They fear their dreams will come to an end if hard-line activists return to power, even peacefully under a new government.

In Ms. Sadat’s beauty salon in the Afghan capital, Sultana Karimi leans intently over a client, meticulously shaping her eyebrows. Make-up and hairstyle is the passion of the young 24-year-old and she discovered it, with new-found confidence, in Kabul in the salon.

She and the other young women working or learning in the living room never experienced Taliban rule over Afghanistan.

But they all fear their dreams will come to an end if hard-line activists return to power, even peacefully under a new government.

“With the return of the Taliban, society will be transformed and ruined,” Karimi said. “The women will be sent underground, they will be forced to wear the burqa to leave their homes.” She wore a bright yellow blouse that fell over her shoulders as she worked, a style a little daring even in the ladies’ space in the living room. This would have been totally out of the question under the Taliban, who ruled until the 2001 US invasion.

In fact, the Taliban have banned beauty salons in general, part of a notoriously harsh ideology that often hits women and girls the hardest, including denying them education and the right to work or even to travel outside their home without being accompanied by a male relative.

While US troops have pledged to leave Afghanistan completely by 9/11, women are closely monitoring the deadlocked peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government over the post-withdrawal future, a said Mahbouba Seraj, a women’s rights activist.

The United States is pushing for a power-sharing government that includes the Taliban. Seraj said women want written guarantees from the Taliban that they will not undo the progress made by women over the past 20 years and that they want the international community to keep the insurgent movement to its commitments.

“I’m not frustrated that the Americans are leaving … the time has come for the Americans to return home,” said Seraj, executive director of Afghan Women’s Skill Development.

But she had a message for the United States and NATO: “We keep shouting and shouting and saying, for goodness sake, at least do something with the Taliban, take some kind of insurance. their part … a mechanism to be put in place ”which guarantees women’s rights.

Last week, the Taliban described in a statement the type of government they seek.

He pledged that women “can serve their society in education, business, health and society while maintaining a correct Islamic hijab.” He promised girls the right to choose their own husbands, which is seen as deeply unacceptable in many traditional and tribal homes in Afghanistan, where husbands are chosen by their parents.

But the statement offered few details, nor did it guarantee that women could participate in politics or have the freedom to move about without being accompanied by a male relative.

Many fear that the vague terms used by the Taliban in their promises, such as “correct hijab” or guarantee of rights “under Islamic law”, give them a wide margin to impose radical interpretations.

At the beauty salon, the owner, Ms. Sadat, recounted how she was born in Iran to refugee parents. She was forbidden to own a business there, so she returned to a homeland she had never seen to open her salon 10 years ago.

She asked not to be identified by her full name, fearing that attention would make her a target. She has become more cautious as violence and random bombing increased in Kabul last year – bodes for chaos when Americans leave completely, many fear. She drove her own car. No more.

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