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In Afghanistan, women are once again facing death by stoning for adultery

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Women in Afghanistan are once again facing death by stoning for adultery. The ruling Taliban announced the return of this ancient punishment. Since the 2021 withdrawal of U.S. and allied troops, the Taliban have abandoned the Western-backed Constitution of Afghanistan and curtailed any number of the social freedoms that many Afghans had enjoyed. But reintroducing stoning is seen as a return to some of the harshest elements of the Taliban rule in the 1990s. For more on this, we're joined by journalist Ruchi Kumar, who covers conflict and politics with a focus on Afghanistan.

Ruchi, welcome. Thank you for joining us.

RUCHI KUMAR: Thank you. Nice to be here.

MARTIN: Why now? And why women?

KUMAR: Yes. So basically, the Taliban have been stoning and flogging. Public executions have been happening under the Taliban rule since they took over. However, the most recent announcement by the Taliban supreme leader is remarkable because it focuses very specifically on women. And I think the reason for that is because the Taliban realized that women's rights is a hot-button issue for the West. And I think it's a way for the Taliban to express their own frustrations, I guess, at the West, because they've been trying - for the last two years at least - to be seen as a legitimate government, to get recognition, which hasn't happened. So I feel like this was their way of getting back. This could be a message to the Western audience that, you know, we hear you about your concerns about women's rights, and we don't care.

MARTIN: If you would, remind us of other ways that the Taliban have eroded women's rights over the past several years.

KUMAR: Right. So education and workspaces are definitely one of the larger issues that have been covered to some extent and that we know of. But with regards to this particular statement, one of the things that women in Afghanistan that I talk to are very, very concerned about is how women have lost all legal agency in the country, which makes the recent statement by the Taliban very scary for a lot of Afghan women, because if they are accused of any kind of moral crime, they have no way of defending themselves.

MARTIN: I hear you very clearly that this message was directed at the West, but how is the international community reacting to this?

KUMAR: There has been some criticism from the international community. There has been the U.N. agency - the spokesperson to the secretary-general criticized the move, the statement, during a press briefing soon after. But overall, there hasn't been much reaction as yet. You know, we're still hoping and waiting that countries that are stakeholders - that still are stakeholders in Afghanistan will react, will help put pressure on Taliban to take back at least some of the very brutal moves.

MARTIN: Do any of these outside groups or international actors still have any leverage in Afghanistan?

KUMAR: I feel - yes, the Taliban, despite the message, was a bit cocky. But despite that, they still need the West. They need Western support, especially the humanitarian support that's coming into Afghanistan. And they are very heavily still a very aid-dependent - you know, very heavily aid-dependent country. So I feel like the Western countries still have a lot of - or at least some influence over the Taliban in trying to pressure them into being less brutal towards women.

MARTIN: Ruchi Kumar is a journalist who covers conflict and politics with a focus on Afghanistan. Ruchi, thank you so much for sharing these insights with us.

KUMAR: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me.

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