. The Taliban had initially rejected the government’s proposed negotiation team, claiming that it was not inclusive, but subsequently the group has not publicly voiced opposition to women’s inclusion in the negotiations. During a 31 March Council meeting, Ingrid Hayden, Deputy Special Representative of UNAMA, noted that the mission had urged the Taliban also to include women in their delegation, as this would “send a tangible signal that the movement has fundamentally reformed”. At the same meeting, Ambassador Kelly Craft (US) linked the upholding of women’s rights to the willingness of the international community to provide financial support to Afghanistan in the aftermath of the peace negotiations, stating that “no future Afghan Government can expect the support of the international community, donors or businesses if women’s rights and participation are revoked or ignored”.

The intra-Afghan negotiations–which the US-Taliban agreement stipulated would begin on 10 March—have yet to start, due to disagreements between the Taliban and the Afghan government over the pace of prisoner swaps and persistently high levels of violence which continue to erode confidence between the sides. International mediation efforts raised hopes that intra-Afghan negotiations might be imminent, with international stakeholders suggesting that face-to-face talks between the sides could start in July in Doha, Qatar. However, a date for the start of the negotiations has yet to be set, as it appears that the issue of prisoner releases continues to be a sticking point.

According to the US-Taliban agreement, the Afghan government is to release up to 5,000 prisoners and the Taliban is to release 1,000 prisoners ahead of the start of the negotiations. At the time of writing, the Afghan government had released more than 4,000 Taliban captives, while the militant group had released approximately 800 government prisoners. Kabul has reportedly expressed reservations regarding the release of the final round of Taliban inmates, whom it considers dangerous fighters that might return to the battlefield. The Afghan government has further claimed that some of the released prisoners have already taken up arms again. On 23 July, Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen stated that the Taliban is willing to release all remaining government prisoners and start the intra-Afghan negotiation immediately after the Eid al-Adha holiday if the government releases all Taliban prisoners.

In the meantime, a recent uptick in violent attacks has created further uncertainty regarding the start of direct talks. During the week of 20 July, the Taliban carried out daily attacks against Afghan security forces across the country, while a 22 July airstrike by the Afghan government in the western province of Herat against the Taliban has reportedly resulted in civilian casualties. Zalmay Khalilzad, the US Special Representative to Afghanistan, condemned the attacks by both sides, while calling for an investigation into the government airstrike. He further urged “all sides to contain the violence, protect civilians, and show necessary restraint as the start of intra-Afghan negotiations is so close”.

At tomorrow’s meeting, participants may reiterate the Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire in light of COVID-19 and urge the sides to cease violence to help facilitate the start of intra-Afghan negotiations. They may emphasise the importance not only of having meaningful participation of women in the negotiations, but also of including concrete language in an eventual peace accord that safeguards their rights and enshrines mechanisms to monitor the long-term implementation of these provisions.