Taliban pulls out of higher education for girls, despite promises

KABUL (Afghanistan) — Taliban leaders unexpectedly pulled out Wednesday’s reopening of schools to students in the sixth grade. They reneged on a promise, opting instead to please their hardline base, at the cost of alienating more members the international community.

The surprising decision was confirmed by a Taliban official and is likely to derail efforts of the Taliban to gain recognition from international donors. This comes at a critical time for Afghanistan, which is already in worsening humanitarian crises. International community has called on Taliban leaders to open schools again and allow women to have access to the public space.

The reversal was so sudden that the Education Ministry was caught off guard on Wednesday, the start of the school year, as were schools in parts of the Afghan capital of Kabul and elsewhere in the country. Some high school girls were told by their teachers to return to school.

Aid organizations said the move exacerbated the uncertainty surrounding Afghanistan’s future as the Taliban leadership seems to struggle to get on the same page as it shifts from fighting to governing.

It also came as the leadership was convening in Kandahar amid reports of a possible Cabinet shuffle.

U.S. Special Representative Thomas West tweeted his “shock and deep disappointment” about the decision, calling it “a betrayal of public commitments to the Afghan people and the international community.”

He said the Taliban had made it clear that all Afghans have a right to education, adding, “For the sake of the country’s future and its relations with the international community, I would urge the Taliban to live up to their commitments to their people.”

The Norwegian Refugee Council, which spends about $20 million annually to support primary education in Afghanistan, was still waiting for official word from the Taliban about canceling the classes for girls above the sixth grade. NRC provides legal and emergency services, as well as shelter and food.

Berenice Van Dan Driessche, advocacy manager for the council, said their representatives had not gotten official word of the change as of Wednesday night, and that girls in the 11 provinces where they work had gone to school but were sent home.

The staff of the committee in the provinces had “reported disappointment, as well as a lot uncertainty” regarding the future. According to them, in certain areas teachers had indicated that they would still hold girls’ classes until the Taliban issue an official order.

Waheedullah Hashmi, external relations and donor representative with the Taliban-led administration, told The Associated Press the decision was made late Tuesday night.

“We don’t say they will be closed forever,” Hashmi added.

U.N. U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric stated that Deborah Lyons, special representative of the Taliban will meet with them Thursday to request their reversal.

Also earlier in the week, the Education Ministry issued a statement urging “all students to return” when classes resumed on Wednesday. On Tuesday, Mawlvi Aziz Ahmad Rayan, a ministry spokesperson, stated to AP that girls will be allowed to return school. However, the Taliban administration wouldn’t insist on this in areas where parents are opposed or schools cannot be separated.

He was reluctant to give details but promised if schools can meet these conditions, “there would no issue for them” to begin classes for girls in the higher grades.

” “In principle there are no issues from the ministry side but, as I stated, it’s a sensitive issue and cultural matter.” he said. The decision to delay the return of higher-grade girls seemed to have been made in concession to rural tribal support of the Taliban, who are often reluctant to send their daughters off to school.

The decision was also made as Haibatullah Akhunzada summoned the Taliban leader to south Kandahar amid reports that there had been a shakeup in the Cabinet. Because he wasn’t authorized to speak to media, he spoke under the condition of anonymity.

The official said it was possible that some senior interim Cabinet positions could be changed.

There have been reports that senior leaders are having disagreements since August 2021, when the Taliban came to power. These reports indicate that more extreme members of the Taliban leadership are fighting with pragmatic leaders who desire to have greater international engagement. They want to remain true to Islam, but they also wish to be more gentle than they were when they ruled Afghanistan.

Television is permitted in Afghanistan today, unlike in the past, and women are not required to wear the all-encompassing burqa. They must cover their heads with the hijab. The Health and Education Ministries have seen women return to their jobs. They also work at Kabul International Airport for passport control and customs.

The Taliban were ousted in 2001 by a U.S.-led coalition for harboring al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and returned to power after America’s chaotic departure last year.

Girls were banned from schools in the majority of the country after the Taliban returned. Although many universities were opened in the country earlier this year, the Taliban have made it difficult to maintain control of education systems. While some provinces provided education for all children, the majority of them closed schools and colleges that were open to girls or women.

Private schools and universities in Kabul have continued to operate without interruption. Hashmi stated that the religiously motivated Taliban administration is concerned about enrolling girls in higher grades than sixth grade.

“The leadership hasn’t decided when or how they will allow girls to return to school,” he said. Although he acknowledged that most urban areas are supportive of girls’ education, rural Afghanistan, especially in Pashtun tribal zones, is not.

The Taliban leadership are trying to determine how girls can access education beyond sixth grade in some rural areas.

Most Taliban come from Pashtun ethnicity. Other ethnicities, such as the Tajiks and Uzbeks in northern Afghanistan joined them during their invasion of the country.

“We gave the Taliban everything they asked for in Islamic dress and promised girls would be able to go to school, but now they are breaking their promises,” Mariam Naheebi said to the AP from Kabul.

” They haven’t been open with us,” said Naheebi who had protested for women’s rights.

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