Tuesday, June 23, 2020

The US-Taliban Deal: A ray of hope for the battered Afghans

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US Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo participates in a signing ceremony in Doha, Qatar, on February 29, 2020 | Source: U.S. Department of State  via Wikimedia

On 11 September 2001, the attacks on the World Trade Centre and Pentagon in America killed over 3000 people for which Osama Bin Laden, the head of Al-Qaeda, claimed responsibility.. Osama Bin Laden was based in Afghanistan during this attack and was protected by the government of the day which was run by the radical Islamist group Taliban. Even after the repeated demands from the USA government, Taliban refused to hand over Osama bin Laden to the USA. 

George W. Bush, the president of America at that point of time, announced the first airstrikes against Afghanistan on 7 October 2001. As other countries joined in, the Taliban were quickly removed from power and a new pro-western government was installed. The new government, however, was never able to run its writ over the whole country. The Taliban regrouped and started gaining influence in the vast rural areas and continuously attacked the US-led international military coalition as well as Afghan forces. From that point onward, the U.S. and its allies have battled to stop Afghanistan's administration crumbling and to end attacks by the Taliban. 

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. The U.S. Defence Secretary Mark Esper said that signing of the accord would be a good step to end the war, the road ahead would not be secure. There would be a full withdrawal of all U.S. and coalition forces from Afghanistan within 14 months since the signing of the deal. The Taliban promised to cut ties with Al Qaeda and keep fighting the militant Islamic State group.  

What is in the peace agreement?

The peace agreement was signed after nine rounds of discussion and it contains four main points: cease-fire, withdrawal of foreign forces, intra-Afghan negotiations, and counter-terrorism assurances. 

  1. Cease-fire: The negotiators agreed to a temporary reduction in violence. They said that a permanent and comprehensive cease-fire will be an item on the agenda of the intra-Afghan dialogue and negotiations. 
  2. Withdrawal of foreign forces: Within the first 135 days, the U.S. will reduce its troops in Afghanistan from roughly 12,000 to 8,600, along with the allies of the U.S. also withdrawing their forces proportionately. If the Taliban follows through all the commitments that in the peace deal, all the U.S. troops along with the allies' troops will leave Afghanistan within fourteen months. 
  3. Counter-terrorism assurances: The United States invaded Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks, mainly to eliminate the threat of terrorism and halt terrorist activities in the country. As a part of the agreement, the Taliban guaranteed that Afghanistan would not be used by any of its members or terrorist groups to threaten the security of the U.S. and its allies. 
  4. Intra-Afghan negotiations: The reason behind the intra-Afghan talks is to bring together negotiators from the Taliban and Afghan government. The peace deal also calls for an exchange of prisoners before the intra-Afghan negotiations. The intra-Afghan talks which were supposed to take place in March 2020, have been delayed. 

Challenges to the peace deal

While this deal can be seen as a stepping stone towards a more comprehensive agreement, many difficulties may come in the way. 

The United States and the Taliban had consented to the arrival of up to 5000 Taliban prisoners in return for up to one thousand Afghan security forces. However, the Afghan government said that it had not agreed on such an exchange. The process can become difficult due to a weak central government along with ethnic, tribal and sectarian differences. At the same time, many people say that the Taliban has gotten more than it gave up. 

Through the deal, the Taliban got their primary wish: removal of American troops from Afghanistan. Yet, they had failed to be specific about the civil rights that they had repressed when they were in power. The insurgents pledged to keep international terrorist groups like Al Qaeda from using Afghanistan as their base for attacks. 

The United States promised to work towards the gradual removal of Taliban leaders from the sanction blacklists of America and the United Nations. At the same time, the experts say that the Taliban is stronger than ever at this point. It controls many districts throughout the country and continues to launch significant attacks including in Kabul and on Afghan security forces. 

The peace process is also faced by the problem of the illegal drug trade. According to Afghan officials, more than 20 terrorist groups still operate inside the country, which is another threat to the deal. By signing the agreement, the U.S. and the Taliban state their commitment to reduce violence and not attack each other. What remains a worry is how much and how long the Taliban will hold fire on Afghan security forces before the cease-fire is finally reached in Afghan negotiations.

Sources that were used:

  1. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/29/world/asia/us-taliban-deal.html
  2. http://diplomatist.com/2020/05/16/us-taliban-peace-deal-and-its-implications-for-central-asia/
  3. https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/interactive/2020/02/war-afghanistan-2001-invasion-2020-taliban-deal-200229142658305.html
  4. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-51689443
  5. https://www.dawn.com/news/1529415
  6. https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/us-taliban-peace-deal-agreement-afghanistan-war
  7. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/02/afghanistan-taliban-sign-deal-america-longest-war-200213063412531.html
  8. https://www.dawn.com/news/1537384
  9. https://www.washingtonpost.com/context/u-s-taliban-peace-deal/7aab0f58-dd5c-430d-9557-1b6672d889c3/?itid=lk_inline_manual_3

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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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