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Afghans Left Out Of Discussions Around Peace Talks


A week ago today, President Trump delivered the shocking news that he had scheduled and then canceled a secret meeting at Camp David between himself, the president of Afghanistan and the Taliban in a bid to end the U.S.'s 18-year involvement in the country. The Taliban spokesman has urged the U.S. to come back to the bargaining table despite the group's recent bombing campaign, which killed an American soldier among others. But if the talks do resume, our next guest argues that a very important constituency has been missing from the negotiations - the people of Afghanistan.

Joining us now is Gayle Tzemach Lemmon. She's an author who's been traveling to Afghanistan for more than a decade, especially to report on economic development there. She's with us now from our studios at NPR West in Culver City, Calif. Gayle, thanks so much for joining us once again.

GAYLE TZEMACH LEMMON: Great to join you.

MARTIN: So you have extensive contacts in Afghanistan. And after President Trump announced that the talks with the Taliban were over, you contacted people in the country via your usual methods - social media, WhatsApp - to see how they were feeling about all that. What are some of the things that they told you?

LEMMON: You really found this mix of relief and fear, you know, a sense of relief and the sense that - you know? So many activists I'd known since, you know, 2005 had been very worried about what was in the deal between the United States and the Taliban. There was the sense that there was this black box they hadn't yet seen that was going to decide their future, and they had been shut out of it. So you had this mix of relief that's - OK, at least now something we don't know and which could really, you know, harm our future isn't going to happen and, at the same, time huge fear about whether the Taliban would step up attacks even further now that they had taken the idea of talks off the table.

MARTIN: A lot of focus of your reporting in recent years has been both economic development but also women and how, you know, women participate in economic development and how that in turn affects their lives. Is there a particular concern about how the rights of women will be addressed in these negotiations? I mean, the Afghan constitution does already enumerate certain rights for women. But is that a concern?

LEMMON: This had been a huge concern, Michel, among women across the board, you know? Afghanistan is always seen as either a basket case or a beacon of hope. And the truth is it's neither. It's a place where you have people fighting every single day for their future against colossal obstacles. And they keep fighting, right? I mean, you know, 2001, you had very few girls in school given Taliban rule. Now you have around 3 million who are there, right? Could it be better? Yes. But is it much better than it was before? 100%. So there's all these gains that women have made. And the truth is we've so often seen them as victims, and they have actually been raising their voices.

MARTIN: So - and to that point, you say that people in general - both men and women in Afghanistan - feel like now is a pivotal moment for them to be - to have a say. Why is now a focal point of the discussion? What is it about this particular moment that you say is so significant?

LEMMON: No one wants peace more than the Afghan people. I mean, you have moms who do not know if their children will return at night, especially given the stepped-up attacks in recent months. So they say, listen. We agree on the destination, but let's not just keep us, when it's our country, shut out of talks. Let's have a discussion about who gets legitimized, how we do that, what are the milestones, what's the process, how do we verify, and let us be involved from the start.

MARTIN: That's Gayle Tzemach Lemmon. She's adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. She's also written two bestsellers about Afghanistan, including "The Dressmaker Of Khair Khana." Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, thanks so much for talking to us once again.

LEMMON: Oh, it's a pleasure to join you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.