Moment of truth for Afghan women could come today

The Taliban said yesterday they were close to forming a new government even as dozens of women held a rare protest for the right to representation.

The Islamist militants, who have pledged a softer type of rule than during their 1996-2001 reign, must now transform from insurgent group to a governing power.

The announcement of a cabinet, which Taliban sources said may come today after prayers, would come soon after the chaotic pullout of US forces from Afghanistan with an astounding victory for the Islamists.

In a symbolic show since the takeover of Kabul on August 15, the militants on Wednesday paraded some of the hardware captured during their offensive, even flying a Black Hawk helicopter over Kandahar.

All eyes are now on whether the Taliban can deliver a cabinet capable of managing a war-wracked economy and honor a pledge for an inclusive government.

Speculation is rife about a new government, although a top official said women were unlikely to be included.

Senior leader Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai – a hardliner in the first Taliban administration – told BBC Pashto that while women could continue working there “may not” be a place for them in a cabinet of a government.

In the western city of Herat, some 50 women mounted a rare protest for the right to work and against the lack of women’s participation in public affairs.

“It is our right to have education, work and security,” the protesters chanted in unison. “We are not afraid. We are united.”

Herat is a relatively cosmopolitan city near Iran, and girls have returned to school there.

One of the protest organizers, Basira Taheri, said they wanted women in a new cabinet. “We want the Taliban to hold consultations with us,” she added. “We don’t see any women in their meetings.”

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