Revelations about U.S.-and NATO-supported talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government may herald hope for peace, but Afghan women fear the worst.
"Our government always compromises human rights and women's rights, and they will do it again," Murwaid Ziayee, Afghanistan director for Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan, said during a visit to Vancouver.
On Sunday, U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke said on CNN that "high-level" Taliban leaders had interest in dialogue with the Afghan government. Last week, the New York Times reported that some Taliban leaders crossed from Pakistan to Afghanistan and were flown to Kabul in a NATO aircraft.
With Canada withdrawing combat troops next summer, the U.S. stating it plans to start pulling out next year, and the Afghan army and police nowhere near being able to hold the insurgents at bay by themselves, negotiations with the Taliban are widely seen to hold some promise for ending the nine-year Afghan war.
But announced plans for western troop withdrawals, and the Taliban's capability of causing massive damage to NATO forces and civilians in spite of the presence of more than 120,000 NATO troops, put the insurgents in a strong position.
"I don't see a great willingness on the part of the Taliban . . . to make serious compromises," said Mark Sedra, a global security expert at the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo, Ontario.
Afghan women worry that if Taliban are brought into government, gains in women's rights since the end of Taliban rule will be lost, said Lauryn Oates of Vancouver, a senior adviser to the Canada Afghanistan Solidarity Committee.
"The Taliban have no intention of lessening their stance on the status of women," Oates said. "Their discriminatory policies and misogynist beliefs are part of the core of their ideology. It's not something I think they will be willing to negotiate on."
Sedra believes Afghan women are right to be scared, but he also believes that the Afghan government and its western backers would make sure any deal with the insurgents would require them to abide by the Afghan constitution, which guarantees women's rights.
"Under the watch of the international community as well as this current Afghan government I don't think you're going to see a Taliban takeover of the state or a Talibanization of the state," Sedra said.
Significant progress in women's rights in Afghanistan has been made in spite of non-progressive members of the government, Sedra said.
"The parliament is full of fundamentalist jihadis, some of whom would be glad to see an end to some of the freedoms that have been extended to women and other groups," he said.