Women who lived under the harsh rule of the Taliban urged senior Afghan politicians to ensure their hard-won freedoms are not bargained away when they talk peace with the insurgents on Tuesday. The Afghan Women's Network said their rights should not be used as a "political tool" in dealings with the Taliban, who barred women from schools and jobs and drastically curtailed their personal liberties when they ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001.
Their appeal comes as the Taliban meets with a high-ranking Afghan delegation in Moscow, and a week after the insurgents held unprecedented talks with United States negotiators. The Taliban said the Moscow meeting - their most significant with Afghan politicians in recent memory - would discuss the withdrawal of foreign troops, peace terms and its vision for governance.
The two-day gathering is separate from the US-Taliban negotiations in Doha in January, that ended with both sides touting "progress" and a draft framework which could pave the way for peace talks. No representative from President Ashraf Ghani's government - which the Taliban considers a US puppet -- was invited to either occasion, angering officials in Kabul.
Afghan women, also largely excluded from the table, fear seeing their hard-won rights eroded if negotiators seek a hasty truce with the Taliban. "Women should not be used as a political tool by these politicians.
If they (Taliban) return and impose restrictions on women, we will not accept that," Mashal Roshan, a coordinator from the Kabul-based women's network, told AFP. "In the past 17 years Afghan women have gained some hard-won achievements. We don't want to lose that. It's our right to go to school and to work, and everyone should respect that."
In a statement ahead of the Moscow meet, the network said they would not accept peace at the cost of their freedoms and urged delegates to defend the rights of half of Afghanistan's 35 million people. "There is no need to reinterpret Afghan women's lives," the statement said.
Under their brutal interpretation of Sharia law, the Taliban confined women to their homes, only allowing them outside with a male escort and hidden beneath a burqa. Girls were banned from schools and colleges and women prohibited from the workplace save in a few areas such as medicine.
The militants have indicated they would provide a safe environment for women's work and education under an "Islamic system" they have proposed for Afghanistan's future. But involvement of the Taliban in any government frightens many women, who recall the stifling restrictions under the Islamic insurgents. Ghani and de facto prime minister Abdullah Abdullah have urged the Taliban to negotiate with Kabul, saying all Afghans should agree on the need for peace and a troop withdrawal. The Taliban are expected to meet with US negotiators again later in the month.
(With inputs from agencies.)