Page last updated at 19:04 GMT, Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Afghan women decry Taleban talks

By Martin Vennard
BBC News

Women in Afghanistan

Representatives of women from across Afghanistan have called on President Hamid Karzai not to undermine their position by talking to the Taleban.

The president's brother recently sat with former Taleban leaders at a religious meal hosted by the Saudis.

The meeting was regarded as a possible prelude to talks between the Afghan government and the Islamist movement.

Mr Karzai told a conference of about 400 women that any talks with the Taleban would respect the constitution.

'No compromises'

The women fear that the talks could lead to a reversal of the gains they have made since the overthrow of the Taleban in 2001.

They called on President Karzai to make sure their rights are guaranteed.

Hamid Karzai at the conference
The president reassured the women that their position was safe

The Minister for Women's Affairs, Hasan Bano Ghazanfar, said that women were against "any political compromises" that did not take into consideration their constitutional values and human rights.

President Karzai said nothing would be agreed with the Taleban which threatened the rights of women.

"All our efforts are for peace. Those Taleban who aren't against this country are welcome to take part. My sisters, you should not be worried: they are not against you. Those who want to usurp your rights are the enemies of this land and we should defeat them."

But President Karzai rejected calls from some delegates for public hangings for those convicted of rape and abductions of women.

On Tuesday political and tribal leaders from Afghanistan and Pakistan agreed to establish high-level contact with the Taleban in an attempt to end the insurgencies in both countries.

A meeting between Afghan officials and former Taleban members took place in Saudi Arabia last month.

The women's conference is the biggest of its kind in Afghanistan since 2001. Under the Taleban women were banned from working and girls could not attend school.

The situation of Afghan women has undoubtedly improved since then. Around one and a half million girls have returned to school, while women sit in parliament and the government.

But there are still major problems. The delegates have also called for more to be done to improve women's security, health, education and employment and to combat domestic violence.

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