KABUL: We, women of Afghanistan, deplore further delays in the results of the Presidential election and urge concerned authorities to expedite the poll audit and fill the vacuum in national leadership. We demand attention to pressing development and human rights issues and ask our incoming President to prioritize them in the first 100 days of his administration.

Only a few weeks ago, Afghans defied Taliban threats and, as one nation, bravely flocked to the polls to elect their new President. It was a process that Afghans welcomed with pride and optimism; a chance to prove to the world their commitment and capacity to give wings to their infant democracy. Unfortunately, weeks after the much anticipated declaration of final election results, the Independent Election Commission and the United Nations are still embroiled in a messy audit to invalidate fraudulent votes that were allegedly perpetrated by the camp of Presidential aspirant Ashaf Ghani. National pride and optimism have morphed overnight into a sense of shame, exasperation and anxiety as the feuding political parties fail to rise above their vested interests for the sake of the nation they both profess to serve. Protracted uncertainty has been creating broad fragmentation across ethnic and political lines that could escalate anytime into a civil turmoil.

Against this backdrop, outgoing President Hamid Karzai has conveniently assumed a lame-duck posturing instead of using his clout to unify the nation and heal the wounds created by the past election. It is a precarious situation fuelled by poor statesmanship of the candidates and weak leadership of the outgoing President who is more engrossed with making peace with the Taliban than in facilitating an orderly transition. For months, post-election issues have been hugging the headlines of popular media, as if nothing else matters.

Yet, beneath the squabbles of the two presidential aspirants and their supporters are real life issues that are paramount to the people who voted for them. Some 11 million Afghans continue to live below the poverty line; 86 percent of urban population still lives in slums; 30 percent of all Afghans survive each day with serious calorie deficiency; the economy is failing to meet its growth target; and the country faces major economic challenges with the imminent draining of international resources. Meanwhile, enemies of the state are gathering strength and the flawed peace program of the government have brought within communities some 8,551[1] Taliban combatants and 65 ex-convicts who were known to be involved in past bombing incidents – all without undergoing a de-radicalization process. In more advanced democracies, this is enough to charge the government of treason and gross violation of peoples’ right to security.

Sadly, although women actively worked to make the election a successful democratic exercise, they were again easily sidetracked in the post-election scenario. The issues are being discussed and resolved among men and the rhetoric of women’s participation and empowerment before the election instantly dissipated. Worse, the actions women expect from government, such as the immediate enactment of the decree on the elimination of violence against women, have fallen hostage to delayed announcement of the final poll results.

We therefore urge the IEC and UN to expedite the poll audit to fill the vacuum in national leadership. It is time to wrap up the election mess and move forward with solutions to pressing national concerns. We support the talks about a national unity government but we also demand the participation of women in this process. To the next President of Afghanistan, we urge you to put priority on the following concerns, and deliver visible results in the first 100 days of your administration:

a) Reconsider the Peace and Reintegration Program - Women never endorsed the decision of your predecessor to make peace with the Taliban. The Taliban returnees and released prisoners are now implicated in attacks and increased insurgencies in Ghor, Kunduz and other parts of the country. Their presence in our neighborhood has forced us to live in constant fear of violence. We recommend that all of them undergo a de-radicalization program outside of the country or returned to prisons where they rightfully belong. We also want an alternative peace strategy that will not bring back Talibans and criminals into our government and society.

b) Set your targets on women’s agenda – We urge you to continue the laws, policies and programs of the past government with more emphasis on resource allocation, implementation and reporting to the people. First, we want a 30 percent representation of women in the Cabinet. Second, we demand that the EVAW Decree be enacted soonest without undermining its substantive strength along with the prosecution of offenders whose cases have been held pending by inaction of the police and judiciary. Third, we want a status report on the implementation of the National Action Plan for the Women of Afghanistan which has been in place for six years. Fourth, we want you to adopt the draft National Action Plan for the Implementation of UN SCR 1325 and provide it with resources for implementation. And fifth, we demand that you, Mr. President, appear in a 60-second radio and TV infomercial warning the people round-the-clock that all perpetrators of violence against women will be zealously punished under your administration.

c) Engage the most vulnerable sectors of society – The plight of the most vulnerable Afghans has been so bad for so long. Widows, persons with disability, internally displaced people, orphans, minorities, released prisoners, victims of disasters, and female heads of households are living in a very difficult state of survival and their concerns are not heard in national planning and policy making. We urge you to support the building of a coalition among these groups to consolidate their voice and needs. The Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, Martyrs and Disabled should be provided with greater skills and resources to work with them and meet their needs.

d) Adopt agriculture and mining as flagship economic sectors – The departure of the international community will deplete the country of resources necessary to maintain peace and improve peoples’ lives. We therefore request you to put focus on Agriculture and Mining as centerpiece of your economic strategy. Explain to the people our overall economic strategy and timeline to spark inspiration for a better future. Encourage our college students to take courses that are vital to the advancement of the mines and agriculture sectors in the next ten years. Likewise, create a multi-sector body to prevent corruption and misuse of the proceeds of the mining sector and ensure that mining ventures are done with appropriate attention to their potential negative impacts to the environment; and

e) Optimize the youth sector as a human resource – The youth is the biggest population group that is most capable and has the highest potential to fuel national growth. Many families are depending on the income of youth earners. Nevertheless, the program of the government does not fully optimize their capacities and potentials. We need a specific government ministry that is dedicated to the furtherance of their capacities and greater involvement in national debates and decision making. Also, we ask you to select at least 5,000 of the brightest female and male youths, train them abroad in the disciplines of mining, agriculture, governance and public administration, health, education, diplomacy, trade, human rights, etc. and, after graduation, position them in strategic posts that will optimally harness their expertise.

We recognize that the Presidency is such a huge challenge and responsibility. We know that you could get overwhelmed by the enormous demands coming from various sectors. But we ask you to listen to sectors whose agenda are not limited to their own parochial interest alone. We, Afghans, should start thinking and approaching our problems from a holistic and interlinked viewpoint which puts emphasis on the well-being of the most disadvantaged and the general majority. Women are with you in this, and we will support you in any way we can.

[1] United Nations, Report of the Secretary General, “The Situation in Afghanistan and its implications for international peace and security”, 18 June 2014.


(Dr Massouda Jalal runs the Jalal Foundation and was a Presidential candidate for Afghanistan in an earlier election)