In a hearing held by the Women, Peace, and Security Caucus, Afghan women negotiators emphasized that the United States’ support is critical to the peace process and democracy and that the U.S. “leaving should not result in state collapse and collapse of institutions.” The Afghan women negotiators cautioned that the Afghan peace process requires patience, that democracy, human rights and women’s rights, and a constitutional order must be protected. The four women are the only women negotiators representing the Afghan state in negotiating peace with the Taliban.
The Afghan women have high hopes that their international allies, those in the U.S. and especially in the U.S. Congress who stood with them for nearly two decades will support the Afghan people for obtaining a sustainable peace. The Afghan women were clear in their message to Congress: that the Afghan people need the U.S. support, that they value this partnership, and share the same values of equal rights for all and a democracy in which all Afghans thrive and have equal opportunities.
Fawzia Kofi, one of the negotiators and a former Member of the Afghan Parliament warned that the United States “should not simply hand over power to a few to make it easier to leave. If the U.S. leaves now, it will not result in peace and the U.S. might have to come back to fix the crisis.” In a clear reference on the possible repercussion of leaving too soon, she told the members that the U.S. decision will not only harm Afghans, but that “without proper patience and considerations, it will damage us all and that it will lead to a proxy war.”
The four negotiators were clear on the need for continuing the negotiations. “We are serious about peace. We want peace, but what kind of peace?” asked Fatima Gaillani, who also served as President of the Afghan Red Crescent Society for 13 years. “We have to achieve the peace that the people of Afghanistan want and deserve.”
In her opening statement, Gaillani reminded the Members of Congress of the youth of Afghanistan, stating that 70% of the Afghan population is under the age of 35 and that they support the gains and the values of the past 20 years. “The aspirations and the desires of the young people in Afghanistan are not any different than the young people in your country,” she told the U.S. Members of Congress.
Gaillani continued that, “in order to achieve the peace that young Afghans want and deserve, we have to be extremely careful. I would like you to know that the withdrawal of U.S. troops has to be extremely careful. It should not end up in chaos. It should not end up in the collapse of the state and the institutions.”
Habiba Sarabi, another negotiator and former governor of Bamiyan province, warned of the hasty withdrawal of the U.S. troops too and reminded the audience of the United States’ end of support to the Afghan people after the Soviet withdrawal in the early 1990s. “We do not want another civil war and millions of Afghans leaving the country again,” she told the members.
The four negotiators also delivered strong messages on the importance of the U.S.-Afghanistan long-term strategic partnership and demanded “clarity” and “assurances” on any possible deal with the Taliban. “We have been in this for 20 years. It is a strategic partnership that we value and we would like to continue,” Said Kofi. Gaillani added, “The Afghan people want to be included in every step forward. Clarity about peace, about the peace process, assurance about the future, and an Afghanistan that countries like yours will be happy to help and partner.”
While being optimistic about the need to continue the negotiations with the Taliban, the four Afghan women demanded “assurances” on the Taliban claims about changes in their views on women’s rights. Sharifa Zurmati, another negotiator and a former Member of the Afghan Parliament stated that women’s rights cannot be “ignored.” She told the Members that the Taliban’s claim that they will allow women to study is not enough, “access to education is not the only right Afghan women should have. It does not encompass all rights. We need international support in getting assurances from the Taliban on women’s equal rights.”
She added that “Afghan women are worried if the international community will stand with them at this time of peace process and if international allies will fulfill their responsibilities when our rights are up for negotiations.” Zurmati continued that, “Afghan women are worried that will they be able to work in all areas as they have for the past 20 years? She told the Members that women’s equal rights and access to equal opportunities is not only critical for human rights but that it is needed for the country to progress in the right direction. Zurmati said, “Women are more than 50% of the country. How can they be ignored?”
The four negotiators asked for a prominent role for women in any future political settlement and reiterated that without guaranteed positions and quotas for women in any agreement, women’s rights and status cannot be preserved. Habiba Sarabi referred to the latest peace proposal to Afghanistan from the Biden Administration and shared her concerns on the creation of the High Council for Islamic Jurisprudence in the judiciary system as proposed by the U.S. State Department. “We know from experience that men will fill these positions. We know they are getting ready for these positions now. If there is no quota allocated for Afghan women, they will be prevented from joining any of these institutions,” Sarabi said.
Since the intra-Afghan talks began in September of 2020 in Doha, violence has been increasing inside Afghanistan. Fatima Gaillani expressed her concerns on the ongoing violence in the country and stated, “While we negotiate for peace in Doha, every day, everyday men, women, and children are killed in my country. Some are even chased to their homes to be killed.” She asked, “this has to stop.”
Under the U.S.-Taliban deal, signed by the Trump administration and the Taliban, the Taliban stopped attacking American and NATO forces. In contrast, the group intensified their attacks on the Afghan forces and the Afghan people. As a result, the assassination of the young and educated Afghans as well as those who speak up have been at its peak.
Both Democrats and Republicans who participated in the hearing expressed their support for human rights, women’s rights, and democracy in Afghanistan and shared their concerns on losing the gains of the past two decades. Congressman Michael Waltz (R) of Florida who co-chairs the WPS Caucus shared his dismay at the latest peace proposal from the State Department that dismantling an elected government in Afghanistan is not the right thing to do. “I have serious concerns about the power sharing agreement that our State department is propagating in the peace negotiations,” he told the audience.
Congresswoman Lois Frankel (D-FL) who co-chairs the WPS Caucus stated that, “Women are important players in security, prosperity of their communities, and in their countries, as mothers, as sisters, as wives, at home, at work, in the battlefield, and negotiations at the table.” While recognizing the courage and bravery of Afghan women in fighting for their equal rights, she assured them that, “We do not want to go backwards. There are many of us in the U.S. Congress who share your concerns. We will make sure that the progress made in human rights, especially women’s rights continue in Afghanistan.”