Taliban bans forced marriages of women in Afghanistan

Forced marriages for women in Afghanistan are banned now after a decree was issued by Taliban chief Hibatullah Akhunzada. Akhunzada is a cleric who was chosen as the Taliban’s supreme leader. He is described as reclusive and believed to be in the southern city of Kandahar. Is this a move toward a new and improved Taliban?

Likely not. It would be nice to think otherwise for the sake of women living in Afghanistan but let’s be honest. This sort of announcement has everything to do with normalizing the Taliban on the world stage. In order to agree to unfreeze financial assets in America, the Biden administration is demanding that Afghan leadership – the Taliban- move toward the 21st century. It’s going to take some time for that to happen, as the Taliban appears stuck in the Bronze Age with many of its ways of controlling the population in Afghanistan, especially women.

‘A woman is not a property, but a noble and free human being; no one can give her to anyone in exchange for peace…or to end animosity,’ Taliban spokesman Zabihillah Muhajid said, citing the new decree.

The decree also said that widows should have a share in their late husbands’ property, and laid out property rights for women.

Since Joe Biden allowed Afghanistan to fall so rapidly into the grips of the Taliban with his botched and chaotic withdrawal from the country last August, the international community has demanded that the Taliban commit to better human rights behavior. Afghanistan is suffering an economic collapse and the Taliban is desperate for financial aid. As a precondition to releasing financial assets, the Taliban are going to have to prove that their draconian behavior toward Afghans is coming to an end. Western countries should be very skeptical of that happening. Since the withdrawal of American and NATO troops, poverty is surging throughout the country. There is no mention of the minimum age for marriage and special attention is paid to widows.

“Both (women and men) should be equal,” said the decree, adding that “no one can force women to marry by coercion or pressure.” Women’s rights improved markedly over the past two decades of international presence in Afghanistan, but are seen as under threat with the return of the Taliban, who during their earlier rule in the 1990s virtually cloistered women, banned them from public life and access to education.

Forced marriages have become more commonplace in the poor, conservative country, as the internally displaced marry off their young daughters in exchange for a bride-price that can be used to pay debts and feed their families.

Women in Afghanistan for decades were treated like property — as an exchange token for blood money or ending disputes or tribal feuds. The Taliban now state they are against the practice. They also said a widow will now be allowed to re-marry 17 weeks after her husband’s death, choosing her new husband freely.

Longstanding tribal traditions have held it customary for a widow to marry one of her husband’s brothers or relatives in the event of his death.

The Taliban leadership says it has ordered Afghan courts to treat women fairly, especially widows seeking inheritance as next of kin. The group also says it has asked government ministers to spread awareness of women’s rights across the population.

We’ll see if this comes to be under the Taliban. One important part of this decree that allows women to be considered human beings is missing, though. There is no mention of education for women and girls. Girls aged seven to twelve are still not allowed to attend school in most parts of the country. One of the first things the Taliban did when it took over control of Afghanistan was to send women home from their jobs and deny the opportunity of an education to girls and women. It’s a clear return to the bad old days. Nothing much has changed since their first days back in power. Women are kept inside their homes and are required to be fully covered in public.

Yesterday during an interview, former president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai called the Taliban his “brothers”. The former U.S. envoy to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, still claims the Taliban complied with the peace deal struck last year. That claim doesn’t pass the laugh test. Both men seem to be on a public relations mission for the Taliban these days. They should both know better and they likely do. That makes their claims all the more disingenuous. Karzai was president for more than a decade after 9/11/01. Khalilzad was ambassador to Afghanistan during the George W. Bush administration and later a special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation for Trump when the Doha agreement was reached. Khalilzad stayed on with the Biden administration until Biden’s disastrous withdrawal from that country.

Karzai is still living in Afghanistan and gives many interviews. Yesterday’s interview with the BBC included a plea for Afghans who have left the country to return and help rebuild it. He says the Biden administration “must work with the Taliban” because “they are the government today.”

“During my time in office, I would call the Taliban our brothers. It was exactly with the same purpose in mind that I called them brothers. That this is your country. Let’s build it together. Let’s work together. Let’s unite,” Karzai said. “I see the Taliban very much as brothers, and I see all other Afghans as brothers. We are a people. We are a nation.”

When asked whether the Taliban are capable of uniting the country and rebuilding Afghanistan, Karzai indicated he thinks they are.

“I have had meetings with them. The exchanges were very good on a lot of issues — the return of women back to work, the schools, the national flag of the country, and the need for a political process for a government that belongs to all Afghans — that all Afghans see as theirs.”

Karzai said Afghans who fled the country should return, saying: “I would ask on all of those Afghans who have left to come back and build it.”

We’ll see how far the Taliban are willing to go to receive financial aid. This is a baby step that must be verified before it is to be trusted.

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