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Afghanistan’s National Unity Government: The Golden Era for Afghan Women’s Development

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The Afghan National Unity Government was established in June 2014. After a notorious and controversial 2014 presidential election, Ashraf Ghani, the president of Afghanistan agreed to split the power with Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, Chief Executive of Afghanistan. Agreement over the presidency of Ashraf Ghani and the appointment of Abdullah Abdullah, as Chief Executive, ended the political deadlock that otherwise would have allowed Afghanistan to the frontier of political collapse.

The life of the Afghan National Unity Government is approaching to its end legally. During these four years, President Ghani and Chief Executive, Dr. Abdullah had made many promises to the people. The most important ones were holding Loy Jira for Amendment of Constitutional Law, issuing the electronic ID Cards, reforming the election body and many more other promises. But none of these promises were fulfilled, on the contrary, security got worsened, and poverty and unemployment have increased over the past four years.

Despite all the problems, unfulfilled commitments and promises, and other paradoxical political statements issued by the Afghan National Unity Government for reforms in Afghanistan, the Afghan National Unity Government is worthy of being praised and admired for providing opportunities for Afghan women and girls to demonstrate their potentials – to prove that they are not weaker than men. They can play a constructive role in the economic, social, educational and political aspects if given the chance. They can prove that gender does not determine someone’s talent, capacity, and competences. They can be the winners, too, in any kind of competition and under any kind of circumstances as long as the processes are meritocratic and transparent.

Opportunities and Competences

The followings are the instances of some of these opportunities provided by the Afghan National Unity Government to women. These Afghan women were able to occupy high-political positions during the National Unity Government either via competitive recruitment processes or through Afghanistan’s president’s directives.

Last year in December 2018, the Afghan government appointed the Deputy Foreign Minister of the country, Adila Raz, as the permanent representative of Afghanistan at the United Nations. This is the first time a woman from Afghanistan has been appointed to represent the country at the United Nations. Ms. Raz succeeded Mahmud Saikal, who had been presenting Afghanistan for the past four years at the United Nations.

Ms. Adila Raz has studied her postgraduate in the United States in diplomacy. She previously worked as Deputy Foreign Minister for Economic Cooperation in Afghanistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Ms. Raz was a vice presidential spokesman for former president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, and then also a deputy head of his office. Ms. Raz also previously has worked for the UN in Kabul for some time.

In another unprecedented example, Kabul Municipality for the first time announced that 11 women have been selected as the deputy districts in different districts of Kabul. As the Kabul Municipality argued that the goal was to increase women’s participation in urban affairs activities, fight against corruption and attract people’s cooperation.

Likewise, last year in November 2018, the Afghan government appointed Ms. Roya Rahmani as Ambassador of Afghanistan to the United States. Ms. Rahmani was previously appointed as Afghan Ambassador to Indonesia in 1395. She has replaced Hamdullah Mohab, who serves currently as the National Security Adviser of Afghanistan.

Ms. Roya Rahmani studied at Columbia University of New York and McGill, Canada, and before 1395, she was the director of the Department of Foreign Affairs’ Regional Cooperation Division. In addition to Ms. Rahmani, Afghanistan has also selected other women as ambassadors. Currently, Ms. Soraya Dalil is Afghan ambassador to Switzerland, and Shukria Barakzai is on the mission as ambassador to Norway and Shahgul Rezai is also Afghanistan’s ambassador to Tajikistan.

Recently, the Afghan government appointed Ms. Marjan Mateenas the new deputy minister for curriculum and teacher training of Ministry of Education. Ms. Mateen has an MA from the Jawharlal Nehru University of India. Previously, she has been a university professor for several years. Her previous portfolio also focused on education and youth development.

The above-mentioned Afghan women who joined the Afghan National Unity Government are just a few examples. The list of Afghan women servingin the entire governmental institutions are beyond the scope of this paper. But overall, currently, the presence of women working in the Afghan government offices is 22 percent. At the beginning of 2018, the Afghan Reform Office announced a new plan to increase women’s participation in government institutions. According to the Afghan Reform Office officials, women’s participation in government agencies was expected to increase by 2 percent in 2018, and women’s share of the government would reach 30 percent in the next two years.

Although the situation of women in Afghanistan has improved since 2001 in sectors like education, health, and political participation, the results and progress are still far behind the objectives of the national gender strategy and international obligations. Women in Afghanistan remain highly vulnerable related to security, domestic violence, social marginalization, and limited access to assets and justice. For instance, Ms. Zarifa Ghaffari was appointed as Mayor of Maidan Shahar, the capital of Wardak, a province in western Kabul, about six months ago via the Afghan presidential decree, had not been able to begin her career due to the “patriarchal” view and the intervention of local powerful people. So, it demonstrates that despite the tangible achievements of Afghan women over the past years, there are still serious challenges toward their participations in governmental institutions.

The above instances of providing opportunities for women echo one pivotal point that the Afghan National Unity Government has done far more than the previous government for gender equality and women’s participation in Afghanistan. Some may argue that all the above appointees have political reasons. Whatever the reason is, but I firmly believe that this is the only way for Afghan youths – males and females – to enter the politics, power, business and governmental institutions. I strongly believe that the only way to have shared in the political power is entering the governmental institutions. And, merely blaming the government for its weaknesses and flaws gets us nowhere. There is no government in the world flawless and absolutely transparent, accountable and honest in its services. On the other hand, as the famous saying goes on: Rome was not built in a day. So, it takes time to fix all the problems of Afghanistan and hence we had better be patient and optimistic rather than being cynic and having dark views.

Recommendations

As an educational policy and human capital analyst, I am inclined to articulate that gender inequality is rooted in the cultural norms and values of Afghan society. So as to fight and challenge these rigid and male dominated cultural norms, the government of Afghanistan, and very particularly the educational sectors of Afghanistan should begin fighting with gender inequality from schools. Because schools are the main places where children learn cultural norms and embody them when they enter society later as civil servants and officers. Having said that I have the following suggestions for the Afghan government and responsible entities for addressing the issue of gender inequality:

First, introduce a new compulsory subject: Gender Education—aimed at developing a social and political understanding of gender in as part of the official school curriculum for both boys and girls, at the post-primary level in all state and central education boards. Explicit conversations and critical dialogues on gender bias and power should officially become part of the student experience. Defining Gender Education as a standalone curricular subject will give it legitimacy and create a stronger impetus for incorporating gender in the classroom. This will also necessitate the development of the requisite curricular and teacher materials, which the curriculum and teacher training department of Ministry of Education should create in collaboration with NGOs like the USAID Promote: Women in Government Project and other relevant governmental and non-governmental organizations.

Second, incorporate gender education compulsorily, in pre- and in-service teacher training and teacher education programs. Teachers are potentially powerful agents of social change, provided they can perceive themselves as such. Training in effective communication of gender-related issues with the community should also be included in pre-service training. All of the above implies intensive in-service training of teachers and educators, along with the development of teacher training materials and curriculum, which should be created by the Ministry of Education in collaboration with NGOs.

Together these commitments form a robust policy mandate that supports the integration of gender equality and empowerment programming in the post–primary education in schools across Afghanistan. At every social and political platform, there is a call to change deeply entrenched patriarchal ‘mindsets.’ School education is a good place to facilitate mindset change in a whole generation of boys and girls. To do this, it is time we made our curriculum truly progressive by including lessons in gender equality.

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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World ‘must engage’ or risk Afghanistan’s collapse

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A woman walks through a corridor in a village in Zindajan district, Afghanistan. © UNICEF/Shehzad Noorani

“Patience is running out” for many in the international community when it comes to effectively engaging with Afghanistan’s de facto rulers, the Taliban, senior UN envoy for the country, Markus Potzel, told the Security Council on Tuesday.

Despite some positive developments over the past few months, the Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan said they have been “too few and too slow and they are outweighed by the negatives”.

Women’s rights

He drew attention to the ongoing ban on girls’ secondary education and growing restrictions on women’s rights, as “signals that the Taliban are indifferent to more than 50 per cent of the population” and are willing to risk international isolation.

“The relegation of women and girls to the home not only deprives them of their rights, but Afghanistan as a whole is denied the benefit of the significant contributions that women and girls have to offer,” he detailed.

Terrorism concerns ‘dismissed’

Meanwhile, from armed clashes to deadly terrorist attacks, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has monitored a steady rise in security incidents by terrorist groups and others.

“Our earlier warnings about the capabilities of Islamic State Khorosan Province (ISKP) were dismissed by the Taliban”, he told ambassadors.

“But ISKP has demonstrated in the last few months alone that it can carry out assassinations of figures close to the Taliban, attacks against foreign embassies, as well as fire rockets across Afghanistan’s border to attack its neighbours – all while maintaining its long-standing sectarian campaign against Shia Muslims and ethnic minorities,” said Mr. Potzel.

Provincial rights violations

And armed clashes are continuing between Taliban security forces and armed opposition groups in the Panjshir, Baghlan, Kapisa, Takhar, and Badakhshan provinces, the UN envoy continued.

“There are disturbing reports, as well as videos and photos, indicating possible serious human rights violations committed in Panjshir,” he said, calling for an investigation into allegations of extra-judicial killings there.

The mission will continue to carefully monitor these and other reports of serious human rights violations, he added.

UN bolstering cash economy

As per capita income has collapsed to 2007 levels – erasing 15 years of economic growth – the country’s economic situation “remains tenuous” (with little detail forthcoming from the Taliban) due in part to Afghanistan’s isolation from the international banking system.

Liquidity remains heavily dependent on the cash that the UN continues to bring in for humanitarian operations – cash, I must stress, that supports the needs of the Afghan people and does not directly reach the de facto authorities,” said Mr. Potzel.

But even the funding is uncertain as the 2022 Humanitarian Response Plan has only received $1.9 billion out of a $4.4 billion requirement.

No representation

Humanitarian and economic measures will not meet the Afghan people’s longer-term needs, and the emergency aid cannot replace essential service delivery systems, such as health and water, or hold off an economic collapse, he warned.

Moreover, a continued lack of political inclusivity and transparency in decision-making leave most Afghans without any government representation.

“There are no consistent mechanisms for citizens to provide feedback to the authorities and little indication that the Taliban wish to even hear any,” the UN envoy said.

‘We have to engage’

While the Taliban’s self-identified emirate has not been recognized by any State, the international community also does not want to see the country collapse, Mr. Potzel stressed.

“If the Taliban do not respond to the needs of all elements of Afghan society and constructively engage within the very limited window of opportunity with the international community, it is unclear what would come next,” said the Deputy Special Representative.

“Further fragmentation, isolation, poverty, and internal conflict are among the likely scenarios, leading to potential mass migration and a domestic environment conducive to terrorist organizations, as well as greater misery for the Afghan population.

“That’s why we have to engage”, he declared, adding that “continued qualified engagement” was the most realistic way of helping the Afghan people.

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Changing Regional Security Paradigm: A Challenge to Kashmir and Options for Pakistan

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The post-cold war world has witnessed shifts in international and regional security paradigms. Due to globalization, easy migrations, advanced technologies, changing geopolitical scenarios, and social resources the world today is more vulnerable to diversified threats.  In this regard, traditional conflict resolution tactics are not enough or influential. New strategies and options are needed to gain interest without being in direct war and confrontations. One such old conflict which has been there for more than 70 years despite 3 major wars between India and Pakistan is Kashmir Issue. While Pakistan is struggling economically and politically, India on the other side is increasing its soft power projection within the region and beyond, posing a serious threat to the traditional tactics of Pakistan towards the Kashmir cause.

The 4 major factors that boosted the strategies of the Indian state are identity, security, prosperity, and soft power. Along with defense, India was focused on its economy, diplomacy, and identity so much from the past few years. It is one of the key drivers of the global economic market, making up about 15% of the world’s economic output. Soon India will become the world’s largest country by Population, accounting for maximum youth, meaning it is offering incentives, consumer markets, and youth force to other countries. Moreover, India has become the third largest producer of steel (producer with Arcelor- Mittal), enhancing the credibility and reliability of MADE IN INDIA across the globe. It is considered an IT giant. Many IT companies from India entered Fortune 500-group that has opened doors of businesses and jobs for the Indian youth.

Furthermore, along with being a major partner in trade and commerce in the international market, regionally India provides aid and acts as an advocate of welfare for many developing countries in Asia. Along with that, it is also looking towards opportunities to gain the interest of Afghanistan which is an internationally isolated state.   Internationally, it has become a major geo-strategic and geo-economic partner of many western states like the US and UK, as it has the potential to counter the Chinese Rise. It is part of various geopolitical alliances initiated for the containment of China such as QUAD and middle eastern alliances i.e., I2U2.  Moreover, India also has a settled Middle Eastern policy to benefit from all major actors instead of choosing blocs. Thus, India has worked on its economy, over the years to bring prosperity and self-sufficiency within the country. It has provided markets and incentives to other countries thereby increasing its lobbying power. Through its strong diplomacy, it has become a major actor that also promoted its values and identity.

Lastly one can’t deny that the hegemonic capabilities of India have challenged the Kashmiris and their freedom movements. India is now integrating into Kashmir not only militarily but also diplomatically, politically, and economically. It has incentivized the Kashmir issue as well.  After India revoked articles 370 and 35A It is working on Kashmir’s demographic changes. India also opened doors for tourism and international investments in Kashmir. If someone starts investing there, that will normalize that Kashmir is part of India. Yet India didn’t receive any backlash, nor it is isolated or being sanctioned. The reason is simple, India has good ties with many western states. It provides incentives and fulfills the economic and political interests of the west.

For Pakistan, which is a party to the conflict, instead of normative a more realistic approach is required now. Though Pakistan has emotional attachments with Kashmir but it’s not enough to just talk about morals and injustice at international forums.  If Pakistan wants to support the Kashmiris it should enhance its intellectual power, academia, and soft power projection. Literature and academia help export the actual ideologies and narratives to the rest of the world. The Kashmiri diaspora within Pakistan and abroad should be supported for that. In addition, Pakistan needs to increase its influence to counter India not only in the military sector but also in the economic and political domains.  The defense ratio between Pakistan and India is 1/8 while on the other hand in the economy it is 1/20. Though the importance of defense can’t be ignored in the balance of power, but international politics has evolved, and power is not limited to military only. One can look at the two recent world events where there was the use of force and weapons to gain interests i.e., Afghanistan and the Ukraine-Russian war. Afghanistan is now internationally isolated while Russia is being sanctioned and criticized. So, direct confrontations and wars are not accepted and supported by states at broad levels. Thus, with the changing global political and strategic environment it is important to work on spheres of academia, research, soft power, and diplomacy.

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The Taliban and the current Afghanistan

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Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

After the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan, the Afghan state and the public rapidly declined. The country’s territories have become the source of international terrorism and many global problems.

August 15 is the first anniversary since the power in Afghanistan was seized by the Kabul Taliban, and the ex-president of the Afghan state, Ashraf Ghani fled. After a year of the Taliban’s power, their power has not yet been recognized by any state in the world.

According to the UN International Labor Organization, the Taliban’s ascension to power in Afghanistan has led to rapid growth in the unemployment rate among the population. Based on the data of the UN, such a situation in the Afghan labor market was caused by the economic crisis and the prohibition on work for the female population. Over five hundred thousand people in Afghanistan lost their jobs during the first month of the Taliban rule. “The crisis has affected women the most. Thus, their employment level, already extremely low by world standards, decreased by 16% in the third quarter of last year. By mid—2022, it is projected to fall to 28%,” the UN investigation states.

In addition to the economic decline, there has been a rise in drug production in Afghanistan. Drugs are one of the Taliban’s main income zones, and their power has re-activated the production and export of opium and heroin. However, the drug business was also active under the former Afghan authorities. According to the UN, in 2021, Afghanistan’s income from drug exports amounted from 1.8 billion to 2.7 billion US dollars. This profit is from 6 to 11% of the GDP of the Afghan state. As before, the main drug export channels pass through Pakistan. The leader of the Taliban, Haibatullah Akhundzada, issued a fatwa in 2022 to ban the production and distribution of opium and other drug substances in Afghanistan. However, there have been no significant changes in this situation. Nevertheless, the Taliban repeatedly make statements about the cessation of drug production, but they also confirm that the prohibition on opium production will lead to the loss of the only way of earning for peasants, leading to an uprising.

Pakistan acts as the main partner country for Afghanistan. Bypassing sanctions, weapons are coming from Pakistan to Afghanistan. And the majority of Afghan drugs are exported through Pakistan’s western provinces – the southern route. The main patron and sponsor of the Taliban is also the Pakistani military leadership. With the help of Pakistani support, the radicals seized power in Afghanistan and persecuted other alternatives to power.

The Taliban’s first financial income was provided by transportation fees that the militants took from truck drivers on the border of Afghanistan and the state’s territory. The Taliban’s seizure of power in Afghanistan concentrated its forces on extracting natural resources. In February 2022, the Afghan media reported on the negotiations of the new Afghan government with China on the development of copper and lithium by Chinese companies. But even though China, along with Pakistan, is a vital partner of the Taliban regime, mineral development has not yet begun. Without the support and diplomatic assistance of China and Pakistan, the Taliban would not have been able to establish their authority over Afghanistan. However, Beijing still has not officially recognized their power.

Also, summing up the results of the year of Taliban rule in Afghanistan, we can definitely say that the new regime fails to solve the economic and social problems of the state. According to UN research, Afghanistan is on the verge of famine and humanitarian collapse. It is worth noting that during the presence of the United States and NATO in the country, there was no such catastrophic situation. Also, during the period of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, the position of terrorist organizations such as al Qaeda and the Islamic State has strengthened. The Taliban does not intend to start the fight with the presence of these organizations.

Also, in June 2022, an earthquake with colossal consequences occurred on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The death toll during the disaster was more than 1.5 people, and more than two thousand were injured. The UN has recorded that Afghanistan’s government cannot cope with the threats that the Afghan society is forced to cope with alone.

UNICEF and the World Food Program note the catastrophic situation of Afghan children, and organizations make statements about the high level of undernutrition and that over 3.5 million children urgently need treatment. The UN website says, “Hospital wards are full of malnourished children: many one-year-olds weigh as much as a six-month-old baby would weigh in a developed country, and some are so weak that they cannot move.”

The new government of Afghanistan carries out mass executions, severe human rights violations, and forced disappearances of citizens and previous security forces employees. This is recorded by the United Nations Assistance Organization in Afghanistan. To a large extent, the repression is carried out by two Talib departments – the Ministry of Propaganda of Virtue and Prevention of Vice and the General Directorate of Intelligence. Both organizations are under the auspices of Pakistani security agencies.

UNAMA experts report “arbitrary arrests and detentions of journalists, human rights defenders and protesters.” There were 160 extrajudicial executions, 178 unjustified arrests and 56 cases of torture of former Afghan military and Government employees. In addition, 2106 victims were registered among ethnic and religious minorities (700 killed, 1406 wounded).

After a year, the Taliban authorities, according to international organizations, destroyed the essential state structures in Afghanistan responsible for solving social issues such as jobs and the state’s humanitarian condition. The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission premises were also seized, and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs was closed. Afghan women are deprived of the right to work. Except for some professions, they are not allowed to travel more than 72 km unaccompanied by men and cannot appear on the street with an open face. Responsibility for all violations of the rules of a woman is borne by her father or another close male relative. The punishment is dismissal from work or imprisonment.

Freedom of speech was also seriously impaired. The international human rights organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reports that there are half as many media in Afghanistan as a result of the year-long run of the Taliban. During the year, 219 organizations out of 547 media were closed. Before the Taliban came to power, there were 11,857 journalists in the country. Today only 4,759 of them remain. Female journalists took the first impact. Almost all of them were left without their job.

The Taliban sees the UN’s message about human rights in Afghanistan as propaganda. On July 21, Taliban official Zabiullah Mujahid posted on social media: “There are no arbitrary killings or arrests in the country. If someone kills or arbitrarily arrests, that person is considered a criminal and will be brought before Sharia law.”

In sum, a few conclusions about the power of the Taliban must be noted. The Taliban is characterized by a lack of qualification in the country’s rule, and the leadership cannot organize public service. Also, the Taliban does not fulfil its duties to combat terrorist organizations, which has ensured the strengthening of the position of existing banned groups. The female population of Afghanistan and various social minorities suffered. The Taliban are building strong relationships with authoritarian countries such as Pakistan, China and Russia. Islamabad carries out the actual control of the Taliban and also uses the Taliban in the South Asian region for its geopolitical purposes.

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