Two-thirds of Afghanistan's population is 25 years old or younger, with no memory of Taliban rule. While Afghanistan remains one of the world's worst countries for women, particularly in rural areas where little has changed in generations, Afghan women now serve in Parliament, go to school and run businesses.
But there are persistent fears that, as the U.S. has negotiated with the Taliban on an exit from Afghanistan, women will be stripped of rights or once again be forced to wear the burqa, the all-encompassing veils that became a symbol of Taliban rule.
The Taliban last month issued a statement promising that women could “serve their society in the education, business, health and social fields while maintaining correct Islamic hijab,” referring to the Arabic word for veil.
But the report released Tuesday underscores American skepticism of those pledges.
“The Taliban has seen minimal leadership turnover, maintains inflexible negotiating positions, and enforces strict social constraints in areas that it already controls,” the report says. Any progress in women's rights “probably owes more to external pressure than domestic support, suggesting it would be at risk after coalition withdrawal.”
Technology and international pressure could improve the treatment of women under the Taliban, analysts found. Afghanistan has about 27 million cellphone accounts, about two-thirds of its estimated population, which could potentially increase the world's awareness of “extreme Taliban behavior,” the report says. And in the aftermath of a two-decade fight, international attention on the Taliban's activities may be heightened.
“The Taliban's desires for foreign aid and legitimacy might marginally moderate its conduct over time,” the report says. “However, in the early days of reestablishing its Emirate, the Taliban probably would focus on extending control on its own terms."
Secretary of State Antony Blinken has acknowledged that a Taliban takeover of the country is possible after the withdrawal. But he has also maintained that the group does not want to be a pariah and will have to embrace or at least tolerate the rights of women, girls and minorities if it wants to be viewed as legitimate by the international community.
The trouble with that, critics say, is that the Taliban have never shown interest in being accepted by the international community and spent much of its time in power in the 1990s and 2000-01 being shunned by every almost every nation on Earth.
U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., said in a statement that she would work with the Biden administration "however I can to ensure every effort is made to safeguard the progress made and support our partners on the ground to secure a stable and inclusive transitional government.”
AP Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.