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24 May 2016

“Women’s rights in our country have nothing to do with the presence or absence of the international military forces,” says Saifora Paktiss, Medica Afghanistan.

In April four staff members of Medica Afghanistan had the opportunity to visit the main office of medica mondiale in Cologne. They met colleagues from the communication department and shared firsthand knowledge about the impact of the withdrawal of international military troops on everyday life and women’s rights in Afghanistan.

We talked to Humaira Rasuli, Director of Medica Afghanistan, her Deputy Director Saifora Ibrahim Paktiss, Helai Sohak, Office Director in Mazar-e-Sharif and Vida Faizi, Head of the Psychosocial Counselling Department.

What do you think today about the international military presence in your country? Does it really make a difference to the situation of women?

Humaira Rasuli: "I think the international community was going in the wrong direction right from the beginning. We constantly demanded civil reconstruction and development cooperation. The international community’s efforts should have been commissioning their military troops to help the Afghan national army and police force, building their capacity, advising them, and providing assistance.

Then since the beginning of 2015, when the national army took over control, we have been witnessing of a lot of mistakes and a lot of problems. The national army is not in a position to ensure safety The fall of Kunduz province is a major example. They are still very much dependent on the remaining international military troops."

So, the international troops didn’t manage to put the Afghan army and police in the position to protect the Afghan people – especially women – and their rights?

Humaira Rasuli: "At the moment we are working on the ground, and the people we talk to welcome the presence of the international troops, not to be expanded but rather simply to be there ready to provide backup and support where needed. We are very much afraid that without their presence, governors would not follow the rule of law and or respect the opinions and orders of their president. In other words, having the international troops as a backup helps to ensure the country does not slip towards a crisis.

There is also a lot of concern regarding some of the local military groups or local police: they are not part of the national army and so, if the situation becomes worse as happened in Kunduz, they might start to defend the rights of their own community against those of others. That would divide the country and it would be a major crisis. We really do have to actively prevent this kind of crisis happening in our country. That is why the international troops have to be there to provide quality training, monitoring and support, helping to ensure the Afghan army is able to build their own capacity towards sustainability."

What about other security factors such as equipment, number of soldiers and security measures of the Afghan government?

Humaira Rasuli: "The Afghan army was facing a lot of problems with their equipment; they do not have the same resources as the international military troops. We also see that the government has a high turnover. There are not many people joining the military forces. Instead they are leaving the country. We know people who are suffering from starvation but still send their young boys out of the country rather than sending them to work for the police. There are a lot of things happening with regard to reforming the judiciary and also the security forces, but there is not much hope that the situation will improve with this current government."

Saifora Paktiss: I’d like to add some aspects to what Humaira said. First of all, I must clearly state that women’s rights in our country have nothing to do with the presence or absence of the international military forces. The two issues are separate and should be considered independently.

Secondly, in the beginning of the international intervention, there was only very poor attention paid to building a civil society engagement. The measures for civil reconstruction were subordinated to military strategy. That has led to numerous major problems.

Going forward it was very difficult for the government or the international troops to minimize or to bridge that gap.

And thirdly: The international military forces trained the Afghan forces to support them in their missions, not to defend our country. There’s a very big difference between those roles. That’s why they were just kept as supporters whenever international missions were taking place in our country. As the time came when the international military forces were supposed to leave our country there was a huge, huge gap of capacity between the two, which only then became prominent.

In your opinion, what should the international forces do right now to support the Afghan military?

Saifora Paktiss: "Now the Afghan military is taking over. However, some of the international community members such as Germany still want to keep some of their staff inside Afghanistan. What is the strategic position now?

The role of international forces will not be the same as when they entered Afghanistan in 2001 or 2002. Their mission now should be strictly to improve our defence and security institutions with capacity-building and training. That is one issue. A second one is the need to look strategically at the map of Afghanistan to pinpoint the border areas we need to guard. The longest border we share is with Pakistan, which is also the most problematic border. Another one is with Iran."

Helai Sohak: "I just want to add one more point. After the international forces left Afghanistan, the government was confronted with a lack of control in some remote locations, with increasing corruption and a lack of professionalism in key government positions, especially in the army and other military forces. This all led to violence against women reaching higher levels than before. For example, in 2015 we had an increasing number of so-called desert courts. This means that Taliban court verdicts are being announced regularly. Also, in the northern region we have had more child rape cases since the withdrawal of the international troops. Like Humaira said: We need them to stay to provide backup and support."

Related Topics

Interview Part II: “Women’s rights are part of peace. They simply belong together”, says Vida Faizi, Medica Afghanistan

Interview Part I: Humaira Rasuli, Director Medica Afghanistan: "Women are not silent anymore."