acknowledged that women will be able to study and work.
remains the worst place in the world to be a woman, and the continuation of war
makes it additionally difficult for Afghan women to live full, secure lives.
Kabul has recently witnessed a new wave of shootings of women, including the
murder of a prominent Afghan journalist by her husband’s family.
To put an
end to this prolonged violence, an end to the war through a peace deal with the
Taliban is necessary. The United States has accepted the Taliban as a
legitimate stakeholder and is directly negotiating with them in Doha to bring
the long war to an end.
renewing hopes for peace, the United States-Taliban talks have also renewed
fears that when the Taliban join a new political order, Afghan women, who
suffered terrible atrocities and oppression under the Taliban rule in the
1990s, will be forced to relive those dark times.
But it is
both possible and necessary to negotiate peace with the Taliban while ensuring
that women’s rights are secured. I came to believe this after meeting with the
Taliban in Doha last month. There is an opening, albeit small and fragile, to
talk to the Taliban about women’s rights and freedoms.
In 2001 I
joined the board of Women for Afghan Women, a group working with Afghan women
who face domestic abuse that runs shelters for them in Afghanistan. In
mid-April I travelled to Doha with a colleague to join around 250 Afghan
government officials, members of various civil society organizations and the
opposition political parties in the first intra-Afghan dialogue on peace with
was not officially invited, it was an opportunity to speak to attendees about
ensuring there is no backsliding of the progress Afghan women have made in the
past 18 years. Afghanistan has two million or more female heads of households,
who often have to fend for themselves and negotiate on a daily basis to
the formal talks failed to materialize over a disagreement about the size and
composition of the delegations coming from Afghanistan. On April 20, the day
after formal talks broke down; I met with several members of the Afghan diaspora
at a hotel in Doha who were interested in meeting the Taliban. The question of
trusting the Taliban troubled many of us, but we wanted to see for ourselves
whether they were tired of war and keen to chart a way forward.
of us, including four women, met with 25 Taliban representatives in what turned
out to be a six-hour-long conversation. We were not sure how we would be
received. My perceptions of the Taliban were formed mostly by the stories of
Afghans who had lived under their rule, the stories of those who didn’t survive
and my own years living in Kabul, where their attacks had become increasingly
brazen and lethal.
other women and I were offered the first choice of seats at the discussion
table. We sat directly across from the Taliban leaders, including Sher Mohammad
Abbas Stanikzai, the group’s chief negotiator, and Amir Khan Motaqi, former
minister of education and son of Mullah Baradar, the only surviving co-founder
of the Taliban, who was arrested by Pakistan in February 2010 in Karachi and
recently released at the urging of the United States.
began by speaking about their interest in peace. They discussed the problems of
the war itself, civilian casualties, kidnappings, injustice, narcotics trade
and corruption, including the internal displacement of over a million people
resulting from forced land grabs by commanders aligned with the Afghan
government. They seemed genuine in their desire to engage.
visitors, we women were given the first turn to speak. I spoke about working
with women’s organizations, and the other women spoke about the right to
education for girls and the need for a cease-fire. The Taliban acknowledged
that girls would be able to go to school and women would be able to work.
argued that progress on women’s issues can be made only in the context of
Islam. The Afghan constitution itself declares Islam the religion of
Afghanistan. My colleagues on the front lines in Afghanistan have been fighting
against domestic violence by using commandments against such violence in the
Quran and encouraging education of women by quoting the Prophet Muhammad urging
Muslim women and men to seek education even if they have to go “as far as
recognize that Islamic interpretation of women’s issues will be at the heart of
the debate on women’s rights in Afghanistan, but the basis for the defending of
the right to education, work and political life already exists in Islam.
we were offered food before the men. We were given gifts of prayer rugs and
perfume and clothes. At the end of the meeting, we women asked for a prayer for
peace. We were invited to lead the prayer — a rather radical act, as it is
always Afghan men who lead the prayers.
meeting does not erase the Taliban’s record on women, nor does it undo the
terrors of the past, but it was a surprising reception. We need to see the
Taliban’s words matched with deeds on the ground. But the conversations with
the Taliban offered me the glimmer of hope I needed to believe that peace is
Masuda Sultan is an Afghan-American founding
board member of Women for Afghan Women and a co-founder of All in Peace, a
movement to bring the longest United States war in history to a peaceful end.