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Overtures to Taliban endanger women's rights: activist

THE HAGUE (Reuters) - Afghan women could lose gains they have made since the fall of the Taliban if Western countries come to terms with elements of the ultra-orthodox Islamist movement, a women’s activist said on Tuesday.

Orzala Ashraf of the Afghans Women’s Network said an international conference on Afghanistan in the Hague had brushed aside the need to hold Afghans to account for their actions and this could pose a longer term danger to society as a whole.

“We have Taliban members who are clearly slaughtering people on the ground, slaughtering teachers, slaughtering simple passengers -- young men who travel to Iran for jobs. How can you talk with such kind of people?” Ashraf told Reuters.

“It’s very vague and very scary for us,” she said. “We never want to return to that period (of Taliban rule).” “It was very disappointing to hear the president of Afghanistan and most of the speakers this morning not discussing the importance of women’s rights enough, when it comes to the reconciliation part of Afghanistan’s development,” she added.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the gathering the international community should support Afghan government efforts to offer an “honorable form of reconciliation” to Taliban fighters who renounce violence in Afghanistan.

U.S. President Barack Obama said this month he was open to the idea of reaching out to non-violent elements of the Taliban.

“VERY DISAPPOINTING”

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, addressing the conference, also said he backed reconciliation with any Taliban members with no association with al Qaeda.

Karzai’s comments dismayed Ashraf, a director of AWN, an umbrella organization founded in 1995 for dozens of women’s organizations in the country.

Ashraf, who is attending the talks in The Hague, said: “I find it very disappointing to hear Mr President talking about negotiating and dialogue with the Taliban and saying all the Taliban who have no links with al Qaeda should come and be part of the government. That’s a very vague question.”

“We are expecting a clear end to the culture of impunity ... We have just scarified justice for the sake of peace, and we have not reached peace so far,” she added.

“We ask the international community to take very careful and very cautious steps to get agreement from the government of Afghanistan for such a vague reconciliation process.”

Until the United States invaded in 2001 and ended five years of Taliban rule, the Islamist movement forced women to wear burqas covering them from head to toe and banned them from working, studying or leaving home without a male relative.

Women have since taken part in building civil society and political parties in Afghanistan. Gender equality is incorporated in the constitution and women are ensured 25 percent of parliamentary seats.

Editing by Jonathan Wright

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