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The Taliban give back some rights to women, but it may be all a political strategy


In the past few weeks, the Taliban in Afghanistan have allowed some teenage girls to return to high school in a few provinces of the country. But what remains unclear is whether the Taliban is truly committed to allowing women and girls to work and go to school under their leadership or if they're placating the international community in order to access badly needed funds in a country where many are facing famine. We're joined now from Kabul by Soraya Lennie. She's a correspondent for the Turkish state broadcaster TRT World. Welcome.

SORAYA LENNIE: Thank you for having me.

FADEL: Tell us what's happening with this and if it marks a shift in Taliban policy.

LENNIE: So I think first, it's not necessarily a shift in policy. I think there are reasons why it's taken so long. Girls are back to school in some schools in Mazar-i-Sharif, Balkh, Kunduz, Ghor in the north of the country, Herat, as well, in the West.

FADEL: So why the delay then?

LENNIE: Two issues. It's twofold strategy. Number one, I think, you know, this delay in girls' education has - it's kind of a red herring, I guess. In terms of the Taliban's managed to get the international community to focus almost exclusively on women's education and women's rights, you know, there's also serious questions about other laws, like capital punishment. And I think the second issue is international aid because it's been clear for a while the Taliban always intended to restart girl's secondary education. But I think they've been using as a tactic to show compromise, and there'll be less hesitancy in terms of getting that international aid.

FADEL: It feels like so often, women are used as pawns in conflict and diplomacy. One of the pretexts of war in Afghanistan from the U.S. and its allies were the supposed concerns over women's rights. And now women's freedoms are seemingly being used as a bargaining chip for access to badly needed funds. What do women think about being used, basically, as political pawns here?

LENNIE: I think that's a great question, and that's something that if you speak to women, you know, from all walks of life, very critical about, you know, the foreign role here over the past 20 years but also how they sort of fit into this narrative. So did women benefit, or were they being used to justify a war which, you know, made some people, you know, American contractors, foreign contractors, even people in aid organizations, Afghan politicians - made them incredibly rich? When you speak to women, particularly those who, you know, were not from the elite sector of society in Kabul, who really did benefit from the 20 years of, you know, the occupation or the money that came in. The majority of women in the country didn't benefit to that degree. So I think there's an anger from a lot of women that their place in their society has been used to justify a lot of things that have gone on, which not necessarily really benefited them to the extent that people think it did.

FADEL: Soraya, how safe do girls, teenagers going back to school or going back to work - how safe do they feel about their role in public life?

LENNIE: We know in the past that there have been bombings that have targeted schools. And, of course, you know, that was perpetrated by the Taliban, but it was also perpetrated by ISIS. There's one other issue of security beyond all of this - is that, you know, there's women I've met who are in horrific situations of domestic violence, sexual assault. Who do you complain to? Because they have no faith that they can turn to the Taliban. So I think there are a lot of women in incredibly challenging, difficult situations now who are facing, really finding that they have no good choices.

FADEL: No good choices. Wow. You talked about a slew of issues. I'm thinking about one of your own reports about the hopelessness of students who were survivors of the suicide bombings in 2016 at the American University. And in that case, the Taliban has offered condolence payments but not for the victims' families, for the suicide bombers' families. What does that say about this leadership?

LENNIE: You know, for - particularly for people who have, you know, survived these traumatic events, bombings and killings and had loved ones killed, there's deep-seated anger and resentment. There's something that's sort of missing in this narrative over the past few months where there's been no process of reconciliation. There's been none of that.

FADEL: The Taliban now is the government, and so they're facing international pressure. But there's also pressure of a growing insurgency from ISIS-K, an affiliate of the extremist group ISIS in Afghanistan. And you've been in Kabul for nearly two months straight now. What's the situation there?

LENNIE: You know, initially, people were - you know, even if they hated the Taliban, they said, well, you know, at least there's no war. At least there's peace. Well, unfortunately, we're seeing more and more bombs go off. And most of them aren't, you know, attacks with massive death tolls. It's just, you know, creating this situation of pervasive fear.

FADEL: You describe so many different challenges to the Taliban's governance. I mean, how sustainable is this situation for the leadership?

LENNIE: Yeah, that's what everybody is talking about, and everybody's got a different take on it. But it's really common to hear people say, oh, it's not going to last more than six months. They don't have any money. There's a security issue. However, I don't think that the Taliban can be discounted because certainly, there are also people within the Taliban leadership who are pragmatic enough to understand all of these points and to understand for longevity, they need more than just, you know, aid in the short term.

FADEL: That's Soraya Lennie, a correspondent for TRT World. Thanks so much for speaking to us today.

LENNIE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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