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UN-Led Talks on Afghanistan Must Include Women and All Opposition Parties


The second UN-led meeting in Doha, the capital of Qatar, on the future of Afghanistan is scheduled to be held from Feb. 18-19, following one in May 2023. The writer, a former Afghan parliamentarian and global advocate for women’s rights in her country, says the conference must include all opposition parties and women to the talks for them to succeed.

The United Nations-led meeting in Doha with the Taliban next week offers another opportunity for Afghanistan and all opposing sides in the country to come together to end the war. Any achievement, however, depends on whether all factions, including women and political groups, are represented fairly and transparently and that their voices are heard.

The gathering in Doha, from Feb. 18-19, is the second such conference, led by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, held in the Qatari capital since last May. That meeting also brought together special envoys to Afghanistan from across the world to discuss the possibilities of building a united position for the country.

Given the recent history of international mediation efforts in Afghanistan, I want to caution the UN about next week’s challenges. If the Doha meeting brings only the nominal opposition groups to the Taliban — those whose differences with the ruling entities center on minor issues — the conference will be another failed attempt to end the conflict in Afghanistan.

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Given the complexities of the country, the UN has to be mindful of the challenges in bringing the “real” versus the “imagined” opposition groups together. The five-decade conflict has divided the country along many layers of ethnic, tribal, linguistic, political and social segments. Past international mediation efforts in Afghanistan failed because groups affiliated with violent power or ideology — the main decision-makers — were included while the opposition groups without armed power were excluded. These miscalculations have reinforced the notion that achieving political participation is possible only through violence, which fuels the conflict in Afghanistan.

The key to ending the fighting lies in finding a political settlement in which representatives reflecting the diverse realities of Afghanistan have a say in deciding their future — especially women and ethnic groups. For the upcoming Doha conference to matter, it is important to review previous attempts to unify our country and why they did not work.

In the 1980s and early ’90s, the UN-sponsored peace mediations between the former leftist government of Afghanistan and the warring mujahideen factions did not result in a durable settlement because not all sides were included in the talks.

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In 2001, the Bonn conference, organized by the UN, was another great chance for all sides to find a comprehensive political solution. Yet it failed after 20 years because the Taliban had been excluded. That mistake prolonged the conflict in Afghanistan and resulted in the current catastrophe in which my nation is on the verge of starvation, the women are banished and a militant group with no respect for international law rules people at gunpoint.

In 2020, yet another opportunity appeared. The United States-Taliban Doha Agreement could have paved the way to a durable political solution, but it didn’t work because it excluded the former government of Afghanistan and the wider community of non-Taliban people. During the first round of the US-Taliban talks, one party to the conflict was not included. In fact, the Doha agreement, led by the US, was signed in their absence.

The path to peace must also include the equal participation of the brave women of Afghanistan. That means women from across the spectrum and not just those with dual nationality who live comfortably in our Taliban-ruled environment.

I support UN Security Council Resolution 2721, which was adopted on Dec. 29, 2023, and reaffirms the need for meaningful engagement with all sides in Afghanistan. I agree that a UN special envoy for Afghanistan should be appointed and should work with all sides, especially with the representatives of the oppressed women of Afghanistan.

Indeed, the UN must ensure the most relevant basis for women’s participation in peace talks: Security Council Resolution 1325, which obliges member states and the UN Secretariat to ensure the full participation of women in matters of peace and security. This mandate must be carried out in the Doha conference next week. As a former peace negotiator and member of Afghanistan’s parliament, I repeatedly encountered instances where preference was given to men over women delegations on discussions about peace and security in Afghanistan.

Moreover, what the country needs is a government based on the will of its people, where everyone, regardless of their backgrounds, gender, ideology and political affiliations, feels safe and protected and is entitled to their fundamental rights as citizens. These rights are missing in Afghanistan now. It is impossible to envision a future under a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, given the group’s structural rigidity and extremist ideology.

The fact that millions of people in Afghanistan are desperately trying to get their hands on a passport to leave the country speaks volumes about the wider frustration among all segments of Afghanistan’s population. Even Afghans with a foreign passport who voice support for the Taliban out of self-interest prefer to live outside the country.

The UN-sponsored meeting in Doha represents a pivotal moment to change the lives of all people for the better in Afghanistan. The conference can be a huge achievement if a meaningful dialogue is carried out among all sides and if it leads to a government where women and men of all groups, representing the mosaic of Afghanistan’s diversity, envision themselves playing a vital role in every sector of society while feeling secure and experiencing prosperity.

This is an opinion essay.

We welcome your comments on this article.  What are your thoughts on the UN-led Doha conference?

Fawzia Koofi is an Afghan politician, writer and women’s rights activist. She is a member of the Steering Committee of the Women’s Forum on Afghanistan. Originally from Badakhshan Province, Koofi was a member of the Afghan delegation negotiating peace with the Taliban in Doha, Qatar. She is a former deputy speaker of Parliament in Kabul and a former vice president of the National Assembly.


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UN-Led Talks on Afghanistan Must Include Women and All Opposition Parties
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3 months ago

Thank you for the valuable analysis of the historical background and the current challenges of finding a political solution for Afghanistan. You have highlighted the crucial role of women’s participation and empowerment in the peace process, as mandated by the UN Security Council resolutions. This is a very important and timely topic that deserves more attention and support.

However, I would like to suggest that you also include some discussion on the role of regional and international actors in the Afghan conflict. As you know, Afghanistan is not an isolated case, but a complex and dynamic situation that involves many external actors with different interests and agendas. Some of these actors, such as Pakistan, Iran, China, Russia, the US and NATO, have been directly or indirectly involved in the conflict for decades, while others have emerged as new or potential players in the region. These actors have significant influence on the security, stability and development of Afghanistan, as well as on the prospects and outcomes of any negotiations. Therefore, it is essential to examine how these actors can be engaged and coordinated by the UN-led talks, and how to address the possible spoilers or challenges that they may pose to any process, negotiation or meeting about Afghanistan.

I believe that by adding this dimension to your article, you will provide a more comprehensive and balanced perspective on the Afghan issue and contribute to a better understanding of the opportunities and risks for achieving a lasting and inclusive peace in Afghanistan.

Dr. Sally Anne Corcoran
Dr. Sally Anne Corcoran
4 months ago

Thank you for this insightful article. The inclusion of women at this juncture is vital as is advocacy and action on the part of the UN/international community to achieve it. It is vital not only from a basic equity and human rights perspective- no one group should have the power to put the dreams, lives and aspirations of 50% of their population on hold- but also because it has been proven that gender equality impacts upon sustainable peace in future! Time to draw a line in the sand with the Taliban and to tie political commitments to any financial gain. The women in Afghanistan need the support of the intl community to regain their basic human rights!

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