Afghan women note Taliban shift after Doha talks

The spokesman for the Taliban in Qatar, Suhhail Shaheen, attends the Intra Afghan Dialogue talks in the Qatari capital Doha on July 8, 2019. (AFP / KARIM JAAFAR)
Updated 12 July 2019
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Afghan women note Taliban shift after Doha talks

  • In Doha last week, the Islamist militants sat down with Afghan representatives and issued a joint statement that called for assuring women’s rights “within the Islamic framework of Islamic values”

WASHINGTON: An Afghan campaigner who took part in breakthrough talks with the Taliban said Thursday that she saw subtle improvements in the attitude toward women of the insurgents, who severely curtailed their rights while in power.
In a meeting earlier this week in Qatar, the Islamist militants sat down with Afghan representatives and issued a joint statement that called for assuring women’s rights “within the Islamic framework of Islamic values.”
The conference, co-organized by Germany, came as the United States negotiates with the Taliban to pull troops from Afghanistan — with women’s rights not explicitly on the agenda.
Asila Wardak, a women’s rights campaigner who works for the Afghan foreign ministry, said she was surprised at the positive atmosphere in Doha as women mingled directly with the Taliban over dinner and tea breaks.
“It was interesting to me as an Afghan woman as they didn’t shake hands but they warmly welcomed us,” she told a symposium at Georgetown University on the peace process, speaking by video from Kabul.
Two Taliban delegates even showed flashes of humor, telling the Afghan women that they heard they would be coming and saying, “’Please don’t give us a hard time,’” she said.
“Maybe I’m wrong but their attitude has totally changed toward women, toward government employees,” she said.
“But I do not say that their behavior (changed) or, ideologically or strategically, they didn’t change anything,” she said, pointing to a massive blast in eastern Afghanistan that killed 12 and injured dozens of children just as the Qatar talks were opening.

Asila Wardak (left), a member of Afghanistan High Peace Council, and Anarkali Honaryar, a Punjabi Sikh Afghan politician, attend the Intra Afghan Dialogue talks in the Qatari capital Doha on July 7, 2019. (AFP file photo)

Ghizaal Haress, a constitutional scholar at the American University of Afghanistan, said it remained unclear what the Taliban were saying by signing the declaration in Doha.
“The term ‘Islamic regime’ is very vague, it’s very broad and there is a fear of what it will mean under the interpretation of the Taliban,” she said.
The Taliban were notorious for their harsh treatment of women during their five-year rule of Afghanistan, which ended with the US-led invasion after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
The insurgents forced women to cover themselves completely under burqas, banned them from working and restricted most education for girls.
President Donald Trump is impatient to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan, believing the mission is not worth the cost after nearly two decades.
His administration is aiming to reach an accord with the Taliban by September.
Such a deal is expected to have two main pillars — a US withdrawal from Afghanistan and a commitment by the militants not to offer sanctuary to jihadists.
But Zalmay Khalilzad, the US negotiator who has held seven rounds of talks with the Taliban, told the Georgetown event in a video message that he will ensure that women “have a seat, or several seats, at the negotiating table.”
Alice Wells, the acting assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, said that Afghanistan’s future relationship with the United States will “depend heavily” on preserving the gains made by women.
“No current or future Afghan government should count on international donor support if that government restricts, represses or relegates Afghan women to second-class status,” she said.


Voting closing in race to become UK’s new prime minister

Updated 22 July 2019
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Voting closing in race to become UK’s new prime minister

  • Members of the governing Conservative Party had until 5 p.m. (1600 GMT) to return postal ballots in the contest between Johnson and Jeremy Hunt to lead the party

LONDON: Voting was closing Monday in the race to become Britain’s next prime minister, as critics of likely winner Boris Johnson condemned his vow to take Britain out of the European Union with or without a divorce deal.
Members of the governing Conservative Party had until 5 p.m. (1600 GMT) to return postal ballots in the contest between Johnson and Jeremy Hunt to lead the party.
The winner will be announced Tuesday, and will take over as the nation’s leader from Prime Minister Theresa May the following day.
Johnson, a populist former mayor of London, is the strong favorite.
Several members of May’s government have said they will resign before they can be fired by Johnson over their opposition to his threat to go through with a no-deal Brexit if he can’t secure a renegotiated settlement with the EU.
Most economists say quitting the 28-nation bloc without a deal would cause Britain economic turmoil. The UK’s official economic watchdog has forecast that a no-deal Brexit would trigger a recession, with the pound plummeting in value, borrowing soaring by 30 billion pounds ($37 billion) and the economy shrinking 2% in a year.
Former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Monday that a no-deal Brexit would be “an act of economic self-harm that runs wholly counter to the national interest.”
EU leaders insist they won’t reopen the 585-page withdrawal agreement they made with May’s government, which has been repeatedly rejected by Britain’s Parliament.
Foreign Office Minister Alan Duncan quit Monday, lamenting in his resignation letter that “we have had to spend every day working beneath the dark cloud of Brexit.”
Other government ministers, including Treasury chief Philip Hammond, are set to resign on Wednesday.
The new prime minister will preside over a House of Commons in which most members oppose leaving the EU without a deal, and where the Conservative Party lacks an overall majority.
Opposition parties are preparing for an early election which could be triggered if the government loses a no-confidence vote in the coming months.
The centrist Liberal Democrats, who have seen a surge in support thanks to their strongly anti-Brexit stance, were set to declare the winner of their own leadership contest on Monday.