ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s United Nations envoy Munir Akram drew flak on social media for equating the Taliban government's restrictions on women with the Pashtun culture, during a briefing at the UN in New York on Thursday.
Last year, the interim Taliban government in Afghanistan provoked anger in many parts of the world when it issued edicts banning women from attending universities and secondary schools. The Afghan government also ordered local and foreign aid organizations to ban women from working in their offices.
The Taliban justified the move by saying some women had not adhered to their interpretation of the Islamic dress code.
In view of the situation, the UN’s deputy secretary-general Amina Mohammed last month met Afghanistan’s acting foreign minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi, in Kabul to discuss women’s education. Mutaqqi said Afghan women were able to work in health and education.
Akram briefed UN member states on the recent high-level visits to Afghanistan by two separate delegations, one led by the UN deputy secretary-general, and the other by the UN emergency relief coordinator. During his speech, the Pakistani diplomat said the Taliban’s decision to bar women from seeking education and employment stemmed from cultural beliefs, rather than religious ones.
“From our perspective, the restrictions that have been put by the Afghan interim government flow not so much from a religious perspective as from a peculiar cultural perspective of the Pashtun culture, which requires women to be kept at home,” Akram said during the briefing.
“And this is a peculiar, distinctive cultural reality of Afghanistan which has not changed for hundreds [of years]," he added.
Munir said that to expect a complete transformation overnight on the condition that aid will stop to the Afghan people if they do not adhere to international standards was a “rather optimistic expectation.”
M. Ashraf Haidari, the ambassador of Afghanistan to Sri Lanka, took a strong exception to Akram’s statement, asking the UN to “immediately refute this piece of disinformation.”
“Since time immemorial, millions of Pashtun girls have gone to school and university. Just talk to Malala!” Haidari wrote in a Twitter thread.
“Afghans in general and Pashtuns in particular on both sides of the Durand Line condemn in the strongest terms possible this false statement by [Pakistan’s UN envoy]. He deliberately avoids blaming the extremist ideology of the Taliban for the gender apartheid in Afghanistan, which the TTP now desires to enforce in Pakistan too as soon as they can.”
He added the Pakistani Taliban or the TTP’s recent claim of the attack on the Peshawar mosque, which killed 101 people and injured more than 200, was “proof that not the Afghan culture but the ideological indoctrination the Taliban receive in Pakistani madrassas guides their brutality”.
Pakistani digital rights activist, Usama Khilji, wrote on Twitter that Akram’s statement was “extremely embarrassing”.
“Ban on [the] education of girls is not Pashtun culture, it’s Taliban culture that Pashtuns have fought against for decades.”
Ziauddin Yousafzai, education activist and Malala's father, said the statement was "Disgusting and disgraceful."
"You must apologise [to] 50 Million Pakhtuns of Pakistan by misrepresenting and humiliating them at the @UN," he added.
During the briefing, Pakistan also called for continued “engagement” with the Taliban government in a bid to develop guidelines on human rights, especially women’s rights, in Afghanistan that will conform more closely to the international community’s wishes, saying the old approach of using financial pressure to achieve the objective is not working.