Sunday, August 2, 2020

Qatar’s Crucial Role in the US-Taliban Deal

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US Secretary of State and Foriegn Minister of Qatar at US-Afghan deal signing ceremony in Doha | Source: U.S. Department of State via Wikimedia

After more than eighteen years of war in Afghanistan, on 29 February 2020, the United States and Taliban signed a peace deal which was the first step in ending the war. The agreement was signed in the Qatari capital Doha between Talibani political chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.

Speaking prior to the signing, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressed his appreciation for Qatar’s hosting of talks which led to the agreement and said "So the nation of Qatar has been an enormously important partner to get us to this very moment. When we have hit bumps in the road, they have helped smooth them out. They have agreed to host a significant piece of the conversations that have taken place that have built out on the set of agreements. We appreciate that and we thank them."

Head of the Political Office of the Afghan Taliban Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar expressed gratitude to the Emir of Qatar and the Qatari officials who supported these negotiations for a long time. He specially thanked them for providing a place to set up a representative office for the Taliban team which negotiated with the US team.

Qatar although was not much involved in the direct negotiation between Taliban & US as this was mostly done by Pakistan, however it played equally, if not more important role by hosting the political office of Taliban for almost two years. It was also able to win the confidence of Taliban, USA, and Pakistan for its impartiality during the eighteen month long negotiation process. Without this support there was no way that US-Taliban negotiations could have reached an agreement.

Qatar at one point helped to salvage the deal when it was about to collapse after the negotiations were already wrapped and the deal was about to be signed. A Qatari official who was also involved in the process said that Doha looked for a “face-saving” way to restore talks when Trump cancelled a meeting in September with Taliban leaders owing to the attack by the group which killed a U.S. soldier.

“We thought about two things to do. Number one a hostage release or swap and the second one to work on a reduction in violence. We thought if we succeeded in those two points we can save the process and bring the parties to the negotiating table again, and that’s what we did in November.” said Mutlaq Al Qahtani, Qatar’s foreign ministry representative for counterterrorism and mediation of conflict resolution.

James Dorsey of S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies and Middle East Institute in Singapore said, “The Qataris have essentially tried to make themselves crucial to the United States in being mediators where the Americans need mediators and of course post-2017... positioning Qatar that way was very important.”  

The Taliban deal could also place Qatar in a position which could help decrease tensions between Washington and Iran. This is because Qatar hosts the largest U.S. military base in the region and also shares a giant gas field with Iran which sided with Doha during the Saudi led boycott of Qatar.

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October 23, 2020 3:57 PM

Male gaze, their female guardians and sports-wear

In Helen Cixous’ essay, ‘The Laugh of Medusa’, she urges women to redefine what their body means to them, not just physically but also socially, emotionally and politically. This could happen by re-writing about your body in a way you deem  fit, the expression you identify with and separating it from how your body has been written about by men. The expression could be how you view your body separate from the patriarchal lense.

It is no secret that a woman’s body is subject to critique. While clothing for men is just a tool to cover themselves as per the surrounding environment, clothing for women isa social and political narrative that dictates their life or as we affectionately call it ‘culturally appropriate’.

The clothing style could vary. It could be a woman covered head to toe in a Burqa, it could be a woman who decides to wear sports-wear in a park or it could be jeans and a top. Everything is critically evaluated by men and by women who work towards protecting the male gaze.

The male gaze is a heterosexual way of looking at female bodies that sexualises these bodies into an object. It is a gaze that runs on the self-affirmative notion that the bodies of women, and what they do with it, is directly linked to how they  appear in front of a man.

In a recent incident in Bangalore, India, popular Indian actress Samyuktha Hegde was abused and threatened by senior political leader of the congress party, Kavitha Reddy,  for wearing sports-wear, in Bangalore’s Agara Lake park. She was exercising with her friend.

Kavitha Reddy initially claimed she was in indecent attire and went onto morally police and then later abused the actress and her friend.  A supposedly progressive political leader gets uncomfortable by what women are wearing. It breaks into an argument and a fight where the politician is supported by five to six men. Later on, the police appear to be appeasing the politician instead of the women who were harassed. Although she did apologise, her apology came after her video went viral, and as a protection for her own political reputation.

To look at Samyuktha Hegde’s clothing as a threat is to view her clothing as an act of obscenity therefore bullying her identity and sense of agency and reducing her to sexual object, who, by putting her in public, apparently gives the men present a right to look at her? Nevermind that she was there to workout like everyone else, her actions were confused as to how men look at her. In the video posted by the actress, the politician is surrounded by men who are championing her on. The politician choses to side with the patriarchal figures in shaming these women. Asking to protect from the male gaze is a far stretch but punishing women for the male gaze is where we should draw a line.

What roles does Kavitha Reddy play? She is the guardian of the male gaze. We find her in our mothers, in our grandmothers, in aunties and sometimes our friends. She understands a woman’s body as an object that is there to be looked at by men. She gets angry at women for wearing certain kinds of clothing but she is not angry at men for looking. The agency in this case always belongs to men.

When Cixous asks women to re-define their identity, she urges us to strangle the moral police that comes alive in such instances. It is the moral police that shames women for wearing clothes that don’t flatter their bodies or clothes that do flatter them. She urges us to reflect upon the source of such vigilance. Do we shame other women because we believe in what we are saying or our identity is partially (or  wholly) shaped by the male gaze?

Whether we chose to wear a burqa, or a dress, or variations of the new type clothing produced everyday, the crux of the matter is that it should not worry anyone apart from the one wearing it. The identity of a woman, sexual or otherwise, has to be redefined to be separated from the men and their gaze. We have to draw a line otherwise people in power will continue to abuse their power and preserve patriarchy and male gaze.

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