HRW fears for Afghan women
Kabul - An international rights group has called on the Afghan government and its Western backers to ensure gains made by women in the country are not sacrificed in any peace talks with the Taliban.
A week ahead of a major international conference in Kabul to discuss the future of Afghanistan, New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) also called for current leaders to be made accountable for past crimes.
In a report released on Tuesday, the organisation said moves towards talking peace with the Islamist Taliban to end the war have the potential to roll back rights hard-won by Afghan women.
It cites the way women and girls are treated in areas under Taliban control, denied constitutional rights to be educated and work outside their homes, under threat of violence or death.
Heavy price for peace
The 70-page report, "The Ten-Dollar Talib and Women's Rights", warns that President Hamid Karzai's government may be willing to compromise on these rights as part of any deal with the insurgents.
"Afghan women want an end to the conflict. But as the prospect of negotiations with the Taliban draws closer, many women fear that they may also pay a heavy price for peace," the report says.
"Reconciliation with the Taliban, a group synonymous with misogynous policies and the violent repression of women, raises serious concerns about the possible erosion of recently gained rights and freedoms," it says.
Strong Taliban presence
The Taliban's five-year rule, which ended with a US-led invasion in 2001, was marked by general repression that was particularly brutal towards women.
Girls were not permitted to go to school - and even now are sometimes attacked and their schools destroyed by extremists.
Even today, women who become politically active often face death threats and some have been murdered or forced into exile.
After nine years of insurgency, the Taliban hold sway over large parts of the south, with a presence across most of Afghanistan.