Intelligence community: Taliban takeover puts Afghan women at risk

Jenna McLaughlin
·National Security and Investigations Reporter
·3 min read

WASHINGTON — The intelligence community predicts the Taliban would likely “roll back much of the past two decades’ progress” on women’s rights if the group again seized power in Afghanistan after U.S. troops left in September, according to a recently declassified report.

The report, drafted by the high-level analytic unit within the intelligence community called the National Intelligence Council, was first revealed by Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat from New Hampshire and longstanding advocate of women’s rights in Afghanistan.

Shaheen introduced the report into the congressional record during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing last week, noting that it “portends poorly for the fate of Afghan women following the withdrawal of U.S. troops,” Shaheen said in a statement following the hearing emailed to Yahoo News.

U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), talks about women in Afghanistan, including the seven pictured women who were killed in Afghanistan, as she questions Zalmay Khalilzad, special envoy for Afghanistan Reconciliation, during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 27, 2021. (Susan Walsh/Pool via Reuters)
U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), talks about women in Afghanistan, including the seven pictured women who were killed in Afghanistan, as she questions Zalmay Khalilzad, special envoy for Afghanistan Reconciliation, during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 27, 2021. (Susan Walsh/Pool via Reuters)

“I worry that this reality is only going to escalate after our departure,” Shaheen said during the hearing, highlighting women who died standing up for human rights and working as journalists in Afghanistan in recent months.

While the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad laid out a more optimistic prediction for Afghanistan’s future during the hearing, suggesting the Taliban would not imminently take power, many other experts, including within the intelligence community, have warned the group’s resurgence is a real threat. “The Afghan government will struggle to hold the Taliban at bay if the coalition withdraws support,” predicted the intelligence community in its recently published annual worldwide threats assessment.

And while Khalilzad stressed that women’s rights were high on the list of priorities for U.S. negotiators helping the Afghan government and Taliban discuss a possible peace deal, there are many challenges facing women in the country even if the Taliban fails to seize power.

The intelligence community assessment concludes that opportunities for women, even following the end of the Taliban’s rule in 2001, have been uneven depending on where they live and associated cultural norms.

“Although the Taliban’s fall officially ended some policies, many continue in practice even in government-controlled areas, and years of war have left millions of women maimed, widowed, impoverished, and displaced,” wrote the authors of the report.

Family members of the martyred soldiers receive food aid from the government and attend a ceremony to honor their fallen soldiers at the Ministry of Defense in Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday, April 28, 2021. (Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
Family members of the martyred soldiers receive food aid from the government and attend a ceremony to honor their fallen soldiers at the Ministry of Defense in Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday, April 28, 2021. (Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

In rural areas, where 70 percent of Afghans live, the National Intelligence Council concludes, women have less access to education and capital, struggling to own property and go to work, even with external pressure and international support for women’s rights.

As a result, it may not even require a complete Taliban takeover to reverse progress on women’s rights, according to the report.

“Progress probably owes more to external pressure than domestic support,” the report states,” suggesting it would be at risk after coalition withdrawal, even without Taliban efforts to reverse it.”

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