In an announcement that the Associated Press described as both “a surprise decision” and “unexpected,” the Taliban Education Ministry in Afghanistan determined yesterday that schools would not be open to girls above grade six. As recently as last week, the ministry had been sending out announcements urging “all students” to come back to school for the new semester which is set to begin next week. There was reportedly something of a schism between the Taliban leadership in Kabul and the more hardline Islamic extremists who hold power in many of the more remote provinces. In the end, the hardline extremists prevailed and the Taliban will now demonstrate that they are still precisely who we’ve long known they were and nothing has really changed.
In a surprise decision the hardline leadership of Afghanistan’s new rulers has decided against opening educational institutions to girls beyond Grade six, a Taliban official said Wednesday on the first day of Afghanistan’s new school year.
The latest setback for girls’ education is certain to receive widespread condemnation from the international community that has been urging the Taliban leaders to open schools and give women their right to public space.
The unexpected decision came late on Tuesday as Afghanistan’s education ministry prepared for the new year opening of school, which was expected to herald the return of girls to school. A statement by the ministry earlier in the week urged “all students” to come to school.
Despite the descriptions employed by the AP, the glaring question about this announcement should be how anyone could be “surprised” or see this as “unexpected.” Seriously? Who didn’t see this coming? We’re talking about the Taliban.
The entire range of issues involving the rights of women and girls has been the focus of international tension as the Taliban strived to gain acceptance as the legitimate government of Afghanistan at the UN and elsewhere. Improvements in women’s rights have supposedly been one of the key demands when debates over humanitarian aid and lifting sanctions on the country have taken place.
It seems clear that all of the Taliban’s promises weren’t worth the paper they were printed on, which should come as a surprise to absolutely no one who has been paying attention. The Taliban’s “political office” has been mouthing the words that the civilized world wanted to hear in exchange for various concessions. And it seems to have worked since aid has continued to flow into the country. Time has been on the Taliban’s side, knowing that as long as they kept up some sort of facade of normalcy, the world’s attention would shift elsewhere and their control of the country would simply become the new normal.
At the same time, China and Russia have moved quickly to establish diplomatic ties to the current regime in Afghanistan, flushing plenty of aid into the country. Since those countries aren’t exactly champions in the field of human rights in general and women’s rights in particular, that makes sense. Such an alliance not only expands those nations’ spheres of influence but will likely prove lucrative. We’ve already seen China negotiating to begin mining operations in the country to exploit Afghanistan’s rich deposits of copper, precious metals, and rare earth minerals.
At the risk of sounding heartless, it may be time to simply consider writing Afghanistan off as a lost cause. We’re not going to go back in and restart the war and we apparently don’t have enough leverage to force the Taliban to start acting more like decent human beings. If we really want to help the women and girls of Afghanistan, perhaps the best thing we could do for them is to help get them out of the country and into a new, more civilized location.