On February 29, the US signed an agreement with the Taliban — a historic moment weighed down by the legacies of a nearly 20-year war and fundamentally compromised by the decision to exclude the voices of Afghan women peacebuilders.
While diplomacy is vital to secure lasting peace and justice in Afghanistan, this deal falls far short of that aim. We call for a peace process that accounts for the legacy of US militarism, guarantees women’s rights, and includes the real ingredients for a genuine, long-term peace.
As the next phases of the peace negotiations proceed, these two crucial principles must be centered:
They must prioritize the voices and human rights of women. The US invaded Afghanistan under the false premise of liberating Afghan women from Taliban rule. Instead, the US trained and funded armed groups in Afghanistan that have committed atrocities, including brutal violence against women. In its efforts to defeat the Taliban, the US allied itself with warlords, many of whom now hold prominent government positions and continue to violate rights with impunity.
The US invasion has not resulted in the promised gains for women. Afghanistan still ranks as the worst place in the world to be a woman, with up to 60% of Afghan girls not attending school, and as many as 90% of women having experienced domestic violence.
The US has a moral responsibility to take steps to ensure women’s rights are upheld in any peace deal. Instead, the US excluded Afghan women and civil society groups from negotiations.
The US has agreed to initially reduce its troops in Afghanistan from 13,000 to 8,600. Within 14 months, the US could withdraw all troops if the Taliban keep their end of the deal — including entering into intra-Afghan talks and preventing terror groups from using Afghanistan as a hub. Yet, this agreement makes no such stipulations about upholding women’s rights or human rights. Rather, women have been treated as pawns to be traded away in exchange for a deal.
Centering Afghan women and civil society is not just an ethical and rights-based imperative. It’s also what will lead to lasting peace. Afghan women bring crucial expertise in peacebuilding, having brokered local peace agreements, secured the release of hostages, and countered extremist narratives within communities. Evidence shows that peace processes that include women and civil society are 35% more likely to last at least fifteen years.
The US must meet its responsibilities to account for the harms facing the Afghan people. The US invasion has devastated Afghan communities. UN estimates show that this war has killed or injured more than 100,000 civilians. In fact, in the first half of 2019, US and Afghan forces killed more civilians than did insurgents.
In spite of these failures, the Washington Post’s Afghanistan Papers, released in December 2019, revealed how deeply US officials misled the American public about the war’s progress, painting it as a success rather than a dysfunctional and devastating war without a strategy or an end date.
Any withdrawal of US troops must be replaced by unprecedented, long-term commitments to aid for women’s grassroots organizations and that addresses humanitarian needs, community economic resilience, peacebuilding, democractic governance, and transitional justice and reconciliation. Without confronting the root causes of the conflict and setting the stage for communities to heal and prosper, this deal risks more harm, the reignition of conflict, and rollbacks of rights.
The US has a responsibility to account for its decades of destructive interventions in Afghanistan. To do so, it must acknowledge the legacy of US intervention; provide reparations for damage; lay out a process for investigation into and accountability of actors responsible for harm, including war crimes; and welcome an increased number of Afghan refugees for resettlement.
Next Steps for Peace
The next step in the peace process will be to advance talks between the Taliban and the Afghan people and government. The US must advocate for all parties to prioritize women’s rights and center Afghan women peacebuilders. MADRE has partnered with women’s groups in Afghanistan to provide shelter and emergency relocation for women escaping violence, and we know that women-led organizations will play a key role in rebuilding their communities after war. We call for increased funding for grassroots groups doing this vital work, and stand in solidarity with the Afghan people and women ready to make peace and justice a reality.