|SAVE Sister Arshi Saleem Hashmi|
Afghan President Hamid Karzai recently visited Pakistan, it was not his first visit but seemingly different this time around. After a long period of indifference and occasional confrontation, Karzai returned to Islamabad once again, this time advocating for a more collective approach between the two neighbors, especially when it comes to tackling violent extremism in the region.
Karzai talked about critical issues including democracy, women, development, education and media. He insisted that his government was working hard to get a hold of the declining situation in the country in order to preserve the achievements Afghanistan has made over the past few years. He also stated that these achievements should not be wasted because of the lack of a coherent approach vis-à-vis Pakistan and Afghanistan on issues such as terrorism and violent extremism.
|Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai and Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani (R) |
shake hands in Islamabad on February 16, 2012. - Photo by AFP
I asked him if he believed a settlement could eventually be reached between his government and the Taliban who are now engaged in discussions together. And if he believed the militant group could reconcile with the process of democracy, and if not, whether or not his administration would be prepared to make some compromises.
His response was very interesting. He said the government would be willing to compromise only if the Taliban agreed to respect the rights of Afghan women, especially their right to education and participation in political and economic life. In other words, he claimed the government would take steps towards a settlement with the Taliban who give up their arms, but not at the cost of democracy and women’s empowerment.
Let us hope that future policy decisions within Afghanistan, and also concerning conflict management in cooperation with Pakistan, will adhere to President Karzai’s statement on women’s empowerment, a component that is crucial to the success of any initiative on peace and stability in the region.