Afghan delegation in Rome as Taliban raise flag in Qatar

Country's challenges and progress discussed

Afghan delegation in Rome as Taliban raise flag in Qatar

(By Shelly Kittleson) Rome, June 20 - In meeting with Italian members of parliament this week, representatives of Afghan civil society asked that the country not be 'abandoned'. The head of the Kabul juvenile court and the current director of a prestigious Afghan research centre discussed the challenges faced by the country and stressed the fragility of the progress achieved over the past 12 years in meeting with about 20 members of parliament on Tuesday. Judge Homa Alizoy, also a member of the Afghan Women's Network, and former MP and current Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU) director Mir Ahmad Joyenda discussed the vast changes brought to the condition of women, education and media in the country. Alizoy, who visited Italy before as part of justice sector training - Italy was tasked with coordinating Afghan justice sector reform at the 2002 Tokyo conference and has remained active in this field in the country - noted the continuing challenges to women's rights in the country. However, in speaking to ANSA, she stressed that during the years of the Taliban she was not even allowed to work outside of her house, much less as top judge in a Kabul court. The warning of what stands to be lost gained poignancy after the Taliban opened a political office in Qatar on Tuesday, during which the fundamentalist group cut a celebratory ribbon and raised the well-known flag of the insurgency above a nameplate that reads 'The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan'. Only after intervention by US Secretary of State John Kerry were both the flag and the nameplate removed late Wednesday evening. The US was forced to get involved after Afghan President Hamid Karzai balked at what seemed to be tantamount to the setting up of a parallel embassy to that of the Afghan government, and made it known that talks on a new Afghan-US security agreement which would allow some American troops to stay in the country after the international combat mission comes to an end would be suspended as a result. Also on Tuesday, a ceremonial handover of security leadership to Afghan national forces was held to mark the beginning of the final phase of the transition, which culminates in December 2014. Joyenda and the head of Italy's Afghan network, Emanuele Giordana, met with Senate Foreign Affairs Committee Vice President Paolo Corsini on Wednesday. During the discussion, the AREU director made the network's request for the Italian government to continue supporting the creation of a House of Civil Society in Kabul as ''a sort of insurance'' against all the efforts of the past 12 years going to waste. It was also noted that Afghanistan continues to lobby for 30% of what Italy will save on military expenditure to be rerouted to civilian initiatives post-2014. Italy currently has some 3,000 troops on the ground - mostly in the western part of the country near the border with Iran - and plans to keep them there through 2014 and the Afghan presidential elections scheduled that year. Afterwards, however, to what extent government funding and support will continue for civilian development in Afghanistan remains uncertain. Corsini noted that while he had been present at ''heated debate'' among MPs whenever the issue of the Italian military presence in Afghanistan was brought up - with some calling for troops to be brought home immediately - backing within the Parliament for continuing civilian support even after the withdrawal had instead always been ''unanimous''. He also said that he had long held that ''any peace process should not damage (Afghan) society's ability to develop'', which the delegates feel is what talking to the Taliban while they continue to carry out attacks may be doing. And, in any case, Joyenda said, ''the elected Afghan government cannot be sidelined during the process''. The Italian senator assured the delegates, however, that Italian government support for Afghanistan would be ''steadfast'' and ''lasting''. Many Afghans have voiced concerns that justice may be sacrificed in the name of 'peace' in this period. Joyenda stressed that the peace process as it stands is bypassing the elected Afghan government and dealing with an insurgent group that, ''according to the latest survey, only 7% of the Afghan population support''. He also warned of growing regional dangers from not only Pakistan, which closed ''20,000 madrasas, mostly from the FATA area, to send their students to plant IEDs and carry out attacks in Afghanistan'', but also Iran. Despite the relief with which the recent election of 'moderate' Hassan Rouhani in Iran has met with internationally, Joyenda noted that the ''president is one thing and the Pasdaran quite another''. The reference to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards was to draw a similar comparison with the elected government in Pakistan and the alleged independent involvement of the latter country's secret services body, the ISI, in training and recruiting insurgents. Reports of an Iranian-funded media network in Afghanistan existing solely to ''push the Iranian agenda'' worry a number of Afghans, and the much publicized Shia Personal Status law of 2011 - heavily contested by women's rights activists and which legalises what has been termed 'spousal rape'- was written by an Iranian trained cleric. Meanwhile, more recently the Taliban sent a high-level delegation to Iran, presenting the visit as ''a meeting between two governments''. The delegates went on to note that until the composition of the High Peace Council is changed, no tangible results could be expected of it. Set up to act as a mediator in the peace process but ''impartial and unrepresentative'', as it is made up mostly of mujahedeen leaders who fought against the Taliban, the AREU director asked the Italian government to put pressure on its Afghan counterpart so that it instead include civil society representatives and those who have not been engaged in previous conflicts.

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