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Séminaire Afghanistan : Intervention de Sari Kouvo

Seminar Presentations

Introduction to Seminar

Let me introduce myself, together with two colleagues, I am directing the
Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN). AAN is an independent, field-based
research organization established in 2009. AAN aims to be platform for
researcher with a long-term engagement for Afghanistan and its peoples, and
our research aims to provide an in depth understanding of Afghan politics
and conflict.

All the work that AAN does is published on its website
( We have a research blog where the AAN team and
guest bloggers write about current affairs, and we also publish shorter
policy papers and longer thematic research papers. Our readership includes
diplomats, policy-makers, journalists and researchers working questions
relating to Afghanistan. AAN’s main working language is English, so
inevitably we cater more towards an international than an afghan audience.
However, we are working on having more Afghan contributors and we also know
that we have a growing Afghan audience. For example, we are looking forward
to soon publish a report by Niamatullah Ibrahimi, one of the speakers here

AAN is registered in Germany and Afghanistan and our main office is based
in Kabul. We have a small permanent staff of Afghan and international
researchers, and the office can also be used by short-term researchers
working for AAN. My responsibilities within AAN include following issues
relating to women’s rights, human rights and broader developments relating
to rule of law, good governance and justice.

So, why organize a seminar like this? Why is it still relevant to speak
about Afghanistan?

We are rather few here today. This is not surprising. The ‘international
community’ is withdrawing from Afghanistan and Afghanistan is falling off
the international agenda. This is not because the political situation in
Afghanistan is stable or because the conflict there has come to an end;
rather it is because Afghanistan has become too expensive (in both
financial and human terms). What seemed to be a short and successful
intervention in 2001 has in a decade shifted to becoming one of the most
complex international interventions, and one that is currently marked by
distrust and a mutual blame game between the Afghan government and its
international backers, declining legitimacy of the Afghan government
institutions and also for the international community.

Corruption, organized crime, failing service and security delivery, etc.
all has an impact on how the Afghan and also the European public perceive
the intervention. The declining security situation obviously aggregates the
problems, not the least due to diminishing access for development and
humanitarian aid to insecure areas. There have been enough discussions over
the years about what went wrong in Afghanistan, and everybody have their
preferred explanations for this ranging from no real effort to forge a
peace deal in 2001, lacking understanding for how broken Afghanistan and
its institutions really were after decades of conflict, lacking
international security presence in the early years, justice was sold out
for short-term stability, inadequate political and financial commitment to
state-building including proper security sector reform and disarmament, and
so forth.

The current transition period aims at handing over security
responsibilities from international to Afghan forces. The aim is ultimately
to withdraw international combat forces from Afghanistan within a few
years. Transition is inevitable, international security forces were never
to stay in Afghanistan forever. However, the way transition is currently be
planned has less to do with the situation in Afghanistan – and its region –
than with the political needs of our governments.

Questions that need to be asked are: Is it responsible to withdraw the
international security forces before the Afghan security forces are ready
to assume security responsibilities? With good knowledge about the
challenges that elections posed in Afghanistan in 2009 and 2010, is it
responsible to withdraw the international security forces from Afghanistan
during what is supposed to be another election year in Afghanistan?
(President Hamed Karzai’s second and final term as President will come to
end 2014). What will our political and development assistance look like
after the military withdrawal? Will there be attempts to compensate for the
economic vacuum that the withdrawal of the international military force
will leave behind? I am hoping that we can explore some of these questions
here today.

Panel Presentation:

I do not want to take a lot of time at this panel, as I am very happy that
both Jalil Benish and Niamatullah Ibrahimi will be able to intervene here
today. However, I do want to say a few words about women’s situation and
rights in Afghanistan. I want to talk about women’s rights because they are
important, but also because I think that they can serve as a good example
of the rather mixed picture of the ‘progress’ made over the past decade.

While women’s rights were never the reason for the intervention into
Afghanistan in 2001, they were used to provide public legitimacy for the
intervention. First Lady Laura Bush, for example, made a famous national
radio address calling for the end to the Taleban’s and Al Qaede’s ‘war
against women’. The consequence of the attention to women’s rights have
been some very important legal advances, but also quite a few less
successful projects developed based on the assumption that with the Talban
gone Afghan women would be ‘free’, instead of being based on an
understanding that discrimination against women in Afghanistan is due to a
complex mix of culture, religion, lack of education, poverty and conflict.

However, the legal rights and the political space that Afghan women have
acquired over the past decade have provided opportunities for Afghan women
to slowly change how they are treated within Afghan society. The legal
rights nevertheless remain fragile and under threat, and they only provide
opportunities for those Afghan women who already enjoy the support of their
families. Let me provide you a brief example of the threats against women’s
rights. On 6 March, 2 days before International Women’s Day, President
Hamed Karzai publicly endorsed a statement by the Ulama Council (a
non-governmental council of religious scholars) dealing largely about
reconciliation, but also giving the Ulama’s view on women’s rights and
stating that women were worth less than men and that they should not move
in the public space unaccompanied. The fact that the Ulama Council adopts
such a statement is not so surprising. They’ve done so before. However, the
President does not automatically endorse such statements, and that matters.

I was in Kabul at that time, and spoke to quite a few women activists and
also government workers, and they were generally very upset. However, what
made the women I talked to even more concerned was the lack of public,
diplomatic and international attention. The women I talked to read the
President’s action as a clear sign that women’s rights are negotiable in
peace process in Afghanistan, and the silence of the international
community as a sign that this was accepted.

During the nine years I have been working in Afghanistan, I have never had
any problems in meeting people. This was the first time that women who I
did not know, did not want to meet up with me. They were obviously fed up
with foreigners coming to take their time, and doing nothing when it really
counted. One woman noted:

‘You (Westerners) are irresponsible, you cannot play with peoples’ lives,
you cannot first be part of opening the door and then look from the
sidelines when it’s slammed shot’. An area where there has been some slow
movement over the past years, is on questions of violence against women.

Just this week, there has been quite a bit of attention in international
and Afghan media that the relatives that had subjected the 15 year old
child bride Sahar Gul to extreme torture over months because she refused to
prostitute herself had been sentenced to 10 years of prison. Most Afghan
girl children and women (boy children and men also for that matter) suffer
violence in silence. And even if there is a law against violence against
women, many Afghan women are still in prison for having ran away from
situations of domestic violence. However, what we do also see is that
increasing numbers of Afghan women speak out, and try to escape from
situations of extreme violence. This suggests at the very least that there
is a movement in Afghan society, women, also uneducated and poor women,
feel that they are worth a little more, that they should not have to suffer
at the hands of their family members. These changes are not ‘thanks’ to the
international community, but the international presence together with
Afghan women and men who want change have managed to start a process. This
needs to continue. If the international community does not clearly show its
support for women’s rights, the Afghan women and men who are working on
these issues will have a very hard time for the years to come.