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John Hughes

Obama must not let Taliban rule over Afghan women again

Even as Washington prepares to begin withdrawing US forces from Afghanistan next summer, it must not abandon newly-emancipated Afghan women to the Taliban brutality that would reassert itself in our wake.

By John Hughes / September 8, 2010

In mid-August in the northern Afghanistan province of Kunduz, the Taliban carried out a horrific sentence against two young Afghan lovers who had eloped against their families’ wishes. The punishment was death by stoning. Deemed by Islamic extremists to be justified under sharia law, the process involves partially burying the accused, after which a male crowd hurls stones at the victims’ exposed heads until they die.

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Observers around the world were shocked by another recent cruel event. It was the plight of a young Afghan woman, whose nose and ears were sliced off by order of the Taliban for fleeing her husband’s home to escape beatings and abuse by her in-laws. Her picture was dramatized on the cover of Time magazine.

A Taliban comeback?

No wonder that Afghan women fear this is the beginning of a Taliban comeback, the imposition of harsh treatment and subjugation of women, and the loss of their newfound freedoms since the invading US forces routed the Taliban in 2001. In some regions of Afghanistan, Taliban forces seem to be regaining the strength they once had in the 1990s and are restoring the draconian laws and punishments they imposed earlier.

In the United States there is intense debate about President Obama’s decision to begin withdrawing US forces from Afghanistan next July. Some US military leaders say that decision has effectively given the Taliban the green light to reassert themselves. And some in the military argue that the July date must be seen as just a beginning of the phaseout with the pace of further withdrawals spread over an extended period.

What is clear is that if the US military departs Afghanistan before the Taliban is either defeated or has laid down its arms, the outlook for women’s rights is bleak.

When the Taliban was in retreat in 2001, many women in Afghanistan began to enjoy a heady new bout of freedom, leaving their homes without spousal approval and attending school. Some even ran for political office.