WASHINGTON: A return to Taliban rule in Afghanistan would risk undoing the gains made in women’s rights since the group’s ousting nearly two decades ago, US intelligence warned in a declassified report.

According to the two-page National Intelligence Council document, the insurgents’ views have not changed since their time in power between 1996 and the US military’s 2001 intervention.

At that time, the Taliban imposed their fundamentalist view of religion by prohibiting women from studying or working.

The withdrawal of US and international forces, which is set to be completed by September, has raised fears the Taliban will return full force.

“The Taliban remains broadly consistent in its restrictive approach to women’s rights and would roll back much of the past two decades’ progress if the group regained national power,” the report said.

It notes the group has seen little change in its leadership, remains “inflexible” in negotiations and “enforces strict social constraints in areas that it already controls.”

Some group leaders have made public commitments to respecting women’s rights, but only as a condition of the Taliban’s fundamentalist interpretation of Sharia law, or Islamic law, according to the report.

“If the Taliban were again Afghanistan’s dominant power, we assess that any prospect for moderating the group’s policies toward women would lie with ethnic minorities’ ability to maintain local variation and technological development,” the report said, referring to the greater exposure to the world Afghans have gotten due to cell phones.

According to the report authors, the progress of the last 20 years is fragile and imbalanced, and depends heavily on international pressure, suggesting that such development would be “at risk” after the withdrawal of foreign forces, “even without Taliban efforts to reverse it.”

External pressure could continue to play a role, and “the Taliban’s desires for foreign aid and legitimacy might marginally moderate its conduct over time,” the report said.

But should the group return to power, its first priority would likely be “extending control on its own terms.”


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