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Taliban talks terrify Afghan women

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There is a risk that the gains made by women “can be traded off for short-term political gain,” said Sima Samar, chairwoman of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission.

Mr. Karzai’s own commitment to these freedoms is also a cause of concern for some women.

He has signed laws that protect women’s rights but also has made comments that have alarmed defenders of those rights.

Mr. Karzai ignited a firestorm last year when he attempted to bring all women’s shelters in Afghanistan under government control.

“This was, in our opinion, a hint to the Taliban that when they have a role in the government women’s rights will be on the table,” said Esther Hyneman, a board member at Women for Afghan Women.

“Mr. Karzai abandoned the effort in the face of international pressure, but he had made his point: to illustrate to the Taliban that women’s rights can be disposed of.”

Last month, Mr. Karzai endorsed a statement from the country’s top religious council that women should not interact with men in schools, offices, universities and shopping centers.

The council also said that women should not travel without male relatives and must respect the right of men to polygamy.

“It is Talibanism all over again, and Karzai did nothing to fight it,” said Ms. Hyneman. “He was supportive of rules against women’s freedom that go totally backwards.”

The Karzai administration has set up a High Peace Council to lead the reconciliation process with the militants. Nine of the 69 council members are women, but critics complain that the women’s presence has been largely symbolic.

‘Meaningful role’

“The nine women on the peace council are not part of any negotiations with the Taliban,” said Asila Wardak Jamal, director of Human Rights and Women’s International Affairs in the Afghan Foreign Ministry.

The international community can safeguard hard-won rights and freedoms by supporting the women on the council, she added.

The challenge will be to ensure that the international community protects women’s rights in Afghanistan in any peace process.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton assured a meeting of the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council in Washington last month of the U.S. commitment.

“Any peace that is attempted to be made by excluding more than half the population is no peace at all,” she said. “It is a figment that will not last.”

Two top reasons Afghan women are apprehensive about reconciliation with the Taliban are a lack of transparency and inclusivity in the process.

“We have to push for a more meaningful role for women,” Ms. Sakhi said.

While some women, like Ms. Naderi, say peace cannot be achieved through negotiations with terrorists, others, like Ms. Sakhi, say women’s groups need to be less rigid in their stances on reconciliation.

What all women can agree on is that peace in Afghanistan must not come at the cost of their newfound freedoms.

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About the Author

Ashish Kumar Sen

Ashish Kumar Sen is a reporter covering foreign policy and international developments for The Washington Times.

Prior to joining The Times, Mr. Sen worked for publications in Asia and the Middle East. His work has appeared in a number of publications and online news sites including the British Broadcasting Corp., Asia Times Online and Outlook magazine.


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