Taliban defends record on women as UN looks at path forward

An Afghan woman walks among Taliban soldiers at a checkpoint in Kabul

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Afghanistan's Taliban-led administration is "obligated" to consider religious values and will not allow interference in internal affairs, it has told the United Nations in response to an assessment on how the world could deal with the Islamists.

The U.N. Security Council asked Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for the independent assessment, which was submitted this month. It proposes a path for political engagement aimed at reintegrating Afghanistan after the Taliban seized power in August 2021 as U.S.-led forces withdrew after 20 years of war.

The Taliban-led administration's desire for recognition - and the country's seat at the United Nations - is seen as key international leverage to press for an inclusive government and respect for rights, particularly for women, in Afghanistan.

"The basic rights of women and girls, including the right to education and to work, and representation in public and political life – are not only fundamental obligations of a state, but also critical to build state capacity for long-term development and economic growth and peace and security," read the assessment submitted to the 15-member council.

"Any formal re-integration of Afghanistan into global institutions and systems will require the participation and leadership of Afghan women," it read. The assessment was written by veteran Turkish diplomat Feridun Sinirlioglu.

Since the Taliban returned to power, most girls have been barred from high school and women from universities. The Taliban have also stopped most Afghan female staff from working at aid agencies, closed beauty salons, barred women from parks and curtailed travel for women in the absence of a male guardian.

The Taliban say they respect rights in line with their interpretation of Islamic law.

"This government is obligated to take into consideration the religious values and national interests of the country during all engagements, and will not allow anyone to interfere in our internal affairs," the Taliban-led administration wrote in a response this week to the assessment, seen by Reuters.

It said that since the end of the war Afghan women had been able to secure some of their most basic rights, that about 23.4% of all Afghan civil servants are women, and that unprecedented numbers of Afghan women were participating as leaders and job creators in the business, commerce and manufacturing sectors.

"The Islamic Emirate has collected thousands of street beggars, a legacy of the previous regime, majority of whom were women and allocated them regular stipends," it added.

The United Nations says two-thirds of Afghanistan's 43 million people need humanitarian aid.

The independent assessment given to the Security Council recommended the appointment of a U.N. special envoy on Afghanistan, which the Taliban rejected as "unacceptable."

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; editing by Jonathan Oatis)