Afghanistan is planning to reintroduce public stoning as punishment for adultery 12 years after the Taliban was ousted from power, according to a new draft penal code.
The move has shocked human rights campaigners and will dismay donors who have poured billions of pounds into the country for reconstruction.
It will be viewed as another backwards step at the end of a year that has seen women’s rights undermined, with a slew of legislation and murders of prominent women.
Human Rights Watch called for international donors to withhold funding if the government goes ahead with the plan.
“It is absolutely shocking that 12 years after the fall of the Taliban government, the Karzai administration might bring back stoning as a punishment,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at HRW.
“President Karzai needs to demonstrate at least a basic commitment to human rights and reject this proposal out of hand.”
The draft—devised by a working group led by the justice ministry, parts of which have been obtained by The Telegraph—states that unmarried adulterers should be subject to 100 lashes. If they are married, the punishment is stoning in a public place.
Death by stoning was used as punishment for adultery during Taliban rule, a brutal period which included bans on radio, television and music and ended in 2001 when Nato forces seized Kabul.
Since then, human rights–and women’s rights in particular–have frequently been cited as a measure of progress under the government of President Hamid Karzai.
His government signed up to international human rights conventions and the current penal code does not allow stoning as a punishment.
Critics have warned that progress is fragile and is being undermined in an attempt to placate conservative power brokers and maybe even pave the way for a deal with the Taliban as Nato forces leave the country during the next year.
In May, the country’s lower chamber revised the country’s electoral law, ditching the guarantee that at least a quarter of seats in each of 34 provincial councils be reserved for women.
There will be no female candidate in April’s presidential election.
And parliament has never ratified a long-awaited law setting penalties for rape, child marriage and “baad”–the local term used for the giving of girls to resolve disputes.
Meanwhile, America is still trying to seal a deal with Mr Karzai to allow as many as 15,000 troops to remain in the country beyond the end of combat operations next year.
On Sunday, Mr Karzai dismissed demands from the loya jirga–a specially convened grand assembly of 2,500 Afghan chieftains, tribal elders and politicians–to sign a security agreement by the end of the year. He has said repeatedly that it should not be finalised until after next year’s elections.
The White House said Susan Rice, Barack Obama’s national security adviser, had been invited to meet the Afghan president during a scheduled visit to meet American troops in Afghanistan for the Thanksgiving holiday.
Mr Karzai has been openly hostile to his US allies and used the loya jirga assembly to urge an end to American raids on Afghan homes.
She is expected to use the opportunity to pressure Mr Karzai to accept the elders’ recommendation and sign by the end of the year–a move Washington says is essential to allowing American and Nato forces time to plan their next phase of operations.
“Afghanistan continues to be one of the United States’ top national security priorities, and this trip is an opportunity for Ambassador Rice to take stock of our efforts and meet with American troops,” said Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council.