AFGHANISTAN: Afghan Women Fear Taliban Return

Sunday, February 12, 2012
Southern Asia
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Sexual and Gender-Based Violence
Reconstruction and Peacebuilding

As tentative steps are made towards peace talks between the United States and Taliban insurgents, Afghan women are worried about a possible return of the hardline Islamists to the capital Kabul.

When the Taliban were in power from 1996 to 2001, when they were overthrown by a US-led invasion, women were subjected to particularly brutal repression.

They were whipped in the street by the thugs of the religious police if they wore anything other than the all-enveloping blue or white burqa.

Girls were not allowed to go to school and women were not allowed to work.

Fear reigned in the capital, with women accused of adultery among those regularly executed in public at a sports stadium after Friday prayers.

Now, with the Taliban preparing to open an office in the Gulf state of Qatar ahead of possible negotiations with Washington, Afghan women want their voices heard.

"We fear the Taliban return to power," said Shukria Barakzai, a legislator from Kabul in the lower house of parliament. "There should be no deal between the Afghan government and the Taliban."

Barakzai said she objected to the US-backed idea of a Taliban office in Qatar, saying any talks should be held within Afghanistan and women should have a place at the negotiating table.

"We are also part of this land and they cannot ignore us," she told AFP. "Today is not Afghanistan of 1996, this is 2012 Afghanistan."

Under the Western-backed government of President Hamid Karzai girls are in school and women work.

The number of girls in education has risen from 5,000 when the Taliban were ousted in 2001 to 2.5 million, according to a spokesman for the education ministry and a report by a coalition of 16 aid groups last year.

And nearly 70 women are, like Barakzai, members of the 249-seat lower house of parliament.

Women did not want to lose the freedoms they had gained since the overthrow of the Taliban, said northeastern Kunduz province lawmaker Fatema Aziz.

"I fear that these peace talks with the Taliban may sacrifice the past 10 years of achievement the government had in every aspect."

Apart from education, the right to work and freedom from the burqa, the legislators also pointed to greater freedom of expression, which has seen rapid growth in print, television and radio outlets.

The chairwoman of the Afghan Women's Network, Afifa Azim, said she was not against peace talks in principle, although women were worried.

"The Taliban should also accept Afghanistan's constitution and they should observe Afghan women's rights," she said.

"We want to be at the negotiating table as a pressure force -- we want to raise our women's voice."

Since their overthrow, the Taliban have waged a 10-year insurgency against Karzai's government, which is supported in Afghanistan by 130,000 NATO troops.

Civilians have borne the brunt of the war, with a record 3,021 killed in 2011, according to a UN report this month.

The vast majority of the deaths were blamed on the insurgents, who kill indiscriminately with roadside bombs and suicide attacks.

NATO forces will end combat missions in 2014, handing over responsibility to Afghan security forces, and not only the women but most modern Afghans are jittery about the prospect of a Taliban return.