Peace vs. Human Rights? Implications for a Peace Settlement with the Taliban

On April 1, the U.S. Institute of Peace held a discussion on negotiating with the Taliban in order to obtain peace in Afghanistan. The conference room was filled with scholars, embassy employees and journalists, including some from VOA and Bloomberg.

Nader Nadery, Commissioner at the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission said turning to negotiations will instill great fear in women in Afghanistan and frighten the people about the possibility of losing more of their freedoms granted in the constitution. He also said the media fears that it will lose its ability to report and distribute throughout the country. Reconciliation with the Taliban, he said, could marginalize those who have been victimized by the torture and suppression of the Taliban. We have a weak central government, he said, and the impression Afghans are getting is that the international community is enthusiastic about wanting to withdraw. All of these factors make negotiating with the Taliban seem like a step backwards or a danger to the Afghans. If the government can’t provide some level of justice and rule of law, he doubts reconciliation would work.

Alexander Thier, director for Afghanistan and Pakistan at USIP, said Afghans remain skeptical or “in judgment” about how the international community would like to see Afghanistan develop in the future.

Farishta Sakhi, a graduate student at the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University, spoke from the perspective of women fighting for their rights in Afghanistan. She said there has been a lot of disappointment around talks about reconciliation, because it focuses on the national interest of the U.S. and not on the promises the Afghan government made to its women in terms of human rights. If the negotiations are going to be another show, she said, it will legitimize the Taliban and further victimize women.

Taliban expert Michael Semple presented another perspective on effective negotiations. He said justice can be achieved if both sides find areas of agreement, instead of vilifying one another and emphasizing rights protection in the process.

Noah Coburn, a justice specialist and anthropologist for USIP in Kabul, focused on the importance of empowering local governments rather than a centralized government that has been ineffectual in years past. Informal justice, as pursued by local governments, focuses on avoiding conflict rather than individual rights, he said, which could work with negotiations. Coburn added that international forces need to arrive at a consensus and be more honest about what they want for Afghanistan’s future. Right now, he said, the international community says it wants Afghans to govern themselves and handle these issues — but then goes ahead and does backdoor deals, putting pressure on Afghan officials.

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