Afghan women stage protest outside presidential palace in Kabul

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Afghanistan, Kabul, Women's Rights

A small group of Afghan women have held a protest near the presidential palace in Kabul to demand equal rights from the Taliban.

The demonstration came as Afghanistan’s new rulers work on forming a government and seeking international recognition.

The Taliban captured most of the country in a matter of days last month and celebrated the departure of the last US forces after 20 years of war.

Now they face the urgent challenge of governing a war-ravaged country that is heavily reliant on international aid.

The Taliban have promised an inclusive government and a more moderate form of Islamic rule than when they last ruled the country from 1996 to 2001.

But many Afghans, especially women, are deeply sceptical and fear a rollback of rights gained over the last two decades.

The protest in Kabul was the second women’s protest in as many days, with the other held in the western city of Herat.

Around 20 women with microphones gathered under the watchful eyes of Taliban gunmen, who allowed the demonstration to proceed.

The women demanded access to education, the right to return to work and a role in governing the country. “Freedom is our motto. It makes us proud,” read one of their signs.

A Taliban fighter ventured into the crowd at one point but witnesses said he was angry at bystanders who had stopped to watch the demonstration and not the protesters themselves.

The Taliban have said women will be able to continue their education and work outside the home – rights denied to women when the militants were last in power.

But the Taliban have also vowed to impose Sharia, or Islamic law, without providing specifics.

Interpretations of Islamic law vary widely across the Muslim world, with more moderate strains predominating.

The Taliban’s earlier rule was shaped by Afghanistan’s unique tribal traditions, under which women are not to be seen in public. Those customs endure, especially in the countryside, even during 20 years of Western-backed governments.

A potentially more pressing concern for the Taliban is the economy, which is mired in crisis.

Civil servants have not been paid for months, ATMs have been shut down and banks are limiting withdrawals to 200 dollars per week, causing large crowds to form outside them.

Aid groups have warned of widespread hunger amid a severe drought.

The Taliban said Western Union, which halted service after the militants entered Kabul last month, will resume transfers, which may help Afghans to receive cash from relatives living abroad.

But most of Afghanistan’s foreign reserves are held abroad and frozen while Western nations consider how to engage with the Taliban, putting pressure on the local currency.

The Taliban say they want good relations with all countries, even the United States, and have held a string of meetings with foreign envoys in recent days in the Gulf nation of Qatar, where they have long maintained a political office.

Western nations are expected to demand the Taliban live up to their promises to form an inclusive government and prevent Afghanistan from being a haven for terrorist groups.

They may also press the Taliban on women’s rights, though that could be a harder sell for the group’s hard-line base, which is steeped in Afghanistan’s deeply conservative, tribal culture.

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