Women's Rights

Afghans express cautious optimism following US-Taliban peace deal

AFP

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Schoolgirls walk in the courtyard of the Kandahar Institute of Modern Studies in Kandahar Province on February 25. [Javed Tanveer/AFP]

KABUL -- As university student Fazila Salehi enjoyed a rare late night out with her family -- thanks to a partial truce across Afghanistan -- she struggled to shake off a sense of foreboding about her country's future.

According to the timetable set out in an agreement signed February 29 between Washington and the Taliban, all foreign troops will withdraw from Afghanistan within 14 months in exchange for security guarantees and a pledge by the militants to hold talks with Kabul.

The deal came on the back of a week-long limited truce that has since been extended by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's government, with a dramatic drop in attacks giving Afghans a rare opportunity to go about their daily lives without fear of violence.

"It was the best week of my life; it was a peaceful week," Salehi told AFP, describing her night-time excursion to the outskirts of her hometown of Herat as "a sweet dream".

"In eight months this was the first time we were out to have some fun," the 20-year-old said.

But the taste of freedom was bittersweet, she admitted, as she grappled with the possibility that the Taliban, whose brutal five-year rule of 1996-2001 confined women to their homes and barred girls from attending school, could once again have a say over her life.

"We are afraid and nervous. As a woman, I don't expect to be allowed to go out and enjoy the same freedom I have now," the journalism student said.

"I am planning to work after I graduate, but if the Taliban return, I don't think they would allow me," she added.

The Taliban Monday (March 2) said they were resuming offensive operations against Afghan security forces, ending the partial truce.

"The reduction in violence... has ended now, and our operations will continue as normal," Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told AFP.

The declaration comes only a day after Ghani said he would continue the partial truce at least until talks between Afghan officials and the Taliban kick off, supposedly on March 10.

Mixed feelings on accord

Millions of Afghans fled the country during the 1990s while it was in the throes of a brutal civil war and as the Taliban took control.

Khatera Safi's family were among those who sought refuge in neighbouring Iran.

"They fled so my sister and I could go to school... but it was always their dream to come back to Afghanistan," the 29-year-old human rights activist told AFP in Kabul.

Her family returned to the country in 2006, five years after a United States-led invasion toppled the Taliban and set the stage for the transition to a Western-backed democracy.

Safi has mixed feelings about the peace agreement.

"I am optimistic in the sense that lives will not be lost, [but] when it comes to the laws imposed by the Taliban and their strict ideology, I am very concerned," she said.

"Maybe we won't witness any more suicide attacks or explosions in Afghanistan, but instead we might lose our independence as Afghan women," photographer Nilofar Niekpor said.

Still, others said the prospect of peace was worth the risk of negotiating with the Taliban.

"I hope both sides keep their promise to extend the reduction in violence and work for a long-lasting peace," Herat-based university professor Khalil Rasuli said.

"My family and I went to a lot of fun places in the past week... to breathe some fresh air, to see green spaces," he said

"My children and I went out for ice cream almost every day," Rasuli said, adding that such revelry would have been "impossible" even weeks ago.

'How will I support my family?'

Under the Taliban, women were barred from seeking education or work -- rights that Afghan female professionals are fiercely protective of today.

In Herat city, saleswoman Setara Akrimi, 32, told AFP: "I will be very happy if peace comes and the Taliban stop killing our people."

"But if the Taliban come back to power... with their old mentality, it is a matter of concern for me," the divorced mother of three added.

"If they tell me to sit at home, I will not be able to support my family," she said. "There are thousands of women like me in Afghanistan. We are all worried."

But in Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban, schoolgirl Parwana Hussaini struck 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 want peace."

"The young generation has changed and will not allow the Taliban to enforce their old ideology upon us," she added.

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if Afghanistan is really important for us, we should free 5000 Taliban prisoners in exchange of 1000 soldiers because we freed Haqqani in exchange of American professors. If we do so, happiness will come to the families of six thousand Afghans and their relatives. We do not want fighting, but peace. Taliban National Army = Afghans

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And if we really want peace and consider Afghans as Muslims, we should not announce that peace was made with Americans and fighting will resume against Afghan forces!

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Taliban have a surprising logic, they make peace with invaders and fight against their compatriots. Now they will [illegible] and will target Afghan forces for safety. May God help them.

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There is no hope of peace. President Ashraf Ghani is the main obstacle on the way of peace deal. He is now declared as a president and he will not step down from the power. the peace deal with the Taliban would prove fruitful before the presidential elections were conducted.

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I think the situation will get worse than before, because Ghani will not release the prisoners and Taliban will also continue fighting. Yesterday, the spokesman of the group declared its war against Kabul, Administration. Before signing peace agreement with the Taliban, America should have asked from the politicians of Afghanistan to discuss an interim government with the Taliban. Since Ghani was declared as the winner of the last presidential elections, he will not step down from the power. And there are anti-Taliban figures in the team of Ghani, such as Asadullah Khalid and Amrullah Saheh. They will not agree with Taliban. You saw that Amrullah Saheh, the first vice president of Ghani very clearly said that he would never compromise with Taliban, and ideologically he has problem with the Taliban. And although one week of reduction in violence went on very well, and no big incident occurred, and Taliban remained on their commitments, but Asadullah Khalid said that a lot of incidents happened during one week of reduction in violence, and Taliban did not stick to their commitment. It is understood from his speeches that he also wants to contaminate the water so that no peace is reached with Taliban, and whereby he takes more revenges from the Taliban.

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