Taliban leaders in Afghanistan have decided not to open schools for girls beyond sixth grade, reneging on a promise and opting to appease their hardline base at the expense of further alienation from the international community.
The unexpected decision, confirmed on Wednesday by a Taliban official, came at the start of the school year in Afghanistan. This is sure to disrupt Taliban efforts to win recognition from potential international donors, at a time when the country is mired in a deepening humanitarian crisis.
The international community has urged Taliban leaders to open schools and give women their right to public space. A statement from the ministry earlier in the week urged “all students” to come to school.
Concession to supporters
The decision to postpone the return of girls to school at higher levels appears to be a concession to the rural and deeply tribal backbone of the radical Taliban movement, which in many parts of the countryside is reluctant to send its girls to school. ‘school.
The decision to cancel the girls’ return to school came late Tuesday night, Waheedullah Hashmi, head of external relations and donor representative to the Taliban-led administration, told The Associated Press. .
“It was late last night when we learned from our leadership that schools would remain closed for girls,” Hashmi said. “We’re not saying they’ll be closed forever.”
The surprise move also comes as the movement’s leadership was convened in southern Kandahar by reclusive Taliban leader Haibatullah Akhunzada amid reports of a cabinet reshuffle, according to an Afghan leader who is also a member. of the board of directors.
He spoke on condition of anonymity, as he was not authorized to speak to the media. He said it was possible that some of the senior positions in the interim cabinet could be changed.
The tension has been hardliners, pragmatists
Since the Taliban came to power in August, there have been persistent reports of splits within the senior leadership, with the more radical in the movement at odds with the pragmatics. Pragmatists would like to see greater engagement with the world, and while remaining true to their Islamic beliefs, be less harsh than when they last ruled Afghanistan, banning women from working and girls from going. at school.
Television is allowed in Afghanistan today, unlike in the past, and women are not required to wear the burqa, but must wear the traditional hijab, covering their head. The women have also returned to work at the Ministry of Health and Education and at Kabul International Airport in passport control and customs.
The Taliban were ousted in 2001 by a US-led coalition for harboring al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and returned to power after the chaotic US departure last August.
Girls have been banned from school beyond grade 6 in most of the country since the return of the Taliban. Universities opened earlier this year in much of the country, but since taking power Taliban edicts have been erratic, and while a handful of provinces have continued to provide education for all, most provinces have closed educational institutions for girls and women.
In the capital, Kabul, private schools and universities operated without interruption.
The religiously motivated Taliban administration fears that enrolling girls beyond grade 6 will alienate their rural base, Hashmi said.
“Leaders have not decided when or how they will allow girls to return to school,” Hashmi said. While he admitted that urban centers are mostly in favor of girls’ education, much of rural Afghanistan opposes it, especially in Pashtun tribal areas.
“In some rural areas, a brother will disown a brother in town if he finds out that he is letting his daughters go to school,” said Hashimi, who said Taliban leaders were trying to decide how to open up education to girls beyond school level. 6 nationwide.
Most of the Taliban belong to the Pashtun ethnicity. As they swept across the country last year, other ethnic groups such as Uzbeks and Tajiks in the north of the country either joined the fight to give the Taliban victory or simply chose not to fight.
“We did everything the Taliban asked for in terms of Islamic clothing and they promised girls could go to school and now they broke their promise,” said Mariam Naheebi, a local journalist who spoke to with the Associated Press in the Afghan capital.
Naheebi protested for women’s rights and said the Taliban “have not been honest with us”.