AP interview: Taliban promises all girls to go to school soon

KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers have said they hope to open schools for all girls across the country after late March, their spokesman told The Associated Press on Saturday, providing the first opportunity to address a critical need for the international community. schedule.

Since the Taliban took over Afghanistan in mid-August, girls in most parts of Afghanistan have not been able to return to school after grade 7. The international community is reluctant to formally recognize the Taliban-run government, fearing they could take measures as draconian as they were back then. The old rules from 20 years ago. At the time, women were barred from education, work and public life.

Zabihullah Mujahid, who is also the Taliban’s deputy minister of culture and information, said their education department was looking to open classrooms for all girls and women after the Afghan New Year, which begins on March 21. Afghanistan, like neighboring Iran, observes the Islamic solar Hijri Shamsi calendar.

Mujahid said in the interview that the education of girls and women “is a matter of competence”.

Girls and boys must be completely segregated at school, he said, adding that by far the biggest hurdle has been finding or building enough dormitories or dorms where girls can stay while they are in school. In densely populated areas, separate classrooms for boys and girls are not enough – separate school buildings are needed, he said.

“We are not against education,” Mujahid stressed, speaking from a marble-floored office building in Kabul that once housed the office of the Afghan attorney general, which the Taliban has used as the ministry of culture and information.

The Taliban’s directives have so far been volatile, varying from province to province. All but about 10 of the country’s 34 provinces do not allow girls to return to the classroom in public schools above the seventh grade. In the capital Kabul, private universities and high schools continue to operate without interruption. Most are small and the classes are kept separate.

“We are trying to address these issues in the coming year,” so schools and universities can reopen, Mujahid said.

The international community has been skeptical of the Taliban’s statement, saying it will judge them by their actions – even as it scrambles to provide billions of dollars to avoid a humanitarian crisis that the UN secretary-general warned this week could endanger the lives of millions disaster.

In Afghanistan’s harsh winters, with services disrupted and only sporadic electricity available, most people rely on firewood and coal for heating. Hardest hit are some 3 million Afghans who live in their own countries as refugees, fleeing their homes due to war, drought, poverty or fear of the Taliban.

Earlier this month, the United Nations issued a $5 billion appeal to Afghanistan, the largest such appeal by a country.

Washington has spent $145 billion on reconstruction and development projects in Afghanistan since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion toppled the Taliban regime. Yet even before the Taliban retaken the country, the poverty rate was 54 percent — and a 2018 Gallup poll showed that Afghans were suffering as never before.

Mujahid called for economic cooperation, trade and “strengthening diplomatic relations”. So far, neither Afghanistan’s neighbors nor the United Nations seem ready to formally acknowledge that this will help open up the Afghan economy. However, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called for greater economic development, saying it was crucial to inject liquidity quickly into the Afghan economy “and avoid a collapse that could plunge millions into poverty, starvation and deprivation”.

The international community has called for a more representative government that includes women and ethnic and religious minorities. While all members of the new Taliban cabinet are men and most are members of the Taliban, Mujahid said there are exceptions, such as the undersecretary of finance and economy ministry officials who are remnants of the former US-backed government.

Mujahid also said that 80 percent of the civil servants who returned to work were employees of the previous government. He added that women work in the health and education sectors as well as customs and passport control at Kabul International Airport. He did not say if or when women would be allowed to return to government jobs.

He also told The Associated Press that most of the new government’s revenue will come from tariffs the Taliban will impose at border crossings with Iran, Pakistan and the northern Central Asian country. Without providing data, he claimed the Taliban brought in more revenue in the first four months of its rule than the previous government did in more than a year.

He called on Afghans who had fled their homes to return home. Since the takeover, there have been cases of protesters being arrested, journalists beaten, human rights workers threatened, and women’s demonstrations dispersed by heavily armed Taliban troops firing into the air.

Mujahid acknowledged incidents of Taliban members harassing Afghan civilians, including humiliating young people and forcibly cutting their hair.

“Crimes like this happen, but it’s not our government’s policy,” he said, adding that those responsible had been arrested.

“This is our message. We have no disputes with anyone and we don’t want anyone to continue to oppose or stay away from their country.”

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The Associated Press Afghanistan and Pakistan news director Kathy Gannon has covered the region for more than 30 years. Follow her on Twitter www.twitter.com/Kathygannon

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