Taliban’s unending obsession with women’s education and the billions it’s costing them
If there is one, just one single issue, on which the whole world is sharply aligned against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, it is the ban imposed on girls seeking higher education.
The argument that was advanced in late 2021 was that the new Afghan government would permit girls to be admitted into higher secondary schools and colleges once arrangements were made to segregate boys and girls in these institutes. But since then, there has been no progress on this and the ban has continued. Thousands of girls have been denied the benefits of education and women teachers have been rendered jobless in a country where unemployment is already touching more than 80 percent.
On this point, Taliban supremo Mullah Haibatullah Akhunzada has refused to bend or show any flexibility, and so has revealed, at the same time, the fissures and cracks in the higher Taliban hierarchy. It is believed a broad majority of senior Taliban leaders have repeatedly urged the leader of the movement to relax the ban.
Akhunzada has so far stuck to his stance, committed in folly to a policy that puts the entire group into jeopardy and has crushed the Taliban’s international image as a retrogressive and discriminatory party of men. It has also caused widespread discontent within the population including from those who back the Taliban and their government.
If the fragility of the system eventually leads to a near collapse of the system, who will be to blame? It will be the Taliban leadership, who had the chance to prove themselves to the world, but blatantly refused to stand up for the right thing.
In this era, to prevent girls from acquiring higher education is a thought that nobody will tolerate. Not only this, the Taliban have provided fuel to their opponents both inside and outside the country. This is what their opponents use to discredit the regime, to build up support for themselves and critically weaken the Kabul government. For this reason, the entire world has refused to acknowledge the new government. It is a matter of great anxiety that more than a year and a half after taking control of Afghanistan, not a single country has so far recognized the new government. As a result, about $6 billion of Afghan assets held in foreign banks has not been released.
More than half the population is facing starvation while about four million children suffer from acute malnutrition. Sick of the collapse of the economy and its effects on daily lives, thousands of Afghans are leaving the country by using all methods of escape. Investment has stopped-- foreign funding is no longer forthcoming. Increasingly, questions are being raised about the sustainability of the regime. If the fragility of the system eventually leads to a near collapse of the system, who will be to blame? It will be the Taliban leadership, who had the chance to prove themselves to the world, but blatantly refused to stand up for the right thing.
A heavy responsibility rests on Afghanistan’s neighbours. It is time more regional leaders took up the issue of girls’ education with Kabul as one sure means of ending the country’s isolation. Unfortunately, there has been no such initiative so far, even though it is no secret that the collapse of the Taliban government will unleash the forces of terrorism and anarchy across the entire region. Any violent end to the current dispensation will generate more instability, cause more chaos and retard progress.
The regime must make amends for its flawed policy before it’s too late. It must ask itself: What is this unbending obsession with taking away women’s rights truly worth? Is it worth the international isolation, the weakening of their administration, the billions of dollars denied to their people, the death and destruction of the same Afghanistan they fought to acquire for generations? Is it really worth that much?
The regime must present to the world a picture of an Islamic system of governance that delivers justice, eliminates crime-- including the crime of denying women the right to education-- and providing opportunities for growth and development. Little else matters.
- Rustam Shah Mohmand is a specialist of Afghanistan and Central Asian Affairs. He has served as Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan and also held position of Chief Commissioner Refugees for a decade.