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by Shadaba Islam BRUSSELS, Feb 3: European Humanitarian Affairs Commissioner Emma Bonino called on Pakistan to stop helping the Taliban forces because of their violent suppression of women's rights. At a news conference called to launch a new international campaign to highlight abuses against Afghan women committed by the Taliban, Bonino who was detained by the Taliban for a few hours during her visit to a women's hospital in Kabul last August, said Pakistan must press the Taliban to stop violating women's rights. "We are asking Afghanistan's neighbours to withhold recognition of the Taliban until human rights are restored in the country," Bonino stressed. She told Dawn she had asked Pakistan to do so directly during talks in Islamabad last autumn. "But, I have no illusions", she admitted. The international campaign has been launched by fifty influential women in Europe, America, Africa and Asia who share a joint revulsion of the Taliban's treatment of women. Bonino says she is hoping to devote international Women's Day on March 8 to the struggle of Afghan women. The appeal condemns "gender apartheid" in Afghanistan and says world governments should refuse to recognise the country's dominant Taliban forces because they are violating women's rights in Afghanistan. Joined by a group of seven women including an Afghan woman doctor and a representative of an international working group on Afghan refugee women, Bonino said the campaign was about the defence of human rights. "Main women in our campaign are Muslim women," Bonino insisted. "Our action has nothing to do with religion or ethnic groups," she added. Taliban repression of women was not based on religion or culture, but on a "misuse of power," said the Afghan doctor who preferred to remain anonymous for security reasons. "We can't use our eyes to see the outside world," the doctor said. "This is not about Islam which says that women are equal to women and have human rights." An appeal for women of Kabul signed by Bonino and others said women and girls under the Taliban regime were deprived of all choices on how to live their lives. "Women do not have the right to speak in public, they do not have access to the same healthcare as men, they do not have the right to education and the they do not have the right to go out to work," the campaign sponsors stressed. "Stripped of all basic rights, they have become invisible, shadows deprived of the right to an independent existence," they added. Efforts should be made to ensure that international humanitarian aid is made accessible to Afghan women without discrimination, Bonino said. American feminist organisations which have joined the campaign said they had been told that the United States would not recognise the Taliban until human rights are restored in Afghanistan. The president of the "Feminist Majority" Eleanor Smeal said her organisation was against any deals struck with the Taliban by American oil and gas companies which were planning to build a natural gas pipeline from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to Pakistan. "The price of a pipeline cannot be the enslavement of women," Smeal said. Unocal, a California-based oil firm, has agreed not to move forward with the project until Afghanistan has an internationally recognised government. But, Smeal said women's groups in America "must remain vigilant" because of rumours that the pipeline deal was going forward.

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