Women among Taliban negotiators

Peace coming back to Afghanistan at the cost of women’s rights is legitimate talking point

Editorial April 18, 2019

The three-day Afghan reconciliation talks in Doha beginning tomorrow will be an unusual gathering as for the first time ever a Taliban delegation would include women. A confirmation to this effect has come from none other than Zabihullah Mujahid, the chief Taliban spokesman.

Presence of women among Taliban negotiators would be a huge shift in the ideology of a group that had put women virtually under house arrest during its five-year-long rule in Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001. Under the restrictive Taliban rule, women were forbidden to go out to work or receive education. They were not even allowed to leave their homes unless accompanied by a male member of the family; and when they did go out, they were required to wear an all-covering burqa. There were even instances of women losing their lives for disobeying Taliban diktats.

After the Taliban regime had been toppled in 2001 in the wake of a US-led ‘war on terror’, the overall situation with respect to women’s rights in the war-torn country improved. Even though the Afghan society remains largely conservative as a whole, the governments that followed allowed women relative liberties, especially in the urban areas.

Over the last decade or so, women have got the opportunities to even serve as parliament members, and in the Afghan security forces. With a regime change now looming on the horizon, there have been growing concerns that the advances in the context of women’s rights run the risk of getting reversed. There are female segments in the Afghan society that are even frightened by the thought of such a change at the helm.

So peace coming back to Afghanistan at the cost of women’s rights is a legitimate talking point in the country and outside. And it’s indeed a significantly optimistic sign to see the Taliban welcome women representation in the talks on the future of a 34 million-strong nation that features 14.2 million females.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 18th, 2019.

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