The Taliban War on Women Continues

Beware Taliban revisionism. You’re going to hear much more of it in the coming months as policy makers from Kabul to Washington seeking to reintegrate Taliban fighters try to explain why the enemy isn’t so bad after all. Bombs that slaughter civilians, acid attacks that disfigure school girls, assassinations of women in public life-all of this will be swept under the carpet.

In its place, a new narrative will be trotted out, one in which most of the fighters are "ten-dollar Talibs"-just in it for the money-or modern-day Robin Hoods fighting the injustices of their local government. While money or politics may indeed be the motivation for many low-level fighters, that doesn’t change the fact that too many Afghan women are experiencing the same kind of oppression today they faced under Taliban rule.

"We as Taliban warn you to stop working . . . 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 would become a good lesson for women like you who are working." When Fatima K. received this letter she was terrified and left her job. Such messages-called night letters, since they are delivered after dark-are a common means of intimidation used by the Taliban.

When 22-year-old Hossai received similar threats by phone from a man saying he was with the Taliban in Kandahar, she refused to be bullied. She loved her job at the American development company DAI, and her salary supported her family. But one day in April Hossai was shot by an unknown gunman as she left her office. She died from her wounds.

A few days later another woman in Kandahar received a night letter. It demanded that she give up her job, or else she "will be considered an enemy of Islam and will be killed. In the same way that yesterday we have killed Hossai, whose name was on our list." This woman has since stayed home.

These stories are seldom heard, but it’s not because they are rare. The victims are often too terrified to report such attacks to the authorities, or have little hope that anything will be done if they do. They can expect little or no protection from their government, which seems more willing to provide patronage to senior insurgents who switch sides than assist women at grave risk. When high-profile women are assassinated, their cases are not given the priority they deserve and their killers are rarely brought to justice. While men who run afoul of the Taliban are also attacked-particularly in Kandahar, where the murder rate in recent months has reached unprecedented heights-the situation for women is worse.

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