After decades of war and violence, the Taliban regime in Afghanistan fell apart following the military intervention of the NATO and American forces in 2001 in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. The international community supported the establishment of a new government in Afghanistan.

Since then, life in Afghanistan, and especially for women, has gone through dramatic changes. I recall well the dark memories of the Taliban regime when women were forbidden from getting an education, going to university or work, and even having access to entertainment, such as music and TV. Women couldn’t leave the house without a close male relative and were forced to wear a burqa whenever outside. The world has seen or read about this in the news, but the Afghan people had to live every moment of these barbarian situations.

Since the fall of the Taliban, Afghans once again became hopeful to live in a relatively calm and war-free environment. Public and private education institutions opened doors to women, empty streets of Kabul once again flourished with movements of students from schools and universities. Women had the opportunity to claim their rights and get involved in politics, economics, and social activities. Freedom of speech, freedom of media, television, music, film, theatre, and singing, which were banned during the Taliban regime once again, brought laughter and entertainment to people.

People were happy with the rapid progress and hopeful about the future of themselves and of their children, but the unfinished war with the Taliban once again took away these happy moments from the Afghans. Every day hundreds of human beings from civilians to Afghan national security forces to the troops of the foreign allies get killed and wounded across the country.

Millions of Afghans migrated to other countries in search of a better life and security, young and the educated elite left the country due to insecurity. Moreover, the young open-minded Afghans who had returned to Afghanistan after getting an education abroad to help rebuild their land were targeted and killed by Taliban or unknown terrorist groups. The recent killing of Fatima Khalil, a 24-year-old young woman, a human rights activist who had completed her education abroad and was working for The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, is an example of the loss of the Afghan youth caused by terrorists and enemies of Afghanistan.

During the last 18 years of violence in Afghanistan, the international community, especially the United States, has lost thousands of its army men and women and suffered heavy casualties. The United States called the Taliban part of the al-Qaeda and made no distinction between them. After years of war, chaos, insecurity and loss of millions of lives, the U.S government has lost the battle with the Taliban and have reached for negotiations and a political agreement with the Taliban. After several rounds of talks with the Taliban, the U.S government signed a political settlement in February 2020.

According to the agreement, the Taliban guaranteed that none of its members would use Afghanistan to threaten the security of the United States and its allies. The parties agreed to a temporary ceasefire and reduction of violence. Within 14 months, all foreign troops (the United States and its allies) will leave Afghanistan. The agreement also states that direct inter-Afghan talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government will begin after the release of Taliban prisoners. Although more than 4,000 Taliban prisoners have been released so far, the political disagreements between President Ashraf Ghani and Dr. Abdullah Abdullah caused a slight delay in the release of prisoners. This has led to increased violence and killings of civilians and Afghan security forces every day by The Taliban.

Despite the fear, pessimism, and uncertainty about a permanent relative peace in Afghanistan, the question is how the life of Afghans, in particular the women, will be impacted by a potential peace deal with the Taliban? Will the Afghan women, who were banned from education, work and their fundamental rights during the Taliban regime, be able to continue their study, work, or get involved in politics, economic and cultural affairs? Will the Taliban adhere to equal rights for women? The Taliban did not allow the current situation in which women go to work and share equal rights with men. What role do women play in this peace process? What price should the people of Afghanistan pay for the peace?

Indeed, all Afghans are tired of decades of war, insecurity, loss of their loved ones, economic uncertainties, corruption and poverty. Everyone wants peace, but what kind of future would this peace bring for people, and especially women, who have been victims of sexist traditions throughout history and under the name of religion and Islam?

It is worth mentioning that one of the concerns of Afghan women is their role and low presence in the peace process, which is not only incomplete but will also lead to failure and loss of everything achieved post-Taliban regime.

The participation of women in peace talks not only promotes lasting peace but also ensures maintaining all the achievements of the post-Taliban regime. However, in the first negotiations round with the Taliban, the Afghan government announced a list with 21 members, of which only five were women. Fatima Gailani, Fawzia Koofi, Habiba Sarabi, Shahla Farid and Sharifa Zormati are representing all Afghan women from across the country. Can these few women represent all Afghan women and carry their voices? Why not aim for a 50% women participation in the negotiation with the Taliban?

To achieve lasting peace, the Afghan political leaders must consult the Afghan people and particularly the women. They must talk to all the people of Afghanistan, who are eager for peace and inform them of the terms and every point discussed and the position of their sisters, mothers and daughters in this agreement. The Afghan government should involve more women in this process and must show the Taliban, who has no women participant in their delegation, that Afghan women constitute half of Afghan society and men and women has equal rights. Without their participation, this process is incomplete.

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