The Latest U.S.-Taliban Agreement Jeopardizes Afghan Women’s Rights and Democracy

The United States and the Taliban signed an agreement this past Saturday focusing on U.S. withdrawal of troops from the country and a guarantee by the Taliban that Afghanistan will not be used by terrorist groups to threaten U.S. and its allies’ security.

The agreement has no guarantees for Afghan women’s rights, human rights and the Afghan Constitution which establishes a democracy and guarantees human rights and women’s rights.

The agreement also makes no commitment to preserve and continue the groundbreaking progress achieved in the last 20 years in many areas like education, healthcare, security, and the freedom of press.

The U.S.-Taliban agreement has no guarantees for Afghan women’s rights, human rights and the Afghan Constitution—and makes no commitment to preserve and continue the groundbreaking progress achieved in the last 20 years. (UN Women / Creative Commons)

Exclusion of Women and Afghan Government is Cause for Concern

The exclusion of these very important guarantees and issues has alarmed Afghan women leaders and their allies.

“Afghan women must be at the negotiating table and their voices must be heard,” said Speaker Pelosi. “The participation of women in the peace process is critical for the security, economy and governance of Afghanistan.  We cannot afford to turn back from or lose ground on the important advancements made by and for women and girls in Afghanistan.”

The exclusion of women from these negotiations was also a clear violation of the U.S. Women Peace and Security Act—signed into law by the Trump administration in 2017.

Afghan women leaders implore: “Don’t trade away women’s rights to the Taliban. Put us at the table.” 

The Taliban has also continuously refused to recognize the democratically-elected government of Afghanistan and its Constitution, and to renounce its own desire to rule. They have shown no sign of progress in their ideology of controlling women and cruelly denying women their human rights.  

While U.S. officials did not include any of these critical issues in the U.S.-Taliban agreement, it is imperative that they are addressed in the negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government, which are to follow in March.

About the U.S.-Taliban agreement, Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued this statement:

Many significant additional steps remain to achieve comprehensive and enduring peace.  These steps include the opening of critical intra-Afghan negotiations between Afghan political leaders, the Taliban and civil society to advance a political settlement and permanent, sustainable ceasefire agreement.”

The exclusion of women and Afghan government officials further diminishes the United States’ efforts in helping to rebuild a modern government that supports democracy in Afghanistan.

The Afghan people—especially Afghan women—have made it clear time and again that they do not want to go back to where Afghanistan was under the Taliban rule. They want modern, free and secure lives which include access to education, healthcare and freedom of the media and with human rights for all. 

The Taliban must not succeed in rolling back the progress that has been hard-earned by Afghans, the U.S. and our international allies.

“Women of my generation have not forgotten the reign of the Taliban and we are as always worried for the future,” said Zarifa Ghafari, an Afghan mayor who was honored for her courage by the U.S. State Department this week. “Therefore, let me ask for your continued support to ensure that [the] Afghan peace process does not erase the gains that have been made since the dark days of the Taliban regime.” 

Through the peace process, the U.S. must not inadvertently help the Taliban to impose their brutal edicts on the Afghan people. 

And experts agree. Today, in an op-ed for The Hill, Melanne Verveer—executive director of Georgetown University’s Institute for Women, Peace and Security—and Carla Koppell—adjunct assistant professor and distinguished fellow at the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security—wrote:

“The U.S. Congress must stand in solidarity with Afghan women. There are no prospects for real peace without them. Backsliding on women’s rights would be a visible marker of failure and loss after 20 years’ investment of American energy, lives and money to help create a stable, democratic nation. If women’s rights are undermined and civil strife is exacerbated, terrorists will be more likely, not less, to find a haven in Afghanistan.”

Agreement Dictates a Removal of Forces Within 14 Months

In addition to no guarantee of human rights and women’s rights, Saturday’s agreement also dictates that “all military forces of the United States, its allies and Coalition partners, all non-diplomatic civilian personnel … trainers and advisors” leave within 14 months.

This further jeopardizes and weakens the Afghan government and the security of the country as well as raises questions on allowing international aid workers to continue working in Afghanistan.

In order to have a strong security force in Afghanistan, the Afghan government needs international assistance to train and advise its security personnel. 

This agreement between the U.S.-Taliban also violates previous commitments to Afghanistan, including the Chicago Summit on Afghanistan, which guarantees support to the “sovereign” Afghan government until 2024. The violation of the Chicago agreement and others threatens the U.S. reputation in honoring its international commitments. 

Legitimizing the Taliban, Undermining the Afghan Government

While appearing neutral, the U.S. in this agreement with the Taliban is obliterating any recognition of the Afghan government and its people.

The agreement states that “the Taliban will start intra-Afghan negotiations with Afghan sides.”

In omitting the Afghan government, the Trump administration is undermining the Afghan government, its legitimacy and its hard work in creating relative stability and progress.

“We simply can’t turn this over and walk away,” said retired Four Star Marine Corps General John Allen, former Commander of International Forces in Afghanistan. 

“We’ve already seen the oppression of women and girls return where the Taliban has regained control,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee. “We should not risk unraveling the progress that’s been made.”

A Lack of Enforceability and a Threat to National Security

Finally, the terms of the agreement are not practical and not enforceable for our national security, the geopolitical stability of the region and the national security of Afghanistan.

It is not practical for the Afghan government—often referred to as the “other side” in the agreement—to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners the day of the start of the intra-Afghan negotiations and release the rest over the course of three months. The Taliban in return will release only 1,000 prisoners.

Without monitoring or any verification mechanism, it is naïve to trust that these members will not be a threat to our national security, to the stability of the region and the national security of Afghanistan.

To trust the Taliban with our security would make a mockery of all the sacrifices of the Afghan people, the U.S., NATO and the international community. 


Eleanor Smeal is president of the Feminist Majority Foundation and publisher of Ms. For over five decades, she has played a leading role in both national and state campaigns to win women’s rights legislation, including the Equal Rights Amendment.