Afghan President Ashraf Ghani says women must be part of any peace process with the Taliban, a factor that could dash hopes for historic talks with the militant group.
“Our women have emerged to speak for themselves, to take great public positions. We have 10 deputy ministers, five women ambassadors, three ministers. They’re increasingly active. They are going to be engaged in every part of the peace process,” Ghani told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Thursday in an exclusive interview.
However, the Taliban’s fundamentalist interpretation of Islam treats women as second-class citizens, and including women in any attempts at talks could keep the militant group from the negotiating table.
That leaves Ghani with the delicate task of trying to draw in the Taliban while keeping the country’s liberal Western allies on board.
Ghani, who has vocally advocated women’s rights in a country where gender inequality remains stark, on Wednesday proposed talks without preconditions with the Taliban, saying the group could be recognized as a legitimate political party and even open a political office.
The Taliban responded coolly to the proposal, calling it illogical and dismissing the Afghan government as American-influenced.
Ghani’s proposals represent a bold offer to the group, which ruled the country from 1996 until 2001, when it was toppled by the US-led coalition that invaded the country following the 9/11 attacks.
But the offer comes at a time when actors are desperate for a solution. Afghanistan’s conflict has raged for 16 years, becoming the United States’ longest war.
Ghani also decried the loss of civilian life in the conflict and said Afghanistan’s young people need change.
“Over 100,000 international troops left. We have been doing the fighting, the dying and the defending of this country,” he told Amanpour.
Whether Washington will support talks between Afghanistan and the Taliban is not clear. Just last month, US President Donald Trump said the White House was not ready to talk with the Taliban, citing the terror group’s continued use of violence.
As a candidate, Trump vowed to draw down the US presence in Afghanistan. But as President, he’s given the Pentagon more autonomy, including the authority to increase troop levels.
The Afghan government has lost control of large swaths of territory to the Taliban. But Ghani denied that his offer signaled desperation or that his government had lost the upper hand.
“For the first time since the withdrawal of the international troops, we are steadily moving,” he said. “We have (a) four-year plan. We are offering this not out of some desperation but out of courage and conviction that the violence that is inflicted on our people, the type of violence that they are resorting to, is an indication of weakness, not strength.”
The Taliban has waged a bitter insurgency with a goal of ruling the country under its strict interpretation of Islamic law. The group carries out regular terror attacks and has in recent years also battled ISIS for territory and position.