The Taliban attempted Sunday to convince the global community a “genuine Islamic system” that the hardline insurgent group is seeking in a post-conflict Afghanistan would allow women to work and seek education “with confidence.”
Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, deputy chief for Taliban political affairs, outlined the assurance in a statement his office released to media, renewing a commitment to finding a negotiated settlement to the Afghan war.
The statement came amid an unprecedented increase in fighting between Afghan government forces and the Taliban as U.S.-brokered slow-moving peace negotiations between the two adversaries failed to make any headway.
Meanwhile, the United States and NATO allies are withdrawing their last remaining troops from Afghanistan by a September 11 deadline, raising fears of more bloodshed and chaos that could encourage the Islamist Taliban to regain power through military means. The insurgents have overrun dozens of Afghan districts since the foreign troop drawdown formally began on May 1.
“A genuine Islamic system is the best means for solution of all issues of the Afghans," Baradar maintained. "Our very participation in the negotiations and its support on our part indicates openly that we believe in resolving issues through [mutual] understanding.”
The Taliban are largely blamed for the deadlock in what are known as the intra-Afghan negotiations being hosted by Doha, the capital of Qatar.
Critics say the insurgents have not yet submitted a peace plan as to what type of governance system they would want and whether the dialogue process would eventually lead to safeguarding rights of all Afghans, particularly women.
“We understand that the world and Afghans have queries and questions about the form of the system to be established following withdrawal of foreign troops," said Baradar, who also heads the Taliban's political office in Doha.
Baradar said his group would ensure protection of rights of all minorities and facilitate the work of diplomats as well as global non-governmental organizations operating out of the poverty-stricken country.
“We take it on ourselves as a commitment to accommodate all rights of citizens of our country, whether they are male or female, in the light of the rules of the glorious religion of Islam and the noble traditions of the Afghan society," he said.
He did not elaborate on whether the Taliban would allow women to carry out public roles and whether workplaces as well as schools would be segregated by gender as was the case after the Islamic group swept to power in 1996 and went on to rule the country for five years.
Mohammad Naeem, who speaks for the Taliban’s Doha office, told VOA when contacted for clarification that his group has always supported and “respected” all those rights of women that are “granted by Islam to them and that are in line with Afghan cultural traditions.” He dismissed as “misplaced propaganda” anything that counters the group’s stated policy.
“However, the details and the contours will be determined once we have the system in place and our prominent religious scholars work out those details through consensus,” Naeem said when asked whether the Taliban would allow women to participate in politics and carry out other public roles.
The Taliban had imposed a harsh version of Islamic law that barred girls from school and women from stepping out of their homes without a male relative, among other controversial measures.
The U.S.-led military invasion of Afghanistan nearly 20 years ago ousted the Taliban from power for harboring al-Qaida leaders who plotted the September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.
There are growing concerns that if the Taliban return to power in a dominant way, they will roll back the progress made in Afghan women’s rights with the help and massive U.S. financial assistance over the past two decades.
Afghan women activists have vowed to defend those gains.
Sahraa Karimi, an artist and independent filmmaker, said both negotiating teams must be willing to make compromises to move the peace process forward.
“But there is a difference between a compromise and forcing something on the other side. If they [Taliban] want to ignore Afghan women, there wouldn’t be peace,” Karimi told VOA. “The new generation of Afghan women are very well aware about their rights. They are not the women of 1990s. So, they [Taliban] should accept us. They cannot force us to go backward.”
Fatima Gailani is one of the four women who are part of Kabul’s 21-member team negotiating peace with the Taliban. She says her delegation has made it clear to insurgent interlocutors that the space Afghan women have acquired over the years must be preserved in any eventual arrangement.
“They [Taliban] do say that what happened [to women] during that situation [when Taliban ruled Kabul], was a mistake and it was something which happened in a hurry,” Gailani told a seminar in Islamabad last week. She had been asked whether, in their talks, they had raised concerns stemming from the Taliban’s treatment of women previously.
Gailani spoke from Doha via video phone to the participants of the unofficial dialogue between Afghan and Pakistani lawmakers, officials and activists on peace prospects in Afghanistan.
The Taliban defend the policies of the ousted government, saying the country was in the grip of a deadly civil war at the time and lawlessness required emergency measures to ensure protection of women.