Taliban Undertake Speedy Overhaul of Afghanistan’s Justice System

Under this summary judicial system, most cases are resolved swiftly, often receiving a verdict on the very first appearance before a tribunal. Plaintiffs and defendants make brief presentations, and a judgment is rendered.

Even in the most serious criminal cases, the absence of prosecutors investigating and presenting the facts to a jury or court means that thorough judgments are a rarity.

The Taliban dismantled Afghanistan’s attorney-general office in 2021, deeming it an unnecessary bureaucratic appendage that fostered corruption and inefficiency.

Under the new system, every aspect — from assigning cases to charging and sentencing — must be carried out in the presence of a judge without the involvement of public prosecutors, according to Abdul Malik Haqqani, the Taliban’s deputy chief justice.

“A judge cannot base his decision on a prosecutor’s investigations. This is our Sharia principles,” Haqqani told a local television channel this week.

Farid Hamidi, Afghanistan’s former attorney-general who now lives in the United States, described the dissolution of the attorney-general’s office as a mortal blow to justice in the country.

“A prosecutor’s only job is to help judges have all the facts before issuing a verdict on a case,” Hamidi told VOA. “This is a widely accept principle all over the world, which aims to ensure only justice is served.”

When the Taliban seized power in 2021, they not only dismantled the attorney-general’s office but persecuted former prosecutors who had previously built criminal cases against thousands of Taliban insurgents.

Thousands of prisoners the Taliban set free from jails across Afghanistan in 2021 have sought to carry out reprisals against prosecutors and judges resulting in the killings of more than a dozen former prosecutors, the U.N. human rights body reported in January.


What sets the Taliban’s justice system apart is its speed.

Unburdened by bureaucratic red tape, Taliban judges have resolved more than 200,000 cases in the past two years, including thousands that had been backlogged in the previous government’s judiciary.

However, critics argue that expeditious verdicts should not come at the cost of true justice.

“They are sacrificing justice for speed,” said Hamidi.

Afghans, who often complained about the sluggishness and bureaucracy of the former government’s courts, have praised the Taliban’s swift justice.

“Sometimes justice delayed is justice denied and sometimes it is most important to move incrementally and achieve a result based on better information,” Neal Davins, a professor of law at William & Mary Law School, told VOA.

The United Nations and human rights bodies have denounced the Taliban’s criminal justice system as brutally harsh.

While the Taliban defend public displays of corporal punishment as consistent with Islamic law, the U.N. deems them inhumane and violations of international conventions against torture.

The Taliban also claim effective enforcement of court orders, contrasting it with the reported shortcomings of the former Afghan government in implementing justice over powerful individuals.

In a bizarre event in November 2015, Khalilullah Ferozi, a banker sentenced to jail for financial crimes, walked out of his cell to sign a multi-million-dollar real estate contract with the Ministry of Urban Development.

In another widely reported incident in November 2016, a former vice president who was accused of detaining and sexually assaulting a tribal rival in Kabul brazenly bore no legal or penal responsibility.

Absolute monarchy

The Taliban have suspended Afghanistan’s constitution guaranteeing the political and administrative independence of the judiciary.

There is also no written document stipulating the appointment of judges, their authorities and judicial accountability.

“We are only accountable to our leader…matters related to authorities of Sultan and King are referred to our leader,” said Haqqani, the deputy chief justice.

That the judiciary is accountable only to the Sultan, according to Haqqani, is a testament to its independence from both internal and external interventions.

For decades, the Taliban fought the previous Afghan government, accusing it of being a puppet regime serving foreign interests.

While they claim total independence in the way they now govern Afghanistan, the Taliban have widely been reported as a proxy of the Pakistani military — accusations both Pakistan and the Taliban reject.

“The powers and limits of every public institution must be enshrined in a public document or a constitution. Without that the independence of judiciary has no actual meaning,” contended Hamidi.

The absence of written laws has left judicial verdicts open to varying interpretations of broad Islamic rules.

That legal ambiguity has led to serious human rights violations, such as the indefinite detention and torture of individuals without specified charges or the right to a court hearing.

The Taliban’s intelligence agency, for instance, has indefinitely detained and tortured individuals on charges not specified in any law without giving detainees a right to a court hearing, according to independent human rights organizations.

Matiullah Weesa, an activist for girls’ education, has been languishing in Taliban detention for about six months without charges.

Backed by the United States, the former Afghan government had a progressive constitution, which, although symbolic and marred by allegations of violations, sought to distribute power democratically with equal rights for all citizens, regardless of gender.

“A constitution is only as good as the people who interpret/enforce it. It typically serves a useful purpose in constraining government and protecting individual rights — but only if it is treated with respect,” said Davins.

Like other parts of the Taliban’s government, women are excluded from work at the judiciary and there are not any female judges to address disputes among female plaintiffs and defendants.

Called the world’s only gender-apartheid regime, the Taliban definitely claim they have given Afghanistan a better justice system than the one built with large international support.

Taliban Undertake Speedy Overhaul of Afghanistan’s Justice System
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No current talks with Taliban, Afghanistan’s Massoud says, promising guerrilla warfare


PARIS, Sept 29 (Reuters) – There are no talks with the Taliban to negotiate a peace settlement, Afghan anti-Taliban leader Ahmad Massoud said on Thursday, vowing to step up “guerrilla warfare” to bring the hardline Islamists to the negotiating table.

Speaking in an interview in Paris, Massoud, the exiled leader of the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan (NRF), said that the only way for the Taliban to achieve legitimacy would be to hold elections, but there was no prospect of that happening for now.

“The Taliban are refusing any talks of negotiation and they just want the world and the people of Afghanistan to just accept that this is the only way going forward, which it is not,” said Massoud, son of the former anti-Soviet mujahideen commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, said late on Thursday.

The NRF groups opposition forces loyal to Massoud. It opposed the Taliban takeover and clashes have occurred since August 2021 between the two sides in the resistance movement’s stronghold of Panjshir, north of the capital Kabul.

Massoud, who operates from overseas, said the NRF had been forced to change tactics because it could not fight the well-equipped Taliban conventionally.

“We chose last year a more pragmatic approach and that is guerrilla warfare. That is why you see less of us but more impact,” he said, adding that the number of fighters had grown from 1,200 to 4,000.

The 34-year-old, who was in Paris to launch a new book, said his fighters were not receiving any military assistance, but were relying on stocks from the decades of war in the country and needed ammunition.

“It is enough to be a headache for the Taliban, but not to topple them or to create too much pain for them so they come for proper, meaningful talks. So, this is the thing the world must understand,” he said.

Massoud dismissed any suggestion of returning to Afghanistan as part of a Taliban reintegration scheme of former officials.

“Those people who left Afghanistan, they left for more than just house or a car. They left for noble causes. They left for some principles,” he said.

“If the Taliban announced that they accept elections, today we all can return because this is what we want.”

The most recent elections in Afghanistan were held under the U.S.-backed administration which Taliban deposed in August 2021 when Western troops withdrew. The Taliban dissolved the country’s elections commission in December 2021.

Many Western governments do not formally recognise the Taliban administration, notably over its treatment of women in the country. But there is little pressure or desire to once again get involved in the country with their focus primarily on the war in Ukraine.

“We try to tell the West that maybe you’re busy with Ukraine, but at the same time, you need to pay attention to the situation in Afghanistan because the situation in Afghanistan is a ticking bomb,” Massoud said.

Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Michael Perry

No current talks with Taliban, Afghanistan’s Massoud says, promising guerrilla warfare
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Moscow Meeting on Afghanistan Addresses Inclusive Govt, Rights, Terrorism

The Chinese special envoy for Afghanistan, Yue Xiaoyong, said the US and its allies caused destruction in Afghanistan over the past two decades.

The fifth Moscow Format was held on Friday in the city of Kazan in Russia, where participants exchanged views on the formation of an inclusive government and ensuring human rights as well as counter-terrorism.

The representatives of more than 10 countries participated in the Moscow format.

Speaking at the Moscow Format, acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi said that the Islamic Emirate doesn’t prescribe methods of governance to others, so it expects regional countries to engage with the Islamic Emirate instead of giving prescriptions for the formation of the government of Afghanistan.

“We call on all countries, particularly the neighboring countries, to not prescribe governance to us but instead start officially to work in all areas with the Islamic Emirate,” he said.

The Russian special envoy for Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, said the Taliban failed to take proper actions against the terrorist groups including Daesh in Afghanistan.

“Western countries, which caused irreparable harm to the Afghan people, should bear the primary burden of rebuilding the country. In this regard, Washington’s blocking of Afghan financial assets is counterproductive and only exacerbates the situation,” said Kabulov.

“It further complicates the already challenging living conditions for ordinary Afghans. Under any circumstances, we consider the return of US and NATO military infrastructure to the territory of Afghanistan and neighboring states to be unacceptable, regardless of the reasons they may put forward on this matter.”

The Chinese special envoy for Afghanistan, Yue Xiaoyong, said the US and its allies caused destruction in Afghanistan over the past two decades.

“The regional and international community should keep on urging the US to live up to its commitments for Afghanistan and live up to its responsibility to Afghanistan. As we know, 20 years of America and NATO’s occupation is major reason now what we have seen happening … the destruction and suffering of Afghan people. The US and its allies have cut up aid, frozen Afghanistan’s oversees assets and imposed unilateral sanctions worsening the suffering of Afghan people,” Xiaoyong said.

The envoys from Pakistan and Iran also stressed the need for engagement with Afghanistan but called for the formation of an inclusive government in the country.

Hassan Kazimi Qomi, Iran’s special envoy for Afghanistan, stressed the need “to ensure rights to education without gender discrimination, and for a legitimate political government in which all ethnic groups of Afghanistan be accepted, and for the guarantee of security of the neighbors.”

The envoys of Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar and Turkey were invited to the Moscow Format as observers.

Moscow Meeting on Afghanistan Addresses Inclusive Govt, Rights, Terrorism
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UN Official Urges “Taliban to Reconsider” Policy on Female Education, Work

29 Sept 2023

Speaking at a press conference, he said that “keeping the girls” out of their schools is not going to strengthen the country.

The president of the 78th session of the General Assembly of the United Nations, Dennis Francis, called on the “Taliban to reconsider” policies regarding the education and work of women and girls in Afghanistan.

Speaking at a press conference, he said that “keeping the girls” out of their schools is not going to strengthen the country.

“Women and girls have unalienable rights, human rights that must be upheld and honored. So I would urge the Afghan authorities to reconsider the policy and allow girls to go to school to get an education. So that they can play a role in the development of the community and the society,” Francis said.

The Islamic Emirate said that the Islamic Emirate does not oppose the rights of education for girls and that efforts are underway to reach a “proper and logical stance” in this regard.

“We deny that the ground for their education will not be paved or that we are against education but we are working on a procedure which will take some time, ” said Zabiullah Mujahid, Islamic Emirate’s Spokesman.

However, a women’s rights activist said that the international community lacks a practical process to take actions in support of female education in Afghanistan.

“They should stop talking and making statements. They should take practical actions, so that the situation of women and girls improves in Afghanistan. Currently, they are seeing all issues about women through statements, said Frozan Daudzai, a women’s rights activist.

Earlier, the UN special rapporteur for Afghanistan, Richard Bennett, said that the “Afghan women must be meaningfully included with policy decisions … made within Afghanistan or by the international community.”

UN Official Urges “Taliban to Reconsider” Policy on Female Education, Work
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Russia hosts the Taliban for talks on regional threats and says it will keep funding Afghanistan

Associated PressSeptember 29, 2023

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Moscow will keep helping Afghanistan on its own and through the U.N. food agency, Russian officials said Friday as they hosted Taliban representatives for talks on regional threats.

The talks in the Russian city of Kazan came as Moscow is trying to maintain its influence in Central Asia even as it wages war on Ukraine. The discussions focused on regional threats and creating inclusive government, Russian state news agency Tass reported.

President Vladimir Putin’s special representative for Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov attended the gathering and said Russia is inclined to keep helping Afghanistan independently and through the World Food Program.

A letter from Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was read at the talks, accusing Western countries of “complete failure” in Afghanistan, saying they should “bear the primary burden of rebuilding the country.”

The Taliban seized power in Afghanistan in mid-August 2021 as U.S. and NATO troops were in the final weeks of their pullout from the country after 20 years of war.

Following their takeover, the Taliban gradually imposed harsh edicts, as they did during their previous rule of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, based on their interpretation of Islamic law, or Sharia. They barred girls from school beyond the sixth grade and women from almost all jobs and public spaces.

No country has formally recognized the Taliban as the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan. The United Nations says that recognition is “nearly impossible” while the severe Taliban restrictions on women and girls are in place.

Moscow has since 2017 hosted talks with the Taliban and other representatives from other Afghan factions, China, Pakistan, Iran, India and the former Soviet nations in Central Asia. Taliban representatives were not at the last meeting, in November. No other Afghan factions attended Friday’s talks.

Russia had worked for years to establish contacts with the Taliban, even though it designated the group a terror organization in 2003 and never took it off the list. Any contact with such groups is punishable under Russian law, but the Foreign Ministry has responded to questions about the apparent contradiction by saying its exchanges with the Taliban are essential for helping stabilize Afghanistan.

The Soviet Union fought a 10-year war in Afghanistan that ended with its troops withdrawing in 1989.

Afghanistan’s Taliban-appointed Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi said Friday that other countries should stop telling them what to do.

“Afghanistan doesn’t prescribe forms of governance to others, so we expect regional countries to engage with the Islamic Emirate rather than give prescriptions for the formation of a government in Afghanistan,” he said in Kazan. The Taliban call their administration the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

He invited people to come and see Afghanistan for themselves, and asserted that “tourists, diplomats, aid workers, journalists and researchers” travel to the country with confidence and roam freely.


Russia hosts the Taliban for talks on regional threats and says it will keep funding Afghanistan
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Retired Kabul University Professor Sells Clothes on Street to Survive

Abdul Qayum Khajazada taught at the Faculty of Science of Kabul University for 35 years and retired during the previous government.

A retired professor at Kabul University has been forced to sell second-hand goods at the side of the road in Herat city because his pension has not been paid.

Abdul Qayum Khajazada taught at the Faculty of Science of Kabul University for 35 years and retired during the previous government.

He said that he has to sell clothes on the streets in order to support his family of six members.

“I retired at the age of 65. Because the pension is not being paid right now and my children are hungry, I had to turn to selling things, especially second-hand things,” Khajazada said.

“Specialists and academics play an essential role in the growth of society and their needs should be taken seriously. But unfortunately, recently, many people were forced to do hard labor because their pensions are not being paid, and this issue can increase their vulnerability,” said Sayed Ashraf Sadat, civil rights activist.

Abdul Qayum Khajazada has worked in the Presidential Palace and Afghanistan’s National Radio and Television for several years in addition to teaching at the university.

“He has helped the society and the students, members of the society,” said Hamza, a student.

“When we see that our teachers have left their jobs, and do not have the desire to teach at universities, we cannot do our duty,” said Ramin, another student.

The economic problems in society have gotten worse during the last two years as a result of the rise of unemployment and poverty.

Abdul Qayum Khajazada asked the Islamic Emirate to pay the salaries of all retirees in the country.

Retired Kabul University Professor Sells Clothes on Street to Survive
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The Moscow Format Meeting to Take Place on September 29

Some political analysts think that if this meeting does not provide a result, it will not have any impact on the situation in Afghanistan.

The fifth Moscow Format meeting on Afghanistan will take place Friday in Kazan, Russia.

Earlier, the Russian special envoy for Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, said that this meeting will focus on the topic of inclusivity of the current Afghan government, counterterrorism, and drug-related crime.

Amir Khan Muttaqi, the acting foreign minister of the Islamic Emirate, who went to Russia to attend the meeting, met with various Russians before the meeting.

“Russia is one of the close-by nations to Afghanistan and one of the superpowers that may play an essential and crucial role in Afghanistan. I wish Afghans would embrace such meetings,” said Salim Paigir, a political analyst.

The US Department of State’s spokesman Matthew Miller, addressing a press briefing, said that a US representative will not be attending the Moscow Format meeting.

“I don’t have much to say about that other than that we’re aware of the Moscow format meeting taking place. We are not members of the Moscow format, so a US representative will not be attending,” Miller noted.

Some political analysts think that if this meeting does not provide a result, it will not have any impact on the situation in Afghanistan.

“It is the responsibility of Muttaqi, who should have been to [the Moscow Format meeting] with a very excellent strategy and plan to satisfy the East and the West that we are fighting terrorist groups in Afghanistan and that our land will not be used against your land,” said Zakiullah Mohammadi, a political analyst.

Previously, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the joint statement of the participating nations will be approved at the end of this meeting.

The Moscow Format Meeting to Take Place on September 29
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UN Deputy Sec-Gen Calls for Applying Pressure on Interim Afghan Government

Speaking at the press conference, Mohammed said that the situation of women and girls is getting worse day by day in Afghanistan.

UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed once again called for pressure on the current Afghan government to ensure the women’s and girls’ rights to education and work in Afghanistan.

Speaking at the press conference, Mohammed said that the situation of women and girls is getting worse day by day in Afghanistan.

“There is a Women in Islam conference that is coming up that will be taking on some of these issues, you will know that the OIC had sent a mission recently to Afghanistan so we think the neighborhood’s important as well (to) create that pressure and that momentum, they’re part of the international community and they’ve got to put pressure to make sure that women’s rights are back where they should be in Afghanistan,” the UN Deputy Secretary-General said.

According to some women’s rights activists, the Islamic Emirate should provide the rights of employment and education to women and girls, in order to attract the trust of the world.

“The Islamic Emirate government must first establish credibility at the national level if it hopes to earn credibility at the international level. How long they would continue to disregard women and how far they would go to violate their rights,” said Tafsir Seyaposh, a women’s rights activist.

“It is the responsibility of the world and the current authorities of Afghanistan to pay serious attention to the alarming situation that Afghan women have and the situation that has isolated Afghanistan,” said Suraya Paikan, a women’s rights activist.

Although the Islamic Emirate has not yet commented on the remarks of UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed, it has previously denied the violation of women’s and girls’ rights saying that their rights are ensured in Afghanistan in accordance with the Islamic principles.

UN Deputy Sec-Gen Calls for Applying Pressure on Interim Afghan Government
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UN Security Council Takes Aim at ‘Gender Apartheid’ in Afghanistan

Members of the United Nations Security Council, except Russia and China, on Tuesday issued a resounding condemnation of the Taliban’s relentless persecution of women in Afghanistan, calling on all member states to take urgent action to hold the country’s leadership accountable.

The U.N. Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Roza Otunbayeva, said since seizing power in 2021, the Taliban have issued over 50 decrees with the explicit aim of erasing women from public life.

The decrees have included the closure of secondary education for women, including universities, the prohibition of women’s entry into entertainment and sports facilities, the total exclusion of women from government, and the denial of most jobs for women.

Sima Bahous, executive director of U.N. Women, told the same meeting that the Islamist government has imposed extreme patriarchal gender norms that flagrantly deny women their basic human rights.

Afghan women “tell us that they are prisoners living in darkness, confined to their homes without hope for the future,” said Bahous.

Karima Bennoune, an international human rights expert, urged the United Nations to officially recognize and codify the gender apartheid system that has taken hold in Afghanistan.

“A powerful aspect of the gender apartheid approach is that [it] not only implicates the perpetrators of apartheid, but it means, as was the case with racial apartheid in South Africa, that no member state can be complicit in or normalize the Taliban’s illegal actions and that they must take effective action to end this situation,” Bennoune told the Security Council meeting.

Codifying gender apartheid in international laws, Bennoune said, would make it clear that there can be no recognition of the Taliban government by any member state, and that the country should not be granted a seat at the U.N.

Hundreds of Afghan women who participated in a U.N. survey in July voiced a similar sentiment, saying that any recognition of the Taliban government should be contingent on concrete improvements in women’s rights, including access to education and the ability to work.

UN Survey: Women’s Rights Crucial for Taliban Recognition

Despite the Taliban’s ban on Afghan women working for U.N. agencies and nongovernmental organizations, Special Representative Otunbayeva emphasized the importance of continuing diplomatic engagement with the Taliban.

“Dialogue is not recognition,” she said. “Engagement is not acceptance of these policies. On the contrary: dialogue and engagement are how we are attempting to change these policies.”

No Condemnation by Russia, China

Calling the Taliban’s policies abhorrent and unacceptable, nearly all council members, except for Russia and China, demanded that Taliban leaders end their misogynistic policies.

In her remarks to council members, Anna Evstigneeva, deputy Russian representative to the U.N., said that “we closely listened” to the statements made by the head of U.N. Women and Bennoune, but she did not condemn the Taliban policies.

Instead, she used the platform to criticize the United States and NATO for their two-decade-long war in Afghanistan and their subsequent abandonment of the country, leaving it mired in humanitarian crises.

“We are keen to develop relations with Kabul,” said Evstigneeva, adding that a Taliban delegation, along with representatives from Indonesia, Turkey and several regional countries, have been invited to a meeting about Afghanistan in Kazan, Russia, on Friday.

A Chinese representative went as far as to urge Taliban authorities to respect the rights of Afghan women and form an inclusive government.

China recently appointed a new ambassador to Kabul.

China Appoints First Ambassador to Afghanistan Since Taliban Return

Chinese companies have also signed mining contracts with the Taliban government.

UN Security Council Takes Aim at ‘Gender Apartheid’ in Afghanistan
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As mental health worsens among Afghanistan’s women, the UN is asked to declare ‘gender apartheid

Associated Press

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N.’s most powerful body must support governments seeking to legally declare the intensifying crackdown by Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers on women and girls “gender apartheid,” the head of the U.N. agency promoting gender equality said Tuesday.

Sima Bahous, executive director of UN Women, told the Security Council that more than 50 increasingly dire Taliban edicts are being enforced with more severity, including by male family members. That is exacerbating mental health issues and suicidal thoughts especially among young women and is shrinking women’s decision-making even in their own homes.

“They tell us that they are prisoners living in darkness, confined to their homes without hope or future,” she said.

Under international law, apartheid is defined as a system of legalized racial segregation that originated in South Africa. But a growing consensus among international experts, officials and activists says apartheid can also apply to gender in cases like that of Afghanistan, where women and girls face systematic discrimination.

“We ask you to lend your full support to an intergovernmental process to explicitly codify gender apartheid in international law,” Bahous urged the 15-member council, including its five permanent members: the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France.

There is no existing international law to respond to “mass, state-sponsored gender oppression,” Bahous said. But she said the Taliban’s “systemic and planned assault on women’s rights … must be named, defined and proscribed in our global norms so that we can respond appropriately.”

The Taliban took power in August 2021 during the final weeks of the U.S. and NATO forces’ pullout from Afghanistan after 20 years of war. As they did during their previous rule of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, the Taliban gradually reimposed their harsh interpretation of Islamic law, or Sharia, barring girls from school beyond the sixth grade and women from almost all jobs, public spaces, gyms and recently closing beauty salons.

The Security Council meeting on U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ latest report on Afghanistan took place on the final day of the annual meeting of world leaders at the 193-member U.N. General Assembly.

On Wednesday, Zabihullah Mujahid, the main spokesman for the Taliban government, slammed the council meeting for focusing on domestic Afghan matters of “women’s education and their work” instead of issues such as security, peace and stability.

“It was necessary to discuss the end of the blacklist in the United Nations, the removal of sanctions, the release of seized assets,” Mujahid said on X, formerly known as Twitter. He said the U.N. gathering should also have discussed “the recognition of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” as the Taliban call their government.

No country has recognized the Taliban, and the assembly’s credentials committee hasn’t either, primarily over its effort to relegate women to their homes and failure to form an inclusive government. This has left U.N. recognition with the now-ousted previous government led by Ashraf Ghani. For the third year, its representative did not speak at the high-level gathering.

Bahous said that over the past year, UN Women collaborated with the U.N. political mission in Afghanistan known as UNAMA and the U.N. International Office for Migration to interview over 500 Afghan women.

Among their key findings, she said:

— 46% think the Taliban should not be recognized under any circumstances;

— 50% think the Taliban should only be recognized after it restores women’s and girls’ rights to education, employment, and participation in government.

The women interviewed said the dramatic shrinking of their influence on decision-making, not just at the national or provincial level but also in their communities and homes, is driven by increased poverty, decreasing financial contribution and “the Taliban’s imposition of hyper-patriarchal gender norms,” Bahous said.

In a grim sign of women’s growing isolation, she said, only 22% of the women interviewed reported meeting with women outside their immediate family at least once a week, and a majority reported worsened relations with other members of their family and community.

Bahous said the restrictions on women have led to an increase in child marriage and child labor, and an increase in mental health issues.

“As the percentage of women employed continues to drop, 90% of young women respondents report bad or very bad mental health, and suicide and suicidal ideation is everywhere,” she said.

Roza Otunbayeva, the U.N. special envoy for Afghanistan and head of UNAMA, welcomed the recent visit of a group of Islamic scholars from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s member nations to Afghanistan to focus on girls’ education, women’s rights and the need for inclusive governance.

The scholars stressed that these requirements are “integral to Islamic governance around the world,” she said. “We urge that these visits continue. They are part of a vital conversation between the de facto authorities and the international community helpfully mediated by the Islamic world.”

Otunbayeva told reporters afterward that compared to the last visit of Islamic scholars, this time they left Afghanistan “quite satisfied.”

“We’ll see what will be resolved” at the upcoming International Conference on Women in Islam, she said. That conference, co-sponsored by the OIC and Saudi Arabia, will take place in the Saudi city of Jeddah in November.

The U.N. envoy was asked whether any change in the Taliban’s hard-line policies on women and government functioning is possible as long as its leader, Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada, makes the final decisions.

“He’s the producer of decisions,” Otunbayeva replied. She said she heard from a Cabinet member that more than 90% of its members support allowing girls to study, but as soon as such views get to the southern city of Kandahar, where Akhundzada is based, they are blocked.

“So, far he is unreachable,” Otunbayeva said. She said she tried to bring the entire ambassadorial corps to Kandahar for meetings with the provincial governor and others, but the meeting was canceled.

The U.N. envoy said the mission is in constant contact with Taliban officials in the capital, Kabul, “even as we continue to disagree profoundly and express these disagreements.”

Recently, Otunbayeva said, provincial councils composed of religious clerics and tribal elders have been created in each of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, aiming to provide accountability and listening to local grievances, but they also report to the Taliban leader.

It’s too early to judge their performance, but Otunbayeva noted that the councils for the predominantly Shiite provinces of Bamiyan and Daikundi have no Shiite members.

She appealed to donors to support the $3.2 billion humanitarian appeal for the country, which has received just $872 million, about 28% of the needed funding.

Many programs have been forced to close just as winter is approaching and people are most in need, Otunbayeva said. “This means that 15.2 million Afghans now facing acute food insecurity could be pushed towards famine in the coming months.”

Edith M. Lederer, chief U.N. correspondent for The Associated Press, has been covering international affairs for more than 50 years.

Associated Press writer Rahim Faiez in Islamabad contributed to this report.


As mental health worsens among Afghanistan’s women, the UN is asked to declare ‘gender apartheid
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