A few major themes emerged from the Afghan conference today in London. One is that it's time to talk to the Taliban. Another is that the Afghan security forces need further empowerment both for future peace and stability, a process that must be Afghan-led in its entirety.
Behind the rhetoric, the fancy words and high-profile delegates, here's the reality.
In Shinwar, a district of Nangarhar province, there are two markets, one called Shadal and the other, Pikheh. Nothing unusual about that, the country is full of markets. But these markets have one main commodity. And that commodity is women. In Nangarhar markets exist where women are sold.
"Big chadors cover their heads and just the women's hands show. Like animals they are bought and sold." This information comes from a recent discussion with staff of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission.
Cases have been reported where a woman was sold with her five children. Another woman was sold to five different people and returned back to the original man who sold her, then killed her.
What happens is that these women get sold multiple times. They are kept in rooms, repeatedly raped, and then returned. They are then trafficked on from Kunduz to Herat, Jalalabad to Kabul, and to other points around the country."
These same Shinwari tribesmen are the apparent saviours with whom the government will negotiate. According to a recent article titled, "Afghan Tribe, Vowing to Fight Taliban, to Get U.S. Aid in Return" in the New York Times:
The leaders of one of the largest Pashtun tribes in a Taliban stronghold said Wednesday that they had agreed to support the American-backed government, battle insurgents and burn down the home of any Afghan who harbored Taliban guerrillas. Elders from the Shinwari tribe, which represents about 400,000 people in eastern Afghanistan, also pledged to send at least one military-age male in each family to the Afghan Army or the police in the event of a Taliban attack. In exchange for their support, American commanders agreed to channel $1 million in development projects directly to the tribal leaders and bypass the local Afghan government, which is widely seen as corrupt. 'The Taliban have been trying to destroy our tribe, and they are taking money from us, and they are taking our sons to fight,' said Malik Niaz, a Shinwari elder. 'If they defy us now, we will defeat them.' The pact appears to be the first in which an entire Pashtun tribe has declared war on Taliban insurgents.
Admittedly not all Shinwari are guilty but it begs the question -- who exactly are we doing deals with?
Before he left the conference, I caught a quick word with Kai Eide, the outgoing UN representative in Kabul. "There are clear red lines that we cannot cross," he tells me in reference to ensure women are protected and that the situation does not move any further backward. "Human rights," he continues, "are enshrined in the constitution, and it is not only a theoretical concept."
But what does Afghanization, the hot bottom phrase, then mean? What exactly is the Afghan government bringing to the table? Eight years on there is still no real police force, the country is still 'underdeveloped' and poor, and women's lives are beyond miserable. We've been giving money to a bunch of corrupt Afghans and it doesn't work.
Will all of this be fixed with an army, the panacea plea of the international community? What if the army is dismembered and used by warlords for another civil war? This time they will be better armed and better trained.
Now we're trying to add the Taliban to the mix as the surprise magic ingredient. We are trying to dress it up as a success but then there are the questions: Did the internationals and Afghans who put together the guest list at the Bonn Conference, the Loya Jirga, the Interim government and so on, overlook the fact that we should have had the Taliban in from the start? Was this due to simple forgetfulness, stupidity, or deceit? Or are we desperate and clutching at straws?