If the Taliban regain power, I could lose everything

It's midnight in Kabul as I write this. Afghans have gone to sleep, many of them in the hopes that a partial truce negotiated between the United States and Taliban will yield a reduction in violence. We -- along with the rest of the world -- learned of this development when US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted about it on Friday evening.

But for millions of Afghans like me, a reduction in violence is not enough. According to President Ashraf Ghani, 20 terror groups are currently active in Afghanistan. If the Taliban come to control our country once more, it seems little will prevent any one of these groups from gaining strength and acting on their most evil impulses.

Now let me be clear, I am not worried that the partial truce, going on now, will be violated. Seven days are not my concern. I am worried about the next seven months and the next seven years. As US troops begin their likely withdrawal from Afghanistan, so many Afghans hope that 2020 will not resemble the early 1990s, when civil war and extremist forces came to dominate our politics and our lives.

In 1991, I was in fifth grade in a Kabul public school when the Mujahideen, an insurgent group opposing the communist-backed government, attacked the capital city and raided our school.

Today, at almost 40, I still remember the exact words of those bearded men, Kalashnikovs on their shoulders, batons in their hand -- as they yelled, "Get out of here. Girls don't belong in schools!" I can even remember the cries of several of our teachers, who were wearing skirts and were beaten in their legs, as the Mujahedeen shouted that their skirt wearing days were over.

Kabul sank into civil war after that, with different factions killing and maiming each other and innocent Afghans on the streets. Meanwhile, our schools were permanently closed and turned into internally displaced persons camps to host the communities that had fled the war from other parts of the country. I never saw my classmates or my teachers ever again.

While Kabul was burning, a new group of insurgents -- the Taliban -- emerged and pushed the Mujahedeen out. At that point, in 1996, many Afghans thought they had found their saviors.

Sadly, the Taliban pushed us even further into chaos. They destroyed whatever relationships we had with the international community, imposed strict religious laws on men and women, plunged us further into poverty and even banned many humanitarian and aid organizations from assisting us. They also provided a home for al Qaeda, a terrorist organization the world would soon never forget.

But the Taliban went even further -- stripping us of the little joy we had in our lives. They banned large gatherings, so weddings resembled funerals. When my cousin married in 2000, the attendees who dared to celebrate, looked upon the wedding in silence -- fearful that the Taliban's Vice and Virtue squad (the so-called moral police) would catch them and penalize them for breaking the law.

With such extreme restrictions in place, Kabul came to resemble a ghost city -- eerily calm and devoid of people in the streets. And many Afghans fled, becoming refugees in countries near and far. My family and I fled to neighboring Pakistan.

Then came September 11. The US war on terror, which soon ensued, changed the political calculus for us. The war -- and hunt for Osama bin Laden -- toppled the Taliban regime. And Afghanistan started a new chapter with a democratic Constitution in 2004 -- granting women equal rights for the first time in modern history.

I returned to Afghanistan from Pakistan at that point, and I -- as well as many self-exiled Afghans -- began the process of rebuilding our homes and our communities. Millions of children, including girls, found their ways into schools. Even my childhood school was renovated and converted back into a place of education. And men and women returned to work, recreating a society broken by years of conflict and war.

But we also made mistakes. Allegations of corruption and weak governance created a power vacuum -- one which the Taliban has slowly been trying to fill, as they plot a new system of political and religious extremism.

During the last two decades, I have worked on peace initiatives across the country. In the course of my work, I've visited villages where families had sons who joined the Taliban. I have also had an opportunity to work with former Taliban members. And if there is one thing I have learned about many of these men, it's that they don't want Afghanistan to be what it is today.

In fact, in areas of Afghanistan still controlled by the Taliban, women continue to be mistreated and deprived of basic rights -- such as education and work outside the home.

Contrast that to parts of the country free from Taliban rule, where millions of young Afghans, including the high school girls' robotics team champions, are enrolled in secondary schools and universities. In those same areas, men and women -- armed with education and Western support -- have learned to stand up for themselves, and bit by bit to help our country regain standing in the international community.

How will the Taliban, with their outdated and regressive rules, reconcile their beliefs with today's Afghanistan?

Wazhma Frogh is a member of the Afghan Women's Network and leads the Women and Peace Studies Organization in Kabul, which put together a 2015 peace and reconciliation proposal based on the work of over 200 women peace builders. She has been part of the ministries of defense and interior, as well as the High Peace Council. The views expressed in this commentary are her own.

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