US hopes Taliban will quickly reverse closure of girls' schools

Published March 26, 2022
Afghan women take part in a protest in front of the Ministry of Education in Kabul. — AFP
Afghan women take part in a protest in front of the Ministry of Education in Kabul. — AFP

The US expects the Taliban to reverse its decision to keep girls out of Afghan schools “in coming days”, US special envoy Thomas West said on Saturday.

The US called off talks with the Taliban administration on the sidelines of the Doha Forum in response to the ban announced on Wednesday.

West, who led talks with the Taliban, told the forum: “I'm hopeful that we'll see a reversal of this decision in coming days.

“I was surprised at the turnaround this past Wednesday and I think you have seen the world react and condemn this. It is a breach first and foremost of the Afghan people's trust.”

West said the Taliban, who retook Kabul last August after a two-decade war against a Western-backed government, had given other countries assurances during talks in recent months that girls would be allowed back to school.

The Taliban closed girls' secondary schools just hours after they reopened on Wednesday, prompting international anger.

Suhail Shaheen, head of the Taliban representative office in Doha, said in a text message to AFP that the group did not have a policy against girls' education.

“There are some practical issues to be sorted out at first. Unfortunately, they were not resolved before the scheduled deadline of opening girls schools on March 23,” Shaheen said.

Afghan Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi is scheduled to appear at the Doha Forum on Sunday but it was not immediately clear whether he had arrived for the event following the US decision to call off talks.

Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai told the meeting of international politicians and business leaders that the ban would be more difficult to enforce than during the Taliban's first spell in power.

“I think it was much easier for the Taliban (to enforce) a ban on girls' education back in 1996,” said Yousafzai, who won the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize for her fight for all children's right to education.

“It is much harder this time — that is because women have seen what it means to be educated, what it means to be empowered. This time is going to be much harder for the Taliban to maintain the ban on girls' education.

“This ban will not last forever.”

The Taliban stopped girls from attending school during its rule of Afghanistan from 1996 until it was ousted by a US-led international coalition in 2001.

Yousafzai said girls' schooling should be a condition of letting the Taliban-ruled country back into international life.

“They shouldn't be recognised if they didn't recognise the human rights of women and girls,” she said.

No country has yet recognised the Taliban government and many have said they cannot resume aid to the country until basic rights, including education, are upheld.

About two dozen girls and women protested outside the education ministry in the Afghan capital Kabul on Saturday.

“Open the schools! Justice, justice!” chanted the protesters, some carrying school textbooks.

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