Girls to return to school ‘soon’
The Taliban said yesterday Afghan girls will be allowed to return to school "as soon as possible", after their movement faced international fury over their effective exclusion of women and girls from education and work.
The hardliners' spokesman meanwhile announced the remaining members of Afghanistan's all-male government, weeks after the militants seized Kabul in an offensive that shocked the world.
The Taliban were notorious for their brutal, oppressive rule from 1996 to 2001, when women were largely barred from work and school, including being banned from leaving their homes unless accompanied by a male relative.
One month after seizing power and pledging a softer version of their previous regime, the Islamists have incrementally stripped away at Afghans' freedoms.
"The work is continuing over the issues of education and work of women and girls," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said at a press conference, saying schools will reopen "as soon as possible", without providing a timeframe.
"More time is needed... instructions on how to deal with their work, their services and their education are needed because the system has changed and an Islamic system is in place."
At the weekend, girls and female teachers were excluded from returning to secondary school, while boys and male teachers were ordered back to the classroom.
The Taliban have also slashed women's access to work, with officials previously telling them to stay at home for their own security until segregation under the group's restrictive interpretation of sharia law can be implemented.
The group imposed a harsh interpretation of sharia law during their last rule and this time round have said progress in women's rights will be respected "within the framework of Islamic law".
Many women however are deeply suspicious about the Taliban's pledges.
"This happened last time. They kept saying they would allow us to return to work, but it never happened," a woman teacher told AFP on Monday.
The Taliban rulers announced several senior appointments yesterday, naming two veteran battlefield commanders from the movement's southern heartlands as deputies in important ministries.
Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir will be deputy defence minister, while Sadr Ibrahim was named deputy minister for the interior. Both men had been expected to take major positions in the new government but neither was named in the main list of ministers announced this month.
The two were identified in UN reports as being among battlefield commanders loyal to the former Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour who was pressing the leadership to step up the war against the Western-backed government.
The appointments add to the roster of hardliners in the main group of ministers, which included figures like Sirajuddin Haqqani, head of the militant Haqqani network, blamed for a string of attacks on civilian targets, reports Reuters.
But the appointments also appear to reflect concern within the Taliban to secure unity by balancing the regional and personal differences that have surfaced as the movement transitions from a wartime guerrilla force to a peacetime administration.
According to a UN Security Council report from June, both Zakir and Sadr commanded significant forces of their own, called mahaz, that traditionally operated across several provinces.
They were considered so powerful and independent that there were concerns within the leadership that this could stoke tension over the loyalties of certain groups, particularly in the south and southwest of the country.
Zakir, a former detainee in the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, was a close associate of late Taliban founder Mullah Omar. He was captured when US-led forces swept through in Afghanistan in 2001 and was incarcerated in Guantanamo until 2007, according to media reports.
He was released and handed over to the Afghan government and was widely tipped to become defence minister in the new government before Mullah Omar's son, Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, was appointed to the post.