Tuesday September 27, 2022

Let the girls learn

By Editorial Board
September 19, 2022

Yesterday marked one year since Afghan girls were banned from attending high school. That is one year of taking away most of the rights from girls in Afghanistan, one year of crippling uncertainty, tragedy and misery for a population that is only yearning for the freedom to learn. Over the years, Afghan girls and women have made a mark in many fields – despite an occupation, constant violence, and an orientalist attitude even by those willing to help them. Banning them from getting an education or from working can only be called a crime against humanity. The UN estimates that more than one million girls have been barred from attending high school over the past year in Afghanistan. By depriving them of education, the Taliban have basically taken away their bright future and have instead thrown them into a dark abyss.

The UN has once again urged the Afghan Taliban to reopen high schools for girls across Afghanistan, with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres calling it “a year of lost knowledge and opportunity they will never get back”. After the fall of Kabul, the Afghan Taliban had reopened high schools for boys on September 18 last year but banned school girls from attending classes in secondary school. The world must not turn a blind eye to this blatant human rights violation. A country where girls and women live in fear is no country to live. No wonder then that many Afghans are trying to leave their country – not because they want to, but because they have to. The Afghan women have not stayed silent, despite the mortal danger any resistance puts them in; and there have been several protests against the ban, most recently in Paktia where the Taliban shut four schools for girls.

At the SCO summit last week, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said that it would be a big mistake to ignore Afghanistan and that peace in Afghanistan would ensure peace in Pakistan. The Pakistani prime minister also urged the Taliban government to build a future based on inclusiveness and respect for human rights, especially of women and minorities. This is extremely important. The international community is obviously hesitating to support Afghanistan despite the humanitarian crisis there because the human rights conditions in the country leave much wanting, with Afghan minorities being targeted for their faith and girls and women targeted for their gender. Without ensuring human rights, of which the right to education is one of the most basic, Afghanistan cannot move forward. The Afghan Taliban promised many things to the international community before and after coming to power but they have not kept their side of the bargain. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has also pointed out that what’s good for Afghanistan is good for Pakistan. This is true in many ways. If there is extremism and anti-women rules in Afghanistan, it directly impacts Pakistan’s adjoining areas. The consequences of the rise of the Afghan Taliban can be felt across the border in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the former Fata areas. We – Pakistan and Afghanistan both – cannot afford a step back into darkness.