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Concern for women amid Taliban aid crackdown

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After nearly 40 years of conflict, Afghanistan is almost entirely reliant on international aid. AFP

Concern for women amid Taliban aid crackdown

Afghan women are being cut off from crucial aid because of a growing Taliban crackdown in areas controlled by the insurgents, more than a dozen relief workers have said.

The militants have demanded an end to projects helping women to be more independent and have barred female staff from entering their territory in some areas.

“So far the hypothesis is that the Taliban have changed, but this is really a concrete example that they haven’t,” said one aid worker who did not want to be named.

Washington recently lambasted the insurgents for failing to abide by a landmark deal last year that committed them to honouring a number of security guarantees.

The agreement also called for the withdrawal of foreign troops by May and paved the way for peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

The deal initially raised hopes the insurgents were open to moderating some of their hardline positions.

But people working in pockets of territory under Taliban control, primarily in northern Afghanistan, say conditions in some areas deteriorated after the US accord was signed.

Fears are growing that the Taliban are waiting for the US to leave before attempting to retake the country by force and reintroduce their draconian vision for Afghan society.

The group ruthlessly oppressed women during their brief rule over the country in the 1990s, banning them from working outside the home and subjecting them to violent punishments for perceived infractions.

The jihadists have since made vague pledges to protect women’s rights in Afghanistan.

In an open letter published last month, Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar said the group was “committed to upholding and guaranteeing all rights of women afforded to them by Islamic law”.

But on the ground, aid groups say the group are as uncompromising as ever.

Some say their work is unravelling after years of building up delicate relationships with the insurgents to reach impoverished Afghan women and girls.

In a letter addressed to aid groups, the Taliban warned it was unacceptable for them to “take women out of their homes in the name of women’s economic empowerment, education and sports programmes”.

Pressure against these kinds of programmes are not new, but are becoming “a lot more official and widespread”, a senior humanitarian aid manager said.

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