KABUL, Afghanistan -- Meena Ahmadzai is one of the countless victims of the more than four decades of fighting in Afghanistan.
The 26-year-old schoolteacher has endured personal tragedy during the ongoing phase of the war, which has seen the hard-line Taliban movement fighting against the United States and allied NATO and Afghan forces for nearly 18 years.
Now eight months pregnant with her fourth child, she lost her first husband, three brothers, and three brothers-in-law to the fighting in Panjwai, a rural agricultural district some 500 kilometers away in the southern province of Kandahar. The Taliban movement first emerged in Panjwai and other districts surrounding the provincial capital, also called Kandahar, nearly a quarter-century ago.
Ahmadzai is among the more than 900 women participating in a Loya Jirga in the capital, Kabul. The grand assembly is bringing together some 3,200 officials, lawmakers, tribal leaders, religious scholars, and women delegates from across Afghanistan to work out a common approach to peace talks with the Taliban.
“I urge the Taliban to pay attention to the wailing of their Afghan mothers and sisters and cease fighting,” she told Radio Free Afghanistan. “I just want this war to stop because I don’t want my baby to be born and grow up amid fighting.”
Many prominent politicians including Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah (President Ashraf Ghani's partner in the national unity government), former President Hamid Karzai, and a dozen candidates in this year’s presidential election have boycotted the event. The Taliban too have denounced the Loya Jirga and have said that decisions made at the forum are "never acceptable to the real and devout sons of this homeland."
But Ahmadzai and other participants hope that the Jirga provides an appropriate platform to convey their desire for peace. “I have lost many members of my family and am looking after so many orphans now. This is what motivates me to push for peace,” she said.
A young woman delegate, Farzana Kochi, is heading committee No. 33, where Ahmadzai is a member. Since April 30, 52 working committees in the Jirga are working to fine-tune their proposals for how to make peace with the Taliban, who now control large swathes of the Afghan countryside. They are expected to include their proposals in a single list of demands on May 3.
Kochi says women are heading 13 of the working committees, which highlights the fact that their participation is not just symbolic. “The participation of women in these committees and the leadership of the jirga is necessary to ensure that women can express their views,” she said.
Ahmadzai says she is committed to representing the women of Panjwai who have entrusted her with speaking on their behalf. “They want me to let people know they would like to see their children go to school in peace,” she said.
Currently, insecurity has forced more than 4,000 schools to shut across Afghanistan. For Ahmadzai, opening the schools would mark the beginning of a return to peace.
Abubakar Siddique wrote this story based on Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Najia Safi’s reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan.