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Women Negotiators Seeking To Preserve Rights In Afghan Peace Talks

FILE: An anti-Taliban protests by women activists in the capital Kabul on March 2.

KABUL, -- Women named as part of an Afghan delegation tasked with conducting peace talks with the Taliban say they will be attempting to preserve women’s rights in complex negotiations with the hard-line Islamist movement aimed at ending four decades of war in Afghanistan.

“We will be aiming to discuss women’s citizenship rights, which will cumulatively include all political, social, and economic rights within the framework of a republican [political system],” Habiba Sarabi, a leading member of the Afghan delegation, told Radio Free Afghanistan.

Sarabi, a physician and deputy leader of the government’s peace council, says they will be specifically looking to preserve the right to vote, right to candidacy, work, free speech, and all other human and women rights in the peace talks with the Taliban. “We don’t expect these issues to be resolved in the coming months because negotiations are a long, drawn-out process,” she said.

Factions and politicians supporting the current political system, formally called Afghanistan’s Islamic Republic, and the Taliban have already missed the March 10 deadline to begin direct negotiations. The fragile process is threatened by mounting violence and disagreements between the Taliban and the Afghan government, which in turn is facing a political crisis. The global coronavirus pandemic also threatens Afghanistan’s future as the country struggles with a lack of healthcare resources and the imminent fallout of global economic decline.

Shahla Fareed, another Afghan peace negotiator, says she hopes her country can avoid a catastrophe by promptly beginning peace negotiations.

“We are likely to face many obstacles in these negotiations, but we hope to convince the Taliban that only Afghans are the victims of war in their country,” she told Radio Free Afghanistan. “I demand that both sides conduct these talks in a calm atmosphere.”

Fareed, however, acknowledged that they still have no agenda for the talks, which she hopes will be put together by the 21-member delegation. Five of its members are women. She said they would hopefully be able to discuss women’s representation, education, work, their participation in security and politics along with guarantees to access healthcare.

So far, the Taliban have vaguely signaled that unlike their hard-line regime in the 1990s, they will be granting women some rights.

“We together will find a way to build an Islamic system in which all Afghans have equal rights, where the rights of women that are granted by Islam -- from the right to education to the right to work -- are protected,” the movement's deputy leader wrote in an op-ed published by the New York Times last month.

On the ground in Afghanistan, however, the Taliban and the Afghan government appeared to be on a trajectory of escalating hostilities. President Ashraf Ghani and his rival former chief executive Abdullah Abdullah have so far failed to agree on power-sharing despite a $1 billon U.S. aid cut and public frustration with their political conflict.

On March 30, the country’s national security council postponed the release of 100 Taliban prisoners. A day earlier, presidential adviser Waheed Omar called on the Taliban “to not make any excuses” after the Taliban refused to deal with the 21-member delegation Kabul announced for holding talks with the insurgents. The Taliban said the team was not inclusive and failed to represent the country’s diversity.

The fragile process is also threatened by mounting Taliban attacks on the Afghan forces. The militants killed at least 28 Afghan soldiers in remote provinces in the south and north of the country. The violence escalates amid mounting fears that a coronavirus pandemic might ravage communities across Afghanistan because the war-torn nation’s anemic healthcare system might not be able to cope with the pandemic.

Last week, the country’s health minister warned as many as 110,000 Afghans will be killed by COVID-19, the disease caused by a coronavirus infection.

Abubakar Siddique wrote this story based on Feroza Azizi’s reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan.

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    Abubakar Siddique

    Abubakar Siddique, the editor of RFE/RL's Gandhara website, is a journalist specializing in coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is the author of The Pashtun Question: The Unresolved Key To The Future Of Pakistan And Afghanistan.