Some weeks back, Afghanistan’s women lawmakers and peace negotiators met a Taliban delegation in the Norwegian capital Oslo to ponder prospects for a formal dialogue besides conferring on protection of women’s rights.
As independent representatives of the parliament, Wolesi Jirga members Fawzia Kofi and Shukria Barakzai, High Peace Council member Hawa Alam Nuristani and Senator Siddiqua Balkhi attendedthe discussions.
The agenda was not shared with the media, but Shukria Barakzai told the BBC before leaving Norway: “In the Oslo meeting, we have courageously defended the Afghan women’s rights. We have held fruitful talks on the protection of women’s rights in case the Taliban agree to join the government.”
How and to what extent women’s rights would be safeguarded in Afghanistan is a question whose answer will be known with the passage of time. Let us wait and see. The meeting was a Norwegian-sponsored initiative, billed as preliminary and unofficial.
Norwegian Foreign Ministry spokesman Frode Anderson told journalists in Oslo the Taliban had held informal discussions with representatives of Afghan society.Zabihullah Mujahid, speaking on behalf of the militant group, confirmed the two-day talks, which were aimed at sharing of views on different issues. The High Peace Council also verified the dialogue on securing women’s rights.
The contact enabled the MPs and rights activists to have face-to-face discussions with representatives of the Taliban movement that barred women and girls from education and work during its five-year rule from 1996 to 2001.
Shahabuddin, Shaheen and Abbas Stanikzai represented the Taliban at the unofficial talks. The Oslo discourse came days after President Ghani ruled out any rollback of the constitutional protections for the Afghan women.
Fresh round of govt-Taliban talks:
Before introducing Afghan government and Taliban delegates, let me shed light on the Oslo Forum, which is co-hosted by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue.
The Oslo Forum provides a unique opportunity for senior conflict mediators, decision-makers and other major actors in the peace processes to share their experiences, identify challenges and reflect on their own and others’ practices in a discreet setting and informal atmosphere. In the past also, Afghans have taken part in these parleys. The forum does not necessarily issue a declaration.
This year’s meeting is not being attended by individuals; instead delegation-level talks are taking place. Apart from government representatives, Taliban leaders are also among the invitees. In fact, the event offers the two sides an opportunity to meet on the sidelines of the meeting.
Norway's Foreign Minister Borge Brende says the Oslo Forum is an important meeting place for over 100 mediators from all over the world, and it is not unnatural that representatives from various groups in Afghanistan are in attendence. However, was up to Afghan authorities and the Taliban to comment on the scope of the talks.
Away from media glare, government officials and representatives of the Taliban (called disgrubtled brothers by Hamid Karzai and political opponents by President Ashraf Ghani) are meeting on June 16-17 in a tourist resort near Oslo. Tight security arrangements are in place.
Led by Deputy Foreign Minister for Political Affairs Hikmat Khalil Karzai, the Afghan government delegation, includes then vice-president Yunus Qanuni, Deputy Chief Executive Officer Mohammad Mohaqiq, ex-commerce minister Dr. Anwarul Haq Ahady, ex-minister of women’s affairs Husan Bano Ghazanfar and High Peace Council member Farhadullah Farhad.
Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, Qari Din Mohammad Hanif, Mullah Sher Mohammad, Tayeb Agha and Hashmi are representingthe Taliban at the unofficial meeting, which is annually to discuss important political and non-political issues.Invitations were extended to key national, regional and UN envoys charged with negotiating peace. Participation is by invitation only.
Maseeh Haidary says: “Yesterday, Ahady arrived in Oslo. I was tasked with taking him to places worth seeing. Qanuni and Mohaqiq, however, were not allowed to go round the city for security reason. I should have dropped Ahady to his residence. But at the newly-built entrance, police asked the embassy driver and me that the use of cell phone and photography are banned.
“During the few moments I spent standing in front of the gate, I saw a few individuals in Afghan dress, wearing turbans and sporting beards in the lawns. They were strolling in tandem and laughing loudly. One of them had a grey beard while the rest were young, having black beards.
“Then I had to go to the airport to pick Hikmat Karzai from there at 10pm. In the VIP Lounge, a security official asked me whom I was waiting for. I replied I’m awaiting a guest. Last night, some bearded Afghans, who landed here, were allowed to go out without meeting security formalities. I got the idea he was referring to the men I saw earlier.
The Oslo discourse follows President Ghani’s refusal to negotiate from a difficult position with the Taliban to end the unrelenting insurgency. But encouragingly enough, he and his spouse Rula Ghani ruled out any rollback of the constitutional protections for the long-suffering Afghan women.
A month earlier, meetings in Qatar indicated a softening of the Taliban’s stance on the hard-won freedoms women are enjoying in modern-day Afghanistan. However, formal negotiations are still years away, with each side fighting for supremacy on the battlefield.