On Monday Oxfam brings out a report urging the international community not to trade in women’s rights in a peace settlement with the Taliban. It calls for a longterm commitment to support women. I admire and understand the sincerity of their intentions but question whether women’s rights should be an obstacle in the process of a settlement. And I’m sceptical as to whether foreign powers are in a position to impose negotiating terms. A degree of security in Afghanistan – it hardly merits the word peace – may cost women’s rights as it did in the 1990s, and many Afghan women may regard that as tragic but necessary.
Human rights organisations and aid agencies have been caught in an excruciating dilemma over the last decade in Afghanistan. Many opposed the invasion but since then they have unwittingly been dragged into the role of cheerleaders for the US-led coalition, and been uncomfortably complicit in a project of nation-building that was tailored for western publics as much as Afghan women.