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For peace in Afghanistan, women can't be 'secondary'

Afghanistan's religious authority declares women as 'secondary' and seeks restrictions on them. Karzai approves, perhaps to win over the Taliban in talks. But the outrage from Afghan women shows they no longer see themselves as willing victims.

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Sadaf Rahimi, left, practices for the Olympics with her colleague at a boxing club in Kabul, Afghanistan, last month.

Musadeq Sadeq/AP Photo

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For 10 years, ever since the end of Taliban rule in Afghanistan, the world has witnessed amazing progress for women in that country.

A quarter of lawmakers are female. Nearly half of students are girls. Women work alongside men in government. Their health has greatly improved. And women’s rights are enshrined in the Constitution.

But last week, Afghanistan’s council of Islamic scholars made a surprising declaration. It claimed that “women are secondary” to men.

The nation’s highest religious authority seeks a separation of the sexes in workplaces and in education. It would require women to travel in public only with a male relative. And what was even more startling was that President Hamid Karzai endorsed the declaration.

The apparent reason for this backward step is that Mr. Karzai is preparing for talks with the Taliban. He, like President Obama, sees the need for a negotiated settlement with the militant group before American combat troops leave Afghanistan in 2014. Perhaps Karzai believes that he can easily give up many women’s rights for the sake of winning a few concessions from the Taliban and bringing peace.

Such a move, however, hardly fits with one of the “red lines” set down by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton for the outcome of talks with the Taliban. She insists the group accept all rights in the Constitution.

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