KABUL: An international rights group has called on the Afghan government and its Western backers to ensure gains made by women in the country are not sacrificed in any peace talks with the Taliban.
A week ahead of a major international conference in Kabul to discuss the future of Afghanistan, New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) also called for current leaders to be made accountable for past crimes.
In a report released on Tuesday, the organisation said moves towards talking peace with the Islamist Taliban to end the war have the potential to roll back rights hard-won by the Afghan women. It cites the way women and girls are treated in areas under Taliban control, denied constitutional rights to be educated and work outside their homes, under threat of violence or death.
The 70-page report, “The Ten-Dollar Talib and Women’s Rights”, warns that President Hamid Karzai’s government may be willing to compromise on these rights as part of any deal with the insurgents. “Afghan women want an end to the conflict. But as the prospect of negotiations with the Taliban draws closer, many women fear that they may also pay a heavy price for peace,” the report says.
“Reconciliation with the Taliban, a group synonymous with misogynous policies and the violent repression of women, raises serious concerns about the possible erosion of recently gained rights and freedoms,” it says.
Rhetoric about embracing Taliban loyalists who fight from economic need rather than ideological sympathy “ignores the experiences of women living in Taliban-controlled areas”.
The Taliban’s five-year rule, which ended with a US-led invasion in 2001, was marked by general repression that was particularly brutal towards women. Girls were not permitted to go to school - and even now are sometimes attacked and their schools destroyed by extremists.
Women were not allowed out unless accompanied by a male relative and wearing a burqa. They were attacked in the street for such perceived crimes as wearing white shoes and rape victims were publicly executed as adulterers.
Even today, women who become politically active often face death threats and some have been murdered or forced into exile abroad.
After nine years of insurgency and with the war at its deadliest, Karzai has proposed negotiating with the Taliban leadership. The militia holds sway over large parts of the south, with a presence across most of Afghanistan.
The United States and Nato, keen to end a war increasingly unpopular in the West, are building up their troop numbers to 150,000 in Afghanistan as part of a counter-insurgency “surge”. They are funding a programme of reintegration that aims to encourage low-level fighters - “10-dollar Talibs” - to go home and get jobs.
HRW says Afghan women fear that if Taliban commanders are granted political power in a reconciliation process without restrictions or involvement of women, “the result is likely to be the denial of the rights of women and girls”.
The Taliban have said they will not start negotiations until all foreign forces have left Afghanistan.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 14th, 2010.
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