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Islamabad urges Kabul to revisit female education ban decision

By Mariana Baabar
December 22, 2022

ISLAMABAD: In a sharp reaction while expressing disappointment, Pakistan urged the Afghan authorities in Kabul to revisit their decision to suspend higher education for Afghan female students.

Pakistan is disappointed to learn about the suspension of university and higher education for female students in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s position on this issue has been clear and consistent.

“We strongly believe that every man and woman has an inherent right to education under Islamic injunctions,” the Foreign Office said on Wednesday. It strongly urged the Afghan authorities to revisit this decision.

From Washington, Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari expressed disappointment over the Taliban’s ban on women attending university but said the best approach remained engagement with Afghanistan’s rulers.

“I’m disappointed by the decision that was taken today. I still think the easiest path to our goal, despite having a lot of setbacks when it comes to women’s education and other things, is through Kabul and the interim government.”

Tuesday, the interim Afghan government suspended university education for all female students in Afghanistan, the latest step in curtailing the rights and freedom of Afghan women. Already, Afghan schoolgirls have faced the closure of their schools ever since the Taliban took over Kabul, which too has been condemned by many.

A spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Higher Education confirmed the suspension of the decision was made in a cabinet meeting and said the order would go into effect immediately. Girls were barred from returning to secondary schools in March, after the Taliban ordered schools for girls to shut just hours after they were due to reopen following months long closures imposed after the Taliban takeover in August 2021.

The Human Rights Watch has also criticised the ban: “The Taliban are making it clear every day that they don’t respect the fundamental rights of Afghans, especially women.”

The US also condemned “the Taliban’s indefensible decision to ban women from universities,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said.

The Taliban’s recent decision, he said, will “have significant consequences for the Taliban and will further alienate the Taliban from the international community and deny them the legitimacy they desire.”

Earlier, when Minister of State Hina Rabbani Khar made her first visit to Kabul, she did not mince her words in her meetings with the Taliban and raised her voice strongly for girls’ education.

A leading Canadian journalist, Kathy Gannon, who has spent a lifetime covering Afghanistan, expressed her disappointment on Wednesday and tweeted, “@@williammaley1 When I asked the UN special envoy why the UN was not protesting the Taliban sending women home from work in early 1996 BEFORE the Taliban took power, he said he was trying to negotiate peace, not women’s rights.” That’s cultural,” he told me.

William Maley is a professor and author of The Afghanistan Wars, who quotes Richard Holbrooke in 2010 as saying that when he approached President Biden on the Afghan women’s issue, Biden erupted, “I am not sending my boy back there to risk his life on behalf of women’s rights.”

Kathy herself says that “also in early 1996 before the Taliban took Kabul, Mullah Burjan, a Taliban commander in Maidan Shahr after I asked again and again about why women were sent home from work and girls from a school in their areas, said: “Why do you always ask me this? The UN never mentions women.”

The excuse of “culture” to get the Taliban off the hook and which encouraged them was also used by former prime minister Imran Khan. It caused outrage when he told the OIC summit in Islamabad, “If we are not sensitive to the cultural norms of these people, even with stipends, people in Afghanistan won’t send their girls to school.”

“When we are talking about human rights and women’s rights, we have to be sensitive about this. However, my main concern is that if ineffective action is taken immediately, Afghanistan will descend into chaos.”

Asim Yasin adds: Pakistan people’s Party Chairman and Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said Pakistan is disappointed to learn about the suspension of university and higher education for female students in Afghanistan and urged Afghan authorities to revisit this decision.

In a series of tweets from his twitter account, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said Pakistan’s position on this issue has been clear and consistent. He said, “We strongly believe that every man and woman has the inherent right to education in accordance with the injunctions of Islam. We strongly urge the Afghan authorities to revisit this decision,” he tweets.