Women ministers urge Taliban to let girls return to school
Two women ministers, from mainly Muslim nations, on Monday put international demands that Afghan girls be allowed back in school to a top member of the Taliban government, officials said.
Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi and Qatar’s Deputy Foreign Minister Lolwah Al Khater together held talks with the Taliban’s acting foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi in Doha amid mounting concern over rights in the country, especially for women.
Foreign governments have warned that the Taliban actions could cause a backlash at a fund-raising conference for Afghanistan on Thursday, as aid agencies warn of a growing food and health crisis in the country of 37 million people.
Marsudi and Al Khater were the first foreign representatives to meet a Taliban leader since the fundamentalist group sent girls home last Wednesday, a few hours after letting them back into secondary schools.
In a Twitter comment Marsudi said that she and Al Khater “discussed (the) humanitarian issue and education for all in Afghanistan” with Muttaqi.
“Girls in education as well as women’s rights were discussed in the meeting,” added a source briefed on Monday’s discussions.
The United States cancelled planned talks with Muttaqi in Doha at the weekend in protest at the school action.
In a further blow, the hardline Islamists have also ordered airlines to stop women flying unless they are accompanied by a male relative. It has also stepped up restrictions on foreign media.
The US special envoy on Afghanistan, Thomas West, told a gathering of policy leaders in Doha at the weekend that he expected the school ban to be quickly reversed.
Muttaqi’s planned appearance at the Doha Forum was cancelled though he eventually arrived in Qatar, where the Taliban have a representative office.
“No US official met with so-called interim foreign minister Muttaqi during this visit to Qatar, including at the Doha Forum,” a US State Department spokesperson told AFP.
“The international community wants to send the message that what is happening is unacceptable,” commented one diplomat after Monday’s meetings.
The girls’ education ban has been widely condemned after the Taliban, who retook Kabul in August, gave commitments that girls would be allowed to study.
And there are now fears that the action could damage a UN appeal to raise $4.4 billion to cover Afghanistan’s food and health needs this year.
Germany and Britain are organising a fund-raising conference on Thursday.
Germany gave 600 million euros in aid to Afghanistan last year, but its ambassador designate to the country, Markus Potzel, said: “It’s very difficult to convince our politicians, our public, our media to give public money to a country where they deprive women of education.”.
Nobel Peace laureate Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the face by a Pakistani Taliban as a 14-year-old, said the hardline group was “misusing the name of Islam” by stopping girls studying.
But she predicted the ban would not last as Afghan women feel “empowered”.