Women in the Afghan Peace Process

Fawzia Koofi, a women’s rights activist and politician is eating lunch with members of the Taliban delegate at Doha peace conference. July 7, 2019. Image: Rise to Peace

Under Taliban rule (1996-2001), Afghan women were banned from attending schools and working as well. In addition to violating their civil and political rights, the Taliban has threatened women lives. Since the fall of the Taliban, women have feared that negotiating for a peace agreement with the Taliban meant giving up some of their rights in exchange for the chance to end the war.

In 2015, the Afghan government created a National Action Plan (NAP) that was developed to address the challenges women have faced in the areas of participation, protection, prevention, relief, and recovery.

As a result of the NAP, women have the chance to attend school and to participate in political and economic opportunities.

Women want to participate in the Afghanistan peace process.

Of 23 rounds of talks between 2005 and 2014, there were only two occasions where women were present at the table. Moreover, there has only been one minister in the Afghan government that was a woman. Women have gained the right to participate politically, but what good does that do when women’s roles aren’t addressed in the government/local sector?

There are a few ways outside of the government in which Afghan women make contributions to address violence and equality throughout the country.

Female electoral candidates work to provide a voice for uneducated women.

For example, female members of peace councils try to negotiate with insurgent leaders. By doing so, they are working to reassure their support for reintegration of Taliban fighters into the community.

Women also encourage local fighters to participate in talks within the community to address current extremist narratives. 

Involving women in the peace process could only benefit the affair. In the past, the female-led peace councils have gathered with the wives of fighters to facilitate the release of hostages, which has been successful.

Building relationships and trust with allies could lead to a negotiation between the two parties. Given the violent history towards women, it is hard to contribute to the peace movement since it’s predominantly male-led. 

Wazhma Frogh is the Cofounder of the Research Institute for Women, Peace, and Security and is one of the brave women in Afghanistan. She briefed the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on various recommendations to improve the involvement of women in the peace process.

Her advocacy included topics such as delegating a specific institution to oversee the NAP to ensure proper inclusion and implementation, allowing more women to participate in peace talks, and encouraging women to participate in the policing and security sector.

Integrating women into the political realm in a country where women have long suffered inequality could take some time to incorporate fully.

Therefore, the Afghan government should consider making small changes that further women’s participation. For instance, the government should consider including a particular amount of females in peace talks. One or two women would be better than none at all.

The government should also include women in law enforcement and security. Since local female political leaders move to represent the underrepresented women, this will provide women with more opportunities for leadership and capacity building in an area that most women fear.

This could give women the confidence they need to understand political matters in a way where they can then network in domains where men cannot. 

Afghani women today are not only moving to become more equal but wanting to partake in a way that allows them to help the entire country to progress from war. Including women in the peace process empowers them to build trust and rapport with both local communities and the government. 

The Hezbollah Dilemma

On March 22, American Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Lebanon to convince countries in the region to join the United State with enacting harsh sanctions against Iran. The US believes that Iran is funding terrorist organizations around the world and believes it must be stopped.

Under the Trump administration, the US has been hard against Iran by increasing sanctions and pulling out of the Iran Nuclear Deal. Pompeo discussed Hezbollah with the Lebanese government. According to Pompeo, Hezbollah is a terrorist organization and will start wars, end democracy in Lebanon, and allow Iran to rule it.

Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri understand the United States’ perspective with the issue of Hezbollah, but they view Hezbollah as a legitimate party organization, not terrorists.

Hezbollah has 70 of the 128 seats in the Lebanese Parliament and has gained momentum in recent years. However, the US continues to sanction them and Iran. President Aoun has said that even though these sanctions target Hezbollah, Lebanon suffers as well. Pompeo says that if the Lebanese government helps him, the US will help Lebanon.

The issue Lebanon faces is quite difficult because Hezbollah is an important actor since the Lebanese Civil War. Their military power is also important because they help defend Lebanon against its enemies, such as Israel.

Lebanon does not want to cut ties with the US but they cannot afford to lose an important military and political actor. But Hezbollah is not just invested into Lebanon, they also have a presence in Syria and support Al-Assad militarily. This is also a conflict of interest for the United States.

In previous administrations, they have all condemned Hezbollah and deemed them to be a terrorist group, but no other president has been so severe against the group and Iran than Trump.

This dilemma has been shrugged off year after year by both the Americans and the Lebanese, but it could change today. The economy of Lebanon could suffer under the sanctions posed on Hezbollah; thus, forcing the Lebanese to change their political affiliations with the group.

The country has not been this stable in decades. Lebanon is open for commerce, tourism, and development. They do not want Hezbollah to be in the way of being more connected with the rest of the world.


Nick Webb is the Research Fellow at Rise to Peace.

 

Iran and Saudi Arabia: Funding Terrorism

The Ministry spokesman, Bahram Qassemi said, “Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of fundamentalist ideology and a source of organized international terrorism, lacks competence and credit to accuse other countries of terrorism.” Qassemi said this in response to Saudi Arabia’s Minister Adel al-Jubeir’s comments in a press conference in Pakistan that accused Iran of funding terrorists. He calls out the Saudis hypocrisy of calling an end to terrorism with one hand while funding it with another.

This press release by Iran is quite interesting because it shows that the proxy conflict with Iran and Saudi Arabia is still alive and well. Iran is making it seem like Saudi Arabia threw the first punch at Iran. It is essentially a blame game for who is allowing terrorists to thrive in the Middle East and North Africa. It is no secret that Iran funds terrorist organizations.

They created the group during the Lebanese Civil War and during the Israeli occupation in the south of Lebanon. Iran funds Hezbollah to commit terrorist attacks on Israel and other targets in Lebanon to create the proxy Islamic Republic. Iran notices the power and more openness of Saudi Arabia to the West, so it uses terrorist to disrupt systems in the Middle East to prevent Westernization and Saudi reach/power. Iran has made great strides doing this because they have more control in Lebanon through Hezbollah with a growing movement in the country, as well as more power in Syria with supporting radical Shi’a groups.

It is no surprise that Iran funds terrorism, but Saudi Arabia is not so innocent either. Both states are at fault for supporting and funding terrorist organizations. Reports show that Saudi Arabia has funded terrorist organizations in Yemen to support their efforts in the Yemeni civil war.

It is almost comical that both states go back and forth for blaming each other for supporting terrorists when they both are at fault. They simply blame the other and reassure the public that they do not support terrorism. Yes, of course, they kill terrorists and support the West in this regard. They continue to aid them as well. It seems that there is no answer and ending the Saudi-Iran sour relations due to their control of proxies through the region.

The only way to really create change would be through regime change if that is a revolution or peaceful succession of a more liberal leader. Neither of these tends to be in sight because at the end of the day both want full control of the Middle East and North Africa. They will both continue to aid terrorist groups and publicly mudsling each other.

This Cold War type conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran is difficult because it is multi-faceted. It impacts the entire region including countries like Syria and beyond with countries like the US/EU and Russia. The best way to deescalate the conflict is for larger powers, such as the US, to call out Iran and Saudi Arabia for supporting terrorism.

Saudi Arabia should be punished like Iran from the US and its allies by imposing sanctions or to cut military aid. The US punishing and isolating Iran will only further the proxy/cold war conflict in the Middle East.

It is also a national security risk for the US and any other country, including America’s adversaries like Russia and China to allow Saudi Arabia and Iran to fund terrorist.

In the present time, it might be helpful to continue this aiding, but in the long-term, these terrorist groups can create damage and harm Americans. For example, in the 1980s when the US helped arm the Mujahidin during the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan. Some of those fighters joined organizations that the US considers a major terror threat today. The US needs to take a different direction regarding Saudi Arabia and Iran to prevent inefficiency and furthering the deaths of innocent people.

Iraq in Rubble after ISIL

At the beginning of 2019, the size of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has been reduced greatly by a coalition including the United States. Unfortunately, people return home to discover their towns in rubble.

The fight has been going on for over four and a half years yet ISIL has been forced to retreat to a small area in Eastern Syria called Marashida. At the height of ISIL’s power, they had controlled 10 million people.

This contributed to the massive refugee crisis out of Syria and Iraq.

Buildings are destroyed, streets are gone, and there are few public services  There are only bullet holes, twisted shrapnel, and dust. Yet despite their difficulties, the Iraqi government nor any other Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) is supporting them.

There are no hospitals either, or any sort of aid. They have no other choice but to rebuild alone. Civilians are exhausted from movement, fear, and the thought of uncertainty.

They just want a place they can have a healthy and safe life.

Yet some are worried because of President Trump’s announcement to withdraw troops from Syria. He claims that ISIL is destroyed yet that is incorrect.

The villagers are worried that ISIL will return to oppress them once the United States leaves. This will not only create havoc for the population, but ISIL could start to recruit again, thus growing in numbers and territory.

American military leaders do not know when they should withdraw from Syria, even though the president has made announcements about.  This uncertainty creates instability all over the world. Russia is going to involve themselves more in Syria, NATO is unsure on how to react.

President Trump might not follow through with this move. If he does pull out, it would be best if NATO and other European Union (EU) countries stepped in to make sure that the terrorists are defeated and that human rights and peace are achieved at the end of the conflict.

Having Russia being the only other party involved in Syria would be dangerous for the global order and regional order in the Middle East. It is against US and EU interests and would be detrimental on the process of having freedoms in the Middle East post-conflict.

The returning of refugees and civilians back to their hometowns in Syria have been dramatic due to the destruction of their schools, hospitals, and homes.

Many are hopeful for the future but struggle to rebuild because they are alone on this venture.  The uncertainty created by the US for proposing a pull out of military forces in Syria create worries for the people living there and that this will create the growth and spread of ISIL again.

It is imperative to have the EU and NATO to maintain strong even if the US pulls out to be a voice of freedom and human rights.

 

 


Nick Webb is the Research Fellow at Rise to Peace.

Photo Credit: RadioFreeEurope/Radio Library

Does Designating the IRGC as a FTO Help or Hurt the US?

IRGC troops marching during the anniversary of the 1980-1988 war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, in Tehran

Photo Credit: RadioFreeEurope/Radio Library

On April 8, 2019, President Trump designated Iran’s most powerful security organization, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO). He believed it was necessary as America has already labeled Iran a state sponsor of terrorism. This is the first time that the United States has ever designated another government entity as an FTO. In response to this designation, Iran’s Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) ordered that American troops in the Middle-East be designated as terrorists.

According to Daniel Benjamin and Jason M. Blazakis, two experts in terrorism and counterterrorism, designating the IRGC as an FTO was unprecedented and counterproductive. They stated that “FTO designations are supposed to be apolitical and preventative.”

The Trump administration didn’t act immediately to these attacks, therefore making this designation seem more as a punishment for Iran’s retroactive actions rather than focusing on other factors that pose a terrorist threat to the United States. Before imposing this designation on the IRGC, there have been executive orders long predating this Administration that have been taken by the State Department allowing the US to take further legal and financial actions against Iran.

The current policy states that the US will continue to place maximum pressure through sanctions to manipulate Iran to change its behavior. It’s hard to say when diplomatic relations will be restored but the US has rebuilt its relationship with both the Soviet Union and China.

The Secretary of State should revoke the designation within a specific time frame. The United States has a list of conditions for a policy change with Iran that include a revised nuclear deal and normalization of US relations. If the US and the Iranian government can engage in conversation within this time frame, it could leave room for negotiations.

There could be a significant backlash because of the absence of proper reasoning for this FTO designation. Benjamin and Blazakis believe that American troops in Iraq and Syria could be attacked by Iran. Others state that Tehran’s participation in the 2015 nuclear deal can’t stop Iran from retaliating in domains outside of proliferation. They could detain and imprison US citizens, assassinate people, and harass American ships in the Persian Gulf, or even exploring in the cyber realm.

Due to this being the first time that the United States has designated a foreign country’s government entity as an FTO, it should have been examined more closely. Rather than keeping the IRGC designated as an FTO, maybe the Administration should look at reopening dialogue with Iran. Having an open conversation on revoking the designation on the IRGC in return of some negotiation may lead to less or no negative effects toward the United States.