KABUL: It is naive to think the Taliban have changed their stance on women’s rights, says Kabul restaurateur Laila Haidari, who like many educated Afghan women fears any peace deal between the extremists and the US could erode hard-won freedoms.

Draconian rules that once forced half the population behind closed doors — barred from education and work — have been chipped away in the nearly two decades since the US-led invasion that swept the Taliban from power.

“If they return, women will have to leave the public space,” Haidari said from the restaurant she runs in Kabul, one of the few places in the capital where men and women dine together.

Haidari launched the #metooafghanistan movement which she and others hope will be a vanguard of Afghan women who can hold the line against Taliban power.

“We never want to go back. We never want to lose our freedom,” says Mina Rezaee, the owner of another cafe in Kabul, where music — banned under the Taliban — plays in the background. After six days of negotiations in Qatar, the US and Taliban have agreed a draft framework for a deal which could pave the way for the insurgents to hold peace talks with Kabul.

With the US desperate to withdraw from Afghanistan, and the Taliban in control of vast parts of the country, it is unclear what a post-conflict government would look like. Any participation by the Taliban, however, frightens many women.

Published in Dawn, February 2nd, 2019