Afghanistan Female Delegation Negotiates Face-to-Face with Taliban in Historic Oslo Meeting

OSLO, Norway - Earlier this week, it was widely reported that the first all-female delegation of Afghan women led by Parliamentarians Shukria Barakzai and Fawzia Koofi, met with Taliban representatives in Oslo, Norway to discuss women's rights, with a particular focus on the need for reform in how women are treated within Taliban controlled areas of Afghanistan. The desired outcome of these negotiations was the protection of the gains women’s rights activists had achieved.

"Afghan women defended their rights with courage," Barakzai said. Their demands at this initial meeting were about "safeguarding the democratic values achieved in the last decade."

Given the historically hardline position that the Taliban has exerted over women in Afghanistan in terms of their rights to self-determination, education, and freedom of expression; these talks were a momentous milestone in a road that is still fraught with peril and has many miles to be travelled toward achieving any future power-sharing agreement.

These groundbreaking talks happened in the midst of a country trying to reassert its identity after decades of external and internal military and religious turmoil. An environment which help to foment a level of religious conservatism which promulgated the harshest and most appalling acts of human rights abuses. With the encroachment of ISIS and its extremist’s tactics, most of which make the Taliban seem rational by contrast; ideas and dogma previously held sacrosanct are being reevaluated.

It is within this context of the Arab proverb “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” that new alliances are emerging as Kabul and the Taliban begin to explore a peaceful end to the ongoing conflict. These current talks can be seen as an extension of negotiations hosted by Qatar a month earlier between militants and an unofficial Afghan delegation. Although, Afghan women have been members of parliament for a number of years, these progressive talks provided them with a seat at the table whereupon negotiations affecting all of the citizens of Afghanistan were being discussed.

It was reported that about a dozen women attended the negotiations, although most chose to hide their identities for fear of reprisal. Last year Barakzai was targeted by militants and narrowly escaped a suicide bomb attack with minor injuries. Despite this, she continues to push for women’s rights and praised the relative ease of these talks in part due to the election of President Ashraf Ghani, a prominent supporter of employment and education rights for all Afghan citizens, regardless of gender.

It's too early to tell how much of an impact the unofficial meetings will have, but ideally these historic negotiations will be a turning point in Taliban/women relations and will pave the way for many more similar exchanges.

Contributing Journalist: @SJJakubowski
Facebook: Sarah Joanne Jakubowski

Gazprom Pipeline Runs Dry

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Michael Ransom, Contributing EditorLast Modified: 08:05 p.m. DST, 21 June 2014

"CIMG0406"  Photo by: JanChr KIEV, Ukraine -- The violent conflict between Russian separatists and Ukrainian militias is slowing down, if only momentarily, due to a ceasefire declared by Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko on Wednesday, 18 June. While bloodshed may be decreasing, Russia has initiated a new economic offensive, shutting off the primary gas pipeline running between the two nations.

According to Russian officials, Ukraine has run up an oil bill totaling more than $4 billion, although Poroshenko's administration denies this figure. The issue at hand is not whether Ukraine owes its northeastern neighbor for unpaid gas, but rather the size of the debt. Ukrainians have been vocal about Russian price-gouging, claiming that exports to Ukraine are sent at a steep premium when compared to other countries. Also, according to Poroshenko the value of Russian oil fluctuates at president Vladimir Putin's convenience.

While Russia closed the tab on 16 June, the move will not immediately impact the Ukrainian markets. Like much of Russian diplomacy, shutting off the pipeline is more a show of power than anything else. For now, the gas reservoirs throughout Ukraine are full and will provide energy for months. Even so, winter months are brutal in Ukraine, and officials will need to act fast to secure reliable gasoline preserves for wintertime.

The feud impacts communities outside of Russia and Ukraine. Gazprom, the corporation responsible for the supply termination, is the largest gas company in Russia and one of the largest international suppliers. European Union nations rely largely on the circulation of Gazprom oil through Ukraine, which is then sold and traded further west into EU countries. The uncertain relationship between Russia and Ukraine, especially in light of the ongoing Ukrainian civil war, leaves EU member nations at the mercy of regional stability.

Sensing the gravity of the situation, EU representatives have tried to middleman a compromise between Ukrainian and Russian executives, to no avail. Gazprom will require Ukraine to pay at least half of the debt before any more oil crosses the border. Ukraine has dismissed the offer, citing the longstanding price inflation and demanding that the costs be set at a rate consistent with the international market.

At the end of the day, both Ukraine and Russia have much to gain by cooperation, and more to lose if the regional friction continues to silence synergy. A good portion of Gazprom revenue comes from Ukrainian consumers and the network of markets throughout the EU. And similarly, Ukrainian winters could prove dangerous without the necessary raw materials.

The stalemate is expected to drag on, as both parties are sure of their facts and figures regarding oil transactions. Russia and Ukraine will both plead their case to international mediators in the coming months, but considering the average length of arbitration and settlement agreement, it will likely come down to the combined efforts of Kiev and Moscow to resolve the dispute and steady the market.

Follow Michael on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Contributing Editor: @MAndrewRansom