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Retrograde move

The decision to postpone a return of girls in high schools appears to be a concession to the rural and predominantly tribal segment of the hardline Taliban movement, that in many parts of Afghanistan are reluctant to send their daughters to school.

Statesman News Service | Kolkata |

With international recognition of the dispensation of Taliban hardliners at stake, Afghanistan has announced a retrograde initiative. Wednesday’s decision not to open schools for girls above the sixth grade will serve to turn the clock back. In point of fact, the administration in Kabul has reneged on its promise by playing to the gallery of hardliners.

In the international perspective, the risk of further alienation is substantial and arguably to a state of unsplendid isolation. The wholly unexpected decision was announced at the start of a new school year and is bound to hinder the Taliban’s efforts to secure recognition from potential donors and for an embattled nation that is in dire fiscal straits.

On closer reflection, the latter has exacerbated the torpid economy. Taking advantage perhaps of the world’s preoccupation with Ukraine, the Taliban government has defied the international community which since last August has been urging the dispensation to open schools and give girls their right to education. This even as theocratic Saudi Arabia has allowed women to drive and offered participation, if token, in the proceedings of the Shura (governing council), though a curtain separates the genders.

The decision to postpone a return of girls in high schools appears to be a concession to the rural and predominantly tribal segment of the hardline Taliban movement, that in many parts of Afghanistan are reluctant to send their daughters to school.

According to Waheedullah Hashmi, external relations and donor representative with the Taliban administration, the decision to cancel the return of girls to school was formalised late on Tuesday night. “It was late last night that we received word from our leadership that schools will stay closed for girls,” Mr Hadhmi said. And then the supplementary ~ “We don’t say they will be closed forever”.

The surprise decision was announced even as the Taliban leadership has been summoned to southern Kandahar by the reclusive Taliban leader, Haibatullah Akhunzada, in the midst of reports of a Cabinet reshuffle, according to an Afghan leader. It was possible, he said, that some of the senior interim Cabinet positions could be changed.

The tentative nature of the present dispensation’s composition is pretty obvious. Hence perhaps the flip-flop over the opening of schools for girls. There have been persistent reports since the Taliban assumed power last August of differences among senior leaders with those hardliners who are opposed to the pragmatists.

The latter are reportedly keen on a “greater engagement with the world”. They will be true to their Islamic beliefs but will be less harsh than when they last ruled Afghanistan, banning women from work and girls from schools.

It is rather late in the day to take a bow in the direction of obscurantists. But until the Taliban leadership resolves its internal contradictions, the country’s women and girls will have to wait