PESHAWAR, Pakistan – On March 23, the Taliban deported girls who were excitedly carrying new textbooks from school gates across Afghanistan. Leaders said classrooms for girls from sixth grade will be closed until a dress code suitable for girls and female teachers is decided.
This is the first day that schools for girls have been open since the Taliban recaptured control of Afghanistan in August. Two days ago, the Ministry of Education announced that all girls would be allowed to go to school.
When asked about the closure, Taliban spokesman Bilal Karimi told NBC News that he was playing “many issues” but had no details. “Recently a leadership meeting was held and girls schools were discussed in detail. However, they decided to close the schools until the next meeting, ”he said.
The flip-flop signals fundamental divisions within the Taliban between hardliners and moderates over how to govern the country, amid mounting international condemnation of the regime amid a rotating humanitarian crisis.
“They have considered the various options available to them, and they have dealt with internal divisions in these issues, and this is the path they are choosing,” Heather Barr, co-director of women’s rights at Human Rights Watch, told NBC News. Following the ban.
The decision to ban millions of girls from education has left some Taliban members frustrated. Many Taliban leaders, anonymous to NBC News, said many of their colleagues were unhappy with the ban on talking to the media, depriving them of their right to education.
“Look, more than half of our population is women. How do you improve your country and build companies while preventing your girls from getting an education? Asked a senior police officer and a Taliban leader.
“This is not a wise decision because we can not harass the people of Afghanistan by banning women’s education,” she said. “According to Islamic Sharia and our local customs and traditions, our primary responsibility must be to create an environment in which women can freely go to schools, colleges and universities.”
From 1996 to 2001, the Taliban banned girls from attending school and work, and the regime was overthrown by US forces after leaders refused to extradite Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the September 11 attacks on the United States.
When the Taliban regained control of the country last August, the Taliban promised to respect the rights of women under Islamic law and tradition.
Karimi, a Taliban spokesman, said schools would be closed for girls beyond the sixth grade, pending further approval from the leadership, but could not provide further details.
It is not clear when this will happen. The decision to close schools for girls was made indefinitely at a meeting of the Council of Religious Scholars next week following the ban.
“The Ulema Council … said they were not against female education, but before sending girls to school, they wanted to create a safe environment for them in the country,” a Taliban leader said, anonymous for fear of being violated. Reporters were barred from talking about official issues after the meeting.
The council also discussed the issue of dress code for women, but said it was a “minor issue” and that two Taliban leaders, who knew the crowd directly, spoke anonymously due to a media ban.
The school ban also indicates the inappropriateness of the Taliban’s policy on girls’ education. Despite rumors that it may change soon, universities remain open to women. Karimi said the rumors were false.
According to a report released by the Network of Afghanistan Analysts in January, some Taliban leaders have secretly sent their own daughters to private schools in Qatar.
Visna Sultani, a 23-year-old female student in Kabul, said the Taliban’s decision “shows that the group has no obligation to comply with the fundamental rights of women and Afghan citizens.”
“The world must break its silence against this blatant repression and the blatant violation of the rights of millions of female students in Afghanistan,” she said.
But stopping aid to punish the Taliban for depriving millions of girls of their right to school threatens to exacerbate Afghanistan’s already dire humanitarian crisis. The education of women is one of the main concerns of the international community in talks about recognizing the group as leaders and providing humanitarian assistance.
“Everyone thought high schools were going to open. … So it’s just a matter of throwing it all in the air and making it difficult for a lot of people to think about how you’ve got involved with a group that behaves this way, ”said Bar, of Human Rights Watch.
He went on to say that the issue of educating girls in Afghanistan “has some serious implications for people’s ability to eat and actually survive.” “This is a catastrophic, catastrophic end for the Afghans who are trying to live in this country and live decent lives.”
According to the United Nations, 95 percent of Afghans do not have enough food to eat, while 23 million people suffer from severe hunger.
As a measure to further aggravate the country’s economic woes, the Taliban last week banned the cultivation of opium poppies, a crop that farmers have returned to for income amid a massive food shortage.
Eight days before the UN General Assembly in London on March 31, the Taliban reversed its decision to allow teenage girls to study, with the aim of raising $ 4.4 billion in humanitarian aid to Afghanistan from international donors.
The conference raised only half of its target, with delegates from Germany and the UK facing a last-minute school ban by the Taliban.
“Our support can depend on how creatively the Taliban are involved in key issues, such as the rights of women and girls, and the rights of ethnic and religious minorities. No nation can succeed if it stops half of its population,” said Lis Truss, Britain’s foreign secretary.
Mushtaq Yusufzai reported from Peshawar and Roda Kuan from Taipei, Taiwan.