Don't let the Taliban suppress girls' education
Girls crying; teachers sobbing, news readers losing their composure — the Taliban's decision not to open schools for girls from the sixth grade up, despite earlier announcements to the contrary, triggered widespread shock and anger.
The Taliban kept the people of Afghanistan and the international community waiting for months, arguing that they wanted to create the necessary conditions to ensure the safety of girls and young women. Both in bilateral talks and in statements to the media, the Taliban repeatedly claimed that Afghan girls should have the right to education.
For 187 days, girls in Afghanistan waited. Just one day before school started, the Taliban released a statement that schools would be open to all. But with the dawning of the next day came the bitter realization that girls would still be excluded. The Taliban said this was due to organizational issues — as if seven months had not been enough to sort them out. Why this 180-degree U-turn?
No interest in international recognition?
It should come as no surprise that the goals of the Taliban, or at least those of the hardliners, are still the same as they were in the 1990s.
Despite the outcry of Afghan women and the vociferous criticism of the international community, the Taliban are showing no signs of relenting. Instead, they're imposing further restrictions.
For example, women without male relatives are not allowed to travel within the country or abroad, and women are only allowed to visit parks in cities on certain days; men without beards and traditional Afghan dress are no longer allowed to work in Afghan government offices; national media outlets have been banned from broadcasting foreign media coverage, including DW, because they allegedly put out content that disrespects Islamic and Afghan values.
It appears the Taliban do not care about the reaction of the international community. Yet, it has been made clear to them time and again that their disregard for women's rights will prevent their international recognition.
Indeed, that seems to be off the table. The Taliban did not respond to the demand to open schools for girls immediately. Instead, there have been meetings with high-ranking Russian and Chinese representatives in Kabul recently. Both sides assured each other of mutual support and good relations.
It would be convenient for the Taliban's two powerful partners if the latter were now to break completely with the West. Russia and China have their eyes on Afghanistan's rich natural resources. China wants to start mining copper at the Mes Aynak mine in the east of the country. The contract was signed back in 2012, but has been at a standstill due to the security situation.
China also wants to export goods from Afghanistan, a multi-million dollar business for the Taliban. Consideration for women's rights or press freedom are not part of the deal. Neighbors Iran and Pakistan, which have been accused of financing the Taliban for years, will not shift their course anytime soon. Who needs the West then?
The West must act
The window of opportunity for the West to exert influence on the Taliban is almost, but not quite, closed. Above all, the EU and the United States must act quickly and effectively to prevent Afghanistan from relapsing into conditions as they were more than 20 years ago. Sanctions against the Taliban and their families in Qatar and Pakistan as well as travel restrictions are the least they can do. Empty words and expressions of regret are not enough.
Western states may well have lost sight of Afghanistan, but history has shown that the West ignores Afghanistan at its own peril. The specters of the past could come back to haunt the West. The fear that Afghanistan will become another terrorist retreat is not unfounded. After all, terror knows no borders and will not stop at the gates of Europe. After 20 years of leading futile operations in Afghanistan, the West must not allow history to repeat itself.
This piece was originally published in German.
Edited by: Andreas Illmer