World is betraying Afghan women by legitimising the Taliban

With the group seemingly in control of the country for the long term, the international community appears to have decided to engage with the Taliban, with the aim of eventual recognition and a seat at the UN.

But there is a catch. The report provides clear guidelines for the Taliban to be legitimised, including that: “Any formal reintegration of Afghanistan into global institutions and systems will require the participation and leadership of Afghan women.”

06:40

How 2 years of Taliban rule have transformed Afghanistan back to the past

How 2 years of Taliban rule have transformed Afghanistan back to the past

Last June, the UN envoy to Afghanistan, Roza Otunbayeva, said it would be “nearly impossible” to recognise the Taliban so long as restrictions on women remained. The UN Special Rapporteur for Afghanistan, Richard Bennett, has also raised concerns about gender apartheid. Last month’s UN decision is a clear signal the Taliban’s treatment of women needs to change.

It seems a fair offer, the Taliban treating women in accordance with their human rights and getting a seat at the international table in return.

But the reality on the ground tells a different story. Many countries have been engaging with the Taliban for months, even years – and this engagement is leading to fears that human rights have taken a back seat.

Last month, the Taliban appointed its first ambassador to China, its first officially accredited diplomat. This followed a decision by Beijing last September to name its ambassador to Afghanistan, also a first. While China has not publicly commented on the move, the accepting of an ambassador traditionally requires the formal recognition of the envoy’s government. China is recognising the Taliban in all but name.
China’s new ambassador to Afghanistan Zhao Sheng shakes hands with Taliban Prime Minister Mohammad Hasan Akhund at the recognition ceremony at the presidential palace in Kabul on September 13. The Taliban greeted the ambassador with pomp and ceremony, calling it a significant step with a significant message. Photo: Taliban Prime Minister Media Office via AP

And Japan has maintained full diplomatic relations with the Taliban since 2021. Last October, Japan’s new ambassador Takeyoshi Kuramaya promised to improve relations with Kabul.

The US has also engaged with the group, with a delegation meeting senior Taliban officials in Doha last July. The US had previously said that the Taliban addressing human rights concerns was a precondition for discussions. It appears the US has blinked first, seeing deeper engagement with the Taliban as a way to tackle human rights.

Taliban’s acting minister of industry and commerce Nooruddin Azizi claims Afghanistan has trading relationships with 60 countries, including India, China and Pakistan, and is using these relationships to work towards “self-sufficiency” – showing the Taliban isn’t as isolated as once thought to be.

If the Afghan economy is improving, it’s no thanks to the Taliban

The Taliban, it seems, has won a game of patience with the international community. While the group sees official recognition as its ultimate goal, deeper engagement by several countries suggests this may only be a matter of time. The Taliban is hoping the world – particularly the West – decides to put the humanitarian crisis and threat of terrorism above human rights.

While the US and others cannot be seen to be abandoning Afghan women, they appear to be doing just that. Engaging with the Taliban in the hope it reverses its position on human rights is naive, particularly when human rights groups say the situation for women is worsening. If these countries are wrong and the Taliban doesn’t change, it would be a devastating and damaging betrayal of women in Afghanistan.

03:02

‘I’m not giving up’: Painting serves as therapy for Afghan women struggling with depression

‘I’m not giving up’: Painting serves as therapy for Afghan women struggling with depression

The solution is consistency, and this can be found in the UN’s Afghanistan independent assessment. It is vital that the international community holds firm and ties deeper engagement with human rights, particularly for women. Countries such as the United States and China also need to stop dealing with the Taliban in trade or dialogue outside the assessment guidelines, as the group has shown it will take advantage of any division.

If the international community is concerned about the humanitarian crisis and terrorism in Afghanistan, it can provide funding for the former through UN agencies and work with regional partners – such as Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Pakistan – to tackle the latter. Again, a clear, consistent approach will help solve these problems while isolating the Taliban and discrediting it in the eyes of Afghans.

The world appears to be at an important junction when it comes to Afghanistan’s future. Its people – particularly women – have been forgotten by the world before and are at risk of being again. This can’t be allowed to happen. The world needs to stand firm on the Taliban and human rights.

Chris Fitzgerald is a freelance journalist and project coordinator for the Platform for Peace and Humanity’s Central Asia Programme

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