On the sidelines of her one-day visit to Kabul to meet with the Taliban, Pakistani Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar met with representatives from the Women Chamber of Commerce and expressed her commitment to strengthening ties between Afghan women entrepreneurs and their Pakistani counterparts.
She noted that the Pakistani government would give “special preference” to importing products from women-run businesses.
The Afghan Women’s Network, a women’s group in the country, requested Khar to both recognise the plight of Afghan women as well as her own privilege as a female official, given that women across the border do not enjoy the same rights.
In an open letter, they wrote: “We call on you to use your visit not only as a minister but as a woman and as a Muslim woman leader to support the women of Afghanistan and strengthen our solidarity.”
Despite the Taliban promising that it would not reintroduce the repressive policies that characterised its rule in the 1990s, it has instituted a number of restrictions.
Earlier this month, the Taliban banned women from parks, fun fairs, gyms, and public baths.
Since coming to power, the Taliban has barred women from travelling long distances without a male chaperone, restricted them from schools and colleges, removed them from workplaces, banned them from obtaining driving licenses, and ordered them to cover their faces from head to toe in public spaces.
It has also eliminated the Ministry of Women and replaced it with the Ministry of Vice and Virtue.
During her short trip to Kabul, Khar met with Foreign Minister Amir Khan Mutaqqi, Deputy Prime Minister Abdul Salam Hanafi, Minister for Mines and Petroleum Shahabuddin Delawar, and Commerce Minister Haji Nooruddin Azizi.
They discussed various issues, including enhancing cooperation in education, health, agriculture, trade and investment, regional connectivity, people-to-people contacts, and socioeconomic projects.
A press release by the Pakistani Foreign Office said the meetings were “a manifestation of the high importance Pakistan attaches to its longstanding fraternal relationship with Afghanistan.”
Similarly, Afghan Foreign Minister Mawlawi Amir Khan Muttaqi said the two countries’ relationship is “beneficial for the people of the region.”
The meeting came just a day after the Pakistani Tehrik-i-Taliban (TTP) called off its ceasefire with the Pakistani government after just five months and instructed its fighters to initiate “retaliatory attacks” across the country. The Afghan Taliban played a mediation role in the May ceasefire and could be expected to bring the TTP back to the negotiating table.
The TTP, which vowed to launch nationwide attacks after suspending the ceasefire, claimed responsibility for an attack in Quetta on Wednesday morning that killed one policeman and two civilians.
While both sides’ press releases say they discussed the importance of “regional security,” particularly the need to counter terrorism, there was no mention of the TTP’s announcement. Moreover, neither statement references other controversial security concerns, including incidents of cross-border violence.
The Taliban and Khar also emphasised Afghanistan’s centrality in enhancing connectivity between Central and South Asia, as it acts as a “land bridge” between the regions. In this regard, they said the group could play a “pivotal role” in transportation links and mega energy projects such as CASA-1000. They also discussed the revival of the TAPI pipeline with Tajikistan and India.
To this end, Muttaqi reassured Khar of the Taliban’s commitment to maintaining political relations and vowed to provide security and extended support for the resumption of connectivity projects.
Khar, meanwhile, said the sustainability and revival of the Afghan economy is dependent on the unfreezing of close to $10 billion in frozen assets.
The West insists that it will only consider removing sanctions if the Taliban commits to improving human rights, particularly those of women and girls, and ensuring that Afghan soil is not used by terrorists. This has severely crippled the war-torn country’s economy, given that it has historically depended on foreign aid for over 80% of its budget.
In this regard, Khar communicated Islamabad’s commitment to establishing “multifaceted ties” between Pakistan and Afghanistan, a prerequisite for “shared prosperity.”
The Taliban also called for the release of Afghan prisoners from Pakistan.
Khar, meanwhile, further expressed her willingness to cooperate on the treatment of Afghan refugees, connectivity, and visa-related problems. In addition, the two sides agreed to set up mechanisms to facilitate bilateral trade and enable dialogue.