Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers have set up a ministry for the “propagation of virtue and the prevention of vice” in the building that once housed the Women’s Affairs Ministry, escorting out World Bank staffers on Saturday as part of the forced move.
It was the latest troubling sign that the Taliban is restricting women’s rights as they settle into government, just a month since they overran the capital Kabul. In their first period of rule in the 1990s, the Taliban denied girls and women the right to education and barred them from public life.
Separately, three explosions targeted Taliban vehicles in the eastern provincial capital of Jalalabad on Saturday, killing three people and wounding 20, witnesses said. There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but ISIL (ISIS) fighters, based in the area, are enemies of the Taliban.
The Taliban is facing major economic and security problems as it attempts to govern, and a growing challenge by ISIL would further stretch its resources.
In Kabul, a new sign was up outside the Women’s Affairs Ministry, announcing it was now the “Ministry for Preaching and Guidance and the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice”.
Videos posted to social media showed women workers from the ministry protesting outside after losing their jobs. No official from the Taliban responded to requests for comment. Mabouba Suraj, who heads the Afghan Women’s Network, said she was astounded by the flurry of orders released by the Taliban-run government restricting women and girls.
Meanwhile, the Taliban-run Ministry of Education asked boys from grades 7 to 12 back to school on Saturday along with their male teachers, but there was no mention of girls in those grades returning to school. Previously, the Taliban’s minister of higher education said girls would be given equal access to education, albeit in gender-segregated settings.
“It is becoming really, really troublesome … Is this the stage where the girls are going to be forgotten?” Suraj said. “I know they don’t believe in giving explanations, but explanations are very important.”
Suraj speculated the contradictory statements perhaps reflect divisions within the Taliban as they seek to consolidate their power, with the more pragmatic within the movement losing out to hard-liners among them, at least for now.
Statements from the Taliban leadership often reflect a willingness to engage with the world, open public spaces to women and girls and protect Afghanistan’s minorities. But orders to its rank and file on the ground are contradictory. Instead, restrictions, particularly on women, have been implemented.
US APOLOGIZES FOR ‘MISTAKE’
A drone strike in Kabul last month killed as many as 10 civilians, including seven children, the U.S. military said on Friday, apologizing for what it called a “tragic mistake”.
The Pentagon had said the Aug. 29 strike targeted an Islamic State suicide bomber who posed an imminent threat to U.S.-led troops at the airport as they completed the last stages of their withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Even as reports of civilian casualties emerged, the top U.S. general had described the attack as “righteous”.
The head of U.S. Central Command, Marine Corps General Frank McKenzie, said that at the time he had been confident it averted an imminent threat to the forces at the airport.
“Our investigation now concludes that the strike was a tragic mistake,” McKenzie told reporters.
The killing of civilians, in a strike carried out by a drone based outside Afghanistan, has raised questions about the future of U.S. counter-terrorism strikes in the country, where intelligence gathering has been all but choked off since last month’s withdrawal.
The intelligence failure exposed in America’s last military strike of its war in Afghanistan raises hard questions about the risks going forward. These include whether the United States can keep track of al Qaeda and Islamic State threats, and act quickly on any information it gets.
(With excerpts from Al Jazeera and Reuters)