Afghanistan: Terrorism, The Taliban and The Role of Women in Peace and Security

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1 Oct 2001

On 11 September 2001, terrorists attacked the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, DC, killing more than five thousand innocent people from more than eighty countries and adding the United States to the long list of nations that have suffered from terrorism. On 7 October 2001, the United States began bombing in Afghanistan, in a declared "war on terrorism" after the Taliban regime in Afghanistan failed to turn over Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect in the 11 September attacks. More innocent people have been killed as a result of the bombing, and as the cycle of violence continues, fear for the future is mounting. Among the governments of the United States, Pakistan and other countries, new military and political alliances are apparently under discussion, involving the anti-Taliban military forces of the Northern Alliance, the 86-year old former king, Zahir Shah, and even elements from the Taliban.

The harboring of suspected terrorists by the Taliban comes as no surprise to the women's movement, which has been protesting the Taliban regime since it fought its way to power in 1996. Governments including the United States historically empowered and heavily supported fundamentalist extremist forces in Afghanistan, including Osama bin Laden himself, in an effort to oust Soviet power following the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union in 1979. None of these forces supported the notion of participatory government or showed any respect for human rights, and none was more oppressive than the Taliban. Its war on women started immediately, with the total exclusion of women from participation, and even visibility, in society. Under Taliban rule, women are forbidden from leaving the home unless accompanied by a male relative. They are refused access to education and employment. Forced to wear the burqa, a head-to-toe covering with only a mesh-covered slit for the eyes, they are beaten, or worse, for any perceived public lack of humility—such as clicking heels too loudly on the pavement or accidentally exposing an ankle while walking.

Now, in the wake of the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, military action is underway in the name of counter-terrorism. The installation of a new regime to replace the Taliban, if it is not based on respect for human rights and a commitment to participatory government, will only perpetuate the cycle of violence. Instead of lasting peace, it will pave the way for a repetition of the continued instability and fighting in the country among its various military warlords, none of whom has demonstrated or even stated a commitment to democratic principles and human rights. Lasting peace and security in Afghanistan can only be attained if all people are allowed to participate fully in governance of the country. Any political plan for the future of Afghanistan should be based on the rule of law and explicitly incorporate a timetable and process for free and fair elections, even if current conditions in Afghanistan may not make this immediately possible.

Under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, the Security Council has authority to take collective action with respect to threats to peace, breaches of the peace and acts of aggression. The Security Council has determined that the events of 11 September were a threat to peace and security and called on all Member States to work together to bring to justice the perpetrators, organizers and sponsors of those terrorist attacks. However, it has not as yet decided to take specific measures itself, nor has it authorized any use of force, leaving it instead to individual Member States to decide what action to take. Last year, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1325 on Women and Peace and Security. The resolution reaffirmed the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts and stressed the importance of their equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security, and the need to increase their role in decision-making with regard to conflict prevention and resolution. No action has been taken by the Security Council to implement this resolution in the context of the current global crisis.

The more than fifty peacekeeping operations that have been undertaken by the United Nations include intervention in Sierra Leone for peacekeeping, including the disarmament and demobilization of forces; intervention in Cambodia and Mozambique to supervise ceasefires and oversee free and fair elections and the repatriation and resettlement of millions of people displaced by war; and intervention in Haiti to help create an environment conducive to free and fair elections. Since 1995, the United Nations has been in Bosnia and Herzegovina, exercising functions relating to law enforcement and coordinating other UN activities relating to humanitarian relief, removal of land mines, human rights, elections, rehabilitation of infrastructure and economic reconstruction. Since 1999, the United Nations has been in East Timor with full legislative and executive authority, to provide security and maintain law and order and to support capacity-building for self-government.

The creation of an environment in which all citizens participate in governance and are able to exercise responsibility for the communities in which they live is the best response to terrorism, and the only response that will be effective in the long term. Supporting non-democratic forces such as the Taliban or the Northern Alliance, which have a documented history of human rights abuse, only guarantees that violence in one form or another will continue. Allowing neighboring or other countries to determine the political make-up of Afghanistan in accordance with their own geo-political motives risks a perpetuation of the cycle of violence. Political expediency must give way to unqualified support for the establishment of democratic institutions and respect for human rights in Afghanistan. The United Nations is in a unique position to provide assistance and security, to help restore peace and facilitate the reconstruction of civil society, and to bring about conditions that would allow for the possibility of free and fair elections.

What You Can Do: 

Please write to the President of the Security Council asking him/her to circulate your letter to the other Security Council members. Call on the Security Council to authorize collective action in Afghanistan by Member States of the United Nations, in consultation with Afghan women's organizations and other currently disempowered elements of civil society. Urge the Security Council to consider new and creative forms of intervention in accordance with its mandate under Chapter VII - to restore peace and maintain security, to contribute towards the reconstruction of Afghanistan and to undertake a long-term initiative designed to create an environment conducive to free and fair elections in Afghanistan with the participation of all people, including women, on the basis of equality.

Security Council President for November
H.E. Patricia Durrant
Permanent Mission of Jamaica
767 Third Avenue, 9th floor
New York, NY 10017
Fax: 212-935-7607

Security Council President for December
H.E. Moctar Ouane
Permanent Mission of the Republic of Mali
111 East 69th Street
New York, NY 10021
Fax: 212-472-3778