Kabul, Jan 17: Taliban has been notorious for flogging women and stoning them to death for years, for their attempts to get educated. The very same Taliban now seems to have changed their stance, or at least that's what they want the world to think.
Afghanistan's new Taliban rulers say they hope to be able to open all schools for girls across the country after late March, their spokesman told The Associated Press on Saturday, offering the first timeline for addressing a key demand of the international community.
Since the Taliban takeover in mid-August, girls in most of Afghanistan have not been allowed back to school beyond grade 7. The international community, reluctant to formally recognise a Taliban-run administration, is wary they could impose similar harsh measures as during their previous rule 20 years ago. At the time, women were banned from education, work and public life.
Zabihullah Mujahid, who is also the Taliban's deputy minister of culture and information, said their education departments are looking to open classrooms for all girls and women following the Afghan New Year, which starts on March 21. Afghanistan, like neighboring Iran, observes the Islamic solar Hijri Shamsi calendar.
Education for girls and women “is a question of capacity,” Mujahid said in the interview. Girls and boys must be completely segregated in schools, he said, adding that the biggest obstacle so far has been finding or building enough dorms, or hostels, where girls could stay while going to school. In heavily populated areas, it is not enough to have separate classrooms for boys and girls — separate school buildings are needed, he said.
“We are not against education,” Mujahid stressed, speaking at a Kabul office building with marble floors that once housed Afghan attorney general's offices and which the Taliban have adopted for their culture and information ministry.
The Taliban dictates so far have been erratic, varying from province to province. Girls have not been allowed back to classrooms in state-run schools beyond grade 7, except in about 10 of the country's 34 provinces. In the capital, Kabul, private universities and high schools have continued to operate uninterrupted. Most are small and the classes have always been segregated.
“We are trying to solve these problems by the coming year,” so that schools and universities can open, Mujahid said.
The international community has been skeptical of Taliban announcements, saying it will judge them by their actions — even as it scrambles to provide billions of dollars to avert a humanitarian catastrophe that the UN chief this week warned could endanger the lives of millions.