WASHINGTON: The United States and the United Nations warned Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers on Thursday that the failure to reopen girls’ schools could hurt their efforts to get international recognition and rebuild the Afghan economy.

The Taliban had announced earlier that high schools in Afghanistan will open their doors to girls on Wednesday but later reversed their decision until it’s decided what would be an appropriate uniform for girls.

This decision by the Taliban, if it is not swiftly reversed, will profoundly harm the Afghan people, the country’s prospects for economic growth, and the Taliban’s ambition to improve their relations with the international community,” warned US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken.

In New York, UN Secretary general António Guterres said that the Taliban’s decision “not only violates the equal rights of women and girls to education, but it also jeopardises the country’s future in view of the tremendous contributions by Afghan women and girls.”

The Taliban’s ambassador-designate to the United Nations Suhail Shaheen, however, assured the international community that this was only a “technical delay.”

“There is no issue of banning girls from schools,” he said in an interview to America’s National Public Radio “It is only a technical issue of deciding on the form of school uniform for girls.”

But Secretary Blinken reminded the Taliban rulers that education was a human right, and the United States “rejects the Taliban’s excuses for reversing their commitment to the people of Afghanistan” to reopen girls’ schools on Wednesday.

He noted that many girls and women were returning to secondary classrooms across the country but were told to go home until further notice.

“We stand with Afghan girls and their families, who see education as a path to realizing the full potential of Afghanistan’s society and economy,” Secretary Blinken said in a statement issued by his office.

The UN chief said he “deeply regrets” the decision and reminded the Taliban that the start of the new school year had been eagerly anticipated by all students, girls and boys, and parents and families.

“The de facto authorities’ failure to reopen schools for girls above the sixth grade, despite repeated commitments, is a profound disappointment and deeply damaging for Afghanistan,” Mr. Guterres said. “I urged the Taliban de facto authorities to open schools for all students without any further delay.”

UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet recalled her recent visit to Kabul, where women stressed to her that they wanted to speak to the Taliban themselves.

She said in a statement that “disempowering half of Afghanistan’s population is counterproductive and unjust.” Such “structural discrimination,” she said, such was also deeply damaging for the country’s prospects of future recovery and development.”

The Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund, Catherine Russell, also issued a statement saying that the decision meant an entire generation of adolescent girls was being “denied their right to an education and…robbed of the opportunity to gain the skills they need to build their futures.”

While statements by UN officials strongly condemned the Taliban, it’s the US reaction that would be a cause for concern for Kabul’s de facto rulers.

Published in Dawn, March 25th, 2022

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