The Peace Jirga

The London Conference, which took place in January of this year to chart a new course for the future of Afghanistan, established a Council Circle (jirga) about Peace, scheduled to take place in early May. (It’s since been postponed to the end of the month.) Fifteen hundred of Afghanistan’s tribal elders and other community leaders are to be brought together (paid for by the UN) to create a formula upon which peace can be built. In order to establish meaningful peace, all parties would need to be involved, including militants of different varieties.

The reaction of the Afghan Women’s Network was to host an Afghan Women’s Forum on April 3rd where influential women from all over the country came together to discuss the participation of women in the Peace Jirga. There were lots of nice speeches but in the Q&A afterwards, when asked how women should be included, one male panel member suggested that women select one representative to be present at the Peace Jirga to let the participants know what women think. This, of course was shot down by the audience, and in the end, he agreed that 30% of the attendees to the jirga should be women. What else could he say? He was only a representative for the minister who hadn’t attended. If he truly supports significant female involvement, he will have to push for it. Otherwise, he could let it sit on the back burner and nothing would come of it while he could still claim to be “supportive”. The position of the Forum was that women should also be substantially involved in each of the “clusters” (of ministries) which would lay the groundwork for the jirga.

Vic Getz,(1) who has been involved in Afghanistan for five years and living here for three has this to say about the Peace Jirga:

“If these media photo ops are happening at taxpayer (I mean around the world) expense, then we must create mechanisms to invest in parallel conferences that provide alternative points of view. …to be constrained by the powers that invest (??) in Afghanistan is unacceptable.  Fund the Parallel Peace Jirga….start it now.  Where is the money for these kinds of initiatives?  Where is the support?  – Because I  KNOW, that the people, ideas, intelligence, understanding (far more nuanced than you could ever believe), networks and energy are here. Now. Today.

If I had the money, I would fund it myself – just to show the world the Afghanistan that I know exists here.  Now that’s a photo op I could believe in.”

I’ve been asking my interviewees  their opinion of “negotiating with the Taliban”. The responses seem to be divided into two classes. The “normal people” (both those who left and those who suffered under the Taliban) have mostly said that you can’t trust them, that they are all against education for girls and that if they are allowed into the government, the situation will return to what it was before. The women who are members of Parliament or leaders of some women’s groups say that if Talib individuals are to become part of the government, then they must abide by the rules of the constitution in which women’s rights are clearly stipulated. And so they think that it’s not a bad idea and that it might have a chance of bringing peace.

One mistake that I see in this discussion is the assumption that all Talibs are the same and that they are unchangeable. Even under their previous rule, there were different strains of them under different leaders. Some were more ideologically motivated, others were members because they needed the pay, others because they were supported by Pakistan. Now there is also talk of them having changed their tune a bit. Mullah Omar released a statement last fall saying that “the Taliban do not oppose women’s rights and favor education for all”.

Tajwar Kakar told me this story when I interviewed her in 2003 talking about the time when she was headmistress of a school for boys in 2000 under the Taliban.

“The next day the religious police came to my office and I asked them what they want. They said that they heard that I have one room where you put pictures. I opened the door and showed them the two walls of pictures, one group of pictures of the city before the war and the other of the destroyed city. Look, I said, who destroyed our country? Who made you poor? Who made you uneducated? Before the war, you had a good life and there were nice buildings. Now it is not your responsibility to take your stick and punish the woman. Now you should build up your country. I put these pictures to put in their minds who destroyed their country and what it is their responsibility to do.… What are you doing now? Have you come to punish me? He said ‘you did nothing wrong’. How old are you ? ‘We’re 18, 19 and 20.’ How will you rebuild Afghanistan? With this stick you have? Islam doesn’t teach you to punish the women. Then one asked: ‘Is it possible for us to come every day for a half hour and you will teach us?’ They had come to punish me. But that was my work.”

Hanifa Safia, the women’s-affairs representative for the province of Laghman, says that she thinks “a settlement is the only way to peace. The Taliban fighters who throw acid on schoolgirls’ faces or threaten professional women do so just to antagonize the government. I have talked to so many Taliban. They are not against women,” Safia said. “Once they have been given positions in government, they will definitely change.” (2)

On the other hand, Hekmatyar’s organization, Hezb-e-Islami, the second largest insurgent group, is calling for the replacement of the current Afghan parliament with an interim government which would, after new elections, rewrite the constitution. Scary.

As far as women being forced to stay home and being denied education and human rights, the biggest factor is the families. Now, at a time when the government gives women all of these things, many fathers, husbands, brothers and even sons deny them to their women. It is important to have the legal rights and educational opportunities, but the real work of social change must happen on an individual level and must be seen from a generational perspective.

One powerful force (especially in Afghanistan) in this endeavor is Islam. The rights for all of these are given in the Koran. Already much progress is being made through education, basing the good treatment, respect, education and involvement of women in society on Islamic scriptures.


1 Vic Getz,PhD, is an Environmental Sociologist/Gender and Development Specialist and founder of the Afghan Gender Cafe (UPGRADE coming soon)

To join the AWRL (Afghan Women’s Rights List) network, email Vic at

2 By Karin Brulliard The Washington Post


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