03/09/2009, 00.00
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Dialogue with Taliban endangers women's rights

The condition of women will be the testing ground for any dialogue with the Taliban. AsiaNews has gathered comments in the country on the U.S. president's idea of seeking dialogue with Taliban moderates. There is widespread fear of "going backward." The importance of Iran.

Kabul (AsiaNews) - "The evolution of this country is in the hands of women. Under the Taliban, women could not even go to school, they were forced to stay home and endure forced marriages. Conditions for women may be the main testing ground for the dialogue that the U.S. president wants to open with Taliban moderates." This is one of the comments that AsiaNews has gathered in Afghanistan after the proposal of U.S. president Barack Obama to open a dialogue with the Taliban moderates.

On March 7, Obama said that the United States cannot win the war in Afghanistan against the Islamic extremists, and said that he is willing to "explore" the possibility of a dialogue with Taliban moderates, in order to separate them from fundamentalist groups like al Qaeda.

Afghan president Hamid Karzai has commented on the news very favorably, and has said that the dialogue could be directed first of all to the "many who are afraid to return to their country, and believe that they have no other choice than to side with al Qaeda."

But local circles are perplexed, and are asking in the first place: Who are the Taliban moderates, and what did they do during the Taliban regime? One expert comments that "a few months ago, Taliban leaders, believed to be moderate, indicated the three points that for them are nonnegotiable: that all the soldiers from other countries leave; that there be no foreign interference in Afghan politics; and that sharia (Islamic law) be applied. With the exception of the armed opposition, these are the same things that the Taliban fundamentalists want. Of course, dialogue is always positive, peace can be reached only through dialogue. But the point is how this dialogue can be realized. If tomorrow Taliban moderates again impose sharia, which was enacted during their regime, I am afraid that the Calvary of the Afghan women will resume."

Yesterday, President Karzai, on the occasion of International Women's Day, denounced the fact that many in the country still consider women as "property," and said that "forced marriages, the selling of women, these are against Islam."

On March 7, Jan Bibi, a widow, set herself on fire and died in the district of Obe (western Afghanistan) in order to escape a life of hardship. As a widow, Bibi was a pariah of society, undesirable for marriage and without any opportunity to work. Women often commit suicide in the area in order to avoid abuse and forced marriage. A recent UN report says that "threats and intimidation against women in public life or who work outside the home have seen a dramatic increase" in the country.

Fear is widespread that a new Taliban regime would mean "going backward." Analysts observe that the only results of this long war and its immense cost in human lives and money may be the better conditions for women, and democracy. Democracy is still weak, to such an extent that Karzai has delayed until August the elections scheduled for April, because of the difficult situation.

The idea of dialogue is not new, Karzai has suggested it repeatedly. But the problem is also that of whether Karzai and democratic forces in the country are capable of opposing the Taliban.

Many observe that "if the U.S. military cannot win against the Taliban, how can the Afghan military do so? It cannot be as prepared as that of the U.S., even if billions have been spent to reorganize it. And the police are still plagued with widespread corruption. It is unlikely that the time is right to entrust the country to self-governance." Besides, despite the extensive resources employed by the U.S. and by other countries, Karzai controls only Kabul and the surrounding area.

Other comments are more optimistic, and say that it is necessary "to involve Iran in the process of pacification. It can play an important role. Now it has been invited to participate in the conference in June in Trieste, to discuss the Afghan situation. It will be important to see if it accepts."

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