Peace efforts with Taliban could harm their rights

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used part of her address to a key conference in Kabul on Tuesday to defend Afghan women concerned that peace efforts with the Taliban could jeopardise their rights.

“I speak from experience when I say that the work of Afghan women and civil society groups will be essential to this country's success,” she told the gathering of 70 representatives from international organisations and nations.

“If these groups are fully empowered to help build a just and lasting peace, they will help do so. If they are silenced and pushed to the margins of Afghan society, the prospects for peace and justice will be subverted.”

Ms. Clinton congratulated Afghan President Hamid Karzai for saying he would not sacrifice the rights of women, ethnic minorities or civil society groups in the quest for peace.

Before the conference, Ms. Clinton raised the same issues with a group of 12 handpicked Afghan women aid workers at the U.S. embassy.

She encouraged them to share their concerns about a process of reintegration of Taliban foot soldiers, which the U.S. is supporting on condition that the insurgents renounce violence and take part in the democratic process.

Mr. Karzai last month also won the endorsement of Afghan leaders to start peace talks with insurgent leaders and called on the international community to back his efforts — despite at least initial scepticism from the U.S.

“An Afghanistan that is stable, peaceful and secure is in everyone's interest, particularly women and children,” said Ms. Clinton. “But it cannot come at the cost of women,” she warned.

Afghan lawmaker Fawzia Koofi told Ms. Clinton: “We want peace with justice, bringing the Taliban on board and compromise with women's rights would take this country back hundreds of years.”

Aid group Save the Children has described Afghanistan as the worst country in the world in which to be a mother.

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