Peace, but not at our cost: Afghan women fear the return of the Taliban

KABUL: As US troops prepare to leave Afghanistan When opening the door for a possible return of the Taliban, women from all over the country devastated by the war are nervous about losing their freedoms gained with so much effort in the search for peace.

The militants were in power for around five years until the US invasion of 2001. They ruled Afghanistan with an iron fist that turned women into virtual prisoners under a strict interpretation of sharia law.

The Taliban's fall transformed women's lives, much more so in urban areas like Kabul than in conservative rural Afghanistan .

But throughout the country, women continue to distrust the insurgents, desperate to see the end of violence, but fear paying a heavy price.

Under the Taliban regime, women were banned from seeking education or work, rights that Afghan professionals today fiercely protect.

In the western city of Herat, Akrimi, 32, told AFP: I will be very happy if peace comes and the Taliban stop killing our people. But if the Taliban return to power ... with their old mentality, it is a matter of concern to me, added the divorced mother of three children.

If they tell me that I feel at home, I will not be able to support my family, he said.

"There are thousands of women like me in Afghanistan , we are all worried." Akrimi's anxieties are echoed by Kabul-based veterinarian Tahera Rezai, who believes "the arrival of the Taliban will affect women's right to work, freedom and independence".

There have been no changes in his mentality, the 30-year-old told AFP. Passionate about her career, Rezai said she was pessimistic about her prospects if the insurgents return to the government, even in a truncated capacity.

Looking at his story, I feel less optimistic ... I think the situation will become more difficult for working women like me, he said.

In the period prior to the agreement with the United States, militants vaguely committed themselves to respecting women's rights in accordance with Islamic values, prompting warnings from activists that the promise was a mere service and open to broad interpretation. .

The Taliban control large swathes of Afghanistan and while they now allow girls to attend primary school in some areas, occasional reports of floggings and even the public stoning of women persist, fuelling fears they will turn back the clock if they return to power.

Many ordinary Afghans struggle to balance their desire for peace with their fear of insurgents.

"Every family here is grieving because they have lost their children, sons, husbands, brothers in the war," government official Torpekay Shinwari told AFP in eastern Nangarhar province, which witnessed fierce battles between the Taliban and the group's Afghanistan affiliate.

The 46-year-old said she was praying for peace, but was increasingly worried that women would be seen as the second sex and repressed if the militants gained ground.

But at the birthplace of the Taliban, schoolgirl Parwana Hussaini gave a rare optimistic note.

I am not worried. Who are the Taliban? They are our brothers, the 17-year-old told AFP.

We are all Afghans and we want peace.

He added: The young generation has changed and will not allow the Taliban to impose their old ideology on us.

However, for those who endured the worst part of the ruthless rule of the insurgents, there is little doubt that a Taliban return will bring more than just a repetition of dark and painful memories.

The factory worker Uzra, of the mainly Shiite Hazara ethnic minority, sobbed as she remembered the life of a young mother, alone at home with her children when the Sunni fundamentalist Taliban arrived in her village.

I still remember the day vividly ... they slaughtered all the men and then came to my house, said the 40-year-old woman, too scared to give her full name.

The militants threatened to behead his three-year-old daughter, he told AFP from his home in the center.

The family survived and fled to Pakistan, but her husband was disabled and traumatized by the brutal beatings he suffered.

Until today, when the word 'Taliban' appears, he begins to cry, he said. Everyone wants peace, but not if the Taliban return. I don't want the so-called peace.