Taliban-style edict for women spreads alarm in Afghan district

TalibanTaliban style edict for women spreads alarm in Afghan district

One of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's main religious advisers will not overturn a decree issued by clerics in the north reimposing Taliban-style curbs on women, in another sign of returning conservatism as NATO forces leave the country. Just days after the United States launched a $200 million programme to boost the role of women in Afghanistan, a senior member of the country's top religious leaders' panel said he would not intervene over a draconian edict issued by clerics in the Deh Salah region of Baghlan province.

Deh Salah, near Panshir, was a bastion of anti-Taliban sentiment prior to the ousting of the austere Islamist government by the U.S.-backed Northern Alliance in 2001. But the eight article decree, issued late in June, bars women from leaving home without a male relative, while shutting cosmetic shops on the pretext they were being used for prostitution - an accusation residents and police reject. "There is no way these shops could have stayed open. Shops are for business, not adultery," Enayatullah Baligh, a member of the top religious panel, the Ulema Council, and an adviser to the president, told Reuters late on Friday. Residents of Deh Salah described the order as a "fatwa", or religious edict, although only senior clerics in Kabul should issue such a binding religious order.

But underscoring opposition to the edict, a mayor was shot dead by a teenaged shop owner while trying to enforce the order, which also barred women from clinics without a male escort, threatening unspecified "punishments" if they disobeyed. Afghanistan has one of the world's highest infant mortality rates and more than a decade after the U.S.-backed toppling of the Taliban, it still ranks as one of the worst nations to be born a girl. Under Taliban rule from 1996 until 2001, women were forced to wear the head-to-toe covering burqa and sometimes had fingers cut off for wearing nail varnish.

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