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President Karzai is encouraging the Taliban to drop their weapons and run for political office, even as the group is busy denying Afghan police claims of Taliban involvement in the recent public execution of a woman for adultery.
The execution, at close range in front of a cheering crowd, was condemned widely after a cellphone recording of the murder spread this week. Authorities in Kabul blamed the execution – which was attended by at least 150 men – on the Taliban. So-called public “honor killings” were common during the Islamist group’s rule of the country between 1996 and 2001, according to Agence France-Presse.
Advocates for women's rights in Afghanistan have expressed concerns that gains for women will be traded off in the power struggles to come as most foreign forces exit by 2014. Such concerns will only be heightened by Mr. Karzai's political outreach to the Taliban, just days after his government blamed members of the group for the public execution.
"[Mullah Mohammad Omar] along with his friends can come and create his political party, do politics, become a candidate himself for the elections. If people voted for him, good for him, he can take the leadership in his hand," Karzai said.
The Taliban denies any role in the recent execution, and reportedly said if they had carried out the public murder, they would have done so by following "proper" sharia, or Islamic law, reports Reuters. "The involvement of the ... mujahideen as alleged by some officials of the Kabul government is absolutely untrue and baseless," a statement on the Taliban's website said.
The news of the execution broke as donors at a Tokyo conference on Afghanistan pledged close to $16 billion in development aid and resources to the country over the next four years, reports Spiegel Online.
Despite all the money and attention spent on Afghanistan, the country remains one of the world’s worst countries for women’s rights, according to the United Nations Development Program. That said, there's been some progress from the days of Taliban rule -- progress that many want to defend.
“Afghan women have won back basic rights in education, voting, and work since the Taliban were ousted from power but fears are mounting both at home and abroad that such freedoms could be traded away as Kabul seeks peace talks with the group,” Reuters reports.
At least 100 Afghan women took to the streets in Kabul yesterday to protest, motivated by the execution, calling on the government to do more to protect women’s rights, according to Afghan newspaper Khaama Press. The protesters were also sending a “clear message” to the international community, reports the Daily Mail, as many banners were written in English. “International community: Where is the protection and justice for Afghan women?” one read.
“[...W]omen are like the canary in the coal mine: What happens to them is an indicator of a larger political direction for the society,” Zainab Salbi wrote in a CNN oped. She is the founder of Washington-based Women for Women International, a humanitarian organization aimed at helping women survivors of war. “To abandon the protection of women's rights to seek political agreement with a force of repression is to risk a return not only to insecurity in Afghanistan, but I'd dare say to the world.”
Ms. Salbi continues:
When the international community entered Afghanistan in 2001 and started introducing laws to protect women's rights, albeit in very basic ways, the Taliban retreated as its political and military power was weakened. In the past two years, however, and particularly since the international community started talking about withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Taliban began boldly resuming its own rules in provinces where they have recently regained [sway].... And this has been reflected in one act of violence toward women after another.
Through such public acts -- sometimes recorded, as this one was -- the Taliban is demonstrating its complete disregard of the Afghan government and the national rule of law.
But others argue the execution in Parwan Province was just “one scene of a larger tragedy” that goes beyond the realm of women’s rights to include the safety and security of all civilian noncombatants. William Maley, director of the Asia-Pacific College of Diplomacy at Australian National University, says “The abuse of women ... is only the tip of the iceberg as far as the brutalities of the Taliban are concerned.” These acts of terrorism also target ethnic and cultural divides, Mr. Maley writes in a Sydney Morning Herald opinion piece.
Afghan advocates claim attitudes toward women’s rights have shifted subtly in Afghanistan over recent years, in part due to the numerous women’s groups that have been created since the Taliban fell from power, reports the Daily Mail.
Though there is a lot of focus on the exit of international troops, some say more should have been done to protect women up to this point. "It's clear the government doesn't care about these matters, if they did, there would have been justice for women all these past years," Nilofar Haidary, a member of the group Young Women For Change, which helped organize the protest, told Reuters.