OTTAWA — Peace overtures to the Taliban endanger the fragile progress made on women’s rights in Afghanistan, a former Afghan cabinet minister told MPs on Tuesday.
Moussada Jalal, a former Afghan minister of women’s affairs who also ran in last year’s presidential election, urged MPs to pay more attention to the backward steps that have been taken on equality over the last couple of years.
President Hamid Karzai’s government has made reconciliation with hard-line Islamists, including the Taliban and Hezb-e-Islami, a priority to end the war.
Jalal said, however, that women’s groups are fearful and remember what things were like prior to the ouster of the Taliban in 2001.
She told a House of Commons subcommittee she is skeptical the insurgents will ever change.
“The Taliban do not recognize rights and even do not recognize women as human beings entitled to all of their rights,” Jalal told reporters.
“We saw them, how they treated women and civilians as a whole. Them coming to power would create fear, without doubt. And also their ideology would not serve women’s rights and human rights.”
There are deep divisions in the current Afghan government about the idea of peace with the Taliban. The sudden dismissal this week of the country’s intelligence chief and interior minister is an illustration of the rifts.
Both Amrullah Saleh and Hanif Atmar are said to be critical of Karzai, who last week called insurgent fighters his “brothers” and urged them to lay down their weapons.
Saleh was quoted in the international press as saying “negotiating with suicide bombers will disgrace the nation.”
Jalal was equally dismissive of last week’s peace conference and pointed to a recent edict by Mullah Omar, the Taliban supreme leader, who decreed that women in insurgent-controlled areas may only venture outside in the company of male family members. That hearkens back to the social restrictions the Taliban brutally enforced during their time in power.
In many parts of Afghanistan, insurgents operate a shadow government that has more sway than elected officials.
“Their engagement will be bad news to our values, so I hope it doesn’t happen,” Jalal said. “It’s not good for Afghanistan. It’s not good for the democratic processes we have created and invested upon.”
Jalal laid down a long list of demands for Kabul, all of them aimed at strengthening human rights and anti-discrimination laws.
She said the overthrow of the Taliban in the U.S.-led invasion of 2001 ushered in an era of hope and social progress, marked by the return of girls to schools But the government has been increasingly looking for ways to appease hard-line Islamists and last year approved legislation that essentially legalized rape within marriage among the minority Shite population.
Jalal also demanded Karzai implement a transitional justice program, cobbled together in 2005 but abandoned last year. The plan was aimed at bringing warlords, who now hold positions of power, to account for atrocities committed during the country’s civil war.
“They need to go to court,” she said. ”They are criminals.”