Afghanistan's ruling Taliban militia and UN humanitarian officials are moving toward a resolution of the issue of employing Afghan women in international agencies. But a Taliban official has indicated that Afghanistan's ongoing troubles with its neighbors and the international community are no closer to being solved. UN correspondent Robert McMahon reports.
United Nations, 13 July 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The United Nations and Afghanistan's ruling Taliban militia appear to be close to an agreement that will allow Afghan women to work again for UN and other international agencies in the country.
The UN humanitarian coordinator for Afghanistan and a Taliban official in New York on Wednesday both indicated the issue has been resolved. Last week, the Taliban issued an edict forbidding Afghan women from working for humanitarian groups, including UN groups.
The Taliban's representative in New York, Abdul Hakeem Mujahid, says the order was prompted by the refusal of aid groups to honor an agreement to provide the background and the conditions under which the Afghan women were hired.
Mujahid said that this raised concerns about national security after renewed fighting broke out at the weekend between Taliban and opposition forces north of Kabul. The Taliban has repeatedly charged that arms are reaching the opposition side from outside states under the guise of humanitarian aid.
"All these NGOs and all of these United Nations agencies ignored our agreement, so we were forced to tell them you can no longer hire these women," he said.
Mujahid said he believed that this issue was resolved in talks this week between the UN's humanitarian coordinator in Afghanistan, Eric de Mul and Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil. Mujahid said the international agencies have agreed to provide information about their employees. De Mul told an AP correspondent in Islamabad that the situation will "quietly return to normal" and that Afghan women can return to work.
Mujahid said the Taliban leadership was also disturbed by a questionnaire that hundreds of new women employees of the World Food Program were required to fill out. He objected to questions about ethnicity, travel plans, and desire for citizenship.
A UN spokeswoman in New York, Marie Okabe, said she wasn't aware of that complaint. But she defended the UN's employment policy.
"The United Nations as a policy worldwide reserves the right to choose who works for the United Nations, whether it's in Afghanistan or anywhere else," Okabe said.
The Taliban representative faced repeated questions at a press conference on Wednesday about the regime's restrictive policy toward women. He said reports of women being denied education were "propaganda" and said thousands of women work for the Taliban government and international aid agencies.
Mujahid said at present, 300 women are being trained as doctors and nurses by the Taliban Defense Ministry. He said the Taliban government, like other Islamic regimes, has found its own path to regulating the role of women.
Mujahid said: "[Other Islamic regimes] can apply their own laws. We are working according to our environment. They are working with their environment. We are not against the working of women."
The UN Security Council this year has repeatedly accused the Taliban of violating the human rights of women and girls. And it has threatened punitive measures beyond the current sanctions if issues such as women's rights are not improved. The United States and Russia have also raised concern about Afghanistan playing host to terrorist groups active in South and Central Asia.
Taliban officials have denied this, and Mujahid said his government rejects terrorism. He also accused foreign parties, particularly Russia and Iran, of contributing to the opposition alliance by funneling arms through countries such as Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
He said the Taliban does not wish to export its ideology abroad and is looking for good relations with neighbors. He cited improved relations with at least one of Afghanistan's neighbors. Mujahid said:
"We have excellent relations with Turkmenistan, having a secular government there on their side. We do not want to impose our style of the government on neighboring countries. But still Tajikistan, Uzbekistan -- under the pressure of the Russian Federation -- they are interfering in our country, supporting our opposition."
Mujahid appealed to the United Nations to help halt the flow of outside arms to the opposition. And he appealed to UN member states to accept "ground realities" and recognize the Taliban government as the legitimate representative of Afghanistan. To date, only two countries -- Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates -- recognize the Taliban.