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KABUL, Afghanistan -- When Rahima Jami heard that the Americans and the Taliban were close to a peace deal, she thought about her feet.

Jami is now a lawmaker in the Afghan Parliament, but in 1996, when Taliban insurgents took power, she was a headmistress -- until she was forced out of her job and told she could leave her home only in an ankle-length burqa.

One hot day at the market, her feet were showing, so the religious police beat them with a horse whip until she could barely stand.

Horror stories at the hands of enforcers from the Taliban's Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice are a staple for any educated Afghan woman older than 25 or so. Now those women have a new horror story: the possibility that U.S. troops will leave Afghanistan as part of a peace deal with the Taliban.

Six days of talks ended Saturday with a promise they would soon resume, bringing the parties closer to a deal than at any time in the 17 years since the Taliban were ousted from power.

"We don't want a peace that will make the situation worse for women's rights compared to now," Robina Hamdard, head of the legal department for the Afghan Women's Network, said. The organization is a foreign-funded coalition of prominent women's organizations.

No one needs to sell Afghan women on the need to bring an end to the bloodshed. They have buried far too many husbands and sons and brothers. But they fear that a peace that empowers the Taliban may herald a new war on women, and they want negotiators not to forget them.

"Afghan women want peace, too," Jami said. "But not at any cost."

And like many women, Jami is convinced that any peace deal that gives the Taliban a share of power will come at the expense of freedom for Afghan women. "Come that time, they will complete their incomplete dreams and they will be crueler than in the past," Jami said.

It is still early days in this stage of the peace process, and last week's talks in Doha, Qatar, did not include any Afghan government officials, men or women.

U.S. officials hope to persuade the Taliban at a later stage to sit down with Afghan officials, which they have refused to do, and issues like the constitution, which guarantees women's rights, would be on the table then.

Some women in government expressed satisfaction that talks had at least begun.

"Women need to raise their voices so they are not forgotten," said Habiba Sarabi, deputy of the High Peace Council in Kabul, and one of 15 women on the 75-member council, which is appointed by the government. "Without women it will be a broken peace. But we are optimistic about the peace talks."

Ryan Crocker, a former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, was a key diplomat in Kabul in January 2002 and helped establish the first post-Taliban government. "We put a big premium on women right from the beginning," he said. "One of the very first things we did was to get girls schools up and running."

Crocker said he was worried that the withdrawal of U.S. troops would have consequences beyond whatever future role the Taliban have.

"What really bothers me is, what is going to happen to Afghan women and girls?" he said. "Acute misogyny in Afghanistan goes way beyond the Taliban. Without a strong U.S. hand there, it is not looking very good for Afghan women. They can do as they like to them after we leave."

A Section on 01/28/2019

Print Headline: Women urge caution in U.S.-Taliban talks

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