(CNSNews.com) – Amid a continuing series of “troubling” new restrictions on Afghan women, the United Nations continues efforts to plead with the Taliban to reverse course, but with little evident progress as the fundamentalist group reiterates that its controversial actions are based on Islamic law (shari’a).
U.N. envoy to Afghanistan Markus Potzel has been shuttling between senior Taliban officials, appealing to the group to end its recently-announced prohibitions on women attending university and working for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that are key partners in U.N. programs to provide humanitarian aid to needy Afghans.
The Taliban attributed the decisions to claims that female students and NGO employees were not observing strict dress and other “modesty” requirements.
The head of one of several leading NGOs to have suspended operations as a result of the directive has also been visiting Kabul in the hope of persuading the Taliban to recant. Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) chief Jan Egeland said his group cannot continue its operations in Afghanistan until the ban is lifted.
Despite the efforts, and statements of condemnation from the U.S. and other governments, the Taliban shows no sign of relenting.
“Our interaction with the world is based on the shari’a law and the holy religion of Islam and no other reason is acceptable to us,” Taliban leader Hibatullah Akhundzada was quoted as telling Taliban fighters.
The Taliban’s higher education minister, Nida Mohammad Nadeem, told Potzel that the Taliban was “committed to the rights of all Afghan people in light of shari’a.”
“We ask the international community to never make a request from us that is in conflict with shari’a,” Nadeem told the U.N. envoy, according to ministry spokesman Ziaullah Hashemi.
(Nadeem is the Taliban official who recently sought to justify the university ban for women on the basis of the view that “a woman is a man’s property and must serve him, not get educated.”)
Potzel also met in recent days with Sirajuddin Haqqani, the regime’s interior minister, who told him that efforts were underway to find a permanent solution for issue of women’s education, “compatible with shari’a rules and the culture of our people.”
Haqqani, an FBI-most wanted terrorist, leads the Haqqani Network, a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization.
Rather than signaling concessions, reports from several provinces indicate a further tightening by the Taliban of controls over what limited freedoms Afghan women still have.
The governor of Ghor, a central province west of Kabul, has reportedly ordered “vice and virtue” ministry officials to enforce a ban on women leaving their homes unaccompanied by a male guardian.
In Balkh province in the north, Taliban authorities have reportedly announced that women may no longer be treated by male doctors, while in at least four provinces (Baghlan, Kunduz, Takhar, and Badakhshan) authorities have ordered the closure of women’s hair salons, saying their existence violates shari’a principles.
Earlier, the Taliban banned women, who are expected to cover up from head to toe, from visiting gyms, swimming pools, or public parks.
The Taliban seized power in August 2021 amid a chaotic withdrawal of U.S. forces. More than 20 years earlier its earlier rule over most of Afghanistan – also marked by severe repression of women – was ended when U.S.-led forces invaded to topple the regime after the 9/11 terror attacks carried out by its al-Qaeda ally.
“It is troubling and we continue to receive reports from various provinces in Afghanistan,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said during a briefing in New York on Wednesday, when asked about the growing list of restrictions.
“It is taking Afghanistan backwards; excluding women and girls from education, from the workplace guarantees that there will not be any progress for the future of a strong and stable Afghanistan,” he said.
Dujarric said female staff employed by U.N. agencies in Afghanistan are “by and large” able to continue work at present, although the suspension of operations by partner NGOs “is having a horrific impact.”
“We are doing what we can, but we can’t make up the void that has been put in place by other – our humanitarian partners not being able to do their work.”
According to the U.N. refugee agency, 24 million people in Afghanistan are in need of vital humanitarian aid.
The aid agencies say that without their hundreds of female staffers they cannot effectively get the assistance to those in severe need across the country.
“Without both female and male staff, we can’t resume our vital relief,” Egeland tweeted this week. “We can’t reach women and children without female staff.”
A June 2022 U.S. intelligence assessment, declassified and released in redacted form last month by the Director of National Intelligence, assesses that the Taliban regime will prioritize enforcement of its theocratic rule over the building of a modern state, and “will roll back much of the last two decades’ social and civic liberalization.”
The U.N. Security Council has scheduled a private meeting on Friday to discuss the latest developments, particularly the ban on women working for NGOs.
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