- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 10, 2020

UNITED NATIONS (AP) - Hillary Clinton urged Afghanistan’s supporters on Tuesday to ensure that women are included in negotiations to end the country’s long war - and to never again allow the Taliban to impose “a reign of terror against women and girls.”

The former U.S. first lady, senator and secretary of state said Afghan women today are rightly afraid that the gains they have made since the Taliban were ousted from power in 2001 “will be washed away in a rush to achieve a peace that will not hold anyway.”

“This is not just morally wrong, this is dangerous, dangerous to every country represented here,” she told a crowded U.N. meeting of the Group of Friends of Women in Afghanistan, co-sponsored by Afghanistan and the United Kingdom.

Clinton, who lost the 2016 elections to Donald Trump, spoke following the U.S.-Taliban deal signed Feb. 29 which was touted as Washington’s effort to end 18 years of war in Afghanistan and bring American troops home.

The next crucial step was to be talks in which all Afghan factions including the Taliban would negotiate a road map for their country’s future. But Afghanistan’s rival leaders - President Ashraf Ghani and former unity government partner Abdullah Abdullah - were each sworn in as the country’s new president in separate ceremonies on Monday, throwing plans for negotiations into chaos.

Clinton said this is “a critical moment for Afghan women,” with peace negotiations on the horizon.

As first lady, she recalled speaking out against “the horrors the Taliban perpetrated against Afghan women and girls when they were in power” - refusing to let girls go to school, refusing to let women work and barring them from leaving their homes without a male guardian.

Clinton noted that from the beginning of U.S.-Taliban talks, the Taliban said they would not talk to the Afghan government.

It’s difficult to have an agreement when the government that’s expected to uphold it is left out, she said, “and it’s difficult to sustain an agreement if you leave out half the population in forging it.”

Since the Taliban’s “reign of terror” ended, she said, “Women of Afghanistan have come too far to be excluded from the negotiating table while their rights are being stripped away.”

Clinton said Afghanistan’s supporters must press for the government to be brought into discussions, for inclusive intra-Afghan talks, for U.S. troop withdrawals to be conditioned on the Taliban keeping their word, and for women being included in any peace negotiation and their rights respected.

“If women are sidelined, the prospects for sustainable peace are slim,” Clinton warned. “If society is torn apart and women pushed to the margins, it is more likely that terrorists will find a haven.”

“There can be no sustainable peace without women’s participation and rights,” she stressed.

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