By Cathy Gannon
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers formed a ministry in the building that once housed the Ministry of Women’s Affairs to “promote virtue and prevent benefits” as part of an obligation to expel World Bank staff on Saturday.
This was the latest alarming sign that the Taliban were restricting women’s rights as soon as they took office, as they seized the capital, Kabul. During their previous rule in Afghanistan in the 1990s, the Taliban deprived girls and women of their right to education and disrupted their public life.
Separately, three bomb blasts in Jalalabad, the eastern capital of Jalalabad, on Saturday targeted a Taliban vehicle, killing three people and wounding 20 others. There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but Islamic State militants, headquartered in the area, are enemies of the Taliban.
The Taliban are facing major economic and security challenges as they seek to rule, and the growing challenge posed by IS militants will further expand their resources.
In Kabul, a new sign-up was made outside the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, announcing that it was now the “Ministry of Publicity and Guidance and Advocacy and Vice-Promotion”.
Employees of the World Bank’s মিল 100 million Women’s Economic Empowerment and Rural Development Program, which was outside the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, were removed from the program, said Sharif Akhtar, a member of the program, who was among those removed.
Mabuba Suruj, head of the Afghan Women’s Network, said she was shocked by the Taliban-led government’s ban on women and girls.
On Friday, the Taliban-run Ministry of Education told boys in grades six to twelve to go to school with their male teachers starting Saturday. There was no mention of girls in those grades returning to school. Earlier, the Taliban’s higher education minister said girls would be given equal access to education, albeit in a gender-segregated environment.
“It simply came to our notice then. Is this the stage where girls will forget? Suraj said. “I know they don’t believe in giving explanations, but explanations are very important.”
Suraj speculated that the contradictory statements probably reflected the division among the Taliban as they sought to consolidate their power, making the movement more realistic and losing to the hard-liners among them, at least for now.
Statements by the Taliban leadership often reflect a desire to engage with the world, open up public space for women and girls, and protect Afghanistan’s minorities. But his rank on the ground and the commands of the file are contradictory. Instead of what was promised, sanctions have been imposed on women in particular.
Suraj, an Afghan-American who returned to Afghanistan in 2003 to promote women’s rights and education, has lost many of his colleagues.
She said she was trying to get involved with the Taliban and find a middle ground, but so far has not been able to get the leadership of the hardline Islamist group to meet with workers in the country, to talk to women. The way forward.
“We have to talk. We need to find a middle ground,” he said.
UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoul on Saturday added her voice to growing concerns about the Taliban’s restrictions on girls after only boys returned to school.
“If this ban is maintained, it will be a significant violation of the fundamental right of girls and women to education,” Azoul said in a statement after arriving in New York for the inauguration of the UN General Assembly.
A former adviser to the women’s ministry under the eastern Afghan government sent a video message to The Associated Press from her home in Kabul, condemning the Taliban’s move to close the ministry.
“Women have the right to work, learn and participate in politics on the national and international stage,” said Sara Sirat. Unfortunately, the current Taliban has no place in the cabinet of the Islamic Emirate government. By closing down the women’s ministry, it shows that they have no plans to give women their rights or opportunities to participate in government jobs and other issues in the future.
Earlier this month, the Taliban announced a specifically Taliban cabinet but said it was an interim setup, giving some hope that the future government would be more inclusive, as several of their leaders had promised.
Also on Saturday, an international flight of the Pakistani national carrier left Kabul airport with 22 passengers on board and a flight of Iran’s Great Air with 18 passengers on board.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said two international flights had departed in the morning. The identities and nationalities of those on board were not immediately known.
Last week was the latest flight to leave Kabul as technical teams from Qatar and Turkey worked to standardize the airport for international commercial flights.
A Qatar Airways flight on Friday evacuated more Americans from Afghanistan, the third such aircraft in the Middle East since the Taliban took over and withdrew U.S. troops from the country last month. The State Department said Saturday that the flight from Kabul had 228 U.S. citizens and seven permanent residents and thanked the Qatari authorities for their help.
Also on Friday night, a flight of Kam Air, Afghanistan’s largest private transport company, took off from Mazar-e-Sharif, the capital of northern Balkh province, with 350 passengers on board, according to two crew members.
The flight was en route to Dubai, the two said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to speak to the media. They said the plane was carrying foreigners but it was not clear how many Americans were there.
Edith M. Lederer, an Associated Press writer at the United Nations, Tamim Akhgar in Istanbul and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to the report.