Report of the DHA mission to Afghanistan

Originally published

(30 MARCH - 5 MAY 1997)

ADEEL AHMED: Research Assistant

Policy and Analysis Division


Section I Historical background

1.1 Afghanistan's early history
1.2 The modernization of Afghanistan
1.3 Afghanistan rapprochement with the Soviet Union
1.4 The fall of the Pushtun dynasty and the rise of the Afghan technocrats as the new ruling elite.
1.5 The fall of Kabul in April 1992: the end of the modern project in Afghanistan

Section II Background information on the Taliban movement, its origin and structure.

2.1 Origins of the Taliban movement
2.2 Political structure of the Taliban movement

Section III Analytical framework of the UN responses to the constraints imposed by the Taliban regime, particularly regarding gender discrimination.

3.1 The UN responses to gender discrimination in Afghanistan
3.1.1 Applicable international legal standards
- Excerpts from Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women
3.1.2 The gender issue in an Afghan Islamic perspective
3.1.3 Taliban policies and the re-Islamization of Afghan society

3.2 Historical background of the UN response
3.2.1 Early UN perception of the Taliban policies
3.2.2 The search for a united front on gender

3.3 The UN response to the Taliban regime three distinct approaches and their underlying assumptions
- The "Principle-Centered" approach
- The "Tip-Toe" approach
- The "Community-Empowerment" approach

3.4 Illustrations of the different UN approaches
3.4.1 Illustration of the "Principle-Centered" approach
3.4.2 Illustration of the "Tip-Toe" approach
3.4.3 Illustration of the "Community Empowerment" approach

Section IV Perspectives for cooperation and dialogue between the United Nations agencies and the Afghan authorities.

4.1 General discussions on cooperation arrangements with the Afghan authorities
4.2 Taliban's proposal for the establishment of a "Joint technical committee" with the UN agencies
4.3 Comments on the Taliban's proposal

Section V Conclusion and recommendations

5.1 Is a common UN approach possible?
5.2 Recommendations

Printed copies of the Annexes are available upon request from
U.N. DC-1 Room 1546
New York, New York 10016

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY The emergence of the Taliban Movement, now in control of most of the territory of Afghanistan,entailed challenges for the United Nations and non-governmental organizations. Among these are Taliban policies of gender discrimination in employment and education, as well as security of UN personnel and premises. Scarcity of information about the Taliban Movement within the United Nations system and factors leading to its emergence affected how the UN agencies related with the Taliban authorities. A two-person mission from the Department of Humanitarian Affairs (DHA) traveled in Afghanistan for four weeks to assess the relationship of the United Nations agencies with the public authorities of Afghanistan and to identify opportunities and constraints of programmes of assistance to Afghanistan in the new environment. Within the UN agencies and NGOs, there appeared multiple approaches of dealing with the Taliban based on differing assumptions about their organization and capacity. These approaches can be broadly categorized into three groups:

1. The "Principle-Centered" approach: making assistance conditional on change of policies that are in conflict with the UN charter and internationally recognized norms and principles.

2. The "Tip-Toe" approach: attempting pragmatic experiments on the ground hoping for the development of a practical arrangement with the Taliban authorities.

3. The "Community-Empowerment" approach: developing community capacity to act as counterparts to the UN agencies, in the margin of the authorities wherever possible.
With respect to the Taliban, the key issues are their willingness and ability to work cooperatively with the UN. They have demonstrated their willingness by forwarding to the DHA mission, a proposal for the establishment of a joint technical committee. They have proposed this committee to be a consultative body of professionals from the UN and the Islamic State of Afghanistan, to discuss regularly and in a privileged environment, programmes of assistance to Afghanistan, including the applicable international norms and principles. Significantly, the Taliban has invited expatriate women from the UN to participate in the proposed committee.

On the question of the ability of the Taliban to engage constructively with the UN, the mission has reservations. The mission observed a lack of capacity within the Movement to deal with issues of civil administration and the military campaign consistently having priority over these issues.

The DHA mission believes that a common consistent approach for the UN system in Afghanistan can only be developed on the basis of a clear understanding of the historical background and political implications of the Afghan policies regarding gender, and of the benefits and shortcomings of prevailing UN strategies.

A UN common approach should remain strong on principles, open to experimentations with the authorities on the basis of these principles, and supportive of the local communities. The readiness of the UN agencies to recognize the value of the different approaches and to integrate their positive elements in the agencies' perspective will determine the ability of the UN system to elaborate a common approach.

The main recommendations of the DHA mission are:
- Time and resources should be devoted to assess and analyze the political development in Afghanistan on an ongoing basis.

- UN agencies should agree on a set of practical and realistic objectives on which a common strategy and position could be built regarding gender discrimination.

- UN agencies' country representatives and UN policy makers should further develop and strengthen their contacts with the Taliban authorities, particularly in Kandahar.

- A UN team should undertake an assessment of the situation of women in Afghanistan and elaborate a set of practical objectives for UN agencies to sensitize the authorities on the implications of their policies, and to improve the conditions of Afghan women.

- UN agencies should respond in a constructive manner to the proposal of the Taliban authorities for the establishment of "Joint technical committees" between professionals of the UN system and the Taliban authorities.

The DHA mission wishes to express its appreciation to all those who supported its work in the field and at headquarters. The DHA mission is thankful for the availability and openness of the UN agencies country directors and staff who kindly shared their views with the team.

The team is particularly grateful for the assistance provided by the United Nations Office for Humanitarian Assistance to Afghanistan, especially Mr. Alfredo Witschi-Cestari, Humanitarian Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative, who provided the team with a constant support and sound advice in the undertaking of its mission. Special thanks go to Ms. Brigitte Neubacher, Assistant to the Humanitarian Coordinator in Islamabad, Angela Kearney, UNOCHA representative and her staff in Kabul, Mr. Dave Edwards from UNOCHA in Kandahar, and other UNOCHA staff in Herat and Mazar-I-Sharif.

Finally, the mission is particularly appreciative of the efforts of Mr. Mumtaz Akhunzada, UNDP staff in Jalalabad and translator for the mission, for his kind and discerning assistance throughout the mission.

INTRODUCTION Following a series of consultations at the International Forum on Assistance to Afghanistan (IFAA) held in Ashkhabad in January 1997 with UN agencies and national and international NGOs active in Afghanistan, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Mr. Yasushi Akashi, dispatched to the region a mission to study the constraints recently encountered by the UN agencies in the implementation of their humanitarian programmes in Afghanistan. This report presents the observations and recommendations of the DHA mission. The purpose of the report is to provide policy makers of United Nations agencies with information on the prevailing constraints under which agencies are operating in Afghanistan. It addresses more specifically the constraints encountered in the Taliban controlled areas regarding the Taliban's policies of gender discrimination, and offers a practical analytical framework for the various UN responses to these constraints. The need for such a study arose from the discussions between UN agencies in Ashkhabad in which differences of approaches emerged on issues of UN concern in Afghanistan. The DHA mission observed that these various approaches were based on distinct sets of assumptions concerning the political structure of the Afghan authorities which needed to be further examined. Beyond its commitment to the various issues such as gender, the environment and drug control, the dynamic of the UN engagement in Afghanistan relies on a continuum linking the objectives of the UN Charter and internationally recognized human rights, to the practices of the agencies under the constraints of the field. This dynamic is based on the ability of the UN system to elaborate a common understanding of the opportunities and constraints of UN work in Afghanistan. An understanding that supports the efforts of the agencies in the field while remaining in line with the guiding principles of the United Nations Organization. The elaboration of such an understanding in Afghanistan appears, nevertheless, as an arduous process. The balancing exercise of combining principles and practical approaches in the Afghan context has been increasingly complicated and frustrating. Moreover, the DHA mission observed that the scarcity of background information at headquarters level on the changing Afghan political environment, and on the constraints it exerts on the UN agencies, has impaired the capacity of the UN system to respond in a practical manner to current issues of concern, such as gender discrimination in Afghanistan. These issues are being dealt within an abstract, and sometimes dogmatic environment, centered on the principles and leaving the agencies without the necessary operational guidelines to orient their response. As a consequence, conflicting agendas have emerged among UN agencies on how to implement the mandate of the UN organization on these specific issues. The DHA mission hopes that its report will contribute positively to the elaboration of a common approach by the UN agencies in Afghanistan, particularly regarding the UN response to gender discrimination in that country. It encourages UN agencies and humanitarian organizations active in Afghanistan to further exchange their views concerning the Afghan situation, as well as the situation of women in Afghanistan, for the benefit of their operations and of their beneficiaries. METHODOLOGY The DHA mission was composed of Claude Bruderlein, Policy Advisor at the Department of Humanitarian Affairs (DHA) in New York, and Adeel Ahmed, research assistant and Associate Humanitarian Affairs Officer at the Policy and Analysis Division of the DHA. The mission spent four weeks in the region, from 30 March to 2 May 1997, during which it traveled extensively throughout the country. The team met with more than 100 interlocutors from a large spectrum of authorities and organizations, including the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance to Afghanistan, UN agencies and programmes involved in Afghanistan, non-governmental organizations, both national and international, and representatives of the authorities of the National Islamic Movement of Afghanistan (NIMA) and of the Islamic State of Afghanistan (ISA). (A list of interlocutors is attached in Annex 01). The objectives of the mission were to review the framework of dialogue and negotiation with the authorities of Afghanistan and to suggest a series of measures aimed at developing and improving the cooperation between the Afghan authorities and the UN agencies involved in Afghanistan, especially regarding the concerns of the UN system on gender discrimination in that country. (The terms of reference of the DHA mission are attached in Annex 02). This report assumes no prior knowledge concerning Afghanistan nor of the UN response to the Afghan situation. As mentioned, the mission noticed the lack of background information, or the presence of contradictory information, among UN agencies and non-governmental organizations concerning Afghan recent history, particularly regarding the situation of the Afghan women. In an effort to promote a common understanding of the Afghan political environment and the situation of women, the mission felt the need to review briefly the history of Afghanistan from authoritative sources (see Annex 03) and introduces the main points of this preparatory review in Section I of the report. Similarly, Section II of the report presents an analysis of the Taliban political structure in the Taliban-controlled areas from the observation of the mission during the numerous meetings which took place with a series of representatives of the Taliban movement. Since the Taliban movement, at the time of mission, controlled over 75% of the territory, the mission believed its origins and structure should be better understood in connection with any practical approach dealing with issues of concern in these areas. Section III introduces an analytical framework of the UN response to the recent developments in the Afghan situation and applies this framework for the UN response to the UN policies against gender discrimination of the Taliban movement. Comments on the Taliban proposal for the establishment of a joint technical committee on the cooperation with the UN (see Annex 04) are presented in Section IV. Section V draws the main conclusions and recommendations of the mission.

Section I Historical background In order to understand the present day conditions of Afghan politics, especially regarding gender discrimination, the DHA mission observed how important it was to review these issues in their historical context. The gender issue has been central to the development of modern Afghanistan from the early 1920s, up to the present. This Section provides an overview of the Afghan history and its implications on the status and role of women in Afghanistan. 1.1 Afghanistan's early history

Landlocked Afghanistan is at the crossroads of Central Asia, South Asia, West Asia and the Middle East. Afghanistan as a country emerged in the 18th century. The decay of two mighty Empires, the Safavids, based in Iran and Azerbaijan, and the Mughal based in India, provided for an Afghan chieftain, Ahmad Shah Durrani, a Pushtun, to seize control of lands bordering on Central Asia in 1747. From the mid-18th. century an independent Afghan political identity grew among distinct ethnic groups living in the region: the Pushtun, the Tajik, the Uzbeck, the Turkoman and the Hazara, among others. These ethnic groups joined together in establishing Afghanistan as a nation, although Afghanistan does not encompass any of these individual groups. This convergence of ethnically distinct groups shaped Afghan early political structure through a process of conciliation between competitive interests and strengthening of a system of central governance under a Pushtun dynasty.

Pushtuns, also called the Pathans, have played a dominant role throughout Afghan political history. Their main division, the Durrani, provided Afghanistan with the ruling dynasties of Sadozay in the 18th century and Mohammadzay from then until the military coup of 1973. The success of the Afghan political structure is to have built a model of conciliation and central governance, without alienating the components of the Afghan nation. Under the Durrani, ethnicity did not become a major issue beyond the determination of the ruling elite. Moreover, intermarriage among the educated Afghans, the universalist religion of Islam (80% of the Afghans are Sunni Muslims, 20% are Shi'a Muslim, small groups of Afghan Sikh and Hindu exist in the South-East region), and the economic interconnectedness of the regions have contributed over time to soften the notion of ethnicity and contribute to the solidarity of Afghans as a nation.

In terms of structure, Afghan political elites have displayed over the years continuous efforts to strengthen the nation-state through the enforcement of a unified set of laws and the creation of a centralized bureaucracy.

Twice the British troops attempted to extend their domination over Afghanistan, in 1838-1842 and in 1879, to secure the northern border of British India. In both attempts, their military superiority allowed them to reach easily Kabul and instate a friendly monarch that would remain open and attentive to the policies of the British Empire. Each time, the monarch supported by foreign troops was rejected by the leaders of the Afghan tribes and met a bloody resistance. Twice, the British troops had to withdraw, not being able to maintain their military presence in Afghanistan. The second attempt allowed, however, the British to retain some control over the Afghan foreign affairs, until the peace treaty of Rawalpindi, signed in 1921, that recognized the full independence of Afghanistan.

To consolidate Afghanistan as a nation-state and to protect the territory against further interferences, Amir Rahman Abdur Khan (1880-1901) established an impressive standing army, although of disproportionate size at the time, considering the meager state income based mainly on an agricultural economy. He further succeeded in integrating rebellious tribes into a single polity, weakening their autonomy by transferring many of the military and administrative functions of the chiefs to the central government.

As the state structure developed and the matters it handled became more complex, the centralization project took over the conciliation process. In the early 20th century, the central government further concentrated power at the expense of a centuries-old traditional system that assigned power to secular rural magnates and religious groups. The ruling urban elite felt the need to keep an edge over the rural elite, to assert its authority over the whole nation. This opportunity was offered by the modernization of the country that would, for most of the 20th century, revolutionarize the life of the urban population and leave unaffected most of the countryside.

1.2 The modernization of Afghanistan

The modernization of the Afghan economy and society provided this structure and its ruling elite with an agenda, a programme of action. This programme transcended the interests of particular groups without questioning the established political order. On the contrary, the modernization of Afghanistan was to reenforce the role of the ruling and educated elite against the traditional orders through education and the secularization of the Afghan society. King Amanullah (1919-1929), having gained the Afghan independence in 1921, introduced a series of drastic reform patterned on European models in an effort to modernize the country.

This first comprehensive schemes of modernization, similar to the ones develop by Kemal Ataturk, opening Afghanistan to the outside world, and introducing modern schools and education programmes. He promulgated Afghanistan's first constitution in 1923 in an attempt to organize the Afghan central authority on rational and predictable tenets. Women were allowed to unveil and initiatives were taken to promote their education. This system of education produced a small but assertive educated and bureaucratic middle class that quickly questioned the authoritarian and exclusive political regime of the Mohammadzay. As many of the modernization programmes to come, this first attempt failed to liberalize the centralized political structure of the Mohammadzay. Discontent grew steadily from this small middle class as well as within the rural areas.

The reforms themselves do not appear very radical today, but Amanullah's method of undertaking them led to his downfall. Only a handful of educated Afghan understood the importance of these reforms. The government's administrative reforms conflicted with the tenets of Islamic law, the plans for the rapid emancipation and education of women infuriated the people and the religious leaders. This first modernization attempt ended in chaos with the take over of power for short period by a Tadjik chieftain named Bacha-I-Saquo, in 1929.

In the 1930's, attempts to re-launch modernization programmes were more modest and urban oriented. Modern education was reintroduced in the cities and the foundations of Kabul University were laid down. Education was also seen as potentially disruptive, the authorities fearing it might produce again radicals. Its curriculum became basically technical, aiming at literacy skills at the primary and secondary level, and the training of engineers at the higher level. Liberal education was reduced to a minimum. This system of education produced a generation of technicians that filled the government needs in the aftermath of the Second World War for a planned development concentrated mainly in the urban areas.

1.3 Afghanistan's rapprochement with the Soviet Union

With British withdrawal from India in 1947, the dormant issue of Afghanistan's claims over the Pushtun and Baluchi lands across the border, - the so-called Durand Line or tribal belt demarcated in 1893, re-emerged. The issue of "Pushtunistan" became a festering sore in relations between Afghanistan and the newly created Pakistan, inciting the Kabul Government to search for new routes for trade and transportation. Closer relations with the Soviet Union were established at this period of time. In many respects, the Soviet Union and communism offered to the ruling elite, as well as to the growing class of engineers and technical bureaucrats, many attractive features. Although being definitively modernist in terms of economic development, the authoritarian structure of the Soviet model discouraged the emergence of liberal political projects. Moreover, it offered to the new technocrat middle class a key role in building and modernizing Afghanistan. In the context of the cold war, the Soviet Union was keen to extend economic and technical assistance to its neighbor. In 1957, the Soviet Union financed the first Five-Year Economic Development Plan of the Kabul government, with a loan of $100 million. Over the next 15 years, the Soviet credits to Afghanistan amounted to more than $ 900 million, 60% of which in civil aid, amount that is exceptionally large for the region and the time.

In the same period, the main roads throughout the country were paved, some hydroelectric dams built, irrigation projects launched, education and health services improved or expanded, and some industries developed. Most of these projects and programmes served the reenforcement of the central bureaucracy based in the main cities of Afghanistan: Kabul, Kandahar, Jalalabad, Ghazni, Herat and Mazar-I-Sharif. The rest of the country remained again almost unaffected by these changes. Most of the Afghan people were given only a scanty access to modern education and development. The expanded bureaucracy absorbed the increasing number of urban educated elements, as the state traditionally had undertaken to employ such people. The private sector remained basically underdeveloped. The Afghan government grew, until the mid-1960's under a planned economy as an authoritarian, urban, and secular infrastructure.

In 1959, women were again allowed to unveil after the first unsuccessful emancipation of the 1920's. Contrarily to the first attempt, this initiative restricted itself to the ruling and educated elite living in the urban areas and did not intend, at least in a first stage, to address the rights of the majority of the Afghan women living in rural areas. The unveiling proceeded smoothly in Kabul because of the number of educated women who already worked as nurses, midwives and teachers. The desire to unveil had become a marked tendency among the intelligentsia. When women of the dynasty and spouses of the senior government officials appeared unveiled in public functions, other followed suit. In the same trend, women were given the right to vote in 1961. The urban concentration of this phenomenon drew an increasing number of women from the countryside into the cities by the access to modern education and work opportunities, outnumbering in the late 1970's, their male co-students and colleagues in Kabul. The progress of the modern development in Afghanistan was measured by the emancipation of the Afghan women and the attraction such policies would exert on rural populations. The status of the women embodied the pride of the urban elite and the bitterness of its rural counterpart.

Still, under the pressure of the growing middle class, political reforms were progressing. A new liberal constitution was introduced in 1964 under King Zahir Shah with a system of elected parliamentary democracy. The next decade saw unprecedented liberalization of the political arena. Parties came into the open and a lively, relatively free political press came into being in Kabul. Contrary to the expectations of its proponents, the Afghan political structure became increasingly polarized under the liberalization process. Left-wing circles under the influence of Communist leadership grew in influence among students as fundamentalist Muslim ideology attracted a number of young intellectuals from the rural areas and junior officers in the Afghan army. A series of political parties were created. Among them the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), which would rule the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, and the Islamic Association from which a series of Islamic parties would spring out under the resistance movement.

1.4 The fall of the Pushtun dynasty and the rise of the Afghan technocrats as the new ruling elite.

Mohammed Daoud, a Durrani who served as prime minister under King Zahir Shah, overthrew the constitutional monarchy and declared a republic in 1973. The pace of modernization of Afghanistan was preserved, but the liberal political experiment was all but suspended. Free press and most of the political parties vanished. More important was the distance taken by the Daoud Government from the supportive Soviet Union. Contacts were established with Arab and Muslim countries and loans for the new seven-year development plan were secured from Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Libya. Furthermore, conciliatory discussions took place between Pakistan and Afghanistan on the controversies that separated the two countries. This growing distance from the Soviet Union drew renewed support to the PDPA and allowed it to take over the government in April 1978 in a military coup, called referred as the Saur Revolution, and to establish the Communist-led Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. The self-proclaimed mission of the PDPA was to create a modern society by means of social revolution.

The end of the dominance of the Durranis and the take over by the Communists profoundly marked Afghan political life, to an extent that is still visible today. It marked a change of elite, from an aristocratic to a bureaucratic regime. The PDPA was mainly composed of educated bureaucrats. They were already active in the government but left out of any position of power under the Durrani. As part of the middle class, they were a cross-section of Afghan society. However, as Communists, they had alienated themselves from their origins. The Soviet Union became the blueprint for Afghan development and they basically broke with their Afghan past. This break with the past widened the gap between the urban and the rural areas.

Under the PDPA regime, this gap took dramatic proportions. Although the new leaders presented themselves as arising from the "masses", the attempts to impose heavy-handed reforms on the rural population were met with dissent. The passage of power to detribalized outsiders was viewed as intolerable in a closely knit, kinship-based rural society. The instability it generated provided fertile grounds for opposition and the further division of the Afghan political structure. A growing disunity within the PDPA and instability in the countryside are among the elements that brought the Soviet Union to intervene militarily in December 1979. From then on and for the duration of the Soviet military occupation, modernization of Afghanistan became more than a political scheme to retain power, but a military programme. Modern cities became fortified towns, modern services such as education as well as the work of women were used as instruments of propaganda. For many rural Afghans, the achievements in the field of education and gender took a definite political color under the Soviet occupation. Interestingly, among rural Afghan women met by the DHA mission, the educated Afghan women who used to live in the cities are still commonly referred to as the "Russians".

The Islamic groups constituted the backbone of the resistance movement. In Afghanistan, these groups were, and still are, of a fundamentalist nature. As elsewhere in the Muslim world, Islamic fundamentalism aims at providing a response for the rejected people of a state on the road to modernization. The overriding concern of the Afghan Islamists was to defend Islam from atheism which permeated the educated urban population after Afghanistan became dependent economically and politically on the Soviet Union. Secularism appeared as a hidden goal of the leftist intellectuals in power against whom Islamic groups vowed to defend what they saw as the unifying ground of the "real Afghanistan", its universal Islam. From 1980 to 1992, through the Soviet occupation and its aftermath, the Afghan political structure was characterized by a confrontation along a line that was drawn in the course of the 20th century. The regime in Kabul headed by Babrak Karmal and then Dr. Najibullah, restricted itself to defending military bases, military installations, key cities and communication networks, as the countryside resisted the pacification campaigns undertaken by the Soviet forces. The traditional structure of the countryside suffered heavily during this period. Fighters and military commanders took over the power from traditional landlords, elders' councils and mullahs. The exodus of more than a third of the population (five million refugees, and one million internally-displaced on a population in 1979 of 15 million), mostly from rural areas, aggravated the disintegration of the traditional Afghan society based on kinship.

Considering the fundamental changes occurring in the Soviet Union with the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev as the general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party in 1985, it became a matter of time before Soviet troops would leave Afghanistan and the Communist-led regime would fall. Several attempts were made before and after the withdrawal of the Soviet troops in February 1989 to establish a coalition of the political forces in Afghanistan with the Najibullah government still in place thanks to the important material support of the Soviet Union. None of these attempts succeeded in bridging the gap created by the programmes of development and twelve years of civil war. As the Islamic militia was approaching Kabul, international pressure for the establishment of an interim government increased. After months of battles and negotiations, 20,000 mujahidin entered Kabul on 24 April 1992 under the cover of darkness. In Peshawar on the same day, most of the Islamic groups finally agreed on an interim regime of government to be established in Kabul.

1.5 The fall of Kabul in April 1992: the end of the modern project in Afghanistan

The events of the following months represent the most important period of recent Afghan political history in understanding the present political environment in Afghanistan. For a few weeks, a coalition of the mujahidin forces was governing Afghanistan, before their overriding concern became short-term personal and group gains. This period of intensive policy-making shows a fundamental turning point of the Afghan political structure. At its origins, Afghan politic was motivated by a will to consolidate a central and secular bureaucracy. In this very short period, the Afghan political structure took a dramatic turn. Under the rule of the Leadership Council that took over the government functions in Kabul on 28 April 1992, Afghanistan became an Islamic state with an Islamic traditionalist project ruled by a fragmented power structure. The first few decrees issued by the Leadership Council indicate the features of the new Islamic state. It declared Islamic law (Shari'a) to be the law of the land. Among the existing laws, those considered to be contrary to Islamic law were declared null and void. Mohammed Siddiq Chakari, the Minister of information and culture declared in May 1992: "Our people have no need for music". In line with this policy, cinemas were closed. Alcoholic drinks were banned and liquor stocks destroyed. Prayers became compulsory for most of the urban population.

Women having such a prominent role in the previous regime in the eyes of the Islamic groups, their role became the object of special attention from the new policy-makers. Women were instructed to cover their heads, legs and arms and to observe a strict interpretation of Islamic law regarding the hijab (head covering). As these policies were not implemented properly, the Supreme Court of the Islamic State of Afghanistan issued in September 1993 a fatwa declaring that the admixture of women with men in offices, cities and schools was unlawful, as an imitation of the West, and of atheistic orders. The fatwa forbade such mingling and demanded that the government immediately enforce all the commands of Allah, especially concerning the veil, and that it drive women out of offices and close schools for girls.

However, the social and political structure in Kabul was slowly but steadily falling apart. Islamic factions increased their military activities, most of the government administrations were deserted and Kabul, as well as its people, suffered from the worse years of war. The upheaval generated by the fall of Kabul spread in the countryside where factions fought for the control of territory, each group building on its fiefdom. Again, several attempts took place to stabilize the political situation in Kabul but with no major success. When a relative political stability was achieved, the warriors engaged in looting, burglary, kidnaping and rape. During this period, 50% of the population fled and most of the city infrastructure was destroyed in the fighting. The central political structure of Afghanistan, and its modernization project appeared to have been physically wiped out with the fall of Kabul in April 1992.

Section II Background information on the Taliban movement, its origin and structure. Since their arrival on the Afghan political scene, the Taliban have drawn a lot of attention, especially concerning their policies on women. The DHA mission undertook to understand in details the reasoning and the functioning of the Taliban movement, as discussions took place on cooperation arrangements between the UN agencies and the Taliban authorities. This Section presents a summary of the information gathered on the origins and political structure of the Taliban movement. The next Section, under the points 3.1.2 and 3.2.3, describes the reasoning of the Taliban authorities in terms of women's role in the Afghan society. 2.1 Origins of the Taliban movement

From 1993, the Afghan society entered into a downward spin of violence, chaos and lawlessness. Kabul, and many of the major cities were the objects of confrontation between the different mujahidin factions and the countryside was divided among the different military commanders. In Kandahar, for example, four factions competed for control of the city. On the roads linking these enclaves, check points were numerous and, according to many inhabitants, civilians passing through were frequently harassed and subject to extortion.

Some provinces were spared from these tensions and a slow reconstruction process took place with the support of the international community through operational agencies, such as UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS), under the Afghanistan Rural Rehabilitation Programme (ARRP). In many of these regions, such as the Paktia, Paktika and Ghazni provinces, the legitimacy of the commanders, leaders of the resistance against the occupiers, crumbled for the benefit of the traditional holder of the local authority. In the cities however, tensions remained high and prospects of rehabilitation remained hampered by the rivalries between the different factions.

In November 1994, a new actor appeared on the stage by its take over of Kandahar from the local factions. The city, and soon after the province came under the control of a group of "Taliban" which claimed to restore peace and security through the imposition of a strict Islamic order. This new movement, led by Mullah Mohammed Omar Akhunzada, a 31-year-old religious leader, comprised in its early days not more than 200 members. Most ofthese were recruited from religious schools ("madrasa") in neighboring Pakistan ( from where their name "Taliban" comes from, meaning "students").

In the days after the take over, the Taliban established a "shura" (an organ of consultation) of approximately twelve members around their leader, and took office as the rulers of the Kandahar province. Contrary to previous factions which would have consolidated their control over the recently conquered territory and tried to take advantage of these new possessions, the Taliban were evidently motivated by a more ambitious objective. They retained their original goal of restoring peace and further mobilized their resources in pushing on their endeavor for an Islamic order in Afghanistan.

The prominence of the original goal of the Taliban movement over the interest in establishing themselves in the conquered territory diverted the movement from setting up early on a sound basis for a government. The first Shura in Kandahar was constituted as a revolutionary council: semi-clandestine, highly centralized and hierarchical, its size and membership constantly changing. Such characteristics, particular to young revolutionary movements, proved to be prejudicial for the administration of the territories the Taliban controlled. Moreover, since the Taliban were outsiders, they could not rely on the reminiscence of the traditional local structure, to rule their new provinces. They had to count on their own resources to head the administration of the conquered territory.

It appeared from the beginning that the Taliban had no real capacity to rule a provincial administration. This weakness did not prevent the Taliban from extending their influence since there had been no major administration functioning in most of the territory it gained in its first campaigns. If such administration existed, the unsophisticated character of the Taliban would have been challenged early on and would have probably impaired considerably the ambitions of the movement. In this context, the Taliban appeared more as restructuring a destitute civil society on a common denominator, based on Islam and Pushtun traditions, than the set up of a ruling authority.

The first decrees of the new government reflect the strict implementation of Shari'a principles that were learned as principles of government in the Koranic schools. The rigidity in the application of the Islamic law was justified, in the Taliban's perspective, by the debauchery that permeated the Kandahar society in the last days of the mujahidin commanders, including open conduct of homosexuality and the sexual harassment of girls, particularly on their way to schools. The Taliban reacted strongly against these conducts. In the absence of sound and practical alternatives, they decided to close the schools for girls until a proper civil order has been reestablished. The Taliban admitted, in discussions with the DHA mission, that this particular decree was extra-Islamic but considered it justifiable under the circumstances. This decision has had an important impact on the administration of the Taliban in the months to come since it was taken by the original leaders of the movement at a constituting moment of their project in Afghanistan.

In this first stage, the Taliban movement offered to the Afghan population a mixture of tradition and renewal. Tradition in its moral and religious claims and its ability to call for the mobilization of the tribal Pushtun society. Renewal since the leaders of the Taliban are not from the rural elite. They have been students in Koranic schools and fighters during the Soviet occupation. They do not depend on the tribal structure to support their authority. They presented themselves as fundamentalist outsiders, freed from factional interests. They see themselves as a transition force, aiming at shifting the Afghan sense of traditions from tribalism to Islamism.

This absence of an intellectual vision for Afghanistan, beyond this strict application of Shari'a principles, is a crucial element in understanding the Taliban movement in its early stage. The Taliban emerged as a response to the chaos and lawlessness under the mujahidin commanders, not because of the absence of a government. There has been no functioning government for years before the emergence of the Taliban. The rise of the Taliban is based on their capacity to restore a minimal security in the territory they control and to disarm the population. They responded to the prevailing lawlessness by providing a textual interpretation of the Koran. In areas where the text is silent, they provide for strict rules, such as the prohibition of flying kites, playing music, or trimming beards. The movement had, and to some extent still has, no capacity to be flexible or amenable on substantive issues. Every substantive question has to be referred to the supreme leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, to be decided on the basis of the Islamic teachings. This process has, until now, delivered several erratic policies that suggest the prevalence of a rudimentary procedure of interpretation of Shari'a.

This centralization of the authority hinders the ability and the willingness of the Taliban members to discuss substantive matters. According to the head of a Kuwaiti NGO supporting education programmes in Afghanistan, one should not insist unnecessarily on policy issues with Taliban representatives since Taliban do not know how to engage in substantive issues. To pressure them at a policy level will only beget a harsh response. Practical proposals can always be discussed and may be agreed upon even if they do not entirely follow the tenets of the movement. Taliban prefer ignoring, or pretending to ignore, necessary arrangements that deviate from their policies, such as community-based schools for girls, rather than engaging in a process that will force the movement to engage in a policy-making process. Since such a process includes necessarily the ability of members to have different opinions and competitive interests that will have to be balanced by the leadership. It would bring into question the distinctiveness of the Taliban movement as compared to other factions, and the religious character of its endeavor.

2.2 Political structure of the Taliban movement

Three years after its emergence, in early May 1997, the Taliban movement controlled more than 2/3 of the territory, including the capital Kabul. The military capacity required to conquer these areas suggests that the Taliban movement benefited, and still benefits, from substantial military and technical support from foreign countries. According to some analysts, this dependence on foreign support may have triggered a need for the movement to become more cohesive in its mission. From early 1996, the movement appeared as taking some distance from the political agenda of its supporters and tried to develop its own agenda for Afghanistan. Political visions emerged in the ranks of the Taliban on the future of the Afghan society. Different schools of thought may have collided on substantive issues of governance. However, the military agenda, and its proponents, the military commanders of the Taliban militia, have prevailed over this tendency to develop and question the tenets decided in the aftermath of the take over of Kandahar.

Following the take over of Herat in September 1995, the decisions implemented in Kandahar became Taliban policies. Once again, Taliban ordered women to stay at home and schools for girls were closed. In this process, the Taliban started to see themselves as the rulers of an Afghan Islamic state, at least temporarily. The leadership of the movement was strengthened in April 1996 by the election in Kandahar, in front of thousands of mullahs and religious students, of Mullah Mohammad Omar as the:"Amir Almu'meneen", the Commander of the Believers, reasserting the hierarchical character of the Taliban decision-making process, and strengthening the religious and dogmatic character, over the political character of the Taliban vision for Afghanistan.

With time and further military successes, the Taliban movement adopted a more stable structure. The original Kandahar Shura of the first companions of Mullah Omar expanded to approximately 30 members by the end of 1995, composed mostly of military commanders of the Taliban militia. This Shura continued to grow with the expansion of the territories under the control of the Taliban movement. The people living in these areas were not represented in the Kandahar Shura. The Shura remains a body of the Taliban movement. Its expansion is explained by the increasing number of Taliban officials running the territories conquered by the militia who, therefore, acquired a status in the consultation process of the movement. By September 1996 when the Taliban took over Kabul, the Kandahar Shura was known to count between 80 and 100 members. The growing size of the Kandahar Shura questioned to a certain extent its usefulness and cohesiveness as an organ of consultation. It is in this context that a second Shura emerged, the Kabul Shura.

The fall of Kabul into the hands of the Taliban forced the movement to reconsider the structure of its decision-making process. The existence of the reminiscence of a government administration in Kabul had to be integrated in the Taliban scheme for temporary governance. Of this administration remained only some buildings and few civil servants. Most of the equipment was looted during the factional wars and many of the government employees, being unpaid, had left their functions.

In the fall of 1996, the Taliban leadership in Kandahar dispatched to Kabul a series of prominent members to take charge of these government functions, each of them referring to his position as acting-head of a department or ministry. However, the absence of a taxation system, the weakness of the infrastructure, and the lack of professional expertise to run the administration has impaired considerably the capacity of the Kabul Shura and its members to act on any policies, beside security and police measures. To a certain extent, it appears that the interest of the Taliban movement in taking charge of the administration and the ministerial functions in Kabul has been dictated by the need to relate with the international community which still regards Kabul as the political capital of Afghanistan, more than any interest in the reminiscence of the administration. The high moments of the activities of the Ministers appear to be limited to the reception of foreign journalists, diplomats, or representatives of an international organization in their almost empty and dysfunctional offices. Apart from the security apparatus, only the ministries that relate with major assistance programmes or public relations seem to be still active, such as public health (hospitals), education (schools), planning (coordination of NGOs), communication and information (spokesperson), and foreign affairs.

On the basis of this high-level presence of Taliban in the city, a new Shura has been created in Kabul, gathering together several times a week the heads of the ministries and some other prominent members of the Taliban movement in Kabul. The composition of this Shura has certainly been carefully managed in its relation with the Kandahar Shura. The leadership of the movement has to be sufficiently represented in Kabul to be a counterpart of the international community, without dislocating the center of power of the movement. The constant turnover of positions at the ministerial level that took place since the inception of this new "government" has been one of the ways to prevent the Kabul Shura to establish a distinct power base in Kabul. Despite these changes of portfolios, the constituting members of the Kabul Shura remain generally the same. The members commute frequently between Kandahar and Kabul, and radio contacts are maintained constantly between the two groups.

The function of the Kabul Shura does not differ from the one in Kandahar. It basically provides for a forum of consultation for the Taliban movement in Kabul. However, it should be noted that the Kabul Shura cannot take substantive decisions on any policy issue without first referring the matter to the Kandahar Shura, and eventually to the attention of Mullah Omar. Some observers argue that members of the Kabul Shura, and their Taliban subordinates in the ministries would like to see the Kabul Shura take a more executive role, motivating their insistence in seeing the UN agencies moving their country office in the Afghan capital from their present locations in Pakistan.

Also, the first Kandahar Shura seems to be losing its momentum. The increasing number of subject matters to be dealt with between the different provinces under Taliban control, and the rise of the Kabul Shura as a more centered and cohesive process of consultation, has prompted the Taliban leadership to allow the emergence of a third Shura in Kandahar, called the Supreme Shura.

This Supreme Shura groups from six to 10 participants among the most influential members of the Taliban Movement, including some of the participants of the Kabul Shura. In many respects, this consultative body has always existed. It appears as a new embodiment of the nucleus surrounding Mullah Omar that has been forced out of its semi-clandestinity by the increasing burden in policy-making put on the shoulders of the Taliban movement and the increasing political role of the Kabul Shura. It presently deals with military and civil issues alike for the whole territories under Taliban's control and, contrary to the Kabul Shura, its positions are final. Taliban governors in the different cities, including Ghazni, Jalalabad and Herat, are accountable to the Supreme Shura in Kandahar. The overriding authority of the Kandahar Shura puzzles many observers of the political stage in Afghanistan as well as UN officials since its location in Kandahar questions the centrality and continuity of Kabul as the political capital of Afghanistan. According to some of them, a recognition of the supremacy of the Kandahar shuras, as the de facto executive bodies of the government, would have far-reaching political implications on the position of the UN agencies in the present conflict, and on the UN perspective on the future of the Afghan society.

The Taliban are keen to present Kabul as the capital of Afghanistan, since the capital still has a powerful attraction in unifying the Afghan people. However, Kabul remains inhospitable for the Taliban. The living standards and the freedoms that Kabulis used to enjoy are, for the most, gone. The mind and the heart of the Kabulis are not with the new rulers and symbolize the main obstacle on the road of the Taliban to governance. It appears as one of the reasons why Kabul, and the perspective of the Kabulis, more importantly the educated Kabuli women, have taken such a political profile in the present debate. A profile that, in other circumstances, would have been seen as disproportionate compared to the size of the population concerned (according to the last estimates, Kabulis amount to less than 8% of the total Afghan population).

In terms of policies, the evanescence of the Taliban structure and the centralization of its leadership have impeded the movement in the development of sound and flexible policies. The movement appears presently ill-equipped to answer the far-reaching requirements for the reconstruction of Afghanistan in terms of governance and technical programmes. The Taliban argue extensively that the establishment of a sound governmental structure with flexible policies needs to be postponed until the end of the present military campaign. This argument is certainly valid for political movements that demonstrated a capacity for governing the territory they control once peace is restored. This demonstration has not been made by the Taliban yet. They have shown only a limited capacity to rebuild and run an administration, with few exceptions such as the restoration of electricity in some parts of Kabul and Jalalabad.

To the credit of the Taliban movement, the mission observed the sense of order and personal security in the territory under the Taliban control. The mission was told that the checkpoints manned by undisciplined fighters have disappeared, and with them the harassment and the extortion of the civilian population. According to the UNHCR in Peshawar, the return of one million refugees in these areas is an important sign of the benefits which this new regime has brought to these regions, in addition to the Taliban policy of return of the farm land to the original owners.

However, security remains a military issue. The restoration of a minimal order is not probative of a capacity to govern the regions once the hostilities have ended. The Taliban need to demonstrate a will to engage in a sustainable process of governance that requires flexibility and conciliatory skills, even for a government in a strict Islamic state. Moreover, it requires a political structure that can relate with the international community and engage in cooperation and dialogue on issues of international concern, such as gender discrimination, poppy cultivation, or the protection of the Afghan cultural heritage. Until now, some of the policies it has decreed, such as the closing of schools for girls, and the stubbornness of the authorities in applying them, reflect serious impediments in this regard. Other steps taken, such as the authorization for female health workers to resume their activities in a segregated environment, show an openness for a practical dialogue.

In this context, the evaluation of the Taliban capacity to govern is vital for the UN system. The conflicting views on the Taliban capacity to govern and will to cooperate has, until now, created significant gaps in the UN response to gender discrimination, for example between the UNICEF and WHO approaches. These gaps will be examined next, in Section III of the report. The DHA mission attempted to evaluate the Taliban will and ability to cooperate in engaging the Taliban leadership in a dialogue on cooperation with the United Nations agencies. This attempt is described and analyzed in Section IV.

Section III Analytical framework of the UN responses to the constraints imposed by the Taliban regime, particularly regarding gender discrimination. 3.1 The UN responses to gender discrimination in Afghanistan

We undertake in this Section a case study of the UN responses to gender discrimination in Afghanistan. For the sake of clarity, we will briefly address the applicable legal standards, both international and Islamic, and a short review of the context of the gender issues in Afghanistan.

3.1.1 Applicable international legal standards

Afghanistan, as a founding member of the UN, has ratified a great number of international human rights instruments, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the Convention on the elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. These instruments provide for the principle of equality between men and women, and for special protection of women against discriminatory rules and treatment.

The first and foremost instrument of this series is the UN Charter that refers to the principle of equality in its preamble "to reaffirm faith in human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women".

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms the principle of the inadmissibility of discrimination and proclaims that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights and that everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth therein, without distinction of any kind, including distinction based on sex.

The International Covenants on Human Rights proclaims the obligation of the States to ensure the equal rights of men and women to enjoy all economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights.

According to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, discrimination against women violates the principles of equality of rights and respect for human dignity. It is an obstacle to the participation of women, on equal terms with men, in the political, social, economic and cultural life of their countries. It hampers the growth of the prosperity of society and the family and makes more difficult the full development of the potentialities of women in the service of their countries. As a party to these international instruments, it is required of all Afghan authorities to uphold the standards as laid down, and that the Afghan authorities are answerable if those standards are not observed. In legal terms, the extent to which the Taliban are subject to international obligations has been questioned since only the Government of Afghanistan should be the holder of the rights and the debtor of the obligations contracted by the State of Afghanistan. Different UN bodies, such as the UN Security Council, the UN Secretary-General and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights have considered over the past year the Taliban as a de facto authority in Afghanistan. It appears, furthermore, that the Taliban interest in being recognized as the government of Afghanistan by the international community and entering in cooperation with foreign entities, has presented numerous opportunities to underline the international obligations incumbent to this position.

3.1.2 The gender issue in an Afghan Islamic perspective.

The vast majority of the Afghan people, men and women alike, recognize and accept Islam as the foundation of the Afghan way of life and of the Afghan legal system. Many interpretations have been developed over the years on the precepts of the Islamic law (Shari'a). The religious nature of Shari'a makes it difficult for Muslims to appear critical to that law, so interpretation is the only available way to make the law progress through time and situations. These interpretations of the legal sources, the Qur'an and the Sunna, are numerous and constitute the basis for several schools of thought.

In the past, no central Afghan religious authority was given exclusive rights to interpret religious precepts. Afghans with different interpretations of the Shari'a coexisted contentedly. The war brought to the forefront groups that based the legitimacy on strict interpretations of the Shari'a. As a consequence, the traditional Afghan tolerance and openness to various interpretations was strained. Religious conservatives claimed the right to decide who was "a good Muslim". These conservatives confronted those who argued that the principle of equality between men and women was central to Islamic tenets. They generally held that if women are permitted to move freely in the public arena, sexual anarchy will result and society will fall into ruin.

In general, Shari'a is concerned with guaranteeing certain minimum rights for women and not with achieving complete legal equality between men and women. In this context, Islamic scholars argue that Shari'a should be understood in its historic and cultural environment. In a historical perspective (Shari'a law has over twelve hundred years of legal interpretation), some scholars argue that Shari'a has had, and for a very long time, a positive impact on the rights of the women. From its beginning in the seventh century, Shari'a guaranteed all Muslim women an independent legal personality, including the capacity to hold and dispose of property in their own right, a specific share of inheritance, access to education (provided it is conducted in a segregated manner) and some participation in public life. In the family sphere, Shari'a restricted polygamy and guaranteed the wife's right to maintenance. It provided also the right for a judicial divorce, under specific conditions. These achievements may not appear impressive in a modern perspective, but they represent very significant improvements of the women's condition of the time. However, when compared to other contemporary legal system, or judged by the international standards, Shari'a offers limited guarantees for women in the 20th century. Gender segregation and the requirement of the veil, as a general rule, diminish the practical value of the women's rights under Shari'a and restrain the women's ability to achieve economic independence and to secure access to education.

Islamic scholars did not yet invest the efforts required to elaborate a regime of protection of women's rights that would favorably compare with international standards. Furthermore, a space for these interpretations has not been created yet in the modern discourse on human rights. On the contrary, movements toward equality and emancipation of women have been linked throughout the Muslim world with efforts of secularization of Muslim societies, challenging not so much the different interpretations of Shari'a, but the centrality of its role in Muslim life. To some extent, this inability of Islamic scholars to generate a competitive regime of protection for women has created an unstable gap between the two sets of standards. This gap has, in turn, allowed opponents and proponents of the two models of society to argue extensively on the role and status of women in the service of larger political interests. The resulting politicization of women's issues has become highly sensitive and potentially volatile in the Afghan context, because of the centrality of women in the traditional Afghan concepts of family and honor.

3.1.3 Taliban policies and the re-Islamization of Afghan society

As we saw in Section I, the emergence of Islamic fundamentalism among students in early 1970s, challenged the basic premise of the modern secularization of public life in Afghanistan. The declared aim of these re-Islamization movements, known by various names throughout Afghan history and from which the Taliban emerged, is to reestablish Shari'a as the sole source of all aspects of law, both public and private. Some observers argue that these movements can be seen as a reaction to the western attempts at secularization of Afghan urban society, particularly Kabul, which is blamed by many Afghans for the political frustration of the rural population and the following disorganization of society and civil war. Others see this re-Islamization as being politically motivated by the interests of a non-urban elite to establish a legitimate basis of power, in the margin of the Afghan modern project.

This basis of power is provided by the Afghan family, as the single most important institution in the society, in which the role of women is paramount. According to a renowned ethnologist on Afghanistan, personal honor and family honor, as codes of conduct of the Afghan family, rest on the behavior of female family members. Already the Pushtunwali, the tribal code of the Pushtuns, imposes serious constraints on the emancipation of women, and restricts their access to the public sphere. It was reported to the DHA mission, for instance, that the Pakistani Refugee Administration and the UNHCR encountered difficulties in attracting girls to the schools for Afghan refugees in Peshawar. With only 20% of girls attending schools at one point, it was decided to provide incentives in the form of food to families who sent girls to primary schools. Despite these incentives, female attendance rate increased only marginally with Afghan families continuing to resist education for female family members.

Beyond tribal codes, the religious movements in general, the Taliban in particular, insist on their own strict interpretation of the Shari'a to maintain the purity of women. Separate spaces for men and women to preserve modesty and decency are seen as essential. Interactions between the sexes outside the group of acceptable male guardians including father, brother or son, are strictly forbidden. While conceding that men and women have equal rights to seek religious knowledge, the need for women's education lie solely in receiving the instruction necessary for the proper performance of religious duties (basic literacy). The thought, implied by modern education, of preparing for work outside the home is, in this context, inconceivable. To some extent, maintaining secular schools for girls, even when separate and taught by female teachers, are seen as the site of possible moral corruption.

In their take over of Kabul in April 1992, the Islamic groups asserted their visions on the re-Islamization of Afghanistan. As described in Section I, previous un-Islamic laws were declared void. The tenets of a strict interpretation of the Shari'a were promulgated by the new government of the Islamic State of Afghanistan, including the confinement of women to their home and the imposition of the veil. These tenets were loosely implemented in the fragmented political environment of the time. Some argue that the strict implementation of the Shari'a principles derived not so much of a distinct interpretation of Shari'a under the Taliban, but simply from the consistence of this group in its re-Islamization mission, and its control over a greater part of Afghanistan.

The Taliban, like many other Afghan Islamic groups before them, do not recognize the former legal documents, including the UN conventions ratified by past governments, declaring them as foreign to Islamic society. Contrary to previous groups, they are strictly imposing their precepts without any interest in relating with the existing practices or substantially with the international community. Their decrees emphasize religious conduct and obligations which are harshly enforced by their religious police. From early on, the movement closed the doors of education and employment to women despite the traumatic repercussions felt in Kabul, and in the world. This exclusion of women has considerably affected numerous government and international programmes, considered in many respects as sinful by the Taliban by the admixture of men and women and the modern ideas they conveyed. Some modifications were made in the health sector where women are allowed to work as long as they abide by Islamic conventions by observing the dress code, work in segregated spaces and travel with escorts. When schools reopened after the winter vacations in March 1997, no women were accepted at the Kabul University and headmasters were directed not to register girls at schools.

In a meeting with the DHA mission, the Acting Minister of Education, Sayyed Ghaysuddin Aghr, argued that access to education for girls would be reestablished once security conditions would allow girls to go to their classes, and schools can offer an appropriate Islamic education in terms of segregated classes and curriculum. He explained that the Taliban favor education for girls, as provided for in the Shari'a. However, this education should be based and undertaken in accordance with Islamic principles and objectives. The representative of the Taliban movement in Islamabad, Muhammad Masoom Afghani, confirmed that the Shari'a-based opportunities will be the only ones offered to women, depending on security conditions and the availability of resources.

3.2 Historical background of the UN response

3.2.1 Early UN perception of the Taliban policies

Undoubtedly, the arrival of the Taliban on the Afghan political stage created new constraints for the UN agencies in Afghanistan. The agencies' representatives dealing with the Taliban authorities realized early on that the Taliban had only rudimentary knowledge of technical matters linked to their programmes, and how difficult it would be to argue constructively with these interlocutors. Moreover, the semi-clandestine political structure of the Taliban made the dialogue difficult. The Taliban interlocutors of the UN were not in a position to take substantial decisions pertaining to the work of the UN in Afghanistan.

From 1994 to the take over of Herat in September 1995, these constraints had a limited impact on the work of the agencies in Afghanistan. On the contrary, some agencies active in the countryside under the control of the Taliban were pleased with the new authorities. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS), which were engaged in the rural rehabilitation programmes, were impressed by the capacity of the Taliban to restore a minimal order and guarantee the security of the agencies in these areas. Under the previous regime of factions, the different groups exerted considerable pressure on the agencies active in the areas under their control. Expensive military escorts were indispensable and the numerous checkpoints scattered along the road, as well as the number of undisciplined fighters wandering in the countryside, complicated the work of these agencies.

The stringent policies regarding women and access to schools did not raise much interest at first from these operational agencies, and later on from the UN system. The rural areas under the Taliban control until September 1995 were among the most conservative regions of Afghanistan. The policies of the Taliban were in line with these traditions and with the modus operandi of the local rural population under the factions. For example, because of the prevailing insecurity under the mujahidin commanders and the lack of resources, education was extremely limited and concentrated on boys, who will provide a living for their future family. Girls' education was seen as secondary, and presented serious threats to the security of the girls over a certain age who had to travel sometimes significant distances on unsafe roads to attend their classes.

Furthermore, the gap between the UN understanding of women's status and that of the Taliban was so large that discussion became extremely difficult. The Taliban were generally unaware that a different perspective on the role of women prevailed at an international level, and that they had to relate with it. The experience of the British NGO Merlin in Kandahar is illustrative. A few weeks after the take over of Kandahar by the Taliban, Merlin was one of the first NGOs to send a female expatriate to the area. At the outset, it agreed to the Taliban's conditions, including that this expatriate should wear the traditional "burqa" (a full veil covering the women from head to toe with an embroidered grill covering their eyes) in the presence of men, including male expatriates. Later, a mission of foreign diplomats visited Kandahar. A member of this mission was an unveiled woman. Following exposure to this women (unveiled in the presence of men), and a request by the UN in Kandahar, the Governor of Kandahar agreed in writing to exempt female expatriates from wearing the "burqa". This policy regarding the female expatriates is still in force today.

FAO and UNOPS experience with the Taliban in this period was one of cohabitation and mutual observation. The Taliban did not have the capacity to interact with the professionals of the agencies on the substance of their work, except from the standpoint of some of the Taliban's own experience as farmers or stock-breeders. Taliban representatives were regularly informed of the work and of the agendas of the agencies. Some of the members of the movement participated in training sessions offered to the local peasants, such as training for the maintenance of orchards. Other agencies, such as the World Food Program (WFP) and UNICEF, did not consider the recent decisions on the gender issue as constituting a definite precedent. The regime was young and unexperienced. In general, the Taliban movement was considered to be an unusual offspring of the various factions that was, in their view, hardly sustainable.

The UN perception of the movement started to change when, in September 1995, the Taliban militia reached the outskirts of Kabul and took-over Herat. The fall of Herat to the Taliban appeared, to many observers, as a turning point of the military campaign undertaken by the Taliban. For the first time, the Taliban controlled a region that was not predominantly Pushtun, calling into question the analysis that the movement has been basically a rural Pushtun phenomenon. The stringent policies of the Taliban were applied as well in Herat with the same strength. Women were not allowed to work, except in the health services and under specific conditions, and schools for girls were closed.

The first organization to react to the new policies was Save-the-Children UK (SCF-UK). SCF-UK opened an office in Herat in 1994. Its activities focused on the education and health sector, with a strong emphasis on training. The Taliban policies on gender forced most of these programmes to be suspended. Many of the beneficiaries were Afghan women, as were most of the trainers. Moreover, the continuous objection of the Taliban Governor to meet with the SCF-UK representative in Herat, who was a woman, blocked any form of substantive dialogue with the Taliban local authorities. A mission of SCF came from abroad to try to unlock the situation in early 1996, without success. Consequently, SCF-UK, supported by SCF-US and the International SCF Alliance, decided, on 8 March 1996, to suspend their education and non-emergency programmes in the regions where girls or women were denied access to education, or where the employment of women had been prohibited by the regional authorities.

This policy of SCF-UK challenged openly the prevailing modus operandi of the UN system which, until then, avoided entering into a confrontation with the Taliban authorities. The conditionality of international assistance, which requests policy changes from the Taliban as a precondition for the assistance programme, was seen by most of the agencies as a disproportionate and potentially counterproductive strategy. Furthermore, the attention of the UN agencies was centered on Kabul, still under the Rabbani's regime, where educated women still had access to employment, and schools, to the extent they still existed, were accepting girls. After protests from Afghan women's groups and other NGOs, UNICEF decided to stop school education programmes in some Taliban areas because girls had been expelled.

The reality of the life of women in Kabul and in other non-Taliban areas was not ideal either. It was reported to the mission that unhindered criminal activities, including abduction of young girls, rape and forced marriages of young girls with local commanders presented a constant threat to women. According to UN staff, even in areas where women had access to schools and employment, the overall lack of security and disregard for human rights by the factions' members could have justified the conditionality of UN assistance.

In discussions with the DHA mission, women living in the regions under the NIMA still express their serious concerns for their security, concerns which prevent many of them from exercising their access to schools and employment. With regard to the imposition of the "burqa", the mission observed that, roughly, 90% of women in Mazar-I-Sharif wear the "burqa", even though, under NIMA rules, there are not forced to, suggesting they do so oftheir own volition. The few women without burqa were seen in the surroundings of the university of Balkh and in UN offices. Otherwise, on the streets and in the market, the vast majority of Afghan women wore the traditional garment.

Despite the efforts of several NGOs, and certain members of the staff of the UN agencies, the prevailing modus operandi regarding the Taliban policies generally prevailed. The argument of most of the agencies in the field and at headquarters was that the Taliban was not a sustainable movement. One simply needed to be patient, rather than engage in an ambiguous precedent in conditioning the UN programmes of assistance.

3.2.2 The search for a united front on gender

The take over of Kabul in September 1996 forced the UN system to completely reconsider its approach toward the Taliban. For many observers, the fall of Kabul on 27 September took the international community by surprise. According to many UN staff, no one expected to see Kabul taken so rapidly, leaving the agencies without the time to consult on the UN's response to Taliban policies.

Moreover, Kabul has always been the symbol of modernity in Afghanistan. A cosmopolitan city where women had their role in the administration of the government. Many of the UN expatriates when questioned about the Afghan situation, related mainly with the Kabul reality, particularly regarding women. Educated women in Kabul participated fully in the work of some agencies and constituted a substantial part of their secretarial, health and training staff. The shock of the fall of Kabul overran the traditional pragmatic approach of the agencies engaged in the Taliban rural areas, since for the first time, an important number of UN female staff were directly affected.

The UN system realized that it had to respond to this affront. Not only did this policy of gender discrimination seems to maintain itself, it now compromised the ability of the UN system to employ women. Furthermore, the UN agencies were in a difficult position, having to pay their female workers at home, and employ new male staff in the positions left vacant. The UN system needed to vigorously denounce these new rules to prevent the Taliban policies in Kabul from becoming a fait accompli regarding the employment practices of the UN agencies. Still today, one of the basic constraints in moving the UN agencies country directors' office from Pakistan to Kabul, apart from the security conditions, is the policy of the Taliban excluding women from the workforce.

Donors in Islamabad, and New York, met urgently in early October 1996 to request the UN system to take a strong position on the gender policies of the Taliban. The response of the UN system was rapid and strong. On 4 October, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Jos‚ Ayala-Lasso appealed to the leader of the Taliban to ensure the respect for the basic rights of all Afghans, particularly women (See Annex 05). On October 7, the Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, stated his dismay toward these policies which he considered contrary to fundamental humanitarian principles. He requested the UN agencies to respond in an appropriate and concerted manner to these policies (See Annex 06).

In a matter of a week, the conditionality of assistance that was previously reserved to the NGO approach, entered the realm of the UN system. On 10 October, WFP Executive Director Catherine Bertini announced that, in view of recent events in Afghanistan, humanitarian operations there could be threatened and must be reassessed. She added that "the decision by the Taliban movement to ban women from working outside the home, as well as to ban education for girls, poses serious consequences for WFP's activities in Afghanistan" (See Annex 07). In the following weeks, WFP decided to impose a temporary and partial suspension of deliveries of food to the country. This suspension has targeted non-emergency food assistance, in particular food-for-work programmes, and programmes where the equality of access between men and women was not guaranteed. UNICEF followed suit in extending in November its suspension to the rehabilitation of schools considering the inequality of access under the Taliban regime (See Annex 08). Other agencies such as the UNHCR reserved their position until further consultations with the field on the implementation of a gender-sensitive approach. WHO, through its office in Islamabad, dissented from this assertive trend by pleading for a more pragmatic approach to the gender issue in Afghanistan. This awakening of the UN system to the policies of the Taliban was abrupt and left the UN staff in Afghanistan confused. It appeared inconsistent with the previous positions. Some of the senior UN staff in the field, in Afghanistan and Islamabad, among WFP, UNICEF, Habitat, FAO and UNOPS, complained that they were not consulted prior to this reversal of policies, and had few hints on how to implement these concerns on Afghan women's education and employment.

Furthermore, similar restrictions on women's access to schools and employment had already been implemented in regions under the mujahidin commanders, apart from Kabul, Herat, or Mazar-I-Sharif. These restrictions went beyond the Taliban/ NIMA front line and affected each province, although they were not equally implemented. For example, under the previous regime, the Governor of Jalalabad ordered in November 1994 all international agencies to send home their Afghan female workers (See Annex 09). According to the UN staff in Jalalabad, one UN agency discharged its only female staff member in Jalalabad (as well as Medecins-Sans-Frontieres), and the other agencies refrained from hiring any Afghan female workers from then on. No specific instructions were given at the time on how the UN agencies should respond to these constraints.

The lack of common operational guidelines and the different strategic approaches among the agencies dealing with gender discrimination prompted the emergence of distinct schools of thought and triggered passionate debates between the agencies in the field. Some of the NGOs, SCF-US and Oxfam for example, played a significant role in feeding this debate and arguing for an intransigent stand with the Taliban authorities. Despite the attempt at the IFAA in Ashkhabad to anchor this debate into a process of consultation, an inflammatory discourse seems to embrace the gender issue, with the use of antagonistic language in the media. One might consider the extent to which such a discourse is propitious to the elaboration of a common operational approach.

Since these policies have been in force in half the country for more than 18 months, in Kandahar for more than 2 « years, and in some locations even before the Taliban, it allows us now to document the social and economic consequences of these policies and to draw a common strategy to orient, on that basis, the agencies, and to set priorities for the UN response to gender discrimination in Afghanistan. This proposal is further discussed in Section V. Meanwhile, we will consider in more detail the assumptions underlying these different approaches and the actions that were taken on their basis.

3.3 The UN response to the Taliban regime: three distinct approaches and their underlying assumptions

For the sake of this analysis, we have divided the UN responses in three approaches: the "Principle-Centered" approach, the "Tip-Toe" approach, and the "Community Empowerment" approach. Each of these approaches is based on a distinct driving assumption about the Taliban authorities and constitutes an argument on its own on how to deal with this new regime. For each approach, we present the plan of action observed by the DHA mission and an analysis of the potential benefits and possible shortcomings. The purpose of this analysis is to allow us to take some distance with the different arguments, to judge the validity and the potential shortcomings of their assumptions, and eventually find a common approach that may answer the concerns of all the agencies.

It should be underlined that these approaches do not belong to specific agencies, although some are, at this stage, identified with some of them. Subsection 3.4 will illustrate in details these three approaches through the different UN agencies' responses to gender discrimination in Afghanistan.

3.4 Illustrations of the different UN approaches

3.4.1 Illustration of the "Principle-Centered" approach

As we saw, the "Principle-Centered" approach gained momentum at the fall of Kabul in September 1996, particularly among UNICEF and WFP. Already, UNICEF applied this approach to its assistance programmes to schools in areas under the control of the Taliban prior to the fall of Kabul. It implies the conditionality of certain programmes of assistance as an incitement to bring about policy changes. This conditionality has been reasserted in a UNICEF press release of 1 April 1997. In terms of education, the request of UNICEF concerns the access of girls to schools where these schools existed and used to provide education to female students. UNICEF demonstrated a willingness to assist other types of schools, such as home-schooling, in areas where schools did not exist, or did not provide access for girls prior to the arrival of the Taliban. In terms of curriculum, UNICEF requests the same curriculum for both boys and girls, in accordance with the international standards, before allowing programmes of assistance to resume.

It should be mentioned that, while not a scientific sampling, among the 45 Afghan women met by the DHA mission in Afghanistan, in the areas under the control of NIMA, and in Peshawar, recently arrived from Afghanistan, a vast majority of them disapproved the conditionality of assistance in the field of education. They see the education of boys and girls alike as essential for the emancipation of women in the Afghan society. Furthermore, many of them, as mothers, did not like to see their boys, in addition to their girls, suffer from a position of the Taliban authorities.

At WFP, the first reaction after the fall of Kabul to suspend non-emergency food programmes had a major impact on the population concerned, according to a WFP staff member. This first decision was followed in December by a series of assessments to determine which programme could be resumed. In January 1997, WFP issued policy guidelines defining the criteria under which assistance could be resumed. These criteria aim at assisting vulnerable populations such as widows and IDPs, and institutions that can guarantee the equality of access for men and women. However, WFP saw its efforts to exert pressure on the Taliban weakened by the increased food assistance of other organizations, such as the ICRC, that took over some of its programmes.

3.4.2 Illustration of the "Tip-Toe" approach

UNHCR and WHO appear on the lead of the "Tip-Toe" approach ever since Kabul fell to the hands of the Taliban. Many others followed suit, such as WFP, UNICEF and UNOPS, in their own way.

From early on, the UNHCR tried to maintain its contact with the Taliban and develop a form of dialogue. Recently, it succeeded in convincing the Ministry of Repatriation to allow the Afghan female staff of the UNHCR to resume their professional activities in the framework of a "loan to the widows" project. According to UNHCR staff, the project required several weeks of negotiation with the Ministry of Repatriation to arrange for seven female UNHCR staff and seven female staff of the Ministry to work in returnees settlements. Two more women were allowed to work in the offices of the Ministry of Repatriation for the project.

WHO succeeded in ensuring the access of female health staff to their employment. Here again, several weeks were required to convince Taliban authorities of the tremendous consequences of forbidding female employment in the health sector. According to WHO staff, the perspective of having Afghan women treated by unrelated Afghan men triggered the Taliban opening for the continued employment of Afghan female staff. The segregation of the staff in the hospital still caused major problems in the delivery of health services as nurses are hindered in contacting male physicians on professional issues. Moreover, the closing of the medical and nursing classes to female student questions the sustainablility of the Taliban policies.

UNICEF and UNHCR recently extended assistance to schools for boys and girls in IDP camps near Herat. In March 1997, the Taliban Governor of Herat requested assistance for schools in IDPs camps in his province. After negotiations of the terms of this assistance and consultations in Islamabad, UNICEF and UNHCR engaged themselves in providing basic assistance to these schools. Still in Herat, UNHCR and several NGOs, succeeded in resuming vocational training programmes for women, but keeping a low profile on them. According to the International assistance Mission (IAM) in Herat, authorizations have been obtained from the Taliban underlying the health aspects of the programmes and the fact that women will only work and study with other women.

WFP in Jalalabad entered into negotiations with the Taliban to obtain the necessary authorizations from the authorities to allow six women to resume their work as monitors of the WFP bakery project in Jalalabad.

Other experiments have failed. For example, the attempt by UNDP to propose to the Taliban authorities the rehabilitation of 20 schools, from which 10 would be devoted to boys' education, and 10 to girls' education. The Taliban authorities responded positively to this initiative regarding the rehabilitation of schools, but did not commit themselves regarding the allocation of the new schools.

Another example of a failed experiment is the attempt of UNOPS in Herat to continue to employ women to monitor their programmes. As these women were not authorized to come to the unsegregated office, they were given walkie-talkie by UNOPS to operate from their home. Security incidents (the stealing of the equipment) and pressure of the Taliban stopped the initiative of UNOPS.

3.4.3 Illustration of the "Community Empowerment" approach

The programmes developed and financed by the UNDP offer the best example of this last approach. UNDP launched last April its PEACE Initiative (Poverty Eradication And Community Empowerment), which proposed a whole programme of action and budget for the period 1997-1999. This programme of action is based on the idea that sustainable grass-roots rehabilitation projects can make a substantial contribution to creating, at the local community level, an environment for peace. It reflects UNDP belief that there can be no lasting peace without poverty eradication and without community empowerment.

This initiative in a country at war for almost 20 years and ranked 169th out of 175 countries in the UNDP Human Development Index, is certainly one of the most ambitious and comprehensive programme in the region. It aims at addressing the most important problems facing Afghanistan, namely the issue of local governance, poverty, food insecurity, migration and urban growth, lack of basic infrastructure, and environmental devastation. According to Mr. Alfredo Witschi-Cestari, UNDP Resident Representative and UN Coordinator for Humanitarian Assistance to Afghanistan, the community approach offers valuable opportunities for rebuilding Afghanistan on a sound and sustainable basis. In each village, communities can be strengthened and supported toward self-sufficiency. Each of these villages constitutes a new cell for a rejuvenated Afghan society, building democratic institutions from the bottom up.

The community approach of the UNDP has inspired UN agencies and programmes from the early 1990s. UNOPS and other agencies, created in the regions they served District Rehabilitation Shura (DRS) to counter the influence of the local mujahidin commander that used to ambush convoys of aid agencies. The DRS set up an alternative power structure composed of elders and respected individuals in the communities to act as the recipient authorities of the humanitarian assistance provided by the agencies. These DRS were, nevertheless, not sustainable beyond their role as counterpart in the agencies' scheme.

Contrary to the DRS experiment, the PEACE initiative aims at directing the assistance directly to the communities' entities, in existing projects, or in newly created programmes. It plans to relate with the communities, not only as counterpart, as with the DRS, but directly in the implementation of the programmes, as, for example, in the rehabilitation of infrastructure. When these implementing partners do not exist, or are too weak, such as in many urban areas, the agencies encourage the population to create a basic structure for a community.

The community fora established in Mazar-I-Sharif with the support of Habitat are a good example of the kind of results such an approach may produce in Afghan urban areas. Two years ago, Habitat in Mazar-I-Sharif mobilized different groups of women in several neighborhoods of the city in establishing community centers and community programmes. These services, oriented toward assisting the participating community, generated significant enthusiasm through its programmes in terms of neighborhood infrastructure, and was able to assist in providing, for example, sewage rehabilitation and garbage removal. As incentives, Habitat provided the funding for larger tasks such as the pavement of the street. In addition, community centers flourished providing vocational training and primary health care to the neighborhood population.

Section IV Perspectives for cooperation and dialogue between the United Nations agencies and the Afghan authorities 4.1 General discussions on cooperation arrangements with the Afghan authorities

In the terms of reference of the DHA mission, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs asked the mission to propose a practical framework for the elaboration of a common understanding of the UN humanitarian mandate in Afghanistan, in cooperation with the Afghan authorities.

The mission engaged in discussions with the Afghan authorities in Kabul, Kandahar and Mazar-I-Sharif on the different ways to enhance the cooperation between the United Nations agencies and the Afghan authorities. The authorities of the National Islamic Movement of Afghanistan (NIMA) based in Mazar-I-Sharif welcomed the initiative of the DHA but considered the present framework of contact and relationship as adequate. Their concerns were more oriented toward the implementation of programmes than the development of an understanding on the UN objectives on which they basically concur. They would like, on the other hand, to see some of the UN funding for assistance be channeled through the authorities to assist them in maintaining the services to the population.

The authorities of the Islamic State of Afghanistan based in Kabul, as well as the leadership of the Taliban movement based in Kandahar, expressed their interest in developing a framework for the elaboration of a common understanding between the Taliban and the UN agencies on the UN programmes of assistance and rehabilitation in the region they control. Already, this interest had been conveyed to the country directors of the UN agencies active in Afghanistan in the course of a workshop on UN programmes organized by UNOCHA (the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance) the first week of April 1997. In the course of this workshop which attracted prominent members of the Taliban, such as the Governor of Kandahar, Mullah Mohammad Hassan, open discussions took place on the opportunities and constraints of the UN work in Afghanistan. In the same trend, discussions between Taliban representatives and UNOCHA, in the first months of 1997, addressed in particular the need to establish a process of technical consultation between the UN system and the Taliban authorities in the areas under their control.

4.2 Taliban's proposal for the establishment of a "Joint technical committee" with the UN agencies

The Supreme Shura in Kandahar decided on 27 April to present a proposal to the DHA mission for the establishment of a "Joint Technical Committee" on international assistance to Afghanistan. This proposal was handed over to the mission by Mullah Wakil Ahmad Mutawakil, Secretary of the Commander of the Believers and spokesperson of the Taliban movement in Kandahar. The proposal was transmitted to Mr. Alfredo Witschi-Cestari, head of UNOCHA , on 28 April, who has been preparing a response in consultation with the UN agencies and DHA headquarters. (The English translation of the proposal is attached in Annex 04, the original in Pushtu is with UNOCHA in Islamabad).

Several features are worth being underlined in this proposal. First, as stated in the proposal, the Taliban movement is interested in establishing a platform for a permanent dialogue at a professional level with the UN agencies on the elaboration of projects and programmes of assistance. In addition, this technical platform could be used to promote an understanding of the needs of the Afghan population, men and women. In this respect, the Taliban leadership has proposed to the UN system that women expatriates participate in the technical consultations in identifying the priorities of the UN programmes of assistance regarding women's needs in Afghanistan (point 3.4 of the proposal).

Finally, the Taliban leadership is interested in using such a platform for discussions on the legal status of UN staff in Afghanistan, as well as exchange of views on the Afghan and international legal standards applicable to programmes of assistance in Afghanistan.

4.3 Comments on the Taliban's proposal

In our view, the Taliban proposal, which was endorsed by the Kabul Shura on 1 May 1997, represents a significant breakthrough in the dialogue between the UN system and the Taliban authorities. It sets a written basis for discussions on cooperation and dialogue. It may allow a variety of issues and operational agendas to be addressed in a privileged environment in which Taliban officials could be advised on the development of sound policies in terms of governance and in terms of applicable international standards. Furthermore, it demonstrates at the highest echelon of the Taliban movement an interest in engaging in a form of practical dialogue with the UN agencies. In this context, we believe the UN system should devote significant attention in responding to this proposal in a constructive manner.

On the other hand, the DHA mission observed that the Taliban's will to engage in cooperation is far from being the central issue in promoting a new relationship with the movement. Its limited capacity to engage in substantial processes of policy-making, or in the implementation of governmental programmes remains the main obstacle to a meaningful cooperation. To illustrate this point, one might consider the experience of the UNHCR in the last months of 1996 when the agency tried to convince the Taliban authorities to declare an amnesty in favor of the returnees. The intervention was made in order to promote the return of hundreds of thousands of refugees living in neighboring Pakistan and Iran. The Taliban were very receptive to the idea and all the echelons consulted in Kabul agreed with the request. The UNHCR prepared a draft of an amnesty, to be used as an example to help the authorities in this process. This draft was translated into Pushtu and circulated among the relevant authorities, and the UNHCR officials remained available for further discussions. Unfortunately, the amnesty never came. It appears that even if the Taliban had been willing to decree an amnesty, this policy would have remained meaningless since the central authorities hardly control the local judiciary system.

In this context, the implementation of an agreement with the Taliban seems far more complicated that the process to reach an agreement. The present structure of the movement, described in Section II, and the absence of a functional administration preclude the movement from undertaking substantial reforms or actions at a national level. Even if some of the civil servants that could take the necessary actions to implement an agreement with the UN system are still in place, many are not yet entrusted with the authority to undertake substantial action in the name of the government. Therefore, whatever is the will of the present Taliban authorities, one should not expect major achievements from a cooperation arrangement with the Taliban in their present state.

The question remains to determine if the development of cooperation arrangements with the Taliban are worth the efforts. In our view, the UN system has no real choice. It has to invest reasonable efforts into promoting a substantive dialogue with the Taliban simply to manage the existing gap between their vision of Afghan society, and the international standards to be respected. Furthermore, one should acknowledge the Taliban's impact on the political landscape of Afghanistan, restructuring Afghan society on Islamic tenets and modeling a new identity for Afghanistan.

The UN system must relate with these phenomena, at a political and social level, even if, in some areas, it shall be only to express its deep concerns. This approach should be undertaken in a constructive, rather than confrontational mode, to avoid harsh response from the Taliban. Pressures must be maintained on the Taliban to allow, and participate in, constructive experiments in education and the role of women in society. The "joint technical committee", or any similar infrastructure could be used for such purposes. At least, a rudimentary structure will have to be set up if the UN system wishes to encourage the Taliban to become more consistent in their approach. The workshop in Kandahar in early April 1997 was an interesting initiative. It should be now consolidated in a structure where the Taliban are made equal partners in this relationship, and are made accountable for the outcome of the process of technical consultation. Already, a counterproposal has been presented to the Taliban authorities by the Humanitarian Coordinator in Islamabad, on which comments from the Taliban are expected.

Section V Conclusion and recommendations 5.1 Is a common UN approach possible?

The DHA mission believes that a common consistent approach for the UN system in Afghanistan can only be developed on the basis of a clear understanding of the historical background and political implications of the Afghan policies regarding gender, and of the benefits and shortcomings of prevailing UN strategies.

Three types of approaches have been identified among the various responses of the UN agencies. Each of these approaches have grounds to claim a certain level of validity in the present political structure of Afghanistan, and the present state of the Taliban authorities. The strong leadership heading the Taliban movement would suggest an approach for the UN system centered on principles. The openness of Taliban representatives in different ministries to cooperate with the UN would support an experimental approach on the basis of practical arrangements developed with the Afghan authorities. Finally, the overall inconsistency and incapacity of the Taliban movement to govern the regions under their control would require UN operational agencies to strengthen and consolidate more amenable counterparts at the community level.

Therefore, a common UN approach must find room for these three arguments. This common approach must be strong on principles, open to experimentations with the authorities on the basis of these principles, and supportive of the local communities. The readiness of the UN agencies to recognize the value of other approaches and to integrate their positive elements in the agencies' perspective will determine the ability of the UN system to elaborate a common approach. The UN agencies must engage in an incremental process in reaching this commonality, in which the arguments and experience of each party can be considered.

Finally, the proposal for a "Joint technical committee" of the Taliban authorities demonstrates the will of the Taliban to set up a process for constructive engagement with the UN system. The mission believes one should pay a close attention to this proposal and follow it up with the Taliban authorities.

5.2 Recommendations

From the analysis of the DHA mission, three main set of recommendations for the promotion of a common and sustainable approach can be underlined:
1. To reassert the principles of the United Nations and, on that basis, to identify practical arrangements for the engagement of the UN agencies in Afghanistan.

Practical recommendations:

- Under the leadership of the Humanitarian Coordinator, UN agencies should review their present policies and develop a common response to issues of common concern, such as gender discrimination in Afghanistan.

- Under the leadership of the Humanitarian Coordinator, UN agencies should agree on a set of practical and realistic objectives on which a common strategy and position could be built.

- Under the supervision of the Humanitarian Coordinator, a UN team composed of male and female expatriates should undertake an assessment of the situation of Afghan women throughout Afghanistan, and elaborate a set of practical objectives for UN agencies to sensitize the authorities on the implications of their policies, and to improve the conditions of Afghan women.

- Regarding gender, efforts should be made to employ an increasing number of expatriate women to elaborate and support practical arrangements regarding programs of assistance to women in Afghanistan, and employment of Afghan women in UN operations.
2. To engage in a dialogue with the authorities and to better understand their functioning.
Practical recommendations:

- UN agencies country representatives and UN policy makers should further develop and strengthen their contacts with the Taliban authorities, particularly in Kandahar.

- Appropriate time and resources should be devoted to assess and analyze the political developments in Afghanistan on an on-going basis.
3. To commit the resources and the expertise required to have a significant impact on the situation of the Afghan population.
- Donors and head of agencies should support the elaboration of practical objectives and encourage the development of a common strategy for the implementation of these objectives.

- Close attention should be paid to providing for tangible and observable results for the concerned Afghan men, women and children in the framework of this engagement.
Finally, under the leadership of the Humanitarian Coordinator, the UN agencies should respond constructively to the proposal of the Taliban on the establishment of a "Joint technical committee" and invest the time and resources required to strengthen and develop the technical relationship with the Taliban authorities in the planning and the implementation of their programs.