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Of course, it should be noted that these incremental steps of progress can’t paper over the fact that life for most Afghan women is still a Hobbesian existence. According to the US State Department, Afghanistan is a major source, transit, and destination country for the forced labor and sex trafficking of women and children.
Most of those trafficked were girls under age 18, with about 29 percent having been forced into marriage after being “raped, kidnapped, harassed or exposed to violence.”
Not unexpectedly, the result of these and other abuses has made the life expectancy of Afghan women just 44 years, with a recent UN report also finding 31 percent of them suffering physical violence and another 30 percent suffering from psychological trauma.
The advancement in human rights, respect and education for Afghan women and girls may be only marginal, but the gains are nonetheless threatened by negotiations with the Taliban.
Still, some have said that the entire High Peace Council gender debate is much ado about nothing, as talks with the Taliban to discuss a framework of reconciliation have reportedly gone nowhere. In fact, the Taliban has adamantly denied that any peace talks have ever occurred. As Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid recently said, “There is no negotiation…we deny any report about such kind of peace talks.”
While some Taliban have joined the Afghan government, and some lower and mid-level fighters have reintegrated into their communities, its 30,000 insurgents still seem fiercely intent on continuing the insurgency and relinquishing their lost power.
To prove that point, violence in Afghanistan has exploded to record levels, as insurgents have been markedly increasing their attacks on US coalition forces, as well as stepping up suicide strikes, bombings and intimidation against Afghan officials and civilians. According to a July report by the Afghanistan Analysts Network, there has been a 119 percent rise in insurgency attacks, as well as a 106 percent rise in civilian casualties over the past year.
Recent examples of the Taliban assault on the Afghan civilian population include the hanging of an 8-year-old boy from a balcony after his father, an Afghan policeman, refused to comply with their demands to provide them with a police vehicle; the beheading of four men who were working to remove land mines from western Afghanistan; and the forcing of an 8-year-old girl to detonate herself at an Afghan police checkpoint.
Moreover, the Taliban has assassinated six high-profile Afghan government figures in the last month, including President Karzai’s half-brother, Ahmad Wali Karzai, and Jan Mohammad Khan, the former governor of southern Urozgan. The most recent victim was the mayor of Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second largest city, who was killed by a suicide bomber hiding an explosive device in his turban.
So, despite the investment of men, time, and money in developing an effective Afghan National Army (ANA) and police force to save the existing regime from sliding back into Taliban control, all signs seem to point to an eventual Taliban triumph.
That dismal prospect is why some have pinned their hopes on reaching some accommodations with the Taliban. As Najia Zewari, a female High Peace Council member, said, “We want the Taliban to know that they respect our rights.”
Yet, that prospect seems unlikely to ever come to fruition. Human Rights Watch Washington director Tom Malinowski has said it’s “hard to imagine that the Taliban are going to stop believing or acting as they do.”
If that’s indeed the case, it certainly hasn’t stirred concern in Afghan President Hamid Karzai, whose feelings toward the Taliban were perhaps best expressed in 2009 when he said, “We call on our Taliban brothers to come home and embrace their land.” If that event does transpire, for the women and girls of Afghanistan, it promises to be a deadly homecoming.
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