Leonard Doyle: 'The small advances women have made are now being wiped out'

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The Independent Online

Late last year the pupils of a rural Afghan girls school made a horrying discovery. The Taliban had hidden a landmine under a bag in their classroom. Their teacher was not completely surprised since a few weeks earlier the Taliban had left a threatening note in the village mosque ordering all girls schools to close.

Another Taliban "night letter" left at a nearby school warned: "Respected Afghans: Leave the culture and traditions of the Christians and Jews. Do not send your girls to school." Otherwise, it said, the mujahedin of the Islamic Emirates, the name of the former Taliban government, "will conduct their robust military operations in the daylight".

The rapid rolling back of Afghan women and children's rights cannot only be blamed on the Taliban. There is a strong undercurrent in the government of Hamid Karzai that women's rights are not worth fighting for.

Safia Amajan, who was murdered yesterday, had already asked for protection, and been denied it, after receiving threats last autumn. An easy target, she leaves a 17-year-old son and a paralysed husband.

Her colleagues in her Kandahar office for women's issues were transfixed with fear yesterday when they were visited by human rights monitors. But they too were not surprised by the outcome. Two years ago, the governor of Kandahar province told Amnesty International: "At the moment, there are more pressing issues... a civil servant has too much on his mind to deal with women's rights. It's a matter of priorities."

Despite the rolling back of women's rights across Afghanistan, it remains a familiar refrain of Tony Blair and George Bush is that the "war on terror" has yielded two major success stories since 11 September 2001. The first is that free and fair elections have been held in Afghanistan. The second, that "millions" of girls are back at school there. In fact, as groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International document, hundreds of thousands of Afghan girls are no longer in school because of the growing insecurity in the face of the resurgent Taliban.

"A lot of small rights which women gained are now being wiped out," said Sam Zarifi of Human Rights Watch. "Every day Nato boasts of the number of Taliban fighters it has killed. But its mandate is to provide security for civilians, especially women, and that it is not doing."