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Taliban Officials Expect To Sign Deal With U.S. By The End Of The Month

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The Taliban say that they are expecting to sign a deal with the United States by the end of this month, a deal that will ultimately see an American military withdrawal from Afghanistan. But despite this agreement, the path forward is anything but clear. NPR's Diaa Hadid reports from Kabul.

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Javed Faisal is part of the team around President Ashraf Ghani, the spokesperson to Ghani's security adviser. He's wearing a close-fitting pinstriped navy suit set off by a bright red tie - more hipster than bureaucrat.

How old are you?

JAVED FAISAL: I turned 28 in February.

HADID: For most of his life, American troops have been in Afghanistan. As we speak, a military helicopter was overhead.

(SOUNDBITE OF HELICOPTER FLYING)

HADID: The Taliban have refused to include the Afghan government in peace negotiations, but Faisal says the government supports the agreement.

FAISAL: We believe it's good to have a peace deal in place, and that's what the Afghan people desire.

HADID: A key part of the agreement calls for negotiations between the insurgents and a coalition led by President Ghani. That coalition will have to find a way to convince the Taliban to lay down their weapons and be part of the country's democratic system, however young and flawed it is. If the negotiations fail, Afghanistan will remain at war with itself.

THOMAS RUTTIG: This is what is at stake because it has been tried for 18 years to defeat the Taliban militarily, and it didn't happen.

HADID: That's Thomas Ruttig. He's the co-director of the Kabul-based Afghanistan Analysts Network.

RUTTIG: That forced everyone to consider talking to them. And you need to offer something to them, and there might be really bitter compromises involved.

HADID: Compromises like agreeing to implement more conservative Islamic laws that would peel away women's rights. But Faisal, the spokesman, says Afghanistan's changed in the past two decades.

FAISAL: The majority of Afghans today are my age. We have different values. We have different standards.

HADID: Girls now go to school. Women work. They don't need a male guardian's permission to move about. And there's relative freedom of speech.

FAISAL: They cannot deny all these realities.

HADID: To test that premise, we leave Faisal and drive across town to meet Mullah Qalamuddin.

(LAUGHTER)

HADID: He's a jovial, middle-aged man in a teal blue turban and stylish glasses. Qalamuddin is no longer with the Taliban, but he was once in charge of enforcing morality when they ruled Kabul in the 1990s. Under his watch, Talibs used a sports stadium to execute men and women for crimes like adultery and murder, as spectators gathered to watch. They amputated people's limbs for stealing. NPR producer Khwaga Ghani translates.

QALAMUDDIN: (Non-English language spoken).

KHWAGA GHANI, BYLINE: "We have a holy book by the name of Quran, and we have a law of Sharia. So we have to implement that."

HADID: He says if the Taliban come into power again, they'll have police officers, not random Talibs, enforcing the law. Punishments will be carried out in courthouses, not sports stadiums. And he says the Taliban have also changed.

QALAMUDDIN: (Non-English language spoken).

GHANI: "Yes, women can go to school. Women can work. But segregation has to be there. Women, if they're working, they have to have a separate office. Girls, if they're going to school, there has to be a different class for girls and different class for boys."

HADID: We leave the mullah to ask one of Afghanistan's most prominent human rights activists what she makes of all this. Sima Samar is a physician and, right now, state minister for human rights and international affairs.

SIMA SAMAR: When the people's rights and freedom are restricted and violated, that is not a solution. Can we segregate completely the society? Then we have to have female street and male street in the country, a male bazaar and female bazaar.

HADID: Samar says peace in Afghanistan has to be for men and women. But those negotiations at this point are in question. The Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, was declared the winner of controversial elections just this week. But his rivals don't recognize his legitimacy. They even announced their own parallel government. And Afghanistan, for now, remains divided and mired in conflict.

Diaa Hadid, NPR News, Kabul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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