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

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.


US lawmakers reach deal on massive defense bill

Updated 21 min 22 sec ago

US lawmakers reach deal on massive defense bill

  • The US House of Representatives and Senate Armed Services Committees agreed on a compromise version of the National Defense Authorization Act
  • The bill says Trump should implement sanctions on Turkey over the S-400 purchase, something lawmakers have been demanding

WASHINGTON: US lawmakers announced an agreement on Monday on a $738-billion bill setting policy for the Department of Defense, including new measures for competing with Russia and China, family leave for federal workers and the creation of President Donald Trump’s long-desired Space Force.
It also calls for sanctions on Turkey over its purchase of a Russian missile defense system, and a tough response to North Korea’s efforts to develop nuclear weapons.
The US House of Representatives and Senate Armed Services Committees agreed on a compromise version of the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, after months of negotiations. It is expected to pass before Congress leaves Washington later this month for the year-end holiday break.
The legislation includes $658.4 billion for the Department of Defense and Department of Energy national security programs, $71.5 billion to pay for ongoing foreign wars, known as “Overseas Contingency Operations” funding, and $5.3 billion in emergency funding for repairs of damage from extreme weather and natural disasters.
There were concerns earlier this year that the NDAA might fail for the first time in 58 years over steep divides between the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives and Republican-controlled Senate over Trump’s policies.
Because it is one of the few pieces of major legislation Congress passes every year, the NDAA becomes a vehicle for a range of policy measures as well as setting everything from military pay levels to which ships or aircraft will be modernized, purchased or discontinued.
It includes a 3.1 percent pay hike for the troops, the largest in a decade and, for the first time, 12 weeks of paid parental leave for federal workers, something Democrats strongly sought.
Among other things, the proposed fiscal 2020 NDAA imposes sanctions related to Russia’s Nord Stream 2 and TurkStream pipelines and bars military-to-military cooperation with Russia.
Russia is building the pipelines to bolster supply to Europe while bypassing Ukraine, and members of Congress have been pushing the Trump administration to do more to stop the projects as they near completion.
The NDAA also prohibits the transfer of F-35 stealth fighter jets, which Lockheed Martin Corp. is developing, to Turkey. It expresses a Sense of Congress that Turkey’s acquisition of Russia’s S-400 missile defense system, which Washington says it not compatible with NATO defenses and threatens the F-35, constitutes a significant transaction under US sanctions law.
The bill says Trump should implement sanctions on Turkey over the S-400 purchase, something lawmakers have been demanding.
The NDAA also reauthorizes $300 million of funding for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, to include lethal defensive items as well as new authorities for coastal defense cruise missiles and anti-ship missiles.
Military aid to Ukraine has been at the center of the impeachment inquiry into Trump, after his administration held up security assistance for Kiev last summer even as the country dealt with challenges from Russia.
Fulfilling one of Trump’s most high-profile requests, the bill establishes the US Space Force as the sixth Armed Service of the United States, under the Air Force.
The legislation also contains a series of provisions intended to address potential threats from China, including requiring reports on China’s overseas investments and its military relations with Russia.
It bars the use of federal funds to buy rail cars and buses from China, and it says Congress “unequivocally supports” residents of Hong Kong as they defend their rights and seek to preserve their autonomy with China. It also supports improving Taiwan’s defense capabilities.
The NDAA calls for a sweeping approach to North Korea’s nuclear weapons development, as well as the threat it poses to US forces on the Korean peninsula and allies in the region.
It puts mandatory sanctions on North Korean imports and exports of coal and other minerals and textiles, as well as some petroleum products and crude oil, and it puts additional sanctions on banks that deal with North Korea.
The bill also bars the Pentagon from reducing the number of troops deployed to South Korea below 28,500 unless the Secretary of Defense certifies that it is in the US national security interest to do so.