At the heart of the debate: how to preserve the gains of the past 10 years during talks with the notoriously ruthless group.
Since the fall of the Taliban government in late 2001, girls’ schools here have reopened, women have won public office and the burqa is no longer part of a state-enforced dress code. But with the Taliban expected to join a negotiating table where women are vastly outnumbered and outranked, many fear for the future. Female Peace Council members, like Najia Zewari, find themselves on the defensive.
“The women on the council — we want to know that the Taliban will respect our rights, that progress will continue,” Zewari said. “We also want the women of Afghanistan to know that we can be their voice.”
The women of Afghanistan are not convinced.
The men Karzai appointed to the council in October include former warlords and onetime Taliban members. The women are former teachers, activists and politicians, each with horror stories about life under Taliban rule from 1996 until 2001, and injustices they hope to relegate to the past. Together, Karzai said, they could help integrate “our Taliban brothers” into a coalition government.
The presence of women on the panel is further proof, Western officials have said, that the panel is concerned with the rights of all Afghans.
But when the council first met, the nine female members were quickly marginalized.
“The men said ‘Hi, how are you?’ And then they ignored us. We had no voice,” Zewari said.
Members of the High Peace Council have had several conversations with Taliban officials, but negotiations have not formally begun, according to several members of the panel. The Taliban, for its part, publicly denies that such talks have occurred.
“We’re trying to get to a point where both sides can agree on the framework of reconciliation,” one senior member said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
The council’s female members have not been allowed to take part in the initial talks, leaving them exposed to allegations by their fellow women that their presence on the council is merely for show.
“These people do not represent the women of Afghanistan. They're negotiating for our rights — for my rights, for the rights of my daughters — from a position of weakness,” said Fauzia Kofi, a member of parliament.
Many women support the idea of talks with the Taliban, but not without sufficient preconditions and substantial representation, according to Kofi and other prominent female politicians and activists.