Rep Michael E. McMahon, a member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Middle East and South Asia Subcommittee, sent a letter today to Afghan President Hamid Karzai urging him to include women in his nations upcoming Peace Jirga or national reconciliation talks.  Rep. McMahon, who participated in a Congressional Delegation to Afghanistan and Pakistan earlier this month, brought up this issue directly to President Karzai when they met.  The letter, which was signed by 18 of Rep. McMahons colleagues in the House, is a follow-up to that conversation.

Said Rep. McMahon:

    Women cannot be excluded from the upcoming national reconciliation talks. Their presence is essential to shaping Afghanistans future.  After hearing the concerns from numerous Afghan women and womens rights organizations, I knew this needed to be addressed immediately.  Unfortunately, the reluctance of Afghan leaders to comment on the role of women in the upcoming Peace Jirga leaves the door open to the Talbanism of the upcoming reconciliation efforts.

    Afghan women have played a variety of social and political roles during the last three decades of conflict, including as peace builders.  Despite the concerns expressed by numerous women in Afghanistan and human rights activists, the role that Afghan women will play in the reconciliation process still remains unclear.  Yet, women will be directly responsible for raising the next generation of Afghanis.  For this reason, President Karzai should disallow any compromise on womens issues during this time.

The Peace Jirga, which has been rescheduled to June 2, 2010, has been a contentious issue in both Afghanistan and the international community.   The presence of Taliban leadership at this meeting has introduced the prospect of yielding on womens issues during negotiations   Despite President Karzais commitment during the London Conference to increase womens representation to 20%, there has been no word or action on that commitment to date.

The text of Rep. McMahons letter is below.  The letters co-signers are Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Madeleine Bordallo (D-GU), Corrine Brown (D-FL), Russ Carnahan (D-MO), Yvette Clarke (D-NY), Bill Delahunt (D-MA), Donna Edwards (D-MD), Keith Ellison (D-MN), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Rush Holt (D-NJ) , Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX), E.B. Johnson (D-TX), Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ), Brad Miller (D-NC), Bill Pascrell (D-NJ), Ed Pastor (D-AZ), Jared Polis (D-CO), Laura Richardson (D-CA).  A majority of these Members are part of the Congressional Womens Caucus.

May 28, 2010
His Excellency Hamid Karzai
Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
Dear Mr. President:
As preparations for your proposed reintegration and reconciliation program moves forward, we applaud your commitment to increase womens representation in the upcoming consultative Peace Jirga to 20 percent and to include women delegates as facilitators in this important event.
We take note of the improvements that have been undertaken to improve the situation of women in Afghanistan and remember that before 2002, under Taliban rule, rampant brutality was often accompanied by efforts to steer your country away from the modern age that left Afghans uneducated, impoverished and without hope for a sustainable future. As with most repressive political movements, womens rights were amongst the first to be compromised in this chain of events.  We support your commitment, as you noted at the London Conference, to ensuring that womens rights are safeguarded in tomorrows Afghanistan.
Through your governments efforts, Afghan women are increasingly taking on leadership roles in their communities, homes and within the government.  We take note of the fact that women hold substantive portfolios in your Cabinet and are represented at various levels of your government.  In addition, 27 percent of parliamentary seats are now allocated to women, giving them the opportunity to run for high level decision-making positions, including for the office of the presidency.  We are encouraged by the progress Afghanistan has made in this sphere.
President Karzai, we look to you to ensuring that the rights of all of your citizens are protected in your reintegration and reconciliation efforts.  We remain confident that by including Afghan women as well as men in Afghanistans reconstruction and rehabilitation, your country can once again take its rightful place as a prosperous and stable member of the international community. Afghan women have played a vital role during the last three decades of conflict, including as peace builders, and their participation in the upcoming consultative Peace Jirga is a welcome step forward.

Michael E. McMahon
Member of Congress
United States of America