Editors note: We are pleased to again have a piece by the Afghan writer, Maryam Safi, who here describes the experience of tension faced by Afghans in the face of the pending drawdown of international forces in Afghanistan. Maryam is an Afghan national born in Kabul in 1986. Due to the civil war her family emigrated to Pakistan and Iran. She received her primary and secondary education outside of Afghanistan, but returned to Kabul where she graduated, from a girl’s high school. She then went on to study for her bachelor’s degree in Islamic Law at Kabul University and a master’s degree in Social Change and Peace Building at Future Generations Graduate School and the US Institute of Peace. She has built on her background and education by now working in the nonprofit sector.
2014 will be an important milestone for Afghanistan because it will be the year which will see the withdrawal of international security forces and the complete handover of security to Afghan national institutions. There will also be a transition in political power from the current president of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, to a new president through an election. And while the country is witnessing the subsequent transitional phase and anticipating the opportunity to cast their vote, what has emerged is a psychological war among the people of Afghanistan resulting from a deep concern for their country’s future.
Fear from the Past
The talk among Afghans regarding the possibility of the country’s return to civil war after the drawdown of international troops springs from the experience of civil war after the pull out of Soviet troops in 1989. During those years of civil war in the 1990s, Afghans encountered many extreme hardships — many people lost relatives or got injured, while others were forced to leave their homes and live on the streets, migrate to other countries, or live as refugees. Today, these experiences of civil war still exist in the memories of people throughout Afghanistan.
Anticipation of the 2014 withdrawal is leading Afghans to re-experience their country’s past and it instils in them a psychological fear that continues to deeply affect people both physically and mentally. In their day-to-day routines, people live in dread as they are aware of the continuing threats to their lives. For example, when people leave for work in the morning they never know if they can expect to return home in the evening since one never knows where in Afghanistan the next suicide attack will happen.
Recently the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) held a press conference in Kabul where it released its mid-year report in which it noted a 23% increase in civilian casualties in the country. This is a concern for both Afghans and the international community. Suicide attacks continue to be an efficient weapon of physical and psychological warfare in Afghanistan because they are almost impossible to prevent and they spread terror throughout the country.
Women voting in Helmand province. Courtesy of Helmand PRT, Lashkar Gah
Women in Afghanistan are especially concerned about the coming 2014 transition, and international organisations supporting women have also raised concern regarding the protection of women’s rights. In a 2011 Trustlaw survey, Afghanistan was reported to be the most dangerous place in the world to be a woman, and over the past three decades they have become the country’s most marginalized citizens, especially under the Taliban regime when women were deprived of education, work and even the right to appear in society.
After the fall of the Taliban, the International Community promised to support and improve the rights of women in Afghanistan. Since then some progress has been made in the areas of education, the right to work, and increased freedom of movement outside the home. Nevertheless, women continue to suffer systematic violence and discrimination, including sexual and domestic violence, as well as denial of access to education, medical care and work; they are subject to torture, forced marriage, and ba’ad, the practice by which women are used as a form of payment to settle disputes among families or tribes.
Through legislative decree, the president of Afghanistan approved the Elimination of Violence against Women (EVAW) law in 2009 , but on May 18, 2013, the law was sent to the Lower House of the Afghan Parliament and was not approved. It was then sent back to the Joint Commission of the Parliament for a more detailed study, and the status of the law has remained unclear until now. There is a widespread concern that if the Taliban regain political power after the transition process in 2014 Afghan society will again see the deprivation of women in every aspect of society.
The people of Afghanistan have experienced two rounds of presidential elections and parliamentary elections since the fall of the Taliban regime and while the new government and the process of elections created a sense of new hope for the people of Afghanistan, the outcome was quite different from what was expected and, consequently, many Afghans feel the new political process failed to respond to the needs of the people and the country. Because the past elections were tainted with fraud and violence, people are deeply concerned about the 2014 presidential election. In preparation, the government launched a voter registration and candidate registration campaign on May 28, 2013. This has led observers to be concerned due to low participation among potential voters, especially among females.
The registration process for presidential candidates started on September 16, 2013 and ended on October 6, 2013. At the conclusion of the candidate registration process 26 applicants including, one woman, were registered with the Commission for Presidential Elections.
No sooner had the candidates been registered, when the buying and selling of voting cards began in some provinces. This has been a big concern for Afghanistan’s upcoming presidential election which will take place on April 5, 2014. Already, the transparency of the election is being challenged as only 10 from among the 27 registered presidential hopefuls are expected to be on the ballot. Most of the candidates have been disqualified due to their having dual citizenship because, according to Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials, no candidates with dual citizenship will be allowed to run for election.
Both past and current election experiences have evoked fears that large numbers of people will not be able to vote due to the threat of attacks by the Taliban. To this is added scepticism regarding the potential legitimacy of the election due to expected fraud and violence.
Together, these conditions have created an experience of psychological warfare for the people of Afghanistan, which prolongs a sense of being trapped in a state of instability and disorder. And because the political situation is unstable, both domestic and international businesses are afraid to invest in Afghanistan, thereby undermining the economy and development. It comes as no surprise that many people, especially Afghan youth, are risking their lives by seeking refuge in Western countries through illegal immigrations, while those remaining in Afghanistan live in fear and dread.
To rescue the people from the suffering of this psychological war, the country needs peace, security and a lawful democratic government. The people of Afghanistan are both psychologically and physically tired from this conflict. Security is the primary need in Afghanistan because nothing can work without it and no one can plan for the future of the country. Political stability, economic development, and social progress, are all needed for peace to come to Afghanistan.
 It had been an old tradition practiced in Afghanistan that women have been used as payment or exchange to solve disputes. In such cases the parties in conflict exchange women to solve dispute without considering the consent of the girl.
 It is responsible for preparing draft laws.