World attention remains focused on Afghanistan in the wake of the withdrawal of US and Nato forces from the war-ravaged country. Taliban’s aggressive military offensive continues — and to everyone’s surprise, with massive success. Although Taliban fighters mainly hail from the southern Pashtun belt, they have also wrested control of several northern districts from the Afghan national army, with two-thirds of the whole country having come under their occupation. They have also seized major border posts like in Spin Boldak on the border with Pakistan, Sher Khan Bandar on the border with Uzbekistan, and others bordering Iran and Tajikistan.
With Taliban on a roll, human rights — especially those concerning women — have come under a sharp focus. Women’s rights were crushed during the Mujahedeen government in Afghanistan in the 90s. However, after the establishment of Karzai government following the Bonn process, women’s participation in national life was somewhat restored. But the fact that Afghanistan is a tribal society, there is hardly any support from the Afghan leadership for protection of women’s rights. Significantly, wives of Afghan leaders have virtually no participation in national life. This is true for the Karzai and Ghani governments. Moreover, families of top Afghan leaders live abroad. Abdullah Abdullah’s family lives in India and Rasheed Dostum’s in Ankara from where they get financial support.
The Doha Agreement leading to withdrawal of US and Nato forces has conjured major challenges within Afghanistan as well as the regional countries. While the government of President Ashraf Ghani faces a precarious situation following the Taliban’s military successes, he was assured of military and economic support by the Biden administration which may help him survive for a few months.
Taliban and the Ghani government have been holding talks in Doha for a political settlement but the progress so far is bleak. Given the Taliban’s aggressive military posture, there is a fear of a civil war, with adverse implications for the neighbouring countries also.
With the Afghan situation turning scarier by the day, there is heightened international concern regarding women’s rights, in particular. Women’s organisations in Afghanistan and all over the world have been raising alarm about the dangers Afghan women are likely to face in case of Afghanistan’s takeover by Taliban through use of force. There are growing worries that women’s right, including the right to education, would be rolled back.
During the Taliban’s rule in Afghanistan from 1996 to 2002, women were denied education, access to healthcare and participation in public life. Their freedom of movement was severely restricted and they were not allowed to leave their homes unless accompanied by a close male relative, and were subjected to unfair punishments.
Currently too, women remain deprived of their basic rights in areas that have fallen to the Taliban, substantiating fears that the harsh treatment of women would continue under a Taliban rule in Afghanistan. Believing in a strict interpretation of Sharia, Taliban have strong proclivities to ban women appearing in public or working outside their homes. Afghan women are, thus, traumatised at the thought of revival of a Taliban rule.
Under the circumstances, there is a pressing need for the world to address concerns over women’s rights vis-a-vis education, health, work, freedom of movement, and even life security. Women must be empowered and engaged at the negotiating table. Governments across the world must try and ensure women’s representation in the Afghan peace process so as to conform to international conventions and global practices.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 15th, 2021.
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