The United Nations announced last week that unless Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban militia group abolishes its decrees restricting the freedom of women and girls, U.N. aid agencies working in the nation will cease. U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director Carol Bellamy said, “We have sent a clear and strong message expressing a common United Nations position.”
Bellamy recently returned from Afghanistan where she engaged in talks with Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Rabbani in preparation for U.N. talks that were to be held earlier this week. Bellamy said Taliban representatives asked that the U.N. make an effort to understand their customs and said that Western ideas could not be forced on them. Bellamy told IPS news, “I told them I was representing the United Nations, and wasn’t advocating a Western model, or any particular model they should adopt.” She added, “The U.N. message was not a Western message.”
Bellamy told the Taliban officials that she was not aware of any other country, Islamic or otherwise, that denied girls access to education. While UNICEF and other U.N. humanitarian agencies are still operating in Afghanistan, the UNICEF education program has been suspended.
The U.N. declined to meet with Taliban and other Afghan group officials after Taliban representatives refused proposed talks to be led by U.N. office for humanitarian aid to Afghanistan head Alfredo Witschi-Cestari.
Last month, Witschi-Cestari ordered the temporary termination of aid to Afghanistan as a protest to the Taliban's harassment of U.N. workers, treatment of women and decrees that foreign Muslim women must be accompanied by a husband, brother or son while in public.
U.S. government narcotics experts met with Taliban officials today to discuss the poppy cultivation in Afghanistan. Afghan farmers produced more than 2,800 tons of opium, which can produce 280 tons of pure heroin, in 1997. Taliban officials said that they would be willing to end poppy production in areas of the 85 percent of Afghanistan they control, but that they would need aid to develop new crops. Although possession and trafficking of drugs is punishable in Afghanistan, production of poppy is permitted.