- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Brazen public executions by the Taliban this month in provinces not traditionally part of their stronghold underscore the militants’ resurgence in Afghanistan.

The Taliban stoned to death a young couple in the northern Kunduz province, and in a second incident first flogged and then fatally shot a pregnant widow in Badghis province in the northwest. All three were accused of adultery.

“A lot of the discussion, particularly in Washington, has attempted to draw a line that in the south everything is Taliban-controlled and in the north we have made progress,” said Lyric Thompson, senior policy analyst with Women for Women International, which has been working in Afghanistan since 2002.

The stoning in Kunduz demonstrates that this belief is flawed, Ms. Thompson said. “It is basically Kabul, and then there is everything outside of Kabul.”

A recent United Nations report held the Taliban responsible for a 31 percent increase in conflict-related Afghan civilian casualties in the first six months of this year compared with the same period in 2009.

Many analysts and Western officials say Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government has failed to provide adequate security or judicial institutions, thereby creating a vacuum that has been exploited by the Taliban.

Average Afghans also frequently cite provincial government officials as being the primary source of injustice and insecurity in their communities.

“The Karzai government is the product of many unprincipled compromises over the years with corrupt, powerful figures who are out to help themselves not their constituents. That, in turn, created an environment that allowed the Taliban to regain influence in much of the country. It’s a double whammy,” said Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch.

Human rights have suffered a setback in parts of the country where the Taliban exercise de facto control.

Women and girls most often are the worst affected and find their ability to attend school, work or even venture outside their homes curtailed. Many pay with their lives for defying such restrictions.

A Western official in Afghanistan, speaking on the condition of anonymity in order to freely discuss the situation on the ground, said efforts to win Afghan hearts and minds are stymied by the fact that some members of the Afghan government and even the president’s own half-brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, “do not have stellar records when it comes to protecting human rights.”

Ahmed Wali Karzai is the top Afghan official in southern Kandahar province, where U.S. troops are engaged in operations against the Taliban.

But many groups working in Afghanistan say there has been a slight improvement in human rights since U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban regime in 2001.

“From our perspective it has improved, although not as quickly as most would like,” said Manizha Naderi, executive director of Women for Afghan Women.

The international community is funding projects focused on promoting women’s rights and building community awareness.

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