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Report: Paper reveals Taliban softening stance on girls' education

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Schoolgirls walk in the village of Istalif north of Kabul in May, 2012. Afghan girls have been legally free to attend school since the Taliban was toppled in 2001. But vicious militant attacks, a lack of adequate facilities and teachers, and a tradition which holds that girls belong in the home are some of the obstacles which they need to overcome.

Leaders of the Afghan Taliban have pledged to promote women's education as part of an apparent attempt to restart peace talks with the West, according to a document seen by a British newspaper.

"Women are also a big part of our human society," the document shown to The Sunday Times states. (Newspaper operates behind a paywall).

"The Islamic emirate will create a level ground for women's education in light of its constitution," according to the document written in Pashto, the language spoken by the vast majority of the Taliban's members, the newspaper reported.

During its years in power, the austere and deeply conservative Sunni Muslim Taliban shuttered girls' schools and stopped women from working outside the home.  Now, millions of Afghan girls attend school, but vicious militant attacks, a lack of adequate facilities and teachers, and a tradition that holds that girls belong in the home stop many others from getting an education. 

A crowd is seen cheering after watching the public execution of a woman accused of adultery. Warning: Viewers may find this video disturbing.

The paper obtained by The Times could not be independently verified and it was not thought to be directly linked to peace talks.  However, it did show current thinking among the leaders of the group, according to the newspaper.

The newspaper reported that a go-between who claimed to have links to the Quetta shura -- the Taliban's leadership council based in neighboring Pakistan -- had provided it the policy paper. 

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Last week, the Obama administration, in a move aimed at reviving Afghan peace talks, reportedly sweetened a proposed deal under which it would transfer Taliban detainees from Guantanamo Bay prison in exchange for Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, the only U.S. prisoner of war who is being held by Taliban allies in Pakistan.

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The revised proposal, a concession from an earlier U.S. offer, would alter the sequence of the move of five senior Taliban figures held for years at the U.S. military prison to the Gulf state of Qatar, sources familiar with the case told Reuters.

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 The three-page document shown to the Times also seemed to be making assurances to the Afghan army, which has received extensive training from the United States, saying it was effective in "guaranteeing national security," the Times said. 

It did warn that a Taliban-led government would "prohibit" the military from meddling in politics, the newspaper added.

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According to the Times, the paper "shows a clear desire by the Taliban to enter a political process when NATO combat troops complete their withdrawal at the end of 2014, and sets out a plan for an electoral system which, it says, would ensure fair representation for minority ethnic groups." 

Minority ethnic and religious groups -- in particular Shiite Hazaras -- were brutally oppressed by the Taliban, which was ousted by U.S.-backed Afghan forces 2001.   

The document also said the Taliban opposed terrorist groups such as al-Qaida, which it sheltered in the years leading up to the 9/11 attacks on the United States. 

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"We condemn terrorism ... and consider it our duty to fight terrorism and corruption," the document stated, according to the newspaper.

"Our poor nation is the victim of this terrorism," the paper added.

Afghanistan is not only one of the world's poorest nations despite billions in foreign aid spent there since the Taliban was toppled, it is also considered to be one of the most corrupt, according to Transparency International

Reuters contributed to this report.

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