Gender and geopolitical (in)stability: the case of Afghanistan
By Chloé Delaitre Bonet
The Taliban is back On August 15, the Taliban entered the capital of Kabul, finalizing their swift takeover of Afghanistan. This happened almost 20 years after they were ousted by a US-led military coalition which invaded Afghanistan to rout out the al Qaeda terrorists behind the September 11 attacks and the Taliban regime that sheltered them in what led to the United States’ longest war. Now, the Taliban reigns again, despite years and hundreds of billions of dollars spent by the US to build up the Afghan government and its defence forces. Geopolitical analysis Amid the uncertainty created by the lightning-paced speed at which the Taliban has returned to power, regional powers are eyeing how to react to the upheaval. What is increasingly clear is that the primary goal sought vis-à-vis Afghanistan’s new regime is, above all, stability. Despite having different foreign policy objectives, Afghanistan’s neighbours coincide on the need to prevent the region from becoming destabilized, fearing the disastrous spill-over effects this could have. Top concerns revolve around terrorism, widespread violence, and economic downturn. Preventing Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven to transnational terrorist groups and criminal organizations such as Al Qaeda is a high preoccupation for Pakistan, which fears the re-emergence of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. Iran is also worried about mitigating the threat from the Islamic State group’s Khorasan branch, a group that was responsible for the suicide bombing at Kabul airport on Aug. 26 which killed around 183 people. In Russia, the Kremlin has long been concerned about the security threats which Islamic extremism poses. The question of economic collapse is also high on the agenda. Neighbouring Iran fears the corresponding problems this could bring at a time when Tehran is struggling with a severe economic crisis and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, as cross-border trade could be heavily affected. China fears that economic precariousness will threaten its projects in Central Asia. There are also concerns about narcotic trafficking and stemming drug flows from Afghanistan- the country is the world’s centre of opium production, which could increase under the Taliban’s rule.
More broadly, countries also seek to avoid a scenario of widespread violence and a humanitarian catastrophe on an epic scale. According to the UNHCR, Afghanistan is on course to witness its highest ever number of documented civilian casualties in a single year since records began. Such fighting will most certainly have severe geopolitical consequences, including high refugee flows and overall general insecurity. This is why there have already been diplomatic efforts by nations to cease the violence, an example is India, which chaired the UNSC August’s special session and pushed for a resolution calling for the immediate cessation of all hostilities in Afghanistan.
Looking at instability through a gender prism In this geopolitical analysis, the relationship between the Taliban’s treatment of women and the country’s overarching stability should also be included, as countries must treat the subjugation of women as the critical security concern it is.
It is clear that the Taliban will not welcome women as active citizens, despite their promises not to return to how they were treated before 2001. Mr Castner, a senior crisis adviser at Amnesty International has denounced that, ‘’the rhetoric and the reality are not matching at all’’, and that there is no indication that the Taliban intend to fulfill any promises of moderation with regards to women’s rights, or more accurately, lack of thereof.
The oppression of women carries important security and stability implications which Afghanistan’s neighbours should incorporate in their top geopolitical concerns, which is that societies that oppress women are far more likely to be violent and unstable. The Economist has highlighted how researchers at Texas A&M and Brigham Young universities have compiled a global index of pre-modern attitudes to women including aspects such as early marriage for girls, violence against women or bride prices. The index correlated with violent instability in a country.
These findings are seconded by scholars Hudson et al, who in their article The Heart of the Matter, illustrate how the security of women must not be overlooked in the study of state security. For example, they suggest that societies with high levels of female insecurity are more likely to use violent conflict resolution compared to societies with lower levels of family violence. The explanation behind this is that in cultures where violence against women is allowed to persist, male individuals are committing continual, possibly daily, acts of aggression and violence. This results in overlearned violent acts that become automatic and whose effects will cascade outward to affect state security and behavior. This demonstrates that to the extent that the security of women is a societal priority, the security and peacefulness of the state will be significantly enhanced. Thus, as regional states look at the new Taliban government and seek to protect their foreign policy goals of preventing regional violence and an increase in terrorist activities, as well safeguarding their economies, they should also pay attention to women’s rights, whose erosion will affect their very national objectives by adding to the highly feared instability in Afghanistan.
Furthermore, the negotiations and diplomatic endeavours that are currently being carried out in the pursuit of diffusing tensions such as India’s aforementioned resolution, and as also seen in Iran’s Foreign Minister’s meeting with the U.N. secretary-general’s envoy for Afghanistan in Tehran to discuss ways to stop the violence, must include Afghan women.
This is because when women have a seat at the table, the negotiations aiming to decrease hostilities, ensure stability and achieve peace , have a much more lasting impact. Research from UN Women’s Global Study on the Implementation of United Nations Security Council resolution 1325 and the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) ‘Women’s Participation in Peace Processes’ shows that women’s participation in peace agreements increases the likelihood of peace agreement lasting for two years by 20% and increases the likelihood of peace agreements lasting for 15 years by 35%. The international community must keep this in mind as it seeks to promote a negotiated solution to the armed conflict in Afghanistan, and the resulting de-stabilization that the war creates.