Afghan women must guard rights in peace deal: report
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan women and girls fear they will pay the price for any deal to end the insurgency cut by President Hamid Karzai with the Taliban, a rights group said on Tuesday, pleading for safeguards of hard-won freedoms.
Afghan women are caught between the worsening war and the prospect of a foreboding peace, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report, with the Taliban warning females through terrifying "night letters" that they will be killed or attacked if they worked or enrolled at school,
"Afghan women shouldn't have to give up their rights so the government can cut a deal with the Taliban," said HRW's Tom Malinowski in a statement accompanying the report. (link.reuters.com/rux27m)
Nine years after the Taliban's overthrow by U.S.-led coalition troops, Karzai's government is promoting negotiations with the Taliban leaders and other insurgent factions to end what increasingly seems to be an intractable war.
Casualties among NATO and U.S. forces fighting the Taliban hit a record monthly high of over 100 in June, and commanders expect violence to rise as an anti-insurgent offensive by 150,000 foreign troops gathers strength in coming months and the country prepares for lower house parliamentary elections on September 18.
Facing a conflict with no end in sight and plans for a gradual phased exit by foreign troops from next year, Karzai's government and its international allies agree on the need for some kind of settlement with insurgents, although their leaders remain anathema to the West.
A June "Peace Jirga," or summit, in Kabul recommended talks between the government and moderate Taliban leaders, although but the militant group has repeatedly dismissed all overtures, saying it will fight until all foreign forces have left the country.
The HRW report said the government and donors had so far ignored the need to protect women in any programs to reintegrate insurgent fighters and had failed to guarantee women's rights would feature in potential talks.
In areas under Taliban influence in the south and east, insurgents had attacked women working outside their homes, delivering threatening notes beforehand to their house or school.
"We Taliban warn you to stop working for the government otherwise we will take your life away. We will kill you in such a harsh way that no woman has so far been killed in that manner. This will be a good lesson for those women like you," a February note to a government worker said, prompting her to quit her job.
A teacher at a girls school in a southern received a night letter reading: "We warn you to leave your job as a teacher as soon as possible, otherwise we will cut the heads off your children and shall set fire to your daughter."
Karsai's spokesman Waheed Omer said the government had already agreed to participation of women in any political agreement with the insurgents.
"We really hope their voices can be heard, we hope they can be part of the solution to problems," he told journalists.
But HRW said the government so far had offered only weak assurances to safeguard hard-won freedoms in a country where just a few years ago women could barely walk outside their homes without an escort.
Karzai in March 2009 signed a law denying Shia women the right to child custody and freedom of movement, while two convicted gang rapists were pardoned for political reasons in 2008, the report said.
The report called for guarantees in any deal that women would have access to work, obtain an education, and take on political roles if they chose to, Human Rights Watch said.
People with a history of serious abuses against women and girls should also be excluded from power, including Taliban members, and women leaders should be involved in the process of and deal cut with insurgents to end the war, it said.
(Editing by David Fox)
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