After negotiations in Qatar, U.S. and Taliban officials announced they are one step closer to an agreement that could end the American war in Afghanistan. But for some Afghan women, the prospect of an American withdrawal is cause for concern.
The two sides agreed only to the broad outlines of a peace deal, and it remains unclear whether the Taliban will agree to negotiate directly with the Afghan government. Still, the announcement was hailed as a rare sign of diplomatic progress after more than 17 years of fighting.
Meanwhile, some women say that a withdrawal could mean a reversion back to an Afghanistan in which they had virtually no rights.
“If they come back, we wouldn’t be able to walk outside at all,” Shahlah Darwish told The Post’s Pamela Constable in Kabul, recalling how women could not study, hold jobs or even leave their homes without wearing a burqa under Taliban rule.
Women’s rights have advanced significantly in Afghanistan since the Taliban fell in 2001, particularly in urban areas. Women’s equality was enshrined in the constitution, education and employment were made more accessible and women began to serve in government. They also were given increased access to technology, granting them more independence.
Given the progress made, some Afghan officials say it is impossible for the country to backslide.
“I don’t believe Afghanistan could fall back. We are a changed nation,” Roya Rahmani, the Afghan ambassador to the United States, told NPR. Rahmani is the first woman to serve in the role.
She added that “no deal would be acceptable if it ignores half of our population.”
While the situation has improved in Afghan cities, many other parts of the country still hold to cultural norms that deem women second-class citizens. Afghanistan remains one of the worst places in the world for girls to receive an education.
Women have been boxed out of the peace process before, and Felbab-Brown said some of the liberties enjoyed by women could be on the chopping block this time as well.
“Everyone is expecting the Afghan constitution will be revised” in the event of peace, she said. “The question is how much and how badly. Hopefully it won’t be too dogmatic in how it envisions women’s possibilities — but it’s a faint hope.”
While the United States has served as an advocate for women in Afghanistan in the past, it is not clear whether that is still the case.
During the Obama administration, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said any peace deal with the Taliban “can’t come at the cost of women and women’s lives.” But the Trump administration has tended to gloss over human rights abuses by other countries, and experts are concerned women’s rights may be discarded if it means ending the war.
“Across the board, everyone should be concerned about this administration’s lack of focus on human freedom and women’s rights,” said James Schwemlein, a nonresident scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who served as senior adviser to the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan from 2011 to 2017.
Even if the Trump administration strongly pushes for women’s rights in Afghanistan, withdrawing from the country will undoubtedly make it harder to hold the Afghan government accountable for any promises it makes on the issue.