The decisions by Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers to curtail the rights of women and girls to work and obtain an education have alarmed the international community. The latter, in response to the new regime’s actions, has opted to revisit its pledges towards funding reconstruction and rehabilitation in the country ravages by decades of war.
Aid and protests
As an act of protest against the Taliban’s decision to ban women working in non-government organisations, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) – an independent humanitarian group that seeks to protect and support displaced people and communities, announced it was suspending all aid operations in Afghanistan. “"With millions starving and freezing…. this reckless decision by some elderly men is threatening lives," an NRC representative said in a statement issued to global media outlets. The shutdown is expected to spread to the entire humanitarian sector in Afghanistan, NRC Secretary General Jan Egeland believed. Justifying the move, he said it was taken in light of both principle and practicalities; more than a third of NRC’s 1,400 staff is composed of women who, Egeland stressed, carried out their work in accordance with ‘all traditional values’.
According to data about Afghanistan’s international benefactors collected till December 2021, the United Kingdom accounted for a major share with contributions amounting to $374 million, followed by Germany and the United States with $218 million and $204 million respectively. Japan accounted for another $109 million in assistance to the war-torn nation and all in all, the United Nations said 41 donors had pledged new funding.
With more than 24 million Afghans — 60% of the population — needing humanitarian assistance, and nine million people at risk of famine, it is one of the most severe humanitarian crises in the world. With such large numbers of people who depend on international humanitarian assistance, the Taliban government must most not bar the women members INGO staff from performing their duties in Afghanistan.
Hundreds of medical students, who were appearing in final exams before the close of the academic year, tore their exams papers as an act of protest in solidarity with the female students of the University of Nangarhar, in the province’s capital of Jalalabad, three days after the decision was announced.
Similarly, women, INGO workers and students, both boy and girls, have held protests in other provinces and cities, including the nation’s capital Kabul. To discourage and disperse the protestors, the Taliban have resorted to water cannons and force.
Senior sources from among the Taliban ranks have shared insights on the meeting between Afghanistan’s Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani and Mullah Yaqub in Kabul, who shared their displeasure over the decisions related to closure of girls’ education and barring them from availing Jobs. “The two big names of the Emirate-e-Islami held meeting and later the messages of their displeasure have been shared with Mullah Habitullah and Mullah Hassan, while Mullah Baradar is also in favour of the girls’ education" a senior source said.
Afganistan’s acting Petroleum Minister Shahabuddin Delawar has also confirmed that supreme leader Hibatullah Akhundzada has issued a second decree related to reviewing the decisions about women's affairs and education. "The supreme leader has hinted at revising the decision soon, but, as everyone knows, winter holidays are currently underway in Afghanistan,” Delawar said, adding that school would hopefully resume for all ages across Afghanistan in March in a favourable environment.
The senior Taliban commander of Kabul has also confirmed that Taliban supreme leader Hibatullah is to announce a decision related to resumption of girls’ education soon.
Commenting on the decision to bar women workers of INGOs, Zalmay Khalilzad, the former envoy to the region, termed it ‘another incomprehensible decision’ by the hardline leaders of the Taliban. By directing international and Afghan NGOs to order their female employees not to come to work, the regime will likely make it impossible for the international community to continue to provide desperately needed assistance to Afghanistan, he said. He termed NGOs key partners in distributing foreign assistance and providing basic life-sustaining services.
In addition to that, many women working for NGOs are their families' primary breadwinners. “The suffering of the Afghan people will increase because of the peculiar decisions of a handful of unwise Taliban leaders,” Khalilzad said. He suggested these leaders were not consulting other Taliban figures and Afghan citizens before taking such decisions. “Consultation is a basic requirement of Islamic governance. They are also ignoring the wishes of the Afghan people,” the former envoy added.
Furthermore, Khalilzad said these Taliban leaders were not delivering on their responsibility: the welfare of the Afghan people. “These decisions wrongly taken in the name of Islam are giving Islam a bad name. Many Taliban leaders oppose these decisions,” he said. “They and other Afghan leaders should stand up and form a joint front against these dictatorial, anti-Afghan, and anti-Islamic decisions by a few ill-informed leaders. As they stand up, Afghans and the world will stand with them,” the former envoy urged.
Islamic scholars’ views
Concerns regarding Afghan women’s right to work and obtain education are not confined to the West, however. Religious scholars from many Muslim nations, including those from decree-issuing centres like Egypt’s Al-Azhar University and Pakistan’s own Mufti Taqi Usmani, have also called up the Taliban shura to review its decisions pertain to women.
On Friday the Sheikh-ul-Islam Mawlawi Jalilullah Mawlawizada, scholar and in-charge of the Heart’s Dar-ul-Ulum, issued a fatwa on the need for women to obtain a contemporary education. The fatwa included supportive Quranic verses and hadith sayings of the Prophet, as well as sayings of the companions of the Prophet and Islamic jurisprudence arguments from all Fiqh scholars, particularly of those belonging to the Hanafi Fiqh.
The fatwa gives explicit permission from an Islamic point of view to women to obtain a contemporary education. The purpose of this fatwa is to highlight one of the realities of Islam and to show that the Islamic Fiqh is not against women and girls receiving contemporary education, but rather, that the religion of Islam and Islamic fiqh strive to present a prosperous community to its followers, and that can be achieved only when both men and women of a society get education.
Both genders can and should obtain both obligatory education and the education that is meant to support the society. These disciplines may include medicine, politics, and even for any minimum job that exists in a society, people must get an education for that. Women can study all these disciplines, especially in the fields where they can provide special services to their own gender and can better serve, he said
Given that women are in many cases vulnerable, Islam ordains that women should not be exploited and their dignity must be protected. Therefore, the fatwa states that Islamic hijab should be observed and the Islamic Emirate should identify a dress code for hijab appropriate for a Muslim woman who goes out to attend to her affairs.
"We hope that the emir, Sheikh Hibatullah, will revisit his decision regarding woman’s education and consider more national interests, as well as religious Islamic interests so that, God Forbid, the enemies of Islam do not take advantage of this situation to blame Islam" he reiterated. He recommended that the emir convene a larger, expanded, and inclusive Jirga/council to discuss issues pertaining to the politics and policies of the Islamic emirate. “There should be a comprehensive Afghan national consensus with regards to national interests and international affairs.”
Resistance movements & foreseen outcomes
Former Jihadi leaders, including Ismail Khan, a warlord from Herat province known as the lion of Heart, have banded together to form a resistance front against Taliban. The Former anti-Soviet Afghan veteran, who is currently based in Iran and has close ties with the regime, announced the formation of the ‘Islamic Unity Council of Resistance Against the Taliban’. He announced that soon all forces would be gathered under his name to topple the Taliban from the Herat province.
Sources on the ground have also revealed that Baghlan province's Andarab district has become a hub for the resistance front, which has seized scores of places from the Taliban. While Taliban leaders on the ground deny losing any territory and claim eliminating many resistance commanders, security experts and journalists suggest a fragmented situation. Afghan journalist Noor Rehman Sherzad and others were of the view that unlike 1996, when the Taliban were seen as a Pashtun movement, the current Emirate-e-Islami has Tajiks, Hazaras, Turkmen, Nuristanis and Shias in their ranks. The Nuristan province was previously a hub for Hizb-e-Islami.
“The ruthless practices of those resisting the Emirate-e-Islami wouldn't succeeded in the short run, but if Afghanistan’s neighbours or the US and the West support the dreams of Masood, Ismail Khan and other big names wouldn’t stand,” Noor said. He added that the story of ISKP is different from the resistance front as the ISKP would continue with small attacks, but would fail to seize large areas or districts.
On differences between Haqqani Network and Kandhari Taliban, Noor replied that rifts always occure on decisions, power-sharing and says on different affairs, but due to the wisdom of Mullah Yaqub and Siraj Haqqani, the alliance would sustain if the government remains.
The TTP problem
Taliban numbers have exceeded from 10,000 to 20,000 as new faces from all over Pakistan belonging to all ethnic backgrounds have joined and combined 22 groups into a rather streamlined network, easing several economic and security parameters.
The recent surge into suicide attacks has registered the TTP’s presence and capacity to carry out attacks in big cities. Despite assurances from Kabul, sources say the TTP isn't heeding their calls.
According to one senior Pakistani security official, "Afghanistan is using TTP as a pressure tool against Pakistan."