Afghan women note Taliban shift after Doha talks

The spokesman for the Taliban in Qatar, Suhhail Shaheen, attends the Intra Afghan Dialogue talks in the Qatari capital Doha on July 8, 2019. (AFP / KARIM JAAFAR)
Updated 12 July 2019
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Afghan women note Taliban shift after Doha talks

  • In Doha last week, the Islamist militants sat down with Afghan representatives and issued a joint statement that called for assuring women’s rights “within the Islamic framework of Islamic values”

WASHINGTON: An Afghan campaigner who took part in breakthrough talks with the Taliban said Thursday that she saw subtle improvements in the attitude toward women of the insurgents, who severely curtailed their rights while in power.
In a meeting earlier this week in Qatar, the Islamist militants sat down with Afghan representatives and issued a joint statement that called for assuring women’s rights “within the Islamic framework of Islamic values.”
The conference, co-organized by Germany, came as the United States negotiates with the Taliban to pull troops from Afghanistan — with women’s rights not explicitly on the agenda.
Asila Wardak, a women’s rights campaigner who works for the Afghan foreign ministry, said she was surprised at the positive atmosphere in Doha as women mingled directly with the Taliban over dinner and tea breaks.
“It was interesting to me as an Afghan woman as they didn’t shake hands but they warmly welcomed us,” she told a symposium at Georgetown University on the peace process, speaking by video from Kabul.
Two Taliban delegates even showed flashes of humor, telling the Afghan women that they heard they would be coming and saying, “’Please don’t give us a hard time,’” she said.
“Maybe I’m wrong but their attitude has totally changed toward women, toward government employees,” she said.
“But I do not say that their behavior (changed) or, ideologically or strategically, they didn’t change anything,” she said, pointing to a massive blast in eastern Afghanistan that killed 12 and injured dozens of children just as the Qatar talks were opening.

Asila Wardak (left), a member of Afghanistan High Peace Council, and Anarkali Honaryar, a Punjabi Sikh Afghan politician, attend the Intra Afghan Dialogue talks in the Qatari capital Doha on July 7, 2019. (AFP file photo)

Ghizaal Haress, a constitutional scholar at the American University of Afghanistan, said it remained unclear what the Taliban were saying by signing the declaration in Doha.
“The term ‘Islamic regime’ is very vague, it’s very broad and there is a fear of what it will mean under the interpretation of the Taliban,” she said.
The Taliban were notorious for their harsh treatment of women during their five-year rule of Afghanistan, which ended with the US-led invasion after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
The insurgents forced women to cover themselves completely under burqas, banned them from working and restricted most education for girls.
President Donald Trump is impatient to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan, believing the mission is not worth the cost after nearly two decades.
His administration is aiming to reach an accord with the Taliban by September.
Such a deal is expected to have two main pillars — a US withdrawal from Afghanistan and a commitment by the militants not to offer sanctuary to jihadists.
But Zalmay Khalilzad, the US negotiator who has held seven rounds of talks with the Taliban, told the Georgetown event in a video message that he will ensure that women “have a seat, or several seats, at the negotiating table.”
Alice Wells, the acting assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, said that Afghanistan’s future relationship with the United States will “depend heavily” on preserving the gains made by women.
“No current or future Afghan government should count on international donor support if that government restricts, represses or relegates Afghan women to second-class status,” she said.


Widespread blackout hits Venezuela, government blames ‘electromagnetic attack’

People pour to the streets in Caracas on July 22, 2019 as the capital and other parts of Venezuela are being hit by a massive power cut. (AFP)
Updated 2 min 57 sec ago
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Widespread blackout hits Venezuela, government blames ‘electromagnetic attack’

  • Venezuelan Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez said the outage on Monday was caused by an “electromagnetic attack,” without providing evidence

CARACAS: More than half of Venezuela’s 23 states lost power on Monday, according to Reuters witnesses and reports on social media, a blackout the government blamed on an “electromagnetic attack.”
It was the first blackout to include the capital, Caracas, since March, when the government blamed the opposition and United States for a series of power outages that left millions of people without running water and telecommunications.
The blackouts exacerbated an economic crisis that has halved the size of the economy.
Venezuelan Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez said the outage on Monday was caused by an “electromagnetic attack,” without providing evidence. He added that authorities were in the process of re-establishing service.
Power returned for about 10 minutes to parts of southeastern Bolivar state, site of the Guri hydroelectric dam — the source of most of Venezuela’s generation — but went out again, according to a Reuters witness. Electricity was still out throughout Caracas.
“It terrifies me to think we are facing a national blackout again,” said Maria Luisa Rivero, a 45-year-old business owner from the city of Valencia, in the central state of Carabobo.
“The first thing I did was run to freeze my food so that it does not go bad like it did like the last time in March. It costs a lot to buy food just to lose it,” she said.
The oil-rich country’s hyperinflationary economic crisis has led to widespread shortages in food and medicine, prompting over 4 million Venezuelans to leave the country.
Venezuela’s national power grid has fallen into disrepair after years of inadequate investment and maintenance, according to the opposition and power experts.
“These blackouts are catastrophic,” said 51-year-old janitor Bernardina Guerra, who lives in Caracas. “I live in the eastern part of the city and there the lights go out every day. Each day things are worse.”