U.S. intelligence agencies warn in an unclassified report released on May 4 that gains in women's rights in Afghanistan made in the last two decades will be at risk after U.S. troops withdraw.
"The Taliban remains broadly consistent in its restrictive approach to women's rights and would roll back much of the past two decades of progress if the group regains national power," said the report by the National Intelligence Council, the U.S. intelligence community's top analytical body.
It is the latest warning of the consequences of the troop withdrawal now under way and expected to be complete by September under a new deadline set by U.S. President Joe Biden.
Biden last month announced his decision to withdraw the last 2,500 U.S. troops by September 11, the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that prompted the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan. NATO allies agreed that foreign troops under the alliance’s command will also withdraw, fueling fears of a civil war that could topple the government and return the Taliban to power.
General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on May 2 that there would possibly be “some really dramatic, bad possible outcomes” for Afghan forces after U.S. and NATO troops leave and they are left to counter the Taliban on their own. But he added: “We frankly don't know yet.”
During the Taliban’s 1996-2001 rule, women were barred from education and largely confined to their homes. In public they were required to fully cover their bodies and faces and were barred from leaving home without a male relative. They could be stoned for committing "moral offenses."
U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad said on April 27 that hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. aid to Afghanistan could be slashed if a Taliban-dominated government did not respect human rights, especially women’s rights.
Some U.S. senators have said they would oppose aid if the rights of Afghan women and girls are not protected after U.S. troops go home.
The Taliban last month issued a statement promising that women could “serve their society in the education, business, health, and social fields while maintaining correct Islamic hijab,” referring to the Arabic word for veil.
But the report released on May 4 underscores skepticism of those pledges.
It says the Taliban's desires for foreign aid and legitimacy “might marginally moderate its conduct over time,” but “in the early days of reestablishing its Emirate, the Taliban probably would focus on extending control on its own terms."
It also points out that the Taliban has seen “minimal leadership turnover, maintains inflexible negotiating positions, and enforces strict social constraints in areas that it already controls.”
Progress in women's rights, including their roles in the legislature and as doctors and lawyers, “probably owes more to external pressure than domestic support, suggesting it would be at risk after coalition withdrawal,” the report says.
It adds that the prevalence of cell phones in the country could potentially increase the world's awareness of “extreme Taliban behavior” and there could be heightened international attention on the Taliban's activities in the aftermath of the war.