KABUL, Afghanistan -- An Afghan government proposal to take control of shelters for abused and battered women is raising new questions about its commitment to human rights and fighting the Taliban.
On Saturday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai confirmed his government plans to take control of some of Afghanistan’s women shelters.
“Those who are found in violation of the established standards and the rules and regulations will be taken over by the Afghan government,” he said.
Under the plan, a group of Afghan officials will decide who is allowed to seek protection in a shelter.
Human Rights groups worry that Afghan government-run shelters will be disastrous for women and girls fleeing abuse.
“I don’t trust many of the people in this government to decide who should be allowed into a shelter and who should be ejected from a shelter,” said Rachel Reid of Human Rights Watch. “Often people in government have the same conservative attitudes that these girls and women are fleeing.”
According to the United Nations and Human Rights Watch, most Afghan women and girls face severe domestic violence – and many are forced into marriage well below the legal age, some as young as 8 years old.
Bibi Aisha, a young teenage Afghan girl who appeared on the cover of Time Magazine last summer, had her nose cut off after she fled her abusive husband.
She had been condemned by the Taliban and dealt the brutal sentence, as relatives held her down and cut off her ears and nose. She was later left for dead but found her way to one of the shelters the Afghan government now wants to close.
Afghan officials accuse the shelters of corruption and waste, and even say some of the shelters are not safe havens, but secret brothels.
However, no proof has ever been presented to substantiate these claims.
Activists say this isn’t about protecting women. Instead, it is part of Karzai’s efforts to woo the Taliban.
“This regulation comes at a time when the president is trying to position himself as someone the Taliban can do business with,” said Reid. “He is reaching out and calling them [the Taliban] his brothers. He isn’t very interested in protecting his sisters, his wives, his daughters at the moment. But they desperately need his protection.”
Women's rights activists fear this is just the first step in a much larger plan to welcome the Taliban back into political life.
“I really see that in the future they will target other women’s programs and women’s NGOs just to appease the Taliban,” said Manizha Naderi, the head of Women for Afghan Women, a group that runs shelters across Afghanistan.
On Thursday, the U.S. State Department issued a public statement saying that it was “concerned” by the takeover. Privately, American and western diplomats are furious.
Karzai’s support for the shelter takeovers is the latest in a long line of policy disagreements between the Afghan President and his American supporters.
Last summer, Karzai threatened to join the Taliban if the U.S. didn’t stop pressing him to clean up his notoriously corrupt government.
Despite the international concerns, Karzai seems intent on going forward with the plan.
“It hurts me to the core to see history repeat itself and everyone is watching it happen,” said Manizha Naderi. “And no one is doing anything about it.”