May 9, 2013
This was a really interesting panel discussion. Dr Suraya Dalil, Minister of Public Health in Afghanistan, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, former British Ambassador to Afghanistan, and Frances Guy, the UN Women's Representative in Iraq, met to discuss the future of Afghanistan, and in particular the rights of women after the 2014 troop withdrawal.
Following the tragic deaths of three British servicemen in the last week, the upcoming US and UK troop withdrawal set for 2014 may well seem an attractive prospect. Sir Sherard made a poignant point, however, in observing that the West's hit and run tactics in military intervention rarely work well for those that get left behind. Palestine, Kashmir, Aden - examples are not lacking, and we are now on the brink of leaving a nascent Afghan civil administration to deal with insurgent violence that has gone up 44% in the last year.
Sir Sherard argued forcibly in favour of pressuring our government to work towards a political rather than a military solution. Guns do not end an insurgency - they just move it around. Including everyone in peace talks (and, yes, that does mean the Taliban too) is, he argued, the only way to work towards a stronger settlement and a more peaceful country.
But the picture is not entirely gloomy. Dr Suraya Dalil, one of three women ministers in the Afghan government, is testament to the steady improvement in civil and women's rights in the country since the toppling of the Taliban regime. The organiser of the debate was an Afghani girl who had read the Oxford English Dictionary in secret during the days of the Taliban, and now had the freedom to pursue her education abroad. The challenge now is to continue the fight for further political representation of women, and to safeguard hard-earned liberties once foreign troops have left.
Frances Guy brought her expertise on Iraq to the debate, informing us on the progression of women's rights in government through the history of international conventions addressing them. She stressed that fighting for these rights is a global responsibility, and so gave support to Sir Sherard's view that the west must not ignore the region's security concerns once they leave. In Afghanistan, as in Iraq, civil society must be given room to flourish so that women's voices can be heard, and this can only happen in a safe and peaceful society.
In all, a very lively debate about the moral responsibility of the world and of the west, and a subtle look at the possible futures of the region.