Afghanistan Civil Society Rep, Ms. Hoda Khamosh, Speech in Oslo, Norway

In the name of God of Freedom and Equality.

My name is Hoda Khamosh, a woman among the millions women of Afghanistan. In here I do not represent any political group or faction. I lived under the Taliban rule for five months and eight days in Kabul. I have come here at the invitation of the Norwegian government to spread the message of the women of Afghanistan who are protesting on the streets of Afghanistan against the repression and terror that the world is responsible for. I made it alive here from the shadow of whips and bullets.

What I am saying here is the words of millions of Afghan citizens who are stuck in the midst of disaster and destruction. Millions of women are currently being subjected to gender apartheid by the Taliban. Women are systematically eliminated, denied, insulted, and humiliated.

After capturing Kabul, the Taliban created a factional, police regime through assassination and coercion, and by marginalizing and eliminating a large part of Afghanistan. Over the past five months, the Taliban have denied citizens basic rights; they have confined women inside the houses, deprived from education; they have killed and tortured their opponents, mostly former members of the Afghan National Security Forces, and they have perpetuated systematic discrimination against other ethnic groups. The Taliban have also created their interrogative machinery of people’s beliefs and behaviors in the name of [Ministry for] Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.

Now I turn your attention to a few of the many long lists of crimes and assassinations that have taken place over the last five months.

1. Photojournalist, Mr. Morteza Samadi, was arrested and tortured by the Taliban on September 7, 2021, during a civil protest in Herat.

2. Ms. Alia Azizi, the former head of the Herat Women’s Prison, has been missing for more than five months.

3. Mr. Taqi Daryabi and Mr. Nematullah Naqdi, reporters for the daily Etilaatroz were arrested and severely tortured by the Taliban while covering the September 7, 2021 protests in Kabul.

4. Dozens of young people demonstrated in Balkh on September 7 and 8 to demand their rights and freedoms. The Taliban arrested 70 protesters, including 40 protesting girls, and transferred them to an unknown location. They were tortured and some of them were raped. One week later, the bodies of eight detainees were found on the streets of the city [of Mazar]. Several detained women were assassinated after their release from prison. But the fate of the nine detained girls is still unknown and they are still missing.

5. Last Wednesday, five of my comrades Ms. Tamana Zaryab Paryani, along with her three sisters Zarmina, Shafiqa, and Karima, and another civil activist, Ms. Parwana Ibrahimkhel, who were protesting Taliban policies, were arrested. This happened in the dark of night, after breaking down the gate of their house. They have been taken to an unknown place and their fate is unknown.

I feel their pain from thousands of miles away with my bones and hear their cries under the Taliban torture. The question is: why are the Taliban imprisoning us in Kabul and now sitting here at the negotiating table with us in Oslo? What is the international community doing in the face of all this torture and repression? Suppression and assassination take place in front of your eyes. By remaining silent or tolerating the Taliban, you are partly responsible for these crimes and repression committed against men and women of Afghanistan. I am going back to Afghanistan, but I do not know what awaits us. I ask the Norwegian foreign minister how come she circumvented international law and invited those individuals who are on [international] sanctions list?. Isn’t this an indirect recognition [of the regime]?

On behalf of the Afghan women protesters, I propose the following four items to restore some civil order in Afghanistan:

1. Mr. Amir Khan Mottaqi must pick up his phone now and call Kabul. [He should] order the immediate release of Tamana Zaryab Pariani and her three sisters (Zarmina, Shafiqa, and Karima), Parwana Ebrahimkhel, Halia Azizi, and open the gates of all schools unconditionally.

According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and International Conventions on Civil and Political Rights, every human being has the right to take part in the peaceful assembly against inhuman and anti-human rights laws. We, the protesting women, only demanded our rights with the slogan of “bread, work, and freedom.” However, the Taliban arrested, tortured, and humiliated us.

2.  Women of Afghanistan want equal rights. Until a new constitution is created, the second chapter of the previous constitution must be upheld to restore and recognize the fundamental rights of citizens. The Taliban and no other group have the authority to restrict our fundamental rights. Any kind of redefinition of rights and freedoms must be done through national dialogues and a collective consensus.

3. An autorotative and independent Council should be established by the United Nations consisted of the families of the victims, the victims, representatives of the people, and independent international human rights bodies. [The Council should] monitor and investigate the conduct and policies of the Taliban. The Council should investigate [the situation inside] Taliban prisons and immediately release prisoners of conscience based on political [beliefs] and gender. Next, the Council should address all the war crimes committed in the last twenty years.

4. To restore political order and stability, Afghanistan needs a legitimate system based on the approval of all citizens. We need the agreement of political factions and different segments of the people on a roadmap for a political and democratic solution to the dilemma of Afghanistan. Traditional solutions, such as holding a Loya Jirga, cannot replace democratic ways of establishing political legitimacy.

The new chapter of our struggle for Afghanistan, which respects the rights and equality of all citizens, especially women, began five months and eight days ago, and we have a long way to go. The international community should not close its eyes to us.

In the hope of freedom and equality.

Hoda Khamoush 

Oslo – Norway

Translated by Sabir Ibrahimi from the original Farsi text in the

Photo credit 

The Dilemma Of Moving Primary Education To Mosques In Afghanistan

By Said Sabir Ibrahimi and Pashtana Durrani

Islamic education is already an integral part of Afghanistan’s so-called “secular” educational system, in addition to pure religious teachings at mosques, madrasahs, and Shariat faculties across the country. But the Education Ministry recently proposed a new policy approach in which Islam will become part of the education ecosystem, and one of the ideas is transferring primary education to mosques.

Last December, acting minister Rangina Hamidi wanted to secure a vote of confidence for her position at the Education Ministry. She delivered a speech in the Afghan parliament and laid out a plan with five pillars for reform in Islamic education, reforms in education and training improving the quality of education, administration, and resources, and strengthening education at provincial levels with formal schools at its center. The acting minister said 2.2 million Islamic books have been printed and distributed, but none of that satisfied the conservative members of the parliament enough to give her the vote.

Part of the plan was to move grades one to three from the formal education system to mosques, but when challenged by Afghan netizens and activists officials said this was only for areas that lacked schools. The new policy remains ambiguous and its effectiveness unknown. Even officials like Abdullah Abdullah, the head of the Reconciliation Council, have opposed the move, saying it is “wrong and a mistake.”

Since 2001, after the fall of the Taliban’s tyrannical theocratic regime, there have been significant improvements in the education sector. Some 9.5 children are now in school with a dozen public and private universities and schools operating across the country. Afghanistan spends around 4% of its GDP on education, and half of the expenditure is paid by the international community. There are 270,000 employees at the Education Ministry, although there are concerns about ghost teachers and advisers. At the same time, an estimated 3.7 million Afghan children do not attend school, and many areas of the country lack schools and teachers.

The idea of moving education to mosques raises a set of questions. Is this a measure to bring secular education into mosques or the other way around? How does the ministry plan to provide teachers for the proposed mosque classes? How will it regulate educators? Formal education already faces many operational challenges, with some teachers going unchecked with their mistreatment and abuse of children. The sexual abuse of hundreds of students in Logar Province in 2019 is a case example. How will issues such as corporal punishment be moderated at mosques?

The second set of questions and concerns is about girls. If male imams are in charge, will Afghans in rural areas send their daughters to a mosque to be taught by a man, or will female teachers be trained instead? Some girls enroll in schools a bit late, sometimes around the age of 7 or 8. By the time they are in grade two or three, they may reach the age of puberty. How will the issue of menstruation affect girls’ participation in mosque education? How will the issue of segregation be resolved for communities wishing to segregate? Mosques, especially in rural areas, are usually one big hall where only men are allowed for prayers. Segregated spaces are scarce.

The third area of concern is the radicalization of children in mosques and madrasahs manipulated by jihadi groups such as the Taliban, the Islamic State, and other groups. In early adolescent development, children are more open to learning and capable of absorbing new concepts. Afghanistan is already struggling with containing the radicalization of youth, even within the formal education system. Radicalized groups like Hizb-e-Tahrir, a Salafi movement that operates across the country, carry influence at many universities, which has alarmed government officials. The government is attempting to regulate madrasahs, but it faces resistance.

The Taliban has long called secular education a threat to Afghan culture and Islamic values and has been known to burn down schools and kill teachers. The Taliban’s attitude toward education has barely changed over the past two decades. In the areas it controls, the hard-line movement has introduced more religion into the curriculum. For girls, it has allowed limited education until puberty, and in some areas it has completely banned girls from attending school. Reportedly, as part of the peace negotiations, the Taliban also wants to change the name of the Education Ministry to the Islamic Education Ministry.

Religious education has no doubt been an essential part of Afghan society. Even in major cities, many Afghans attend both mosque and secular education by choice. When necessary, mosques can be used as part of community-based education solutions, but they cannot serve as a substitute to formal schools for the questions raised above and the purpose of mosques in the first place. Mosques are supposed to be sacred spaces for worship and venues for spiritual growth. By design, they are not there to meet the needs of modern education — the same is true of churches and temples. If the counterargument is that the authorities will build the capacity of mosques to provide such substitution, then why not simply build more schools and train more teachers? Let mosques do their job of religious and spiritual education and schools do their job of educating Afghan children in the hard and soft sciences and preparing them for the 21st-century world.

The so-called introduction of Islam into the ecosystem of education and moving primary education to mosques is an attempt to appease the ultra-conservatives and score political points. This move has little positive impact on the quality or quantity of education in the country. Islam has been part of the education system for as long as there has been education. Stakeholders should focus on improving the quality and quantity of the existing formal education system. The focus should be on training competent teachers, building more schools for girls and boys and facilities such as libraries and sanitary toilets, and encouraging critical thinking. Mosques can be used on an ad-hoc basis in some areas, but they should not substitute schools.

This article was originally published in the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Gandhara website. Photo credit Mohammad Ismael (Reuters).

Russia’s Envoy for Afghanistan “Spoke Highly” of Hanif Atmar, One Presidential Hopeful

There are several Afghan political leaders who will be running for Afghanistan’s next presidential elections which is scheduled for June 2019 – although the elections might be delayed as Afghanistan is also dealing with a peace process. Among the many candidates are current president, Dr. Ashraf Ghani, incumbent president’s former National Security Advisor, Mr. Hanif Atmar, and current Chief Executive Officer (equivalent of a prime minister position) Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, both competing against the incumbent president.

Russia’s Envoy for Afghanistan, ambassador Zamir Kabulov, is scheduled to meet with his American counterpart, ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, in Turkey on Friday February 22. In interview with Anadolu Agency Kabulov has expressed optimism about the Afghan peace process in which Russia is playing a role. Thus far Russia has hosted several dialogues in Moscow. The two recent ones were a meeting held in Moscow, one in November 2018 where the Taliban, representative of the Afghan High Peace Council and several regional countries, and a second meeting was held among several Afghan political parties and elite with the Taliban in early February.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency Kabulov “spoke highly” of Mohammad Hanif Atmar who is considered as one of the top contenders.  Kabulov has said that “everyone in Afghanistan knows that this is a prominent politician with a broad base of political support. He has one undeniable advantage: he held high positions in both the government of Hamid Karzai and the current administration. He is brilliant, by Afghan standards, top manager, who knows the problems of Afghanistan and knows how to deal with them.” He added that “Atmar also has good relations with Washington.”

Perhaps Ambassador Kabulov’s assertion is true as Mr. Atmar is a recognized face in the Afghan politics, but so are Dr. Ghani and Dr. Abdullah. Praising or endorsing a presidential hopeful in another country can be perceived as interference to the country’s sovereignty. Given Russia’s history of middling in the elections of liberal democracies from Europe to the United States, perhaps Mr. Kabulov should stay out of the Afghan internal politics. In order to support stability and democracy in Afghanistan the international community should focus on bringing peace to the country. A peace that can serve not only Afghanistan’s interests but in the words of Mr. Kabulov ” the security interests of Russia’s and its allies.” Let Afghans vote and elect their own future leader.

Photo credite: AP

In Afghanistan, Peace Must Come Without Compromising Hard-Earned Gains

By: Said Sabir Ibrahimi

Progress on freedom of speech, political participation, and women’s rights in Afghanistan cannot be compromised.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has announced a road map for peace negotiations with the Taliban. The United States backed Ghani’s proposal for peace and called upon the Taliban to enter negotiations. Thus far there hasn’t been any public response from the Taliban side on the offer.

Over the last 17 years, Afghanistan has achieved some level of social and political progress, including on freedom of speech, political participation, and women’s rights. These achievements are nowhere near perfect but they are positive steps in the right direction and have come at a high cost. As the governments of Afghanistan and the United State push for a political settlement, there are uncertainties on the fate of the past decade-and-a-half’s achievements.   

Under the Taliban’s rule, Afghanistan was one of the most isolated states on earth. Only two countries, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, recognized the theocratic regime. In the absence of media, Afghans knew little about freedom of speech; or if they knew, they could not safely exercise it. There was no such thing as public protest. All forms of entertainment and free speech were banned, including television, print, and radio, except for the Taliban radio, “The Voice of Sharia.”

Today, there are dozens of private and public television channels, over 100 radio stations, and hundreds of press titles in the country. Afghans have established a civil society and have the right to peaceful protests — even in the midst of grave insecurity.

Since 2001, Afghanistan has held three presidential and two parliamentary elections in which millions of Afghan men and women participated. These elections have been imperfect, plagued with vote rigging, and the outcomes have been fiercely contested. Nonetheless, in 2014, the process led to the first peaceful transfer of power from one president to another. According to an Asia Foundation survey, a majority of Afghans supportdemocracy. Meanwhile, the Taliban perceive elections as a Western phenomenon and have not yet indicated whether the group would be interested in participating in such a process.

Most importantly, women’s rights under the current Afghan constitution are guaranteed. Under the Taliban regime, women were barred from attending school or working. Today, Afghan women are visible in every layer of society. They are doctors, engineers, politicians, athletes, police officers, radio and TV presenters, and more. Even so, this improvement in gender parity is minimal. Afghanistan is still one of the worst places for women and scored the lowest in the 2017/18 Women Peace and Security Index.  A compromise to appease the ultra-conservatives could halt the marginal progress that has been achieved in gender equality.

These hard-earned gains have come at an immense cost to Afghans, Americans, and their allies. Thousands of Afghan military personnel, as well as allied forces, have given their lives in fighting the Taliban and other terrorist groups in the country. In 2017 alone, 6,700 Afghan security forces were killed and 12,000 wounded. Since 2001, 3,546 coalition forces have died — among them 2,408 Americans. Thousands of Afghan civilians have also lost their lives. From 2009 to 2017 alone, 28,000 civilians died and more than 50,000 were injured. Additionally, billions of dollars have been spent; the United States alone has spent more money on the war in Afghanistan than on the Marshall Plan for reconstruction of post World War II Europe.

After all this sacrifice and 40 years of conflict, the Afghan people want peace. Recently, the message of peace was reiterated at the Tashkent Conference on Afghanistan in Uzbekistan. The Afghan government has offered enter into negotiations without preconditions, a great concession. Peace must come, but it must come without compromising hard-earned gains, especially not at the cost of setbacks to the freedom of speech, political participation, and women’s rights. Afghanistan should not be understood as homogeneous but as a diverse society. An inclusive peace process that can represent the interests of rural and urban populations and has the genuine support of the international community is needed. Afghans can achieve a sustainable peace only when the rural and urban interests are served in a representative system, not in an isolated theocratic regime.

This article was originally published in the Diplomat Magazine. Photo credit: AP through ABC.

Said Sabir Ibrahimi is a Research Associate for Afghanistan-Pakistan Regional Project at New York University’s Center on International Cooperation. Opinions expressed in this article are personal.

Can There Be A U.S.-Afghanistan Relation Beyond the Realm of Security?

Said Sabir Ibrahimi

Pundits who urge the U.S. to stay in Afghanistan argue national security interests and point out to threats emanating from Afghanistan. Indeed, 17 years ago, it was national security that took the U.S. military to Afghanistan. To date, the presence of more than 20 transnational terrorist groups in the region continues to justify the American military involvement in the country. However, a broader question that is rarely asked is whether counterterrorism is the only issue that brings the two nations together?

The U.S. military has said that there are some 20 transnational terrorist groups operating in and around Afghanistan that can pose a serious threat to the U.S. national security interests. However, less emphasized is the fact that the majority of these terrorist groups are not based in Afghanistan or directed by the Afghans. Data from the U.S. intelligence and other sources show that an overwhelming majority of these jihadi groups, including what is left of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Khorasan (IS-K), have either originated from or have safe havens in Pakistan. Even the Afghan Taliban (and the Haqqani Network), arguably the only Afghan “nationalist” insurgency, is also based in Pakistan. Other insurgent groups from Tajikistan, Uzbekistan (IMU), and East Turkmenistan’s Islamic Movement (ETIM), who are seeking autonomy from China for Xinjiang province, are all also foreign.

Nevertheless, some of the aforementioned groups, famously the Taliban and IS-K, are widely operating in Afghanistan. In addition to the insurgency, Afghanistan also has a warlord problem. The country has become the hub for insurgency and instability because of continuous external support for the insurgent groups from abroad, as well as a divided Afghan political elite and weak Afghan state institutions. Under these circumstances, pundits are right,  an abrupt U.S. withdrawal could lead to the dissolution of the system created post-2001. As such, the security issue requires a long-term U.S. counterterrorism engagement, however, security engagement is not all there is for the U.S. to engage.

It is hoped that peace negotiations underway between the U.S. and the Taliban could lead to a deal between the Taliban, the U.S., and the Afghan government. This way a major threat (the Taliban) could be defused by bringing them into the political fold. Such a solution would be the best-case scenario, about which many are skeptical. Worst would be the continuation of war with or without the U.S. that could lead to yet another Afghan civil war reinforced by Afghanistan neighbors and other regional powers. Assuming the U.S. is successful in convincing Pakistan and the Taliban to cease hostilities against Kabul, it is likely that there is a peace deal. For such a deal to become a success and become viable, the U.S. would engage with Afghanistan beyond the realm of security.

The U.S.-Afghanistan relations could be expanded to the areas of economic development and democracy. This is not to say that the U.S. has not been involved in these sectors before, but the issues have been that the American involvement in economic development and democratization has been in support of America’s counter-terrorism mission in the country. Now is the time that support for economic development and democratization is made a priority and given as much importance as counter-terrorism. 

Kabul is making great leaps in terms of economic connectivity. From a landlocked country often dependent on one neighbor, Afghanistan is now connected to Central Asian, India, Europe, and China. The Afghan mineral wealth is estimated at about $1 trillion that is untouched, which could be utilized to benefit both the local people and investors. Afghanistan can also offer human capital – 70% of the population is under the age of 40. The U.S. already supports some of these programs but more could be done. For instance, encouraging the U.S. private sector to invest in Afghanistan. 

The U.S. is advocating for the democratization of countries such as Iran and Venezuela while in Afghanistan the U.S. has remained less vocal about it. This is when Afghanistan has embraced democracy and has held three presidential and parliamentary elections, noting that all had transparency issues, but people participated in these elections with enthusiasm. The Asia Foundation and other surveys show that a majority of Afghans favor democracy. These studies also show that Afghan men and women do not want to go back to the era of the Taliban. The U.S. can help Afghanistan develop a stronger democracy, including creating a professional and unbiased election commission, decentralization of power and building on the gains of the last 17 years. In a region plagued with dictatorships, military rule, and theocracies, the U.S. has a golden chance to help Afghanistan become a flourishing democracy and an ally.

Photo credit: AP.

The article was simultaneously published on the Small War Journal.

Said Sabir Ibrahimi is a Research Associate for Afghanistan Regional Project at New York University’s Center on International Cooperation. Opinions expressed in this essay are personal.