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Situation of Women in Afghanistan: From Queen Soraya Tarzi to Rula Ghani

Hamidullah Bamik

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Rula Ghani, First Lady of Afghanistan

Today’s Afghan women bear the huge and heavy burden of four decades war and conflicts. Early at the beginning of the twentieth century, Afghan women, as a result of the first constitutional movement under the leadership of King Amanullah, Khan succeeded in gaining some of their human rights and freedoms. King Amanullah Khan’s democratic plans included the elimination of hijab of women, access to education and active participation of women in the social, economic, political and cultural processes in the society. But unfortunately, after the fall of Soviet-backed governments of Kabul and their subsequent regimes – Mujahidin and Taliban, all those values were buried soon.

The First Steps for Afghan Women Liberation

In late 1927, King Amanullah Khan and his wife, Queen Soraya Tarzi, visited Europe. On this trip, they were honored and feted. This was an era when other Muslim nations, like Turkey and Egypt, were also on the path to modernization. Upon returning from his tour to Europe, King Amanullah Khan let his wife appear without a veil in public. He also prepared a progressive and democratic plan for modernizing his country. One of the key elements of this plan was the elimination of hijab of women, access to education and active participation of women in the social, economic, political and cultural processes in the society. However, the time was not right, and his plan was more progressive than the context of Afghanistan of 1928. Soon after the declaration of his reformist move, religious and traditional local elders revolted against his modernization program. This demonstration effectuated into a tribal rebellion and forced King Amanullah Khan to abdicate. As a result, his reformist programs were defeated.

After the era of King Amanullah Khan, the kingdoms of Afghanistan slowly continued his reforms. But the era of socialist and communist governments in Afghanistan, which is especially important for women, seems to be the root of many political events in recent years. Because, although during this period, especially with regard to women, important advances have been made. But what happened during the Taliban era against women, can be an exact response to the previous governments’ policies regarding women issues. But it is argued that after the first bold step of King Amanullah Khan toward women liberation and giving them the basic human rights, various reforms have taken placed regarding the women issues in Afghanistan – such as the abolition of forced marriage practices, raising the maturity of girls up to 16 years of age, access to education, and women’s right to vote.

During the reformist period of Soviet-backed governments of Kabul, Afghanistan witnessed the massive immigration of those who did not want a forced revolution from top to down. Many families immigrated to Pakistan, Iran and other Islamic countries to escape from girls’ forced education because they considered it as a shame for themselves. Applying contingency and command policies, the Soviet-affiliated states faced with such resilience that in some cases obliged them to stop enforcing their reformist policies. For example, though co-education was compulsory to some extent, girls and boys were educated in separate schools.

We can argue that the Soviet-dependent regimes in Afghanistan wanted to impose their modernization projects through a group of government elites. It is estimated that out of a population of 17 million Afghans in this period, 85 percent were rural. The reformist programs were focused on large cities, while the villages were mostly governed by tribal practices. The central government was not able to compete with local sovereignty.

The reformist projects of the Leftist government in Afghanistan during the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan were largely limited to reforms that were enacted in three legislative enactments. These legislative enactments abolished girls’ sale by the peasants. Women’s freedom of marriage was also selected on the basis of these decrees. But these laws were met with severe traditionalist reactions.

To deal with the women issues, the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan launched an organization called “Afghan Women’s Democratic Organization (AWDO)”. Its main activity was to fight with the illiteracy of women in cities and villages and women’s expulsion from home. As the literacy cadres of AWDO forced villagers, even with the use of physical violence, to satisfy the presence of girls in classes, the literacy program for community girls faced the most resistance by local villagers. Many of these literacy cadres were expelled from villages or killed by villagers. Since these projects were designed to bring a profound transformation in people’s lives in a short time, which was hard and challenging, they were faced with completely opposing reactions of the local communities.

Soviet Invasion; the beginning of Dark Era for Afghan Women

The Soviet military invasion of Afghanistan for a period of 10 years from 1979 to 1989 was followed by a massive civil war, which ultimately led to the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan at the beginning of 1989 due to the failure of the Russians to contain it. The most reactive to the reforms of the Leftist government of Kabul, especially in relation to women, was projected by the Islamist organization, gradually known as the “Mujahideen”. These groups were supported by a set of regional states and Western powers, each of whom did not tolerate leftist rule in an Islamic country for a variety of political reasons, including fear of Soviet influence.

The period of Soviet military presence in Afghanistan brought about a period of freedom for women in the context of Soviet patriarchal policies, and a period of relative liberties in which a small percentage of Afghan women benefited from it. But this period led not only to the widespread conflict between women in the country but also to the rise and mobilization of traditionalist responses. The consequences of this invasion were painful and bitter for all Afghans and particularly for women.

From left:Rula Ghani, the current First Lady of Afghanistan (BBC) and Soraya Tarzi, Queen of Afghanistan from 1919-1929 (Wikipedia)

With the fall of Najibullah’s government, the second phase of the internal wars began from 1992 to 1998. This time the war was between a set of Afghanistan’s political factions that ended only after the victory of the Taliban and the overthrow of most of Afghanistan’s soil. The Taliban came to power, many of whom were former members of the Mojahedin (Iacopino, 1998).

While many in the West and Islamic countries favored the Mojahedin, the situation of Afghan women was forgotten during this period. In the first stages of the war during the confrontation between the mujahideen and the Soviet forces, many women were denied access to education, classrooms were closed, and women’s organizations were shut down and some of their activists were killed, including Mina, who founded the Women’s Revolutionary Association of Afghanistan in 1977.

The emergence of extremist Islamic movements in the post-communist era, as well as the rise of the Taliban government, can be attributed largely to the policies applied during the occupation of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Indeed, much of the violence against women was in response to intimidation and threats that were introduced during the period of leftist rule. Somehow, Afghanistan experienced a very difficult period in the late 20th century. However, the experience of the Mujahideen and Taliban era in comparison with the experience of the communist regime for women was a far worse experience.

The current military presence of the United States in Afghanistan, like the Soviet policy, allows the women to experience a period of relative calm and security. Though the current government of Afghanistan, as a weak state, is virtually incapable of supporting women, there are not any legal restrictions for women’s political, social and economic activities as they experienced prior to King Amanullah Khan’s regime, Mujahedin and Taliban’s era.

Afghan Women and 2004 Constitutional Law of Afghanistan

The new constitution of Afghanistan, formulated in the last half and a decade, has recognized women’s rights in a fundamental and indelible way. As per the current Constitutional Law of Afghanistan, men and women have equal human rights and human dignity. Compared to the past constitutional laws, the current constitution law addresses the grounds for the provision of women’s citizenship rights at the level of men. It is said that the current constitutional law of Afghanistan is the best laws in the region. Article 33 states that “All the citizens of Afghanistan have the right to choose and be elected …” (The Constitutional Law of Afghanistan, 2004, p. 10). And Article four holds that national sovereignty in Afghanistan belongs to the nation directly or through its agents, and the people of Afghanistan are all those who have the nationality of Afghanistan (The Constitutional Law of Afghanistan, 2004).

In Article 22 of Afghanistan’s Constitution Law, the right to equality and gender and humanity are reflected in clearly and emphatically that any discrimination and privilege is prohibited between the citizens of Afghanistan. The citizens of Afghanistan, including men and women, are equated with the law with equal rights and obligations. Women as the fabric of families are protected by the Constitutional Law of Afghanistan amended in 2004.

Article 58 of Afghanistan’s Constitutional Law articulates that the government takes the necessary measures to ensure the physical and psychological well-being of the family, especially the child and the mother. The government should eliminate any kinds of customs that are against women’s dignity and also contrary to the holy religion of Islam (The Constitutional Law of Afghanistan, 2004).

Afghanistan’s 2004 Constitutional Law has a special focus on women’s education. As per article 44, the government is required to plan and implement effective programs to provide education for women. Moreover, as per Afghanistan’s 2004 Constitutional Law, women can be nominated and elected at the highest political-managerial level of the country, presidential. It clearly echoes that there is no legal ceiling against the promotion of women to high positions.

Despite taking substantial strides regarding women’s promotion, liberation, and rights by the kingdoms and governments of Afghanistan from King  Amanullah Khan to the current president of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, still, Afghan women face myriad challenges. For example, confronting with traditional patriarchal structures. And most importantly, struggling with the challenges on the path to tradition and modernity. So, to pave the way for Afghan women so that they can participate in the political, social, cultural, educational, and economic spheres equally with their male counterparts, this paper suggests that the government of Afghanistan and other related national and international organizations should take the following measures.

Recommendations for Policy Implications

First, a significant issue in political and social participation is political socialization. Political socialization is a continuous learning process in which individuals through acquainting themselves with the political system, learn from their rights and roles in society through information and experiences. This process helps women adapt to the accepted forms of organized social life, and teaches them the talents, essential social desires, and in particular the social roles that they must play in society. Ultimately, it helps women attend various social fields. So, the government of Afghanistan as the responsible political entity should pave the way for Afghan women to experience political socialization in the society.

Second, social education is the most important element of political and social participation and, ultimately, the development of a community. And, the most important element in the development of a community is the people of that society – men and women, who must have cultural and political awareness and knowledge. Emile Durkheim, the French sociologist argues that Education is a process in which a woman learns through practices that are functional in a community. So, the government of Afghanistan and other responsible institutions must carry out the necessary social education through K-12 education and higher education. Doing so, Afghan women learn the pre-requisites for social and political activities in their childhood and adolescence.

Third, the communities, government, and other social organizations should have a rational and reasonable approach toward the character of girls and women, and let them taste the importance of ownership, thought and creativity. If women are provided with opportunities to explore their talents, enhance their self-confidence, think about their own fate, the entire society will benefit from this process. Adapting a non-biased and non- patriarchal approach toward women by the society and men will provide better opportunities for women’s political and social participation in the society.

Last but not the least, creating suitable opportunities for female participation in various scientific and practical scenes, such as universities, research centers, factories and other social activities can provide the motivation for increasing women’s political and social participation. Hence, we can conclude that increasing the political and social participation of Afghan women means increasing their contribution to the development of society.

Hamidullah Bamik is a Fulbright Scholar, education policy analyst, and a social development researcher. His research focus is on girl’s education and women empowerment, gender equality, good governance, and socio-economic development in South Asia but particularly Afghanistan. He has worked with World Bank Capacity Building Projectsat Supreme Audit Office of Afghanistan from 2013 to 2018 as a capacity building consultant. Currently, he is working as a social development researcher at Asia Culture House, a non-profit cultural and art organization based in Kabul, Afghanistan. Additionally, he is a frequent contributor on sociopolitical, socioeconomic, and social developmentissuesto Outlook and Etilaatroz, the two leading Newspapers in Afghanistan, and Modern Diplomacy, a leading European opinion-maker with far-reaching influence across the Middle East, Africa, and Asia.

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The efficiency of German contribution in the Afghan peace process

Ajmal Sohail

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Germany is heavily involved in the afghan affairs since 9.11.2001; the country has brought in to being the modern Afghanistan thru launching the international Bonn conference “Bonn 1” in December 2001, the said conference toke place right after the collapse of the barbaric regime of Taliban in Afghanistan. Furthermore, it paved the way to engage several rival groups to establish an interim administration under the leadership of pro-American figure “Hammed Karzai”. Albeit the conference was a turning point in the Afghan modern history, but it encompassed numerous shortcomings because Taliban, Haqani Network and Hikmatyar band, who had been the main adversaries to the acting Government, were excluded from the process, which opened Pandora’s Box. Moreover, the national interests and apprehensions of the regional countries were not taken serious, which in turn caused destabilization and gloominess in Afghanistan.

Consequently, Pakistan and Iran who have been pursuing strategic depth in Afghanistan began to regroup, fund, train and outfit the Afghan government antagonists, which unfortunately incited a proxy war in the country. 

The second Bonn conference

Germany hosted the second Bonn conference in December the 5th 2011 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the first Bonn conference, in order to renew the so-called mutual commitment to a table, democratic and prosperous future for Afghanistan.

In addition, the participants of the conference ought to shed lights on some issues such as governance, security, economic developments, regional cooperation, peace process and the way forward. The participants called for a political solution to achieve peace and security in Afghanistan, in order to ensure durable stability.

Additionally, it was discussed to promote capacity building in the country to uphold   a political process, to endorse negotiation and reconciliation. Unfortunately, the conference primarily focused on economic developments and continuation of democratization in the country, so that the peace process was sidelined and the root-cause of the instability and insecurity was not identified. Which ended up with further destabilization and blood-shed in addition, sparked fears and violence in Afghanistan.

Doha conference

In July the 7th 2019 Germany and Qatar hosted a conference in Doha Qatar, which was labeled intra-afghan dialogue. The hosting countries endeavored to bring about a framework in order to support the peace process in Afghanistan. In accordance with the joint statement, that the country is at a central crossroad to snatch the chance to accomplish peace, so the shortest concord linking the afghan adversary groups could be one of the essential factors of any process leading to such an objective.

It was also expect, that the conference would contribute to confidence-building amid chief rivals to hold up peace and constancy in Afghanistan. Although the conference did not have a tangible agenda, but at the end a resolution was released calling for reducing violence, avoiding to assail public institution and bringing civilian causalities to “zero”.  Despite the efforts of the conference hosting countries, the conference comprised inadequacies; the Afghan government, which ought to be the main party, was excluded from the direct-intra-afghan-dialogue.

Not only the ceasefire, which has been the only wish of the Afghans, was not sincerely addressed, but also no-part of the outlined resolution has been implemented. Regrettably convening of the conference did not put into practice the expectations of the Afghan people, so that the security situation fundamentally deteriorated.  

The third Bonn conference

Subsequent, to the walk out of the US president from the Afghan peace deal, Germany wants to jump in exerting its leverage to bring the Afghan rivalry bodies to the negotiation table. Germany is really concerned, if the US troops withdrawal will take place Kabul government would collapse and the positive developments have so far came about would be lost. Thus Markus Potzel Germany’s special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, since some times endeavors to hold meetings with the representatives of both Taliban and the Afghan government, in order to initiate another round of peace talks.  

 Consequently, If Germany genuinely put forth its efforts, it will help to avoid political vacuum in Kabul, let the democratization process to flourish, women rights to thrive and the economic prosperity to boom. Germany enjoys full-scale leverage in the entire region and beyond, because Germany stationed the second largest troops in Afghanistan, the country is one of the main initiator of the NATO Resolute Support Mission for Afghanistan and it is one of the top 10 contributors to the reconstruction process and humanitarian assistance in the country.

Germany has very good diplomatic relations with almost all of the surrounding countries of Afghanistan; it has influence on all of the gulf countries including Qatar, Saudi Arabia and UAE, which are supposed to be the major patrons of Taliban.

In addition, Germany leads the EU commission and it is the number one economy in Europe and number 4 economy in the world. If it will put in 2% of its GDP to the NATO annual budget, Germany would be the second leverage enjoyer within NATO following the United States of America. So Counter Narco-terrorism Alliance Germany (cnt-alliance) express the need for the initiation of the third Bonn conference, which should include all opponents to be brought to the negotiation table, in order to form a framework of lasting peace, continuation of the political process, stability, Good and lean governance, economic prosperity, revival of democratic norms and revamping of human and women rights as well as confidence building amongst regional countries.   

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Popularity-Graph of PM Imran Khan has not dropped down

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Although the economy of Pakistan has deteriorated, price hike, increase in utility bills, food prices and consumer prices of daily used items has grown up, the job market has deteriorated. According to a survey, mostly people are complaining about price-hike and the unavailability of jobs. Some people are complaining about the bad practice of nepotism and especially targeting “hired electable and technocrats”. It is a fact that the PTI government has failed to meet the expectations of its voters. PTI workers and supporters have been cornered and ignored.

What so ever the government is presenting economic parameters, to defend themselves. What so ever reasons or logic and explanation are provided by the Government to defend themselves? How much blame is put on previous governments, but the failure of the PTI government cannot be justified. The common man in Pakistan is a victim and suffering.

Yet, the popularity of Prime Minister Imran Khan has not deteriorated. According to a small scale survey, the public will vote for Imran Khan in the next general election. As per Survey, no one was willing to accept Maulana Fazl-u-Rehman, leader of JUI-F, as prime Minister of Pakistan. The popularity of PPP and PML-N has also deteriorated sharply.

Strange! It is really very strange, while people are complaining about the performance of PTI Government, but still, praise PM Imran Khan. Some people blame his team, while other analyses as the nature of issues inherited by the previous government are so complex that no one can manage quickly. It might take more time to reach any conclusion and favors that the PTI government should complete its term of 5 years and wait till 2023, for the general election.

Pakistan is a democratic country and the constitution of Pakistan protects the right of every citizen to protest, express his/her opinion, criticize the government and its policies, can organize any procession, demonstration or Dahrna – sit-in.  “Azadi March” is permissible in our system and legal, and the government has not offered any resistance in it. The government will not disturb them as long as they stay within the law and peaceful.

Such agitations are part of the Pakistani political system and has a long history. Whenever some of the political parties lose in the election, they blame the winner party or ruling party for rigging and asks them to resign and dissolve assemblies. Even the currently ruling party PTI has been protesting the Government in 2014 and so on. But history has witnessed, no Prime Minister one prime Minister resigned or assemblies dissolved in past as a result of opposition pressure. It is expected, that this time also the PM will not resign, and not dissolve the assemblies.

However, the opposition always gains millage and concessions through negotiations and deals. This time is also no exception and it is guessed that some way out will be explored soon.

But there is a lesson for PM, to pay more attention to the issues of the common man in Pakistan. He has to give due importance to PTI workers and supporters. He must respect the merit and create opportunities for qualified people.

There are 1.5 million fresh graduates every year entering the job market, but the creation of jobs is not in accordance with it. As a result, youth are desperate and unfortunately may involve in negative activities. It is worth mentioning that the biggest vote bank and political force for PM Imran Khan were “Youth”. Pakistan’s demography consists of 70% of youth under the age of 40.

It is suggested that PM may take serious notice of the ground situation. Realize the problems of the common man in Pakistan. May initiate major structural changes and deep reforms in all dimensions.

Pakistan possesses huge potential for growth if enabling environments are provided and right policies are implemented, there is no reason that Pakistan’s economy take-off rapidly.

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Pakistan,a Victim of Vicious Circle: The Container Politics

Asad Ullah

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It’s pretty tough to comprehend Pakistan’s politics or the behavior of Pakistan’s political leaders. The example of Pakistan’s political system and politicians can be tacit with Robert Jervis’s astounding words. “When you pick up one piece of this planet, you find that one way or another, it’s attached to everything else-if you jiggle over here, something is going to wiggle over there… We need this sense of the continuing interconnectedness of the system as part of the common knowledge so that politicians feel it and believe it, and so that voters feel it and believe it, and so that kids feel it and believe it so that they’ll grow up with an ethic.”

Since 1947 Pakistan is trapped in a vicious circle, and it’s hard to get rid of this wicked circle with the current political system. Immense tension with neighbor countries, internal political instability, high inflation rate, massive unemployment, poverty, discrimination, corruption, human rights violation, economic problem, low level of domestic and foreign direct investment, energy shortage, wrecked infrastructure, weak and self-centered political leader ruined the country. Now we are witnessing a massive number of lessening faiths on the institutions of almost all kinds. People don’t trust the government; they don’t believe any corporation and virtually no political leader — the reasons why people’s trust is declining in government. The govern leaders do not fulfill their promises, they always raise different slogans spreading fake news to convince the voters for votes, but things are not still the same after elections; all the obligations remain broken. Thus, people certainly don’t believe politicians.

After 71 years of a bumpy hard and tough journey, the people of Pakistan in 2018 elected a new prime minister with much new hope, to fight against corruption and other serious challenges. This hope was up to the greatest extent achieved when the supreme court of Pakistan took action against the corrupt leaders and imprisoned them. With such enormous weight, the oppositions are now vindicating a mean to get rid of the present administration; the adversaries have started a long march called Azadi-March, with the aim to takeover Khan’s (Imran Khan Niazi current Prime minister of Pakistan) government. The majority of the people are against the so-called Azadi-March, as they are aware of situations. To sidetrack Imran Khan’s consideration, these opposition leaders have started Azadi-March, where thousands of protestors are marching to the capital city Islamabad, calling on prime minister Khan over the weak and fragile economy and corruption.

Some religious groups organized the Azadi-March and political rivals, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazal (JUI-F) party prearranged the protests, almost all parties have used the march to show their complaints throughout what they call the Azadi March (or Freedom March).The main aim of the Azadi-March, calling Imran Khan to resign, they believe that the current government ruined to satisfy their promises, and the administration is amateurish, inexpert, and doesn’t distinguish how the state-run. While addressing the people, Fazal said all Pakistani, from Karachi to Islamabad, want that prime minister Imran Khan should resign, further stated that prime minister still has time to deferentially submit his resignation because the Pakistani will not give him also time to do so.

The purpose behind such Azadi-March isn’t only that they want to overthrow the prime minister, but they want him to stop disparaging the adversaries. The opponents, according to most of the local people, are corrupt and crooked, and they are responsible for the country’s weak institution and corruption. Since now, Khan is taking legal actions against the oppositions with the support of millions of Pakistani people, thus permit the opponents formed a coalition to stand against Khan. With the help of millions of people Khan isn’t against their Azadi-March, but it’s something everyone knows, the country is going through tough time, skirmishes with India and recently with Afghanistan, ongoing economic reforms, working to encourage tourists and foreign direct investment, and many other developmental projects, such actions or the so-called Azadi-March will ruin the hope of the current administration and people. The immediate adverse consequence of the Azadi-March is also on the recent Kashmir issue. Currently, the prime minister and his administration are working to find a solution for IOK,by voicing on a different medium, such domestic scuffle will not only hamper the objective but will instead encourage the neighbor states to take advantage of domestic unrest.

The time being Khan is dealing with massive problems, the oppositions should stand with Khan, instead of creating other domestic violence and discontent. The continues Azadi-March will do nothing more than internal turbulence and other dangerous predicaments that will hit the country with more severe difficulties. Democracy means the government of the people, by the people, for the people, which specify that the people of Pakistan elect the current government. Pakistan is a democratic country where people can choose any leader they trust. To make it more vibrant, Pakistan is not the legacy of some elites to govern all the time.

A country with more than 200 million people ought to decide their future; they should stand with Khan and support his campaign of fighting against corruption and corrupt people to bring peace, political stability, economic development, and employment opportunities. Fora very long time, we have experienced different government and their fake promises; they have tumble-down the state’s institutions, nepotism, favoritism, and cronyism, all were the hidden agendas of the previous government. Thus, it is clear that the present government is fighting against all the above problems.

Finally, let us begin anew — recalling the current Azadi-March, which is not a sign of being active or reliable, but rather a sign of weakness. Sincerity is always subject to proof, and when you don’t have a single proof, you are lucky enough to have needles in your chopsticks. Let us never negotiate with these political leaders who are involved in the march out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.

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