Four Afghan women, who endured the repressive regime of the Taliban and who have fought for fragile profits since the terrorists were driven out, face the tough group in peace talks.
Their presence at the negotiating table matters in patriarchal Afghanistan, although they outnumber the rest of the Afghan government’s 17-strong team and the male-only side of the Taliban.
“The Taliban must understand that they are facing a new Afghanistan that they have to learn to live with,” negotiator Fawzia Koofi told AFP ahead of the talks that began on Saturday.
The politician and high-profile activist for women’s rights has survived two attacks during her career – the last one in Kabul only last month.
“Playing such an important role is not very common in Afghanistan. So you really have to find your way around people who do not believe in the presence of a woman,” Koofi said before filming.
When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, her husband was imprisoned and threatened with stoning for wearing nail polish, she said.
The religious police whipped women in the street if they wore anything other than an all-concealed burqa, and those accused of adultery were sometimes executed in sports stadiums after Friday prayers.
Today, the traditional patriarchal system is the norm, and the lives of most rural women have seen little improvement since the 2001 US-led invasion toppled the Taliban, banning girls from school and women from work.
However, progress has been made in Kabul and other Afghan cities.
Some women are in secondary and tertiary education and hold elected positions or run businesses, albeit in disproportionate numbers.
Koofi is one of the few women who had unofficial talks with the Taliban in 2019 and knows that the negotiators are facing the fight.
“It’s not just about what you’re talking about,” she said. “People look at what you are wearing, whether your scarf is the right size or not.”
– ‘We are always afraid’ –
Washington signed a treaty with the Taliban in February that pledged to withdraw foreign forces in order to promise insurgents to hold talks with the Afghan government to end the war.
After long delays due to a controversial prisoner swap, direct talks were finally opened on Saturday in the Qatari capital Doha.
The 66-year-old expert and negotiator on Islamic law, Fatima Gailani, told AFP that women were concerned about negotiations with the Taliban.
“Every woman in Afghanistan is afraid … we are always afraid that if something changes in Afghanistan and if there is a political change, women will always be hurt,” said Gailani, a spokeswoman for the mujahideen against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s Years and former president of the Afghan Red Cross.
But she said she has the support of the men on her team who “believe in exactly what I believe in”.
Initially, however, the talks should focus on “shared values” such as Islam and on reaching a ceasefire in the Afghanistan conflict, in which tens of thousands have been killed and millions displaced since 2001.
“I would very much like to see an Afghanistan in which you do not see yourself in danger … If we do not get there now it will never happen,” said Gailani.
The Taliban have only made vague comments on women’s rights, stating that these are protected by Islamic values.
Another negotiator, Habiba Sarabi, who was not allowed to work under Taliban rule and was forced to flee to Pakistan in order to continue teaching, wants to ensure that Afghanistan remains a republic and not a Taliban-led “emirate” in where religious law transcends constitutional rights.
The 62-year-old, who became the country’s first female provincial governor on her return to Afghanistan and served twice as minister, is still not convinced that the Taliban fighters at the front have changed, although the political leaders of the group have agreed Peace talks have passed over to the Afghan government.
“The fighters here in Afghanistan have the same ideology, they have the same behavior,” she said.
On Saturday she told AFP that the opening of the talks had been “very positive”.
The other woman on the negotiating team is Sharifa Zurmati, a former broadcaster and local politician in the eastern province of Paktia.
The team previously had a fifth female member, Shahla Fareed, a lawyer and suffragette, but she is no longer on the delegation.
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by GossipMantri staff and published from a syndicated feed.)