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'We respect women a lot': Taliban holds 3,000-delegate men-only summit

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By Joshua Askew  with AFP/Reuters/AP
Deputy prime minister Abdul Salam Hanafi (L) speaks with acting Foreign Minister of Afghanistan, Taliban official Amir Khan Muttaqi during an international conference (2021).
Deputy prime minister Abdul Salam Hanafi (L) speaks with acting Foreign Minister of Afghanistan, Taliban official Amir Khan Muttaqi during an international conference (2021).   -   Copyright  ALEXANDER ZEMLIANICHENKO/AFP

Men will represent women at a 3,000-delegate all-male gathering on Afghanistan's future, a senior Taliban figure has said. 

The meeting in Kabul on Thursday is the first major gathering of Islamic clerics and tribal elders since the Taliban seized power last August. 

Critics and civil society groups said it will not have legitimacy if Afghan women, who number around 20 million, do not attend.

The Taliban's acting deputy prime minister,  Abdul Salam Hanafi, said men would represent women at the event. 

"Women are our mothers, sisters. We respect them a lot," said Taliban Acting Deputy Prime Minister Abdul Salam Hanafi Wednesday. "When their sons are in the gathering, it means they are also involved, in a way, in the gathering."

“Different people with different views are going to gather. This will be a positive step for stability in Afghanistan and strengthening national unity,” he told state broadcaster RTA.

Hanafi said Islamic governance and economics, as well as the country's "social issues", would be under discussion at the men-only meeting. It is unclear if issues surrounding girls' secondary education or women's rights would be discussed.

The media are not allowed to attend.

The event, which is similar to the traditional "loya jirga" used by former President Ashraf Ghani to make national decisions, is seen as an attempt by the Taliban to improve its domestic legitimacy and so secure much-needed international recognition.

International governments are yet to recognise the former insurgent group as legitimate rulers of Afghanistan, since their take over last year, mainly because of their policies towards women and girls.

In March, the Taliban suspended secondary education for most teenage girls, women were ordered to cover themselves and barred from travelling 70 km beyond their home without a male chaperone.

Opportunities for women to participate in public and political life have also been curtailed.

The US and other foreign states have called on the group to reverse these decisions and create a more inclusive Afghan government.

Taliban leaders have rejected calls for removing the restrictions on women, insisting they are in accordance with Afghan culture and Islamic law.

“An allegiance from 3,000 selected guests by [the] Taliban in a meeting will not help fix any of the problems [facing the country], nor confer any internal or external legitimacy to [the] Taliban,” said Torek Farhadi, a former Afghan official and political commentator.

“The book of God in Islam is gifted to women and men equally. Depriving women of having a voice in society is going against the precepts of Islam,” Farhadi told Voice of America.

Afghanistan is currently in a deep economic crisis. 

A recent devastating earthquake, which left 1,000 people dead, has worsened a severely damaged economy dogged by humanitarian crisis and international sanctions.

The Taliban takeover last August led the US and its western allies to immediately halt financial assistance to the largely aid-dependent country, seize its foreign assets and isolate the Afghan banking system.

US officials are meeting with the Taliban on Thursday to discuss providing more aid and lifting these sanctions, although they want to assure the money is used for humanitarian purposes.