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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

While Marine commanders try to rally the local population to support the fight against the Taliban, the Afghan government is looking to talk with Taliban leaders. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has described it as a move toward re-integration and reconciliation.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Still, for women in Afghanistan, making peace with the Taliban may be especially difficult. Some activists are worried that the brutal days of Taliban rule and how much women still have to struggle will be forgotten. At the State Department later today, two of those activists will be honored with this years International Women of Courage Award.

NPRs Michele Kelemen has this profile.

MICHELE KELEMEN: Shafiqa Quraishi doesnt see herself as a hero. She's a soft-spoken policewoman, who, through an interpreter, described the State Department award she's receiving today as one for all of her countrywomen.

Ms. SHAFIQA QURAISHI (National Police Colonel, Afghanistan): (Through translator) This award is for the Afghani women who survived. For 30 years, they were in constant war. They were subject to all kinds of torture or all kinds of hardship.

KELEMEN: Colonel Quraishi runs a U.S. funded program in Afghanistan's interior ministry to recruit more female police officers. There are just 944 now, she says. Her own career was interrupted by the Taliban rule from the mid-1990s to 2001, which she called the dark years when women were brutalized, kept at home, and not allowed to work.

Ms. QURAISHI: (Through translator) The Taliban, during those six years when they governed Afghanistan, they have left such memories that it is unacceptable by the Afghani women for them to come back.

KELEMEN: But that's what she and many others are worried about when they hear talk about reconciliation with the Taliban. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the U.S. is supporting a program to find alternative jobs for Taliban fighters, those who join the cause not for ideological reasons but simply because they were well paid.

Clinton has been much more skeptical about broader reconciliation efforts. But Afghan President Hamid Karzai is promising to hold a peace counsel or jirga and women activists in Afghanistan want to make sure they're at the table.

Ms. SURAYA PAKZAD (Women of Courage Award Winner): That peace jirga, we want to have our presence. And now they are agreed that one woman will be about to be part of member of the peace jirga and we try for more.

KELEMEN: That's Suraya Pakzad, a past recipient of the State Department's Women of Courage Award. She came to Washington recently on a trip sponsored by the advocacy group Women Thrive Worldwide.

Ms. PAKZAD: The big problem in Afghanistan today I see is that women are not counted as a core part in the agenda; in the security issue women are not invited, never. In the development women are not counted there as a key part. And just when the woman issue is there, they try to have one woman representative.

KELEMEN: The 39-year-old mother of six ran a secret program to educate girls during the Taliban years and now she sees threats not just coming from the Taliban but from local warlords, where she lives in Herat.

Ms. PAKZAD: My life is at risk because I'm a women's rights activist. I'm running two shelters, two safe house, because my work is sensitive. And because of that work and because of the women who are living in our shelters, there's of course some of them belong to local commanders, that are relatives, wives, sisters, sister-in-law, somehow they have a relation with them. And (unintelligible) send them back. But as I'm committed, I can't(ph) do that.

KELEMEN: Pakzad says violence against women is still a major problem in Afghanistan. Colonel Quraishi, the policewoman who's receiving the State Department award today, is trying to make sure that issues like domestic violence are addressed by Afghanistan's interior ministry. And she's trying to persuade more women to join her in this cause.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department.

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